At the beginning of this month, I attended a crime lab workshop titled “The Killer Behind the Camera” hosted by the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA). The workshops, which happen once every couple of months, feature presentations by top criminologists from Los Angeles, and as a person committed to writing mystery novels, I feel compelled to educate myself on the subject.
Although the seminars are always interesting, sometimes I am haunted by the grisly photos and the no-holds-barred depiction of true crimes that happened to real people. I try to keep myself focused on the scientific aspects of the cases to maintain a clear, professional head, but in the face of such gruesome acts it can be difficult.
That’s why I loved hearing about Lorraine Vigil. Her story was one small part of the lecture given by Mike Fratantoni, an LASD Deputy who sits on the board of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Museum, on Harvey Glatman, a serial killer who was active in Southern California and Colorado in the late 1950s. Glatman was the first serial killer ever profiled by the FBI, obviously an extremely twisted individual. He was a professional photographer, slight of build, and he would hire models to pose for pictures in detective magazines, which were popular in the 1950s, that called for the models to be bound and gagged. Once the women were tied up, he let them know that he was going to kill them. A cowardly, twisted and horrible person. I know, this story leaves a bad feeling in your stomach, but don’t worry–it will end well.
Then Glatman hired Lorraine Vigil. She was supposed to be victim number four. He drove her down to Orange County, just like all the other victims, and then he pulled a gun on her while they were still in the car, just like all the other victims, and told her to take off her clothes. Vigil said no, and she fought back, trying to take the gun away. He shot her in the leg, but that only made her madder, and she wrestled the gun away from him, dragged him from the car and started pistol whipping him while he begged for mercy. The police drove by and intervened, thinking he was the victim, but once they got them back to the station and questioned them both, they realized that Glatman was the serial killer they were looking for.
If she had done what he said, she would have died, and who knows how many more women would have followed her. Fratantoni said that cops at the time didn’t take cases of women disappearing seriously, and communication between the different city police divisions in the Southland was poor, which is why Glatman operated as long as he did. Most women are raised to do as they are told, be quiet and follow instructions. They are taught that they will be rewarded. The sad truth is that if a person pulls a gun on another person, the only way to survive is fight or run. My hero Ms. Vigil, however, went one step further: she caught a serial killer.
The moral of the story, ladies, is that if you are ever unlucky enough to find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun, you could not expect to receive mercy or compassion from the person pointing at you. It would be time to fight for your life. The good news is: if you fight, you can win.