A couple in Yonkers had a dark hobby for decades: seducing serial killers by mail.
For more than 20 years at least 100 of the most vicious serial and celebrity killers in the country – including John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, Arthur Shawcross, Edmund Kemper, Karla Faye Tucker, Robert John Bardo and Gerard Schaefer among others – corresponded eagerly with Barbara and Richie Dickstein.
In order to “hook” the criminals, Barbara and Richie wrote letters in which they pretended to be everything that turned the murderer on – e.
“If you look at most serial killers’ childhoods, they never had a love. I think they thought to us, ‘There is someone here who is willing to show me love and I will try it with them,’ ”Barbara told the Post.
The Dicksteins first wrote to Son of Sam around 1992. It was Barbara’s idea, she said, because she knew someone who had narrowly missed being a Berkowitz victim. Richie was a correctional officer, and both were curious about the minds of murderers. Letter writing picked up pace and continued until they stopped around 2005.
Richie, who was straight and died in 2018, convinced Gacy, Dahmer, and other gay killers that he was gay. Dahmer, a serial killer and cannibal, wrote Richie asking to see “every bare muscular inch of you”. When Dahmer’s fellow inmate Christopher Scarver killed him in 1994 by smashing his skull with a metal rod, the Dicksteins started writing to Scarver and he sent them death photos of Dahmer.
Richie also managed to convince Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who was convicted of the murder of her two young sons in 1994, that he was in love with her.
“Susan Smith was obsessed with my husband and Bardo was really obsessed with me,” said Barbara, who has since retired from a marketing career.
Bardo, who fatally shot actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 after following her for three years, sent Barbara an average of 15 letters, some up to 20 pages, per week until she got tired of keeping up with them and him dropped.
The Dicksteins’ holdings contain more than 30,000 letters. Many relate to murderers who hack up, rape, and torture their victims and enjoy their pain, and are too vivid to publish.
The collection – containing the tapes of calls from prisoners and their artworks – forms the basis for a new crime podcast, “Killer’s Vault”, which starts on June 28th. The podcast will be moderated by the “Law and Order” actress Elisabeth Rohm. Actor Eric Roberts will pronounce the killers as he reads from the letters.
“I was shocked by the contents and details of the letters and the connection Barbara and Richie made with these guys,” said producer Rob Cea, a former NYPD homicide investigator.
“These killers all lie,” said Cea. “They lie to psychologists, reporters, their own lawyers. So it is extraordinary to see how they relax their vigilance in these letters. Some of them told of crimes they had never admitted. “
The pair have also developed strong platonic connections with some of the killers, Barbara said.
Richie and Sam’s son got so close that murderer’s attorney Barbara said he cried when he learned of Richie’s death.
Barbara herself was upset when she found out that one of her favorites, Karla Faye Tucker, had been executed by lethal injection in 1998. Tucker, a former groupie belonging to the Eagles and the Allman Brothers, killed two people with a pickaxe during a break-in in 1983.
“I started crying,” said Barbara. “Richie said why are you crying? I said I feel the same way about her as I feel about Berkowitz. We just clicked. We both loved cats and gardening. “
Barbara also liked the so-called “angel of death” Richard Angelo, the Long Island nurse who was convicted in 1989 of killing eight of his patients and poisoning 26 others.
“We had an affinity,” said Barbara.
She added that Richie and Charles Manson had written together for years, but Manson was “certifiable” and his letters made little sense.
“I liked it in the beginning,” Barbara said of writing the letter. “But after about five years it became more of a job. The [higher] the more Richie wanted to write the corpse count. I got close to some of the small ones and Richie said, ‘Why do you spend time writing to nobody?’ But I liked some of the nobody. “
Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez
Born in 1960 in El Paso, Texas, the “Night Stalker” terrorized residents along the California coast in 1984 and 1985. Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries in 1989. He corresponded with Richie and Barbara, but didn’t know they were married. Ramirez talked endlessly with Barbara about his sexual fetishes and asked Richie, who told him he was a strip club manager, to send him hardcore porn magazines. (Ramirez died on death row in 2013 of lymphoma complications.)
In a handwritten letter to Richie dated September 1994, he remembered: “I used to go downtown LA to take photos. . . There was a place where I could go under the street. It was a traffic light. I could have a look [women’s] dress like they’re waiting for the signpost to change. I would take pictures. You’d be surprised how many girls walk around without panties. . . Do you see Madonna at the MTV Awards? I went to the LA County Jail with Sean Penn. He was imprisoned for 30 days for shooting a camera. She came to see him and I saw her. She is tiny. . . Something about Hillary Clinton that I like. Your calves and ankles are definitely healthy. I think you would agree. “
In an undated correspondence, he also filled out a questionnaire, some of which read:
Perfect woman or man: Superman, Wonder Woman
Childhood hero (s): Jack the Ripper, Frankenstein
Favourite movie: unforgiven
Every January 1st I decide: To be more of an A-hole than I already am
Nobody knows that I am: more depraved than they think I am
What I don’t like about people: Many things
My biggest fear: None
Friends like me because: Who needs friends?
If I were an animal I would be: A panther
Personal goals in life: None
Favorite number: 666
Political Views: Crazy Anarchy? Whatever that means
Religious thinking: Angry?
What are you thinking now: Bad thoughts. Evil doors
John Wayne Gacy
Known as the “killer clown” – because he worked as a clown at children’s events and also painted clown portraits – Gacy, born in Chicago in 1942, was convicted of the murder of at least 33 young men and boys. After talking to Richie on the phone, Gacy regularly urged him for a photo from Richie’s younger days, as in this typewritten letter dated July 25, 1993 adorned with childlike stickers:
“But now you have your word at stake that you would send this photo[s], hey, who knows, maybe I’ll take a picture of you, if I like any of them it’ll be out of the 2,100 pictures[s] I pretended you had a personal one. That would be cool.”
Gacy wrote to Richie in the months and days leading up to his May 1994 execution, which sounded like a scorned lover, complaining that Richie – whom Gacy believed was gay – had promised to visit and did not would have:
“You haven’t kept your word to me in the past few months. I’ve always said you’d send me more insightful photos etc or just the younger one, and yet your word is for sc-t. I still haven’t got one. So why keep saying things to me if you don’t want to keep your word?
“How fast are you coming out? Damn it, I’ve been hearing it since last August and you’re still not here. Almost as bad as not sending photos, so take both and stop making excuses. No longer ‘I can’t find her’ or ‘I forgot her’. Hell, if you mean what you say, do it, it would make me happy. “
David ‘son of Sam’ Berkowitz
Berkowitz was born in Brooklyn in 1950 and was known as “Son of Sam” during the rampage that terrified New Yorkers in 1976 and 1977. Berkowitz was the first killer the Dentons wrote to. He and Richie became close friends, and Barbara said Berkowitz, incarcerated in the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in the Hudson Valley, was among the “least sexual” of all the killers they’d befriended.
In a typewritten letter dated January 2003, he wrote: “You asked me for a photo and then you asked me to paint a picture of what I looked like. For some reason that calmed me down. I know you were joking, but it scared me. . . I think you don’t understand what I am going through and the pain and sadness that I have in my heart in the past. And even 25 years later, the media are still following me. I am ashamed of the past and want to move on. I’m afraid that some people will write to me for other reasons. “
Dahmer, born in 1960, was a Milwaukee cannibal and necrophile convicted of the murder of 16 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Richie told Dahmer he was gay.
In March 1984, eight months before he was found beaten to death in a prison toilet and died of his injuries, Dahmer sent Richie a letter with what appeared to be a word processor:
“. . . With all of the emails I get, it’s difficult to know who to reply to. In your next letter, would you please send me some really good photos so that your letter stands out from the crowd. You said you are a bodybuilder, that’s good. I would love to see every bare muscular inch of you. “
Manson was born in 1934 and died in prison in 2017 while serving a life sentence for nine murders. Like many serial killers, Manson thought he might get out someday and hoped in this undated, handwritten letter that Richie could get him a job at the strip club Richie claimed to be working at.
Richard – It’s always good here [sic] from you – I’ve been working out of the hole for a few years – again. OH YES. when the others tell me and make up stories [sic] they want to believe because it helps [sic] Job Meaning I can go over the same old same old so it can turn the circle in the chains of command. Send your number and I’ll call you – I know you have been used by some people who called me brother and one day it might catch up. You and I are still solid as far as I’m concerned. I asked a good friend to help me and I declared – will get in touch. Simply Charles Manson.
PS, when I get out, could you give me a job as a bouncer?