May 10, the scheduled date of John Wayne Gacy's execution, should be a special day for Dan Kelly. After all, Kelly puts out a true-crime zine called Evil, and in the subculture that follows the exploits of serial killers he's considered quite an expert. "To be honest, I don't like being known as the death guy or the murder guy," says Kelly. "I just like to collect books."
Kelly has just published his sixth issue of Evil, which has grown from a one-page hobby sheet to a 32-page, stapled, laser-printed publication with a 200-plus press run. In the latest issue, Kelly outlines the future of Evil: "While serial killers still hold a special place in my heart, in the future I plan on striking out and including in these pages other, equally strange and horrible aspects of human behavior. 'Why,' I asked myself, 'shouldn't I cover all of life's unpleasantness?' After all, the mag's name is Evil. Henceforth, look not only for serial killings and mass murders here, but also rampant occultism, cannibalism, sexual deviation, sabbath breaking, double parking, et cetera. . . ."
Evil number six includes plugs for other killer zines and the number for a 900 line where you can hear a recording of Gacy pleading his innocence. Kelly also reviews several books, including Satanism: The Seduction of America's Youth, which he calls "a good chuckle"; Final Truth, by now-executed serial killer Donald "Pee-Wee" Gaskins, which he considers "a true classic in the genre"; and Monsters of Weimar, a compilation of "two classics of crime lit" about two of Kelly's favorite German killers, Fritz Haarmann and Peter Kurten.
The reviews are followed by a collage by Brother Randall, who publishes Snake Oil, a zine about televangelists. He has imposed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas's face over a map of Dallas and Fort Worth. There's a quarterly update on serial killers in the news, written by Kelly. The issue also includes Kelly's guide to Chicago murder sites (previously published in the Chicago-based twentysomething magazine Pure) and a story of a true-life encounter with a serial killer, written by Dave Szurek, editor and publisher of the zine Weird City.
"Evil was started because I wanted to see if there were other people out there who collected true-crime books," says Kelly, who otherwise works as an ad copywriter. "I started out saying, 'I like the books; does anyone else collect anything on the subject?' and just amazingly, this thing sprang up. There was just this explosion."
Kelly was born in Chicago and grew up in the southwest suburbs. After he graduated from Northern Illinois University, he moved back to the city and started hacking away at his "life-long obsession." His collection grew to include two books of Gacy's correspondence, which inspired him to write to Gacy himself. "I just did it out of morbid interest," Kelly says. He wrote three letters to Gacy, got three responses, and then got bored and stopped.
Serial-killer fans have recently been getting attention in national publications. Gacy's correspondence was mentioned in an April New Yorker profile. The New Republic published a piece on collectors of serial-killer art, and a long essay on true-crime books by Joyce Carol Oates appeared in the New York Review of Books. "The Oates piece just blew me away," Kelly says, "but I guess she's been interested in it for a long time."
In the essay Oates writes, "Somehow it has happened that the serial killer has become our debased, condemned, yet eerily glorified Noble Savage, the vestiges of the frontier spirit, the American isolato cruising interstate highways." For Kelly and other killer-zine publishers, Oates's ruminations take the joy out of crime. John Marr puts out a zine in San Francisco called Murder Can Be Fun! Marr, writing about California serial killer Ed Kemper in a 1987 issue, sums up Kemper's psyche: "Ed wasn't so much of a classic problem child as just plain weird. At an early age, he was a devoted nihilist, praying for God to kill everyone on earth except him . . . he got this idea that the only way he could relate to anyone was if they were dead."
Kelly is most interested in his book collection, which numbers now between 250 and 300. "The real trick when you're a collector is finding the most obscure stuff and rubbing other collectors' noses in it," Kelly says. "John Marr has got close to a thousand titles. I'm a little jealous of him, but then I think he's a little older than me, too."
Good true-crime books are hard to come by, Kelly says. "It's easier to find books these days because of sheer proliferation," he says, "but the best-written books on the subject, and there are damn few, are by Michael Newton." Newton is the author of Hunting Humans, the seminal serial-killer encyclopedia, as well as Bad Girls Do It!, a book about female killers, and several other definitive texts.
True-crime books gained mainstream respectability in 1965 with the publication of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, but thrived before then with such classics as St. Clair McKelway's True Tales From the Annals of Crime and Rascality and They Died in the Chair, by Wenzell Brown. With the 1974 publication of Helter Skelter, the Charles Manson story as told by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, the genre really took off.
"Until then, true crime was such a small genre you're lucky if you found any books on it at all," Kelly says. Kelly disdains mainstream true-crime writers like Joseph Wambaugh and Joe McGiniss, whose work he calls "dross," but gives some credit to best-selling writer Ann Rule, who is most famous for her book on Washington and Utah serial killer Ted Bundy.
Kelly's subscribers send him items like color copies of Gacy paintings, but Kelly says he's not interested in art and paraphernalia. "Of the people who subscribe to Evil, most are like me, they just collect stuff, or there are people with an attitude that's just ironic, and they don't take it too seriously," he says. "I get some people who are very strange, even by my standards. Like beyond just liking books or T-shirts or bumper stickers. I've got one guy who said to me, 'I collect mortuary accoutrements.' I said, 'Well, good for you. I don't.'"
Evil is available for $2 at Quimby's Queer Store, 1328 N. Damen. You can order a subscription by writing to P.O. Box 476641, Chicago 60647.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd De Grane.