edited: Saturday, March 01, 2008
By Tori Rivers
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, March 01, 2008
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Article published about my work in 2005 by my home town Newspaper the Missourian and picked up by the associated press.
Tori Rivers looks over some of the pieces of artwork in her Lonedell home. The pieces, which include a portrait, a clown and dogs in prison, were all created by serial killers.
Lonedell � Tori Rivers has artwork in her Lonedell home that would do any museum proud � portraits, landscapes, animals and abstracts. But what makes them unique is the fact that they were all created by serial killers.
River's has spent the last year and a half establishing relationships with nine serial killers, looking at them and their total lives in a compassionate fashion. She corresponds with them regularly, talks to some on the phone and has visited with some in prison.
Many of them have sent her artwork and poetry, one of them on the envelopes of his letters. Another recently sent her an 8- inch by 11-inch Mother's Day card with a sad-faced, floppy-earred dog with a rose in its mouth.
"There's another side to these people that the general public doesn't see," said Rivers, looking calm and matter-of-fact as she discussed her interest. "There are two people in there and one of them is kind. But once a person commits a crime, the world doesn't want to give him half a chance."
One of the most prominent killers with whom Rivers communicates is Arthur Shawcross, one of the three possible criminals after whom the fictional character Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs" was modeled. Shawcross, referred to as the Genesee River killer, is believed to have killed and cannibalized 11 women in and around Rochester, N.Y., in the late 1980s.
During the next month or two Rivers will be included in a documentary on Shawcross, through IWC Media out of London. Forensic psychologists, who examine aspects of human behavior directly related to the civil and criminal justice system, will profile five killers for the piece.
During the filming of the documentary, Rivers will be in a room with Shawcross at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y., unrestrained. In essence Shawcross will be meeting a "friend," namely Rivers, for the first time.
"I have exchanged hundreds of letters with him," she said, tough in spite of her petite stature and soft-spoken demeanor. "It's not scary for me. Guards and forensic psychologists will be there but I know he wouldn't attack me. He's never hurt anyone he knew and considers me part of his family."
Their letters have included recipes and garden tips and Rivers has copies of Shawcrosses' poetry and artwork that she keeps in a scrapbook. One poem he wrote is called "The Woman in the Glass," and references being at peace with the person one sees when looking in a mirror every day.
In making the IWC documentary, which will air on the Arts and Entertainment channel, Rivers set up the interviews with prison officials and prisoners and the producer will fly her to the location at the appointed time. "They pay all my expenses," she said.
The producer approved Rivers to be part of the documentary because Shawcross requested that she be his agent and handle all media issues.
"Everything must be arranged with the warden of the prison because there are only certain days that the media can go," Rivers said.
"Visiting someone on death row makes you feel like a prisoner being booked yourself," Rivers said. "You're fingerprinted and searched. Your jewelry is counted and, for a contact visit (not behind glass) guards are stationed all around the room."
Rivers also is writing a book, called "13 1/2," which will be a journal of a serial killer in his own words. She hopes to have it completed within six months and has begun communications with a publisher.
"I began communicating with one of the most prolific serial killers in the United States," she said, noting that she can't disclose his name. "We have a weird sort of friendship but there's always more to people than meets the eye."
Writing it is often slow going and depends entirely on the mood of its subject. "Sometimes he gets into the right mood and gives me lots of information and other weeks he doesn't give me anything I can use," she said. "When it's finished I'd like to turn it into a movie. It will be chilling."
The title "13 1/2," according to Rivers derives from the man's court experience � 12 jurors, one judge and a "half-assed" chance. Apparently another book had been written on the man that he didn't like so he asked Rivers to write one, because he trusted her.
Although Rivers believes most serial killers are beyond being rehabilitated, she thinks they should be studied, rather than thrown into a 6- by 8-foot pen like animals.
"How can a person go out and kill 50 to 200 people?" she queried. "I don't think picking their brains works. That's why I go back into their childhoods and learn about their homes and families. I think it humanizes them."
Much of River's correspondence with serial killers is done at night. Her day job is as a bail bond agent.
"Then one night I had a wild idea," she said. "I decided to write to serial killers and see how deep (into their minds) I could get."
Rivers hasn't regretted either her career or her relationships. "At first my hair would stand on end when a letter came," she said. "But as time has gone on and I've gotten to know people, it's gotten easier."
Some of the men call her on the phone. Shawcross, for example, calls about every six weeks.
Strange as it may sound, Rivers said she finds the multiple parts of her career interesting and even ... fun.
"I know this is a morbid subject," she said, "but there's much to be learned from them, including precautionary measures to take like keeping your doors locked.
"I'm not an expert on the subject," she continued, "but I'm trying to become one."