These Children That Come At You With Knives: Ricky Kasso and Charles Manson
Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia In The 1980s is a new book from Spectacular Optical. It includes exactly what it says on the tin: each chapter addresses a different aspect of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Its 300 plus pages cover an entire decade of pop culture, including movies, music, television, gaming, and even Dungeons & Dragons.
The chapter which I contributed, "All Hail The Acid King: The Ricky Kasso Case In Popular Culture," examines the murder of Gary Lauwers in Long Island in 1984 by the titular and self-professed Satanist Ricky Kasso. I became interested in this case thanks to the Wiseblood (a.k.a. JG Thirlwell and Roli Mosimann) song "0-0 (Where Evil Dwells)."
As I delved deeper into the facts surrounding the Gary Lauwers murder, I felt conflicted. The details were truly more horrific than I expected. Ricky Kasso, in a fit of rage over Lauwers' theft of some mescaline, stabbed him to death and then buried him in a shallow grave. Kasso allegedly demanded that Lauwers swear his allegiance to Satan before taking his life. Regardless of the supposed Satanic angle, it was a vicious crime made more gruesome by the fact that Kasso buried Lauwers in a shallow grave and then took local teenagers into the woods for the next two weeks to gawk at the corpse while he gloated over his accomplishments.
Since Kasso committed suicide in jail after his arrest for the crime, the two others present - Albert Quinones and James Troiano - were the only ones left to answer to the judicial system. When Quinones received immunity for testifying against Troiano that made the list even shorter. Their accounts have always been considered unreliable thanks to their copious drug use; in fact, this was why James Troiano was acquitted of Lauwers's murder in the end.
A terrible crime was committed and no one was ever truly held accountable. Spending weeks reading about the case and analyzing the various songs and films that addressed it genuinely freaked me out. Do I think this murder was committed because Ricky Kasso worshipped Satan? No. But that didn't make it any less disturbing to me, especially when I started finding message boards full of people praising Kasso and talking about him as if he was some kind of hero or inspiration.
Perhaps the origins of the Kasso's crime were different and his body count far less, but it reminds me of how Charles Manson has become a pop culture hero over the last 46 years, despite being responsible for the slaughter of seven people over two days in 1969. This man and his followers, who held a city captive in terror until they were caught (and for a good length of time afterwards, considering what happened to people like Barbara Hoyt and Ronald Hughes) appears on T-shirts and has a whole cadre of people who think he was set up, or weirder still, innocent (Google it).
I confess to owning and wearing a button that says PASS THE BUCK TO CHUCK as some kind of impotent "statement" about the US presidential elections. Hell, I even dressed as Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) for Halloween once. Clearly, there is a thin line between academic fascination and fetishized adulation. What frightens me is that I may feel sick reading about poor Gary Lauwers and get angry with those who insist Charles Manson was framed, but that thin line is one I've probably crossed more than once.
If you'd like a copy of Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia In The 1980s, you can order it online. If you live in the Toronto, Ontario area, it's available for sale at the TIFF Bell Lightbox bookstore.