In my Death Investigation class at Writers’ Police Academy we were shown actual crime scene photos of several homicides, including a serial killer case that remains unsolved. I can’t discuss that one, sorry. Now I’ve seen crime scene photos numerous times. Most crime writers have stumbled upon them in their research. Although, nothing quite compares to watching bodies decompose at the Body Farm, but that’s neither here nor there. Usually I have no problem viewing crime scene photos from a clinical point of view. It goes with the job, especially for those of us who write hardboiled, noir, or police procedural novels.
The images that have never left me…the case that still haunts me…remains one of the most brutal slayings in Madison, Wisconsin history. It’s not what the suspect did to the victim that bothers me most, although it was incredibly vicious. It’s the why that I can’t let go of. The why, that propelled the killer to go this far, to actually enjoy doing this to another human being. What happened in his life to illicit this level of murderous rage? And what was he thinking about during the act itself?
The facts of the case are gruesome, so if you’re at all squeamish, you may want to stop reading. That said, I will try to lessen the overall horrific nature of this crime.
It all happened at the Spence Motel on April 11, 1997. The homicide became known as the Spence Motel Murder, but there’s very little written about the case. Which really surprised me, actually. A crime this heinous usually attracts loads of media attention. What little there is on the case makes it seem like the facts were kept on the down-low, and after hearing the details and viewing the crime scene photos, I can understand why.
Facts of the Case
Twenty-two-year-old Brendon Grady arrived at the Spence Motel with a sledgehammer, a hunting knife, and murder on his mind.
He rented a room. Then he called an escort service. AAA Escort sent twenty-year-old Emma Bacon on the final call of her short life. As soon as she knocked at the door, Grady was waiting to pounce. When she entered the room he swung the sledgehammer at her head. But missed.
He swung again, striking her in the forehead. Over and over he beat her with the sledgehammer until he’d fractured her skull and eviscerated her face. Excited and aroused, he peeled off her clothes and was about to rape her when he got an even a sicker idea. And this is partly why I can’t get this case out of my mind. Not only were the crime scene images shocking when you consider what the victim experienced and how much the suspect enjoyed committing the crime, but Grady’s explanation of why he did the things he did, don’t align with his actions. In my view, there’s more to this story. Perhaps something in Grady’s past caused this pent-up rage. I may never know the why behind the murder. But without the why, I can’t let it go.
Back to the case…
Grady beat Emma until she was unrecognizable. Then, with his hunting knife, he sliced off her right breast. Only the right, not the left. Next, he dissected her body, carving her open from the collarbone to pubic bone and down both thighs to the knee. The incised wounds were bone-deep. Next, he had intercourse with the mutilated corpse.
As if this wasn’t dramatic enough, he took her lipstick from her purse and wrote down the outside of the left leg, “An eye for an eye.” The outside of the right leg, “A life for a life.” Or vice-versa; it’s hard to know if the crime scene photos were mirrored images. To depersonalize her even more, he stabbed her between the legs and left the blade inside her, with the handle protruding.
Once he’d had his fun he called 911 and remained on the line till the police arrived. At first he claimed to be strolling by room 19 and just happened to notice the body. But while Detective (Ret.) Leon “Lee” Dandurand interviewed Grady, he noted his demeanor. Both hands stuffed in his front pockets, Grady breathed heavily—nearly panting—his gaze transfixed on the bloody, marred remains of Emma Bacon. When questioned further Grady confessed, claiming he wanted to know how it felt to kill. He had no specific person in mind. Any woman would do.
Detective Dandurand, who took Grady’s confession, said this about this case, “No matter what people do, you try to find a good quality to them. Some people just make mistakes, and it wouldn’t happen again in the future. But this guy was a real intelligent guy and real arrogant. He was proud of what he did.”
After the interview, Detective Dandurand asked Grady if he were to be set free one day, would he do it again. Grady smirked, and said, “What do you think?”
Cuffed and Stuffed
Brendon Grady was charged with first-degree intentional homicide while armed with a dangerous weapon and first-degree sexual assault. At first he pleaded not guilty and not guilty due to mental disease or defect to each charge. At a Dane County Circuit Court hearing, he changed his plea to no contest and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Which basically means, even if the state’s evidence was sufficient to prove him guilty he should not be held responsible because of mental disease or defect.
Records show that the former high school valedictorian had been treated for mental issues in the past. In fact, hours before the murder he called the Veterans Hospital for help. A psychologist who found Grady competent to stand trial diagnosed him as having paraphilia. Paraphilia — aka sexual perversion and sexual deviation — causes intense sexual arousal to atypical objects, fetishes, situations, fantasies, behaviors, or individuals. There’s some debate over which, if any, types of paraphilia should be listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The number and taxonomy is under debate, too. Some sources list as many as 549 sub-categories of paraphilia, including sexual arousal from mutilation and murder. The DMV-5 list eight. So can we believe the psychologist’s diagnosis?
According to the FBI, there is evidence that psychopaths are able to influence the system to receive reduced sentences due to their extremely meticulous, compulsive, and relentless nature, which helps them to coerce criminal justice practitioners. Psychopaths can also imitate emotions, such as remorse or guilt. So whose to say Grady wasn’t intentionally acting the part? And why at trial did he withdraw his insanity plea? He had a psychologist’s diagnosis of paraphilia. Why not roll the dice? These questions and more plague me.
After his insanity plea was withdrawn and the trial concluded, Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler sentenced Grady to life in prison with no chance for parole, calling his crimes “beyond comprehension.” Which they were.
My thoughts on the case…
Even if someone suffers with paraphilia, why depersonalize the victim to such an extreme level? And why mark the body with lipstick? “A life for a life; an eye for an eye” is awfully specific. To me it sounds more like revenge, even hatred of all sex workers, or women in general. Rage showed in the way he continuously bashed in her skull, never mind the dissection, raping a mutilated corpse, and leaving the knife where he did.
The diagnosis doesn’t fully explain the MO, even if it is accurate. There must be more to the story. If I were to wager a guess, I’d say Grady’s mother, or whoever raised him, either was a prostitute or used prostitutes on a regular basis, and in front of a young, impressionable Grady. Not that I’m condoning what he did. He’s clearly a psychopath. But it feels like revenge to me. Like poor Emma Bacon was a convenient substitute for the person who fueled his rage.
What do you think? Do you believe the diagnosis of paraphilia? What’s your take on the message left in lipstick?