“On Killing Killers” By Richard Sale

Richard Sale headshot (2)

The key to hardcore criminals is greed.  They are greedy as a tiny tick burrowing in fur.  They have no elevated ends of life. They burrow ceaselessly to obtain such things as their food, sex, tobacco, drugs, comfort, additional privilege and the safety of sleep. Their desire is simply to perpetuate their life under any circumstance, however mean, so long at gives them shelter and sustenance and poses no threat to them. 

Many of the murderers I’ve known, so callous when it comes to taking the lives of others, whimper when the time comes for the State to take theirs. Killers are unsociable, aggressive, coarse, sometimes malignant creatures who have no spirituality in their souls or minds. They are far, far beyond any sense of shame. You would think that they would grasp that dying is as natural as being born, but no, not them. When their execution nears, some of them plead, beg, and cravenly bargain without any remorse. (They are exceptions. A middleweight boxing champion at the Arizona State Prison, who had shot his girl friend, donned his championship robe and threw punches all the way into the Gas Chamber Chair. Another inmate simply wanted a fine cigar and was happily puffing away at it when the gas hit him and he bridged and died.)  But for most killers, they exist for the sake of one more meal, one more day, one more cigarette, one more night of safe sleep. Mere existence no matter how paltry is fine for them. Concern for their victims doesn’t exist. Their remorse is simply a posture, a pose, a bargaining chip for more leniencies, a begging for more time before the end.

I will give you a case of a killer to consider.


When I spent a month in the Arizona State Prison (as a guest of the warden, not the state,) I met Joe, a bulky, short, powerful man in his late 20s who had a faint dark prickle of a crew cut. He was wearing dark wire rim spectacles. He was the murderer I had ever met. He was celled down in Death Row. Along with his “fall partner named Larry. I had Joe’s file stolen and sat and read it. At the time of his crime, Joe had been drunk for 18 months solid. Earlier, the Marines had given Joe a psychiatric discharge, citing “anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, emotional instability.” Joe and Larry were traveling from Phoenix to the East Coast when they picked up a young woman named Sally. At some point, Joe wanted to attack her and steal her valuables, including a small TV and  so  Joe and Larry took her out into the desert at night, and there Joe had repeatedly struck her on the skull with a heavy rock, and then Joe had then coerced Larry into hitting her, to implicate him, both being drunk as boiled owls at the time. They then left her, wounded, alive on the desert floor where she finally died of exposure . The file said that when police found her body, the skull was laid bare of flesh.  Her face had been eaten by animals.

This occurred in the December of 1962.Around Christmas in New Orleans, he had sobered up enough to go and confess to a priest about the killing, the priest turned Joe into the FBI. In every interview I had had with him, Joe rarely mentioned the girl, or if he did, it was only brusquely, cursorily, focusing his deepest wrath instead on the treacherous, dastardly priest who had betrayed his vows.  And for that priest who had reporting him, Joe had only unappeasable fury. The perfidious priest was the only thing Joe talked about when the case came up, Joe using the same words to express the same infuriated thoughts over and over again. The priest had put Joe and Larry on Death Row, and Joe’s rage about being turned in never abated. It was clear he didn’t care a turd about the girl he’d killed. His sole concern centered on himself and the fact the priest got him locked up, and being locked was totally unjust, an infringement on his personal freedom.  His captivity was clearly the only crime in the case.

There is no one who suffers from excessive self-love more than a murderer.

I spent a lot of time with Joe. One time he and I were to go to Mass on the grounds together, with the prison padre, but after reading his file, I told Joe that he and I could never be friends, and he appeared to accept that quietly.

The Unanswered Question

The question is, can a human being commit such horrid acts that they forfeit their any chance of living on the Earth? Are certain acts to inhumanly predatory, so greedy to inflict pain on their victims, so lacking in any mercy before killing them, that they do not simply commit murders but commit atrocities?

All societies that I have ever read of believe in the code that “the dead must be avenged.” I know of no culture where cold blooded murder is approved or embraced. Society’s safety demands that monsters that menace it must be slain.

Our vindictiveness towards killers has a long past. The Greeks, like our criminals, were subject to truly evil passions. With the Greeks, anyone in antiquity who considered himself entitled to power over others or who even aspired to such power, hesitated at nothing in vanquishing and killing his competitors and opponents, not even drawing back before the annihilation of them. In the Greeks, all political punishment, whatever the guilt of the vanquished, took the form of vengeance and obligatory execution. Things like disgrace, and the punishment of the ostracized was extended to their children and even to their forebears whose graves were desecrated. Thank God, we humans have improved since then.

But the question stands: Should a human being who is clearly a monster be killed before he takes another breath? 

There is no moral struggle that takes place within the soul of a killer, at least as far as I was able to determine. Even with the ordinary law-abiding human being, the worst in us is always at war with the best.  The real battles of life take place within the human personality. Because we prize ourselves as separate wells of life, sacred and unrepeatable, and on those grounds, we strive to improve ourselves. We take it as common knowledge that each man was a vessel of experience unique to him, comprehensible to him alone, forged by his own nature and by his responses to events. Society has embraced the principle that no one can live a lawless life without endangering the society at large. For the Greek society, enemies and criminals had to be destroyed before they destroyed the health of the group.

Pity, sympathy, and care, even for the most evil among us, are the sign of a civilized and cultured society. Decent people foreswear evil.  Murders don’t foreswear anything if it suits their immediate needs. If a state has decided that a killer must be destroyed as punishment for something horrible he has done, he should at least expect that his execution by the State will reflect certain humane values, even if his actions have violated them. A killing is still a killing, but the state does its killing in society’s name, not for private gain. It profits nothing and no one if you cure an atrocity by committing another,

Yet it appears from news accounts that the recent execution of the inmate in the Oklahoma State Prison was a simply session of torture. The man was alive as the drugs were put into his tried to raise his chest, his head following, he writhed, he clenched his teeth, and the horror grew. Clearly, the executioners were inadequately prepared, and the man, no matter what his crime, ended his life in direst agony. The prison felt his death was of little significance, just as the killer had felt no significant concern for his victim.  Both the state and the killer were careless of consequences and took no pains, whereas morality itself consists of taking pains to fulfill its duties correctly. In botching the execution, the state deprived the inmate of his dignity. What he experienced in the last minutes of his life doesn’t bear thinking of.  The last moments of the girl had had shot and was buried alive don’t bear thinking about either. We like to talk of moral man and immoral society, but there are times when the interests of the state must be humane and moral, period.  Otherwise, we will read of another atrocity committed in the name of civilization.

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21 Responses to “On Killing Killers” By Richard Sale

  1. MartinJ says:

    Quite correct. This is not about the murderer, state execution is about what society wishes done in its name. It could be argued that the harsher the punishment that the society demands the harsher the society is. The darker the forces the more draconian or widespread the punishment must be. For Saddam to keep the lid on Iraqi society he had to execute thousands a year. Now look how many are killed. Does the US imagine itself to be darker than it actually is as a society?

  2. walrus says:

    Unfortunately the evidence does not support the death penalty as a deterrent.
    Furthermore the cost of a death sentence is not insignifigant:
    Then of course there is the little matter of the probability of the execution of an innocent man.
    A corolary of that is the possibility that a guilty person goes free since dead men cannot pursue their innocence.
    I also happen to believe in the possibility of redemption, no matter how bad the crime.
    However my son is a Policeman, my brother is a Magistrate and I hope to G-d I never have to personally confront this issue.

  3. Highlander says:

    In many ways you describe the inhabitants of the culture known as Wall Street.

  4. Highlander says:

    Serious questions. What do you make of drones blowing away wedding parties and funeral processions by accident?

  5. WILL says:

    deterrence is not the only aim of punishment.
    1) retribution- taking back from the individual what he took from society
    2) rehabilitation. i guess that’s why they call them “pentitent-iaries”
    3) neutralization
    4) individual deterrence
    5 general deterrence

  6. Jose L Campos says:

    What surprises me is that a priest would alert the police after a confession. That is the gravest of priestly sins its pardon reserved to the pope. Death penalty is not penalty at all. While the guilty is living he has not been punished and when he is dead he is not aware of any thing. The only possible feeling of punishment is the awareness of death coming up at a certain moment. We die but our anguish is mitigated by the uncertainty of the moment. Ovid tells us that Zeus condemned men to death but was compassionate and hid the date of death from them. In my view the death penalty is merely a kind of torture. In centuries past people were really killed with extreme cruelty, breaking their bones methodically on the wheel. The narration of this hideous method of killing is in de Maistre in his Soirees of Peterbourg. Check it, it will make your hair stand on end.

  7. no one says:

    Richard, “All societies that I have ever read of believe in the code that “the dead must be avenged.” I know of no culture where cold blooded murder is approved or embraced. Society’s safety demands that monsters that menace it must be slain.”
    Maybe and certainly within narrow definitional boundaries.
    What about – shall we call it – luke warm murder? I am thinking about the still politically active and well funded crowd that cooked the intel and lied us into a war in Iraq – a war for which they had been yearning for years. That’s one example counter to your claim.
    I think it would be more accurate to say that society identifies and slays the monsters that aren’t sophisticated enough to appear as something else on the surface. Or that can’t afford a top notch PR machine and cracker jack lawyers.
    “Both the state and the killer were careless of consequences and took no pains, whereas morality itself consists of taking pains to fulfill its duties correctly……..”
    Substitute “neocon” for “killer” in the above paragraph and see what happens.

  8. Imagine says:

    On cold-blooded killers:
    Recent chatter indicates a false-flag group with red armbands was playing on all three sides of the aisle in the Odessa massacre, including the police. The police deputy chief briefed the thugs before the massacre; although red-banded men pretended to be violent Russian-speaking protesters, they actually were allowed to carry guns and fall back behind the police lines with full coordination.
    Sadly, the red-banded men had taken up positions inside and on the roof of the Trade Union House early on. When the unarmed Russian-speaking protesters were chased inside the building, evidence shows that many were shot in cold blood and doused with gasoline, dying from murder and not from the flames. A pregnant woman was allegedly strangled where she stood. Her attacker waved out the window; a compatriot unfurled a yellow-and-blue flag.
    warning: extremely graphic images:
    some people say that actually 116 to 217 people were killed, some cut up with axes, their bodies concealed in the basement, now under lockdown by the police:
    it is not surprising, as the US-funded Kiev regime + Right Sektor have had a brief but intense history of human rights violations, many proudly filmed in the moment. Here are two decent catalogs:
    Please make sure your Senators and Congressmen see the pictures of people shot three times through the head and burned. Let them know exactly what they have started, and who they are funding. This is unacceptable.

  9. shepherd says:

    Thanks so much for this. Very minor quibble. For the Greeks, generalizing them to reflexive political barbarity is difficult. If you’re thinking of Homer’s heroes, sure, but they’re not strictly historical. As for the 5th century city states, banishment, on the whole, was more common for political offenses. It could be followed by murder, but often wasn’t. The actions of the Athenian “Thirty Tyrants,” which featured summary executions of political opponents, were noted in antiquity as an exception rather than rule.
    You may be thinking of the Greek attitude towards defeated military enemies, which could be exactly as you say.

  10. nick b says:

    I can’t speak for everyone on wall st, but it was always my experience that being a soulless murderer was bad for business. However it was also my experience that decades of personal experience to the contrary is no match for a popularly held generalization.

  11. Medicine Man says:

    I am curious about this too. Is the priest bound to uphold the sanctity of confession if the subject shows no remorse or desire to repent. Based on Mr. Sale’s description of the accused it is not hard to guess how that confession went or what his motives were for seeking out a priest in the first place.

  12. YT says:

    One morning in the winter of 194 BC, Emperor Hui went for a hunting trip and did not bring Liu Ruyi with him because the latter refused to get out of bed.
    Lü Zhi’s chance arrived, so she sent an assassin to force poisoned wine down Liu Ruyi’s throat.
    The young prince was dead by the time Emperor Hui returned.
    Lü Zhi then had Concubine Qi killed in an inhumane manner: she had Qi’s limbs chopped off, eyes gouged out, ears sliced off, forced her to drink a potion that made her mute, and thrown into a latrine.
    She called Qi a “human swine” (人彘).
    Several days later, Emperor Hui was taken to view the “human swine” and was shocked to learn that it was Concubine Qi.
    He cried loudly and became ill for a long time.
    He requested to see his mother and said, “This is something done not by a human. As the empress dowager’s son, I’ll never be able to rule the empire.”
    Since then Emperor Hui indulged himself in carnal pleasures and ignored state affairs.
    “The tongue of a pit viper, the sting of a wasp, all these fail in comparison to the most lethal, the heart of a woman.”
    You were saying ’bout making hairs stand, Jose?

  13. Highlander says:

    There are more ways than one to kill a person on or a society. and different speeds you can do it at.
    I personally don’t believe people who sell billions of dollars of derivative type products, knowing they are crap, and at the same time go short the same products are upstanding citizens.
    As matter of fact they are scum in $5,,000 dollar suits, who have pounded the entire country in the skull with a financial rock in pursuit of pure unbounded greed.
    Just because Wall Street bought off Washington doesn’t mean the biggest part of the Street shouldn’t be in North Carolina with Madoff( former chairman of the National Association of Securties Dealers stock exchange).

  14. nick b says:

    I read with great interest, even awe, of your experiences as a pilot on the ‘flight MH370’ thread. It was really fascinating to read something from someone with first hand experience, someone who had been there. I bet you did some serious head shaking and had a few chuckles at the expense of folks (perhaps even me) who speculated about what happens in flight, when they had never done it before. At least I imagined you would.
    I spent a big chunk of my career working on ‘wall st.’ I have worked in ‘nuts and bolts’ securities as well as complex derivatives. I won’t bore you with the details, because done right, what I did should be boring.
    Are there ‘bad guys’ on wall st? Sure. But no more than in any other job I worked in. There were things done in the run up to the 2008 crisis, and after, that were indeed criminal. And some folks belong in jail. That’s a view that’s held by me, and many others ‘on the street’. They screwed all of us. You can believe that because of that, everyone in the industry is a crook and works in culture similar to murderers, but it’s a gross generalization. As I said above, my years of experience to the contrary are no match for it. All I can do is shake my head and chuckle.

  15. Highlander says:

    Reading between the lines, you seem to me in all probability to be a pretty decent fellow.
    You probably in spirit if not actuality, harken back to the days of the “White Shoe” wall street firms. While they weren’t exactly pristine, being good Episcopalian WASPS, and Irish Catholics, they could at least keep their greed under some semblance of control.(Also it didn’t hurt in those days,the SEC actually did its job, and enforced the securities laws.) The White Shoe firms like the Confederate Army are long gone, obliterated. If I gave you personal offense, I apologize.
    As for my personal back ground as a professional aviator not giving me the back ground to make such judgements about “Wall Street” ethics and honor.
    Welll…as I have said before, I am a man who has had several life’s. One of them was in the securities and commodities business for 10 years. I personally held and exercised every principle license that the SEC and CFTC offers. I have leased seats on the NYSE, Chicago MERC, and the CBOT, and used them for a number of international clients.
    One my very best friends, is a fellow Scottish Highlander, marooned in deepest darkest London, he was the first leveraged buy out/ hedge fund guy in Europe. The old bastard won’t quit, he is still fully in the game. Two of my hill billy acquaintances are billionaires. Who to quote them, have the “Wall Street types slither up to their door” on a regular basis trying to steal their money.
    Over a wee dram of whisky,all three of these imminently qualified filthy rich guys,regularly confirm my biases concerning today’s wall street culture.
    One last small point, I didn’t actually say Wall Street types were killers, (that requires a certain virility, which most of them don’t posses). I only said,Wall Street types shared many of the same psychological profile points with the Mr Sale’s killers.

  16. nick b says:

    Thank you. I am impressed, again. I was never a white shoe guy, just a bond geek who knew that you didn’t have to be dishonest to make a good living. I surrounded myself with people who felt the same way. We believed in being honorable because it was a good way to live, and it was good business practice. We all did well.
    I will have a wee dram in your honor this evening. If I recall, you are a Talisker fan? My brother gave me a very peaty bottle recently called ‘Jura Prophecy’ from the Isle of Jura. It reminds me of Talisker.

  17. Highlander says:

    Good choice of whisky, and best regards.
    And by the way, occasionally,I am guilty of using an overly broad brush stroke. I find,doing so, does sometimes help to stimulate the conversational tempo.

  18. nick b says:

    Well you got me a little fired up, but I learned a few things, so it was worth it. Best regards to you as well.
    Oh, one quick aside, tell your wealthy hill billy buddies to open a multi-family office together. They’ll be able avoid the the ‘slitherers’ completely, and they might even make money at it.

  19. FND says:

    Step back a moment and look at what really happens after a heinous crime. The general population is sickened and revolted. People wish they could get their hands on the perpetrator. Lynch mentality runs wild. But what is even worse is that a rush to judgement could result in an innocent person being executed. So a thorough investigation and trial is needed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. But if the trial and appeals are never-ending, and the execution is decades after the crime, or never, a critical purpose of the capital punishment is lost.
    What is lost? The population’s mental health. Yes, in the case of cold blooded heinous murders, capital punishment is needed for the mental health of the population. It matters not whether it is a deterrent or not and does not prevent future capital crimes. Its all about justice. It’s what justice is really all about, the enforcement of what is just and deserved. Unfortunately, that need is not met when capital punishment is delayed for decades. The swiftness must be balanced with the risk of executing an innocent person, especially since capital punishment is irreversible. And, the execution must be humane lest society slip into the abyss.

  20. optimax says:

    Capital punishment can be used as a political tool. That is why I’m against it. The main purpose of our constitution is to not put to much power into the hands of government. I think it’s time to take the power of executing its own citizens away from the state. I don’t trust them that much.

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