Friday, March 21, 2008


After my wife and I were married in 1991, we settled down in the sleepy old river town of Alton, Illinois, about 15 miles north of St. Louis. We loved our seven years there: an easy going pace, beautiful old homes, stunning views of the Mississippi from high on the bluffs, and history galore (e.g., Lincoln and Douglas debated there and Father Jacques Marquette stared in wonder at the Piasa Bird in 1673.)

But Alton can be a pretty rough place for a city of 30,000, with more than its share of drugs, gangs, and drunken biker dudes roaring down the streets. Seriously...The place is a biker gang haven. Our first apartment overlooked the main drag and one of the main biker bars. (Imagine us on a hill looking down on the bar about 100 feet below.) As was typical one summer night around 1:00am, the bar closed and the roar of Harleys split the night quiet. Suddenly we heard the thunk of heavy metal hitting pavement. I looked out our bedroom window and saw a guy sitting in the middle of the street next to his overturned motorcycle. Apparently he had simply fallen over sideways. He rose, ambled over to the curb, and sat down. Not 30 seconds later a car pulled to a stop at the bike, as it was blocking the street. Two men got out and exchanged words with the biker, who remained at his perch. Both parties waved in a what I interpreted as a sign of agreement. The two men then righted the bike and pushed it to the curb, aside its recumbent owner. Handshakes were exchanged and the men drove away. A few minutes later, the biker righted himself and roared off in the direction of Godfrey, where the bars stayed open til 3:00. (I suppose colorful would be another apt adjective in describing Alton.)

All of that is just a bit of background to one of the most horrific stories I've had the displeasure of reading. No more commentary. I'll let the AP take over:

Torture death shocks Ill. town

ALTON, Ill. - Banished to the basement, the 29-year-old mother with a childlike mind and another baby on the way had little more than a thin rug and a mattress to call her own on the chilly concrete floor.

Dorothy Dixon ate what she could forage from the refrigerator upstairs, where prosecutors say housemates used her for target practice with BBs, burned her with a glue gun and doused her with scalding liquid that peeled away her skin.

They torched what few clothes she had, authorities say, so she walked around naked. They often pummeled her with an aluminum bat or metal handle.

Dixon — six months pregnant — died after weeks of abuse. Police have charged two adults, three teenagers and a 12-year-old boy with murder in the case that has repulsed many in this Mississippi River town.


[Police Lt. David Hayes] watched the autopsy and found her injuries disturbing. X-rays revealed roughly 30 BBs lodged in her. Deep-tissue burns covered about one-third of her body — her face, her chest, her arms and feet — and left her severely dehydrated. Her face and body showed signs of prolonged abuse. Many of her wounds were infected.

None of the injuries, Hayes said, proved singly fatal to Dixon. Her system already was taxed by her unborn baby.

"The autopsy sort of indicates her immune system just shut down," he said. "It was not capable of fending off any more."
Evil. Pure, simple evil. No other word fits.


Blogger Gildersleeve said...

I come from Seattle, and I lived in a middle/upper class area near the Central District, an area once known for some of the highest Black Panther membership in the United States. My old house was in the middle of an eclectic area, and depending in what direction I went from the house I could end up meeting a gang member and his .9, crackfiends and prostitutes, or one of many churches or an ultraconservative veterinarian. There's been a fair share of gun violence in the area but I've never felt scared. To be quite honest, I've never seen a gun aside from a BB gun. I did have the unfortunate experience this past year, however, of witnessing a prostitute hop out of a car and pee right in front of my neighbor's house before getting back in her car.

I never knew that biker gangs really existed. The whole thing seems very alien to me and like something from a movie. Maybe that's how people from middle America feel when they see gangsta rappers talking about how they used to deal crack in the 'hood. I don't know.

I don't really know about gangs in other areas, but I think that gangs in urban areas are fuelled by many of elements that a decent society shouldn't be tolerating. One is drugs and the other is terrible education. The first I think is easier to fix than the latter, and I really think it would be solved if we decriminalized (not legalized) the ones that are not life threatening, especially marijuana. The drug war has been an exercise to futility in my opinion, and alot of people have ended up hurt, killed or locked up than needed to. There's a portion of humanity that always wants to have the reality altered, and drugs do that for them. No "war" is ever going to stop that.

I don't think that would stop all the extreme violence of criminals like what you cited in this post and wouldn't completely stop organized crime either. There will always be a racket, to coin an old-timey phrase, for the criminally inclined to cling to, but gangs would no longer have control over a product that's in demand.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Gildersleeve said...

I know I went on a bit of a rant there. Oh well.

3:17 PM  
Blogger John Egel said...

That was actually a pretty impressive rant.

I'll see your peeing prostitute and raise that with driving into the middle of gunfire. Alton is really an interesting place: big city problems with small town charm. Most of Alton is built on the bluffs and is very hilly. Nice areas are on the high ground and as you descend, the neighborhoods get progressively worse. So on one street you'll start in a good area, descend into gangland/white trash and climb back up to what you'd expect in a small town. Tumble-down shacks and Victorian mansions are separated by a block. You can take a guess where the horrific torture/murder took place.

Anyway...Regarding crime and drugs, you may recall that I have a weekend gig working in the St. Louis Justice Center. (Someone had a sense of humor in naming it. It's really just the city jail.) I review cases, set prisoner bonds and process the paperwork for someone to post bail. I interact with 20+ prisoners each shift, all arrested within the previous 24-72 hours. Some observations:

...At this point I had typed 7 incredibly salient and insightful points relating to my job. I then remembered that the Internets never die, much less fade away, and realized I was coming close to violating my oath of confidentiality. (Really. I had swear the oath to a judge.) So now my thoughts are lost to the ether. And it's bedtime. Oh well...

7:01 PM  
Blogger Gildersleeve said...

Wow, how do you end up working a job like that?

9:27 PM  
Blogger John Egel said...

It was in the paper. The facility is open 24/7/365 [insert 'crime never sleeps' cliche]. I actually work for the state circuit court. Full time staff work Mon-Fri and part-timers cover weekends and holidays. It's a very cool part time job; when it's busy the time flies and when it's slow I read or do Internet stuff. Plus the hilarious and horrendous stories keep things interesting.

9:20 AM  

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