The Darker Side of Being Human

In 1991 the movie “Silence of the Lambs” was released. The movie, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, was about agent Clarice Starling (played by Foster) chasing a serial killer with the help of a brilliant but terrifying murderer already in prison named Hannibal Lector (Hopkins). In order to do her job, Starling needed to get into the head of why a serial killer does what he does and Lector, gleefully, helped her to do just that. It was a dark and terrifying descent into the darkest parts of the human mind.

I loved that movie!

A lot of people did. It won the best picture Oscar. Foster and Hopkins won best acting Oscars and the catch phrase “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” is firmly entrenched into our culture and colloquial language.

But why?

Scholars, researchers, writers, psychologists, artists and on and on have struggled with trying to understand this phenomena of human psyche for centuries. All I have ever seen though, from all of those efforts, are representations, expression of it if you will, but not what actually drives it.

It seems to me, from seeing movies like “Silence of the Lambs”, or gruesome paintings like Goya’s “Saturn Devouring his Son”, we are more interested in the acts and not so much in what drives them. I for one think that we are fascinated by this darkness, in the same way, we all stop to watch a car wreck. What horror is there for us to witness that is not part of our daily lives?

This human darkness is probably a holdover from our days of living in caves and hunting mastodons. In order to survive the elements, animals, and other cave people, we would have been capable of some seriously dark and scary things.

In the early 1980’s I had moved to San Francisco for school. I liked it there. San Francisco is a huge, bustling cauldron of art, culture, history, architecture and a few million people basically living on top of each other. The peninsula where this city resides is fairly tiny.

I lived half a block from the north east side of Golden Gate Park. This park is amazing with a museum, aquarium, amphitheater, and a plant conservatory along with picnic areas, Japanese Teahouse, ponds, woods and gorgeous gardens. Many times I walked through the park, all of the way down to the Pacific.

I do remember walking through the park and seeing some large metal drums one day. They were just dropped off by one of the hiking trails. I walked right past them more than once, and, the park was always so well maintained, it was hard to figure out what those were doing there. As I passed them each time, I wondered what their purpose was. I watched other people going by them as well. Most were indifferent, however, I could see that others found them out of place as well especially because we could clearly see one was marked “Toxic Chemicals”. Apparently, their strangeness was communicated to a mounted patrolman Bruno Pezzulich who immediately contacted the Fire Department.

When one of the firemen moved a barrel, which had been sealed with concrete, blood oozed out.

It felt weird to me, quite unsettling in fact, that all of the times I was walking past those barrels, they contained human bodies. One had a man shoved in there and, the other one had two women wedged inside. This became known, of course, as the Golden Gate Barrel Murders and although I was not directly involved, I still felt a part of it for having seen these before it was known what they were.

As horrified as I was with finally knowing what the “toxic chemicals” were, I was absolutely fascinated with what had happened. Who did this and why? I was riveted by the case, especially because, I saw this killer’s handiwork myself and wondered if the he was ever in the park at all, watching us, watching me, watching the barrels.

An ex-cop named Anthony “Jack” Sully was implicated and found guilty after his prints were identified on the barrels. This man Sully had a passion for torturing and murdering prostitutes and freebasing cocaine and it all happened in San Francisco, the spring of 1983.

Do I feel sullied (pun intended) for having been so close to the work of a murderer? Not at all. It just amazes me that I am of the same species that can spawn such darkness. I don’t have this need to get a rush from killing the way murderers do, but, I still harbor this fascination with their acts. Maybe that is my holdover from the cave days.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014