Op-Ed: Demolishing the houses of horror

Posted Apr 9, 2013 by Alexander Baron
The authorities have decided to demolish the house Mick Philpott and his wife set afire and which resulted in the deaths of six young siblings. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened.
Derbyshire Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill stares at a weeping Mick Philpott during the po...
Derbyshire Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cotterill stares at a weeping Mick Philpott during the post-fire press conference. Is that the way a man looks at a grieving father, or the way a policeman sizes up a guilty villain?
If you are not au fait with the crimes of Mick and Maread Philpott, you will find a recap here, and a lot more on YouTube. Yesterday, footage was released of the couple performing karaoke two weeks after the fire. Make of that what you will. The people at Derby City Council have now decided to demolish the Victory Road house, which may be replaced with a memorial garden. Sadly, this is nothing knew, because, though it beggars belief, there are people out there who are far worse even than Mick Philpott.
Just over a hundred miles south of Derby is the City of Gloucester, which in 1994 saw the horror that was 25 Cromwell Street unfold. Among the victims of killer couple Fred and Rose West were their own daughter, Heather. Fred West committed suicide while on remand, leaving his equally depraved wife to face the music. She was tried and convicted on ten counts of murder; she will never be released.
What was left of the West family home was demolished, not that there was much left to demolish, because when the police search a house for evidence in an investigation of this nature, they literally take it apart brick by brick, which is what they did to 5 College Close, the house where Ian Huntley murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
Fred West was arrested in February 1994; Rose was arrested in April. The following month, the State of Illinois executed serial killer John Gacy. John Wayne Gacy Junior was born at Chicago on March 17, 1942. At the time of his arrest in December 1978, Gacy was ostensibly a pillar of his community. A self-employed building contractor running his own small company, he did a lot of work for charity, including entertaining children as Pogo the Clown. He would later become known as the Killer Clown - the title of his first biography.
Gacy was also active in local politics; seven months before his arrest, he was photographed with Rosalynn Carter, then First Lady of the United States. Twice married and twice divorced, Gacy was outwardly heterosexual, but for years he had struggled with his sexuality, and by the time of his second divorce he had come to terms with it.
John Wayne Gacy with Rosalynn Carter
Gacy, a serial killer, a Democratic party activist, killed boys, not women, but had the charms of a psychopath anyway.
Linedel, White House photographer
Unfortunately, Gacy didn't simply like men, he liked to torture them to death. He was indicted for sodomising an underage youth as early as May 1968, but after serving hard time he got his act together with the help of his widowed mother, and could have not only put his past behind him but become a totally reformed character. It was not to be, and but for the classic policeman's hunch, he might have continued his killing spree, but after his arrest following the December 11 disappearance of Robert Piest, he confessed to murdering between 25 and 30 men and boys, having long lost count. Twenty-six bodies were found in the crawl space under his house at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue.
The house was demolished in April 1979; the following March, Gacy was sentenced to death, but as usual it took over a decade to carry out the sentence.
Anthony Sowell is another American serial killer whose house was demolished following his arrest. Unlike Gacy, Sowell didn't blot his copybook until he was nearly 30 years of age. Indeed, after enlisting in the US Marines at the age of 19, he appears to have been considered first class material, but after serving seven years was discharged honourably with a string of awards and having attained the rank of corporal. For whatever reason, he doesn't appear to have taken well to civilian life, and four years later he was charged with the kidnap, rape and attempted rape of a pregnant woman, which earned him a sentence of 5-15 years, (compare that with the 7 year sentence received by Mick Philpott for his earlier crimes).
When Sowell was released in 2005, he moved back to his native Cleveland and committed his first acknowledged murder in or around May 2007. Like most serial killers, Sowell killed within his race; his victims were black women of a certain type, those who had problems with drugs and such, and who would not be missed; Amelda Hunter was a mother of three who had the use of only one arm. She was not reported missing until after Sowell's arrest.
Although there is some suggestion that Sowell committed his first murder as early as 1988, no earlier ones have been confirmed. After an initial insanity plea, Sowell changed his plea to not guilty. In July 2011, he was convicted of all eleven murders and sentenced to death. The following December, the house of horrors at 12205 Imperial Avenue was torn down to the chants of the families of his victims.