The story of a journalist’s decadelong friendship with a convicted serial rapist and murderer.
Elliott’s relationship with Michael Ross (1959-2005) began in 1995 while she was the Connecticut Law Tribune editor in chief on a long assignment to interview the death row inmate and explore “the complexities of mental illness and the death penalty.” The author writes of her initial fascination with Ross after he guiltily lobbied for his own execution after the six death sentences he’d been handed were overturned in 1987 due to unpresented key psychiatric evidence. Initially feeling imperiled, her trepidation soon dissolved once she met Ross, whom she describes as a “sensitive, articulate” Roman Catholic Cornell graduate (where his killing spree began) desperate for atonement. In chilling detail, Elliott diligently retraces Ross’ abusive childhood on a chicken farm and then moves through each of the killer’s grisly murders—eight random girls and women between the ages of 14 and 25—intimately acquainting readers with these innocent women, who were sexually violated, then strangled. While Ross considered himself possessed by a homicidal “monster within,” Elliott believed she only truly interacted with the “lonely, haunted” side of a man unable to comprehend his inner demon’s motivations. That was until she received Ross’ petrifying six-page letter describing his active paraphilia and intricate inner thought process during a ritualized rape. The author also explores Ross’ diagnosis of sexual sadism and the attempts to avert his violent compulsions via castrative female hormone therapy. A staunch opponent of capital punishment, Elliott believes Ross’ undiagnosed and untreated mental illness perpetuated his murderousness and ushered in the end result of his execution at age 45. However, readers may still bristle at her almost exculpatory rendering of him as “a caring, thoughtful person who exhibited true remorse.”
A disturbing and multifaceted exposé of both a ruthless killer and the sympathetic, merciful journalist at odds with his capital fate.