Why you should care
Sometimes the hell we conceal is at least as interesting as the hell we reveal.
I was pretty aware that my family was “different” from the time I was about 2 or 3 years old. I knew there was more to it all than just the weird decor and the fact that my family would go on outings in a black limousine with our driver and bodyguard, Tony.
Being the grandson of the man who started the Church of Satan was incredible though. And I loved the time I spent living in the Black House, which is what everyone called the house we lived in, and did right until Anton LaVey, my grandfather, died. It was where things could be normal and good again.
But he was (in)famous, especially locally, so he rarely left home since he had to be careful, and there were pretty constant death threats and bullets through the front of our house. So he never took me trick-or-treating. That I remember. But this didn’t stop me from trick-or-treating.
The first Halloween I recall I was 4. I won a prize that year. My grandma glued tufts of “fur” from some kind of polyester yarn-like fibers she’d made. That plus makeup to give the effect of animal features, jeans and a shirt open to reveal my furry chest as Wolf Boy made me the paws-down winner. Living a couple blocks away in the Church of Satan might have given me an edge as well.
My costume was a hit and another example of how we’d never rely on simply buying some prepacked, sloppily designed, poorly crafted plastic piece of mass-marketed consumer garbage. Firstly, we didn’t have money for that. See, my family was cheap, because we were poor, and when we had money, my grandfather already had something picked out that he was spending it on.
In 1988, though, we were dead center in one of the most intense culture-shifting years of the 20th century when the “Satanic Panic” had a conservative America seeing devils and demons any and everywhere. It was, for Satanists, what 1969 and Charles Manson were to hippies and the Age of Aquarius: the end of a belief in our general harmlessness and the closing chapter in a collective history that in modern times had seen us more ignored than anything else.
So being the only kid in school who wore all black and had a satanic Baphomet medallion hanging from a necklace and a binder for my studies with a bright orange bumper sticker across the cover that read in big bold black letters “UP THE ASS FOR JESUS” wasn’t just edgy. For a 10-year-old like me, it was insane. And more or less mandatory, according to my parents.
I was prepared to kill for candy.
But I was an avid reader, and especially of anything related to serial killers. This is probably the first decade in American history where serial killers are as popularized, celebrated and well-published in print, television and film as they were in the 1980s. Western death culture blossomed in the ’80s. Goth, punk, metal, magic, crime and everything considered underground all began to fall under the collective umbrella of the satanic in the ’80s.
So I decided to be my favorite serial killer for Halloween in 1988. I had loved the way he was like Jack the Ripper of the West. How he was never caught. And how he used symbolic magic. He was like a comic book villain who comes to life and gets away, and was the ultimate expression of “fuck you” to the “powers that be.”
Even though my grandmother suspected that we knew who he was and was creeped out by it/him, I decided it was what I was going to do and I couldn’t be talked out of it. I was going to be the “Zodiac Killer.”
In short order, I started in on the costume’s design. It was very ritualistic, the process of designing my costume. This was my 10th year celebrating Halloween, and I knew it would be historic.
I looked for the closest replica to a real gun while hunting the dime stores and toy stores until I found the perfect one. It looked exactly like a real handgun and was the right size and everything. It was a bright green or orange squirt gun. I already owned a hunting knife in a sheath, of course. Black clothes, check. Black pillow case, check. Can of black spray paint and some masking tape, check check.
In a matter of minutes? I was the Zodiac Killer! And I was prepared to kill for candy.
I had spray-painted my water gun a convincing flat black. Cut perfect circles for my eyes into the black pillow case, but only after placing the legendary killer’s insignia on the front using masking tape, creating the circle target sign that is forever the mark of the Zodiac on the front of what was fast becoming my shroud.
With my blade strapped to my belt and my gun drawn I was a real threat. To the world? No. To my own life? Yes.
My mother helped me to make that costume and then took me out trick-or-treating in it. I’ve always been tall for my age, and so at 10 I was the size of a small adult, especially covered in all black and a hood. With a giant target on me and a hyper-realistic-looking gun.
You know, my grandfather used to talk to me about life. He told me when I was a kid that I shouldn’t “just blindly follow me and what my philosophy is just because I’m your grandpa. I know you love me, and I love you, and that’s why I’m telling you to find your own path, develop your own philosophy. I would almost prefer that you not read my books and instead just be you.”
So I sort of did. And I sort of have. Happy Halloween!