The Hunter of Hunters
She called herself the Hunter of Hunters. Originally, it had been because she was a countersniper in the army, taking out enemy snipers and would-be suicide bombers as they sat waiting to pick off US Army convoys. She’d even gotten it as a tattoo on her bicep, above the sniper logo of a snake and an arrow. Now, she called herself that for a different reason.
“Men never see women coming,” she told me.
Her voice had a sharp bite to it. We were sitting in her car, a beat up, navy Ford Bronco, watching the door of an apartment to which the term “flop house” definitely applied. We had been there three hours already, chewing gum and occasionally shooting the breeze. It was worse than watching paint dry, but I prided myself on my patience. This would be worth the wait.
“That’s their vulnerability,” Dionne continued. She was running a quarter between her fingers like a makeshift fidget spinner. “They spend their whole lives seeing women as objects rather than people, so when they look for threats, they look right over women.”
It had taken me months to get to this point. The point at which Dionne actually let me into her world and shared the part of her she had never shared with another soul. It was a miracle I’d done it, but I had a knack for getting people to trust me. It was a rare gift.
“Take this guy.” Dionne gestured disdainfully to the door. Every time we looked, the apartment complex looked more roach infested. I’d have to take at least two showers when I got home just to get its stink off me. “He’s probably never had a good thing to say about a woman in his life. Thinks they’re just objects that he can turn into his own playthings. Dolls that exist only for his entertainment.”
Dionne saw herself as a vigilante. A modern Batman, without the cape and costume. She was out to make the world a better place, even if that meant doing things off the books. Probably especially if it was off the books. That’s why she was talking to me now. Because she needed someone to know what she was doing. Even though society would never accept it, she was proud of what she was doing.
She adjusted the collar of her uniform. It was crisp and sharp and I bet she ironed it every morning before she put it on. It was a bold move, wearing her police uniform here, especially because we were hundreds of miles from her precinct. If anyone saw her doing what she was about to do, she would be caught. She knew that, but after this long, I suspected she didn’t think she could be caught.
I nodded and pretended to write her words down on my notepad. The only reason she’d begun talking to me about this other life of hers was because of the journalism credentials I’d flashed in front of her months ago. I was doing a report on serial killers and did anyone in the precinct know anything about them? Did she ever. She kept thick files on all of them. She knew them like the back of her hand the way young boys used to know baseball stats. She even know the foreigners. It wasn’t a hobby, it was an obsession.
Even when she talked, Dionne’s eyes were locked on the door of the apartment. If she’d learned anything in sniper school, it was to stare at a single spot for hours at a time. She set the quarter down, then a few minutes later began playing with the strap over the gun at her hip without even realizing it She would leave the gun in the car when the time came. Ballistics were too good nowadays to use it, and besides, guns really weren’t her thing.
I asked, “So how do you find them?”
She liked that question. Her eyes glowed as she considered her response. I’d seen that look before. It was the look hunters got when they remembered past kills. She was reliving the highlights, flipping through the memories like flashcards. After a long minute, she explained, “They all make mistakes. A clue here, a clue there. A victim who got away or a piece of thread that could only come from one place. It takes time, but eventually it’s enough. I’ve been tracking this dirtbag for months, but it was only this week I got enough to confirm he’s the right guy.”
I nodded, still pretending to write. She seemed more comfortable when I did that. It made her more talkative. She was educating me.
“It sounds like you put a lot of work into this,” I said in my most encouraging voice. It was a good thing she didn’t know shorthand. In reality, I was working on a grocery list: eggs, a coffee creamer, two loaves of bread, a new bottle of shampoo.
She took a sip of coffee from her thermos. “Some of these guys take years to crack. You know, the really good ones can go years between killing. You remember Dennis Rader, the BTK killer?”
“That’s ‘Bind, Torture, Kill’?” I asked, playing a little dumb. She liked being the expert in the room. I didn’t mind letting her be. It kept the conversation going.
She nodded. “Yeah, him. He once went eight years between kills. Imagine trying to track that. The trail goes cold and there’s nothing you can do. Guys like that are the hardest. That’s how they last for so long. But even they slip up eventually.”
“Like Samuel Little?” I asked, referencing a man who confessed in 2018 to 90 murders over the course of 40 years. He’s considered the most prolific known serial killer in US history.
Dionne snorted. “Little got lucky. He killed hookers and drug addicts, people the local cops didn’t care about. The real predators, the ones who are hardest to track, go for harder targets. Like this guy.”
It was a natural segue. I jumped at it. “About him. What did he do?”
She smiled, but it wasn’t a nice smile. I thought fleetingly how she might have been really beautiful if she hadn’t let her hatred consume her. All these years and she’d never married, never even dated. Just spent all her time hunting. Hunting and brooding.
She explained, “Five women so far. Abducted them while they were running, raped them, and left their bodies in the woods. Cases like this often go cold. No witnesses, no leads. A guy like this can keep killing for decades if he doesn’t slip up.”
“So how did you find him?” I was genuinely curious. I paused writing to listen.
“License plate. There was a partial picked up on a gas station CCTV camera before his last kill. It wasn’t hard to run down. And if the local police were at all competent, they would have.”
That was her thing. She felt like she was better than everyone else. She connected dots sooner, found the bad guy first. She was just smarter. And that’s why we were here, sitting outside some fleabag apartment. Because to Dionne, justice shouldn’t depend on some incompetent local cops. She had shot terrorist snipers in the desert of Iraq. She wasn’t going to let some guy driving a 2012 Chevy Sonic turn her country into his own personal killing ground. If she had to, she would become justice.
“Why aren’t there many woman serial killers, do you think?” I asked it in my best journalist’s voice. Female serial killers were few and far between. Most female serial killers were poisoners, real “Arsenic and Old Lace” types.
Dionne waved a dismissive hand. “Look at Vera Renczi, the "Black Widow." She killed 35 men with arsenic. What is that? That’s nothing. You can’t compare that to Little. Women aren’t like men. They’re not animals.”
“But there’s Elizabeth Bathory,” I countered, bringing up the famous Hungarian noblewoman who was accused of sadistically torturing and killing hundreds of young women in the late 1500s and early 1600s.
Dionne shrugged. “Okay, sure.”
The truth was, she wasn’t interested in female serial killers. She was only interested in the men who raped and killed and took advantage of women. She didn't see herself as being at all like any of them, but she was. I didn’t know how many men she’d gotten to, but no matter how many it was, the Hunter of Hunters was still a serial killer. She could couch her actions in noble language about justice and fairness, but at the end of the day, she got the same thrill out of killing that her victims did. And I was pretty sure that if no one stopped her, she wouldn’t stop on her own.
“Do you keep trophies? To remind yourself…?” I asked. I wanted to know if she kept something from each of her victims. Many serial killers kept photos or pieces of hair that they later used to relieve the kill. What would a vigilante keep?
She rolled up her sleeve. Below her sniper tattoo was a column of dashes. I hadn’t been paying attention before when she’d shown me the tattoo. Now I did. But she must have mixed her sniper kills with her…extracurriculars. Only she knew how many of each she’d had.
We saw the white curtain of the apartment flicker. Immediately, Dionne took her gun off and put it in the glove compartment. “He’s there alright,” she muttered. “I knew it.”
“Wait,” I said. “You’re wearing your dog tags. You should take them off. If something goes wrong, you don’t want him to be able to ID you.”
She paused for a second, thinking. Those tags were her identity. They were part of her soul. She probably hadn’t taken them off since she’d gotten them. But they were a liability. She reluctantly took them off and put them in the glove compartment.
“You’re sure there’s no CCTV here?” I asked, looking around. I already knew the answer. Places like this were too poor to have any sort of security. Dionne knew it, too, which is one reason she’d decided to do it here. That and the privacy of an apartment. No one was likely to come knocking in a place like this.
Dionne ignored my question and got out of the car. Opening the back door of the Bronco, she pulled out a box of latex gloves. She put on a pair and tossed me the box. “Here, put them on.” She also grabbed a rope and some duct tape.
We walked to the door and knocked. The young white guy who answered could almost have been handsome, if not for his wispy mustache and receding hairline. Dionne flashed him her badge. “Police, may we have a word?”
When she was finished, Dionne peeled her gloves off and wrapped one in the other. Then she put them in her pocket. She was extremely fastidious. She’d told me that before each kill, she spent hours planning everything down to the last detail. Mapping out escape routes. Identifying possible camera locations. She thought that with enough preparation, she could anticipate anything.
But she was right about something else, too: people never see women coming. That adage applied equally to both men and women. Perhaps she realized that as the paralytic agent took hold. She was always so predictable with her coffee.
I helped her onto the bed before her muscles locked up completely. Her brown eyes were full of shock and confusion. I patted her on the hand and took out the scalpel I kept in my back pocket. “Everyone makes mistakes,” I told her. Even hunters of hunters. She really shouldn’t have worn her police uniform all the time.
When I got home, my wife looked up from her book. “You’re home late,” she said.
I smiled at her and peeled off my coveralls. “Yeah. Someone brought a ‘62 in with a busted transmission. Took all day. Felt like months.” I held up a grocery bag. “I got groceries!”
She nodded and went back to her book. Dionne was right about another thing, too: sometimes it takes years for serial killers to make that one fatal mistake that gives them away. I had been waiting for my wife to make one for ten years now. I was so close I could taste it. But she was like Rader: impossibly patient. She could wait between kills.
It was all right. I was patient, too. I had all the time in the world, and she would slip up eventually. They always did. In our bedroom, I took out Dionne’s dog tags and put them in the space I’d hollowed out in the nightstand. I stifled a grunt of frustration. I was running out of room.