The killers that haunt my nightmares
Standing near an admitted killer is a chilling experience.
Hearing that killer recount the details of the murder can be nightmare inducing.
I am 33 years old and I can tell you I have heard, seen and even spoken to more killers than I care to count.
It’s part of my job as a news guy.
I am able to keep the nightmares at bay because when I see these killers they are separated from everyone else by shackles, prison Plexiglass or the wooden bar that divides every courtroom.
Those physical barriers fortify the mental ones I am able to build in my mind to protect myself.
But there are times those barriers cannot be fortified and the nightmares breakthrough.
I will never forget one of my first nights as a newsroom intern 13 years ago in another city.
I was tagging along with a reporter and photographer who were covering a house fire where a little boy was missing.
I remember arriving at the scene and meeting the distraught father. I remember the father crying as we interviewed him. I remember that father telling us he believed his young son was still alive, had likely accidentally set the fire and then run away out of fear of being punished. I remember following that father as he walked his neighborhood knocking on the doors of his son’s friends, hanging missing posters in the local bowling alley and returning to the charred home to weep.
I will never forget that night because soon after that father was arrested.
That father was accused and then convicted of brutally killing his son, carting the body away in the back of his pickup and then setting that house fire to cover his own tracks.
I believed that man’s tears. I interviewed that man. I actually helped him look for his ‘lost son.’ All the while he was hiding his true nature, that of a child killer.
13 years later I still have nightmares that involve that night of searching.
Yet there is another fire, another search and another night that will live in my nightmares for the rest of my life.
It was the 5th of July 2008 and I was covering a house fire in Parkland. My photographer and I were searching for any witnesses to that fire. As we went door to door we began to piece together what had happened. The people living inside the home had been outside shooting fireworks at each other when suddenly one of the rockets flew into an open window and sparked the fire.
While talking to a neighbor I saw a van pull up in the driveway of the charred home. I concluded my interview and wandered over to see who it was.
I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Travis and I’m with KOMO,” I said as I put out my hand.
“I’m Maurice. I own this house. I rent it out and was just coming to check out the damage,” he replied as he shook my hand.
It took a little convincing, but Maurice eventually agreed to speak to me on camera about the fire.
I remember thinking Maurice was soft spoken, polite and even a little shy.
That said, I will also never forget how that interview ended.
"A life, you can't never get that back. But property, that can always be replaced," said Maurice.
At the time those words sounded so hopeful and life affirming.
In retrospect they haunt me.
You see a year and a half after that interview Maurice went on to brutally execute 4 Lakewood Police officers at point blank range.
Maurice from the house fire was Maurice Clemmons. That man, that name and that face will live in infamy in the northwest forever.
With every ounce of logic I possess I know that it would have been impossible for me to predict the night of my interview what Clemmons would go on to do. I have emphatically told myself that fact so many times I have lost count.
Still that night lives on in my nightmares.
After waking from one of these nightmare I am often left contemplating the nature of humanity and asking questions that have no answers.
I have spent my adult life hearing, seeing and speaking to killers. It is part of my job. I know I am safe from these killers because of the justice system in this country.
What I didn’t know when I started down this path was that occasionally I would meet these killers before they entered the justice system and sometimes even before they would become killers.
It is that reality that I cannot keep at bay and cannot keep out of my dreams.