A Killer Site

After AOL shut down a Web site devoted to the musings of serial killers, free speech advocates helped to rebuild the site and get it back up on the Web.

Topics: AOL,

in 1964, Sondra London and Gerard John Schaefer were high school sweethearts. They explored the Florida Everglades, hung out on her grandma’s porch swing and vacationed together. London’s relatives adored him. But as young lovers often do, they eventually went their separate ways. In 1972, London learned that her ex was a convicted killer who had committed at least two murders, and perhaps many more.

In Feb. 1989, she wrote Schaefer a letter in prison, asking if he remembered her. “How could I not?” he immediately replied. They decided to collaborate on a book. In 1995 Schaefer died in his cell. London published their book, “Killer Fiction,” posthumously, and created a Web site displaying an excerpt — “The Serial Killer Who Loved Me,” which was carried on America Online.

Three weeks ago, a friend forwarded a distressed e-mail message from London to me. “The Governor of Wyoming is trying to get AOL to terminate me,” the message read. London’s Web site contained information about three other serial killers, including nine documents written by Keith Hunter Jesperson — the “Happy Face Killer” — from an Oregon penitentiary. The governor wanted to extradite Jesperson to stand trial for a murder in Wyoming. On Sept. 4, the governor held a press conference saying he would “call on parents in Wyoming who are using America Online to discuss whether they can support a company that allows the promotion of torture, rape and murder.”

Others would argue that the online documents provided some interesting insights into the mind of a serial killer. One included Jesperson’s answer to the question, why did he kill people? “My father witnessed me throwing a cat against the pavement and then strangling it to death … Instead of telling me it was wrong, he was kind of proud of the way I took care of it. He even bragged about the way I took care of the stray cats and dogs in our mobile home park.” The “promotion” to which Gov. Geringer was likely referring was a 147-word rant titled “the self start serial killer kit.”

There was no movement from AOL for over a week — though the governor of South Carolina joined in the condemnation. Then, on Sept. 11, calls for a boycott came from victims’ rights activist Marc Klaas, father of 12-year-old Polly Klaas who was kidnapped and murdered in California in 1993. Twenty-four hours later, as I was reading through the site’s pages, the links went dead. AOL had closed the site.

But there was a second act. A roster of censorship foes volunteered their time and resources to resurrect the page. In a kind of Internet barn-raising last Thursday night — as “Banned Books Week” drew to a close — London announced that her site was back online, displaying the words “banned by AOL” and with a smiley face drawn by the “smiley face” killer at the bottom of the home page. “I was dismayed when AOL first banned my Web sites,” said London, “but this experience has brought me into contact with some of the best and the brightest netizens in the cyberverse.”

You Might Also Like

John Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, had predicted as much, pointing out the day before AOL pulled London’s site that Internet service providers would provide a new home for controversial pages “simply because some authority from the physical world has attempted to deny them one.” Within days, London received 20 offers to take AOL’s place. “It took me a week just to sift through all the offers and form the development team,” London recalls. Ironically, the governor’s actions triggered national coverage which ultimately resulted in a higher profile for the controversial site. Despite his attentions, London’s page is back on the Web, “bigger and better than ever,” she says.

Internet free speech advocates say the London case is an example of what they see as a disturbing new trend toward “soft” censorship. According to Ed Pechan, the general manager of London’s new host Crosslink, large corporations like AOL “are subject to influence by pressure groups who are willing to sacrifice core values enjoyed by all Americans in order to suppress views held by others which may be distasteful.” AOL insists the decision was the online service company’s alone.

“We find the information that is in this site … offensive and objectionable and we did not wish to have our name associated with it,” an AOL spokesperson told the Associated Press. Yet a subscriber’s page recruiting for the Texas Ku Klux Klan remains on AOL, five months after complaints from the Anti-Defamation League that AOL was not adhering to its own policy regarding “hate material.”

The Klan page is still online. Apparently some content is more “offensive and objectionable” to AOL than others.

David Cassel is an Oakland, Calif.-based freelance writer covering the Internet and popular culture.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>