The 13th Floor

Murder Ballads Mix Tape: Songs Inspired By Horrific True Crimes

One can’t deny the addictive quality of digging deep into some of this world’s gnarliest blips on the radar. From Dahmer to Borden, Bundy to Manson, some nasty characters have plagued the scene, resulting in mom’s favorite cautionary tales. Stories so scary, latchkey kids are a dying breed and hitchhiking is almost extinct. Let’s be honest, we’re kind of, totally, obsessed with murder. We digest cases, trials, unsolved slaughters, and cult practices like modern myths. So what better way to fuel our grim and curious research than with a murder ballads mixtape? Aided by my enablers Galluzzo, Lindbeck and McFarland, I’d like to present to you some highlights from a carefully crafted playlist you can enjoy in full below.

Pairs well with a nice Chianti. Bon appétit, listeners:

“I Don’t Like Mondays” – The Boomtown Rats

Brenda Spencer: The Original School Shooter

“And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die.”

San Diego, CA—Deemed in some circles as the “first Columbine,” one of the earliest deadly mass school shootings occurred at around 8:00AM in the icy morning of January 29th, 1979, when 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on children arriving at Cleveland Elementary School from her house across the street. In a 15-minute spell, Spencer pumped 30 rounds on the suburban community from a semi-automatic .22 caliber rifle her father had gifted her that Christmas. Principal Burton Wragg and custodian Mike Suchar were killed in the line of fire while rescuing the students. Of the surviving, eight children and one officer were injured.

Later barricaded in her home, a reporter reached Spencer on the phone and requested her motive, to which Spencer replied as cool as a child-killing cucumber, “I don’t like Mondays.” This phrase has gone on to inspire and coin a song by Irish band The Boomtown Rats, which topped the UK Singles Chart for four weeks just months after the massacre. “I don’t like Mondays” has also become an anthem for school shootings to follow.

Sudden Impact!” – Big Audio Dynamite

Ricky Kasso: The Acid King // Satanic Teen Murders

“Burnt out case from the neighborhood, converge one night deep in the wood
The bat from hell arrived that night to make that picnic outtasite”

Long Island, NY—The 80s were a time of hysteria over Satanic panic, heavy metal music, role playing, and drug use. This paranoia was fanned in 1984, when 17-year-old Ricky Kasso “sacrificed” Gary Lauwers in the Aztakea Woods while high on mescaline (some claim LSD). Before his death, Gary Lauwers stole 10 small yellow envelopes of angel dust named SUDDEN IMPACT  from Ricky Kasso at a party.

On the night of the murder, Kasso—joined by friends Quinones and Troiano—led Lauwers into the woods to make amends over the stolen drugs. Though Lauwers promised to compensate Kasso, the situation escalated and the teens became violent. Kasso bit Lauwers on the neck, burned him, gouged out his eyes, and stabbed him in the chest somewhere between 17 and 36 times. At some point during the hours long attack, Kasso commanded Lauwers to, “Say you love Satan,” but Lauwers replied, “I love my mother.”

In the aftermath, Kasso bragged about his “human sacrifice,” and claimed that he committed the murders because a black crow brought him a message from Satan, telling him to do so.

Well at least this time it wasn’t a dog.

Since the murders, Kasso was deemed The Acid King (Killer), a sobriquet befitting the nation’s current fears, sadly awarded to a gangly, crusty junkie from Long Island. In little-to-no-time, Big Audio Dynamite released SUDDEN IMPACT, named after the angel dust that incited the murder. Big Audio Dynamite also debuted  a so-very-80s basement music video.

Pretend for a moment that a proud, curlers-and-bathrobe donned mom is waiting on the other side of that basement door, with Dr. Pepper and Keebler Magic Middles at the ready.

“Nebraska” – Bruce Springsteen

Charlie Starkweather & Caril Ann Fugate

I saw her standin’ on her front lawn just a twirlin’ her baton
Me and her went for a ride, sir. . . and 10 innocent people died”

Nebraska/Wyoming, USA—18-year-old Charlie Starkweather met Caril Ann Fugate when she was 13-years-old. A highschool dropout, Charlie took a warehouse job next to Caril’s junior high so that he could visit her throughout the day. Charlie taught Caril how to drive, and in turn she crashed his car. It was a special kind of teen romance.

Charlie’s father paid for the damages but kicked him out of the household. After pursuing and leaving various minimum wage jobs, Charlie developed a nihilistic perspective that later fueled his personal philosophy that, “dead people are all on the same level.” Ouch, Charlie.

On November 30, 1957, in a stint of romance, Charlie went to a service station to purchase a stuffed toy dog for Caril. When the station attendant refused to accept credit as proper payment, Charlie left enraged. A few days later, Charlie returned to the station with a 12-gauge shotgun, drove the attendant to a remote area, and gunned him down—kneecaps first, then point blank to the face. Whether or not Charlie did, in fact, gift Caril the stuffed toy dog, remains a mystery to this day.

The full killing spree did not begin until after Charlie had an argument with Caril’s parents, in which they forbade Charlie from seeing their daughter—a feat much more offensive than denying credit. As a result, Charlie killed Caril’s family, including her 2-year-old sister Betty. After admitting to Caril what he had done, they hid the bodies together, and fled to carry on a murder tirade that would span from December 1957 to January 1958. The happy couple accumulated 11 victims.

In sum, two teenagers fall in love in a podunk town and a mass-murdering road trip ensues. It’s a dark star-crossed concept that’s enraptured many before with the likes of  Bonnie and Clyde, and The Lonely Hearts Killers. We don’t know why, but something about a murderous duo carries a special intrigue. In this case, Starkweather and Fugate has inspired not only some of my personal favorites, Malick’s BADLANDS and Tarantino’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS, but also the hushed, acoustic blues of Springsteen’s NEBRASKA.

Humor aside, we can safely say there’s a fine line musicians and lyricists walk when marrying murder and music. One wrong step and you stumble from an honest display of grieving and healing, to falling face first into murder exploitation. But when executed right—whether as a kitsch-pop tune, acoustic jam, or crooned blues—listeners are treated to something haunting and soulful. And if particularly subtle, you might not even know your favorite upbeat traffic jam is actually inspired by something truly grisly.

Give the playlist a whirl and if we missed something, let us know in the comments below.

Happy Monday! (Or whatever day it is) And remember: