Kids In The Dark, 1984Kids In The Dark
November 22, 1984
A police dog went mad on the fourth of July, deep in the woods behind Main Street. Howling and sniffing, he found enough flesh for a fingerprint and a pile of bones wearing denim vest, running pants, white undershorts, Nikes. Next to the grave was a black spot on the ground where the body had lain ten days before burial. Tissue had darkened and blood had drained. The body sank into the earth. Under some leaves, the worms did their work, transfigured themselves into flies and flew off. They left bones cleaned of flesh, full of dents from the blade of a knife. Thirty stabs? Forty stabs? Fifty? The eye sockets were whittled. There was no face to speak of. And these were just kids.
Over the course of two weeks, as the body became a skeleton, at least fifteen and perhaps thirty teenagers and young adults were told of the murder, some in great detail. A few were taken to the site, a ten-minute walk from the quaint main drag and harbor park of Northport, Long Island, to view the corpse, a dissolving trophy. No one breathed a word of the killing to police, to parents, to any authorities. Finally, a girl who’d overheard some other girls talking about it made an anonymous call to the police.
The skeleton was Gary Lauwers, 17, a high-school dropout who had often run away from his Northport home. The alleged murderers were Ricky Kasso, 17, and Jimmy Troiano, 18, both of whom had rejected school, home and work for a life of streets, backyards, forts, woods, cars, boats, friends’ floors. They were bag kids of the ’burbs. They were found the next day, sleeping in a car, and were subsequently arrested.
Kasso had been charged in April with digging up a grave the previous fall. (Gary Lauwers was among those who watched.) In his pocket, at the time of that arrest, was a list of the Dignitaries in Hell. In May, his parents had taken him to Long Island Jewish Hospital: he had pneumonia. While there, they sought to have him involuntarily committed. They’d already tried the drug rehab route at South Oaks Hospital, to no avail. They told the doctors of his grave digging, daily use of hallucinogens and other drugs, suicide attempts and jokes, threatening behavior. The psychiatrists found Kasso to be “antisocial,” but not “presently psychotic,” and let him go.
Two months later, after the murder arrests, Jimmy Troiano was placed in a special observation cell. Kasso was not. Kasso, reportedly accompanied by chants of “Hang up, hang up” from his cell mates, did so. Troiano, who’d been in jail before, signed a confession but later pleaded not guilty, and now awaits trial for second-degree murder.
The crime attracted international attention, in no small part because Suffolk County investigators said Kasso was a “member of a satanic cult” and that a throng of chanting cultists witnessed the “sacrificial” slaughter. The press came howling and sniffing. The throng turned out to be as phantom as the cheering mob at Big Dan’s in the rape trial in New Bedford; and the satanic cult, the Knights of the Black Circle, turned out to be a fading organization of cat-burning, dope-dealing delinquents to whom Kasso was not particularly close. He did those things well enough on his own.
The story told here is the story as seen through the eyes, and told through the voices, of Ricky’s and Jimmy’s and Gary’s peers. It’s the story of antisocial behavior become social, of the rules of the game in the game of growing up.
THE ACID KING
Ricky Kasso was the killer. Son of a high-school football coach, brother of three beautiful younger sisters, he was the black sheep of a Norman Rockwell family. He told his mother death would be “the ultimate high.”
MIKE McGRORY, veteran dirt-bag street kid, 21: Ricky always had that spaced-out look about him. He used to run his mouth about being satanic, like he is the devil. When he was high, he’d always sit there and laugh at you, like he was trying to pretend to be crazy.
BOY AT WAKE: He told me the way he got out of South Oaks Hospital. He bullshitted. When he went in, they believed he worshiped Satan and shit, and he told the doctors that he was fine, that he was gonna go back to school and doesn’t believe in Satan anymore, and he bullshit the doctor so much, they finally believed him . . . and they let him go.
PREPSTER GIRL, 17: His parents put him in some kind of hospital, and he ran away from it. One day, at the train station, I saw him. He dyed his hair so no one could find him. I said, “What’s going on?” And he goes, “No way are they gonna lock me up. I’m not crazy.” I was like, “I never said you were crazy, but maybe you need help with drugs.” He said, “I do not,” and then he started yelling, coming closer. I talked my way out of it. I think Ricky stopped living in eighth grade.
MARK FISHER, 17: I’ve known Ricky since sixth grade. First time he tripped, in seventh grade, in art class, he’d drawn a dragon on the board and said it started to move. First time Ricky got in trouble was eighth grade. He stole a container of Hi-C from the church. Kinda ironic that he ends up worshiping Satan and starts by stealing from the church.
TONY ZENKUS, 19: There’s a power trip in Satanism. It says: Now you can strike back at the people that screwed you up. The doctors said Kasso was antisocial. Wrong. Antisocial means sitting in a corner at a party. Sociopathic means robbing graves.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 1: Ricky took everything, just like Jim Morrison. The younger crowd was impressed by what he did. About six months ago, he started going to the South Bronx with a friend of mine. He used to drive in, get dusted and drive back. After two months, they finally crashed my friend’s car. They were all dusted out. Rick found other ways to get into the city.
I told Ricky, “Do too many drugs, you’ll be dead soon.” He said, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I want.” I said, “Boy, it’s your choice.” Ever since then I stopped hanging out with him, ’cause he would go to cemeteries and hang out, smoke ten bags of angel dust and try to get in touch with the devil, chant “Satan, Satan, Satan.” He was a drug friend, that’s all he was.
MARK FISHER: Ricky was of the devil. When he was on acid, he’d go back into the dark woods, up in Aztakea, and he would talk to the devil. He said the devil came in the form of a tree, which sprouted out of the ground and glowed. I tried to question him about it, but he said, “I don’t like to talk about it. People think I’m nuts.”
GIRL, known as Baker, 16: When the dust came to town, Ricky and the guys used to go down to the graveyard, and they’d tape themselves tripping on acid and mesc and dust. They thought the devil possessed the tape, and there were all these, you know, different voices.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 2: Ricky and this dude were in my car, and they’re like, “We’re trying to get this cult going. Going to the library to read up on some books. We want your mother to be the leader of it.” See, my mother has these powers. She raises tables. We’ve talked to Jim Morrison through a table.
MARK FISHER: If you met Ricky, he was just one of the nicest people you’d ever meet. After he smoked seven packets of dust, we were having a regular conversation. Meanwhile, this other guy who’d smoked with him was in a complete psychosis – making animal movements, karate movements. The police were here, and the policeman says, “You don’t step on our toes, we don’t step on yours.”
Ricky would take ten hits of mesc in a night. He would take three; ten minutes later he’d take another three; and two hours later he’d take four more. He’d figured it out in his mind how to take the most without ODing. Ricky is the acid king.
He talked to my girlfriend once on the phone. She said, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He said, “No, I’m not into relationships. They never last.” That’s pretty heavy.
SOFTHEARTED GIRL, 14: I was the closest person to Ricky. He’d stay in the clubhouse all the time. Ricky was sweet. He needed help. I talked to him for hours and hours during the night. He didn’t hate his family, but he blamed them for a lot of things.
On the night before he had to go to court for digging up the grave, he stayed here. In the morning, he went home, and his father wouldn’t let him take a shower or eat, wouldn’t let him in the house. After court, he left him off in front of the Midway store. Ricky asked for a quarter. He wanted a bagel. His father said no. So Ricky kicked the door of his father’s red Corvette, dented it. His father left and came back half an hour later, gave him two dollars and told him never to call his house, talk to his mother or sisters again. He never wanted to see him again.
MARK FISHER: When he moved back home for a while, he started scaring his parents, because he wrote some songs about Satan. He’d talk about his drug deals openly: “Mom, I’m going down to get a few hits of mesc. I’ll be back for dinner.” His parents got fed up with it. It wasn’t just the ketchup on his wrists. He put ketchup on his wrists and called down to his mother, “See what you made me do.” His mother ran up the stairs. And he started laughing at her when she realized it was ketchup.
PEACENIK GIRL, 16: Ricky sang me this song that he wrote on guitar. It was something like “A Child of the Devil.” He’d put on these weird eyes and make this weird smile about it. It was cute, though, the way he did it.
Jimmy Troiano was adopted out of an orphanage at age four, a failure at school “to a degree you wouldn’t believe,” says a friend, and arrested repeatedly for burglary. He ran and dealt and dusted with Ricky. Now he’s charged with aiding him in murder.
PREPSTER GIRL: Jimmy, he was always kind of wild, always doing strange things. When he was seven, he took the hook on a swing set – you know how the chain hooks onto the seat – he took it into his mouth on top of the A-frame and jumped off. It gave him a big scar on his face. At the ninth-grade dance, they played “Monster Mash” for him, ’cause he had so many scars on his face. I had a crush on him in the fifth grade. He was a nice kid.
GIRL, former classmate, 18: We all knew his nickname was Drac because of his fangs. We’d joke about him having to go to the dentist to have his teeth filed down.
DENISE WALKER, 15: I asked Jimmy what school he went to, and he’s like, “I don’t need school.” I go, “Do you work?” And he goes, “I don’t need a job.” I say, “What do you do?” He says, “I hang out.” Everything is such a quick comeback. I said, “Do you have any future plans?” He goes, “We just break the rules.” He goes, “People make rules, we break them.” He broke into houses. He had a good reputation as a burglar. He was at that age.
Gary Lauwers was high-spirited and mercurial, funny in a dopey way. He had a talent for weirdness – once decorating a dozen tree trunks with his paint-dipped hand prints – and he had a talent for trouble. He was a kid who could have gone either way.
MIKE McGRORY: Gary was basically a good kid, young in mind. He put up a little bit of a bad front so he could hang in there with his peers.
MICHELLE DeVEAU, 15: Gary was like a wimp. He was more into peace than fighting. He fought to get people to like him. Why does anybody fight?
COLLUM CLARK, 18: Gary’d run away from home. He’d stay in clubhouses that he knew, or in the lumberyard up the road, or in doorways.
DAN PETTY, 17: Fuzzy Legs would do things for the moment. He’d pull Midnight Auto, which is like ripping stereos off and stuff. He wouldn’t think about the next day, what was gonna happen to him. He’d totally fuck somebody over and not think about the consequences of it. Sometimes last summer he stole money from his parents. He’d get eighty dollars and go out and buy a twenty-five-dollar bong and spend the rest on weed and smoke it all that night.
He was always like that, since he was a little kid. He was the kid that started the little forest fires. Brush fires. He’s the kid that climbed up the tree very high . . .
BOY AT WAKE: Gary was the type of guy that everybody liked, because he wasn’t selfish. I remember he got twenty-five hits of acid, and he just gave them out. Twenty-five hits of ’cid. Gave them out.
STONED PALLBEARER 1: When he robbed that house, he had $4000 in hard cash, cold cash, and he found two people, and he said, “Hey, you guys wanna go buy some motorcycles?” He bought those two kids cycles, and one for him, and he bought a box, an outrageous tape deck, it was $300, and went to this girl’s house with a gold chain for her. He was going out with her, and they’d broke up. He got there, and she wouldn’t go out with him again, and he was just freaking out, and he beat the shit out of the box, on the ground right there. He didn’t care. He gave one guy $500, just, “Have fun tonight.” He went to Laces Roller Rink, and he took a thousand dollars, a thousand dollars, and just chucked it in the air, man.
STONED PALLBEARER 2: That’s the way he was. He didn’t give a flying fuck.
STONED PALLBEARER 3: He went to Florida once. They had a little Chemical Bank card, and he was punching out money the whole way there and back. It was sick. One of the guys clipped the card from his father. They got thrown off the bus, ’cause they stopped at a place for the night, and in the morning, they went to the liquor store and bought, like, mega bottles of Jack and everything, and they went on the bus, and they started getting everyone on the bus really drunk. Driver pulled over and said, “Get the fuck out!”
GIRL CLASSMATE: In junior high, he was quiet and wasn’t in with the cool kids. He was teased. An outsider. Gary was a faggot that got tough.
DAN PETTY: He’d be into Hendrix, Joplin, the Woodstock stuff, then rap for a while. Then Sabbath . . . like, I saw Gary and he had this upside-down cross and this little book – it was a little brown book about Satan – and he was just saying all these stupid things. But he didn’t really understand it.
TERRIE ALTO, 14: He did talk about his future once. Holy shit! S&M Gary! Remember when that girl puked in the attic at one of those parties? Gary put on her leather jacket, the biker jacket and shit, and I was wearing one of the black-leather belts with the studs. He had no shirt on. S&M Gary! He was dancing. He put on Prince. That was one of the many times Gary told me he loved me. That’s when he discussed his future.
He said that me and him were gonna get married, and he was gonna start dealing coke. And he was gonna go down to Colombia – yeah – and get massive amounts of coke, and then we were gonna, he was gonna, buy me my dream apartment, a penthouse on Fifth Avenue, and the bedroom was gonna be all black leather, and he was gonna buy me a red Ferrari with a chauffeur. He knew it was just a dream, but it was a dream. He was a pisser sometimes. And then again sometimes he was a dick.
PAST IS PROLOGUE
The lawyer who twice represented Gary in juvenile court told a newspaper reporter, “He wasn’t really bad. He was just acting out.” Gary’s act had no room for role reversal.
MARK FISHER: Ricky was totally dusted out and went unconscious for a while at a party. Gary stole the dust from out of his jacket – ten little yellow envelopes with the words SUDDEN IMPACT on them. When Ricky confronted him with it, he gave him back five and went and worked and paid him back for the rest. Gary was scared of him, ’cause every time they’d get together, Ricky would chew him out or beat the shit out of him. He never let him live it down. ’Cause Ricky had the money, but he didn’t have the vengeance.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 2: Gary was an easy target. I always saw Gary getting the shit kicked out of him.
TERRIE ALTO: I knew he was afraid of Kasso. He was scared shitless of Ricky.
PEACENIK GIRL: Jimmy Troiano had just gotten out of jail. It was like April. He and Ricky were going after Gary, looking for him, ’cause he’d ripped him off. And Albert Quinones made Ricky take off his ring, ’cause he didn’t want him to really fuck Gary up. I saw Ricky walking up the street looking for him: happy, psyched and everything.
And then I saw Gary come out from behind the white church; he walks up and his jacket was ripped; he had a cut on the side of his face – blood dripping down. Maybe his lip was bleeding. I think he hadn’t paid him back the money yet.
MICHELLE DeVEAU: I fixed his wounds up for him once. His black eye. And he had a bloody nose, too. He told me Ricky was an asshole. He’d bought a knife for protection, but I don’t think he carried it around. Gary told me Ricky told him he was gonna kill him. Supposedly. He said, “Last time Ricky beat me up, he says next time he’s coming back for more and it’s not gonna be just a black eye.”
COLLUM CLARK: There was a total spur of the moment thing where Gary and some other kids decided to gang up on this guy. They were beating him up, and then Gary took out a pipe and was lighting it up. And he gave him maybe ten bowl burns, circles with the rim of the bowl, a tattoo, sort of. Very severe, and they hurt. It was sick, it was torture. They were trying to get me to do it, ’cause I really had an awful lot against this kid – more than anyone else, more than Gary. I said to myself, No, you’ll get in trouble. Gary just had a severe dislike for him.
PREPSTER GIRL: Gary pulled a BB gun on two little kids up at the school, to scare ’em. After that, he comes up to a group of my friends who are sitting, talking, and I guess because now that he broke through his faggot, and he’s into his little dirt-bag group that he’s so proud of, he calls me a faggot! And I said, “Oh, yeah, you’re so cool you can pull a gun on someone.” And he got all mad, and started chasing me, and getting his girlfriends after me, and saying he was gonna kill me. But not kill me kill me, just kill me.
In Cow Harbor Park, kids were reeling from the year’s first punch of summer. Eventually, most everyone headed to a birthday party for Randy Guethler. But not Ricky, Jimmy, Gary or Albert.
MIKE “LION” MENTON, 17: Everybody was fucked up that night. It was one of the first nights school ended, so everybody was out. It was a festive night. You could feel it. We got done with finals. People were tripping, people were stoned. Gary went into the park and came back and said, “I saw cats, man!” I said, sure, maybe he saw a cat in the park, and he said, “No, man, there are cats all over the place.” He was flipping out.
One of the last things he said to me, “Well, I guess it’s safe for me to come down here now. I’m all paid off, I’m in good, it’s safe.” Then he said goodbye: “I’m going to get some beers and get fucked up.”
DOROTHY AT WAKE: That night, Gary said, “Mom” – he calls me Mom – “I’m going back to school. I got my act together: I paid my debts, and I got a lot of friends, and I really care about myself and I don’t need drugs anymore. I’m gonna start over.”
RICH BARTON, 15: I was down at the park that night. I went up to Aztakea three hours earlier, with Rick and Jim. We tried to make a fire, but we couldn’t. It was wet. And then we tried to get out of the woods, but we couldn’t. There was no moon and there’s a lot of paths up there, and we had the tunes cranking – Sabbath, Ozzy, Judas Priest. When we got out of the woods, I said, “I’m going home, trip out by myself.”
PEACENIK GIRL: That night Jimmy and Albert and Ricky came up to me, wanted me to buy mesc. They were really happy and everything. They were dehydrated, so they asked me where the nearest swimming pool was, ’cause they wanted to go pool hopping. They asked me to go to the deli to get orange juice. I got them the biggest orange juice I could find, and they were so happy. All three of them chugged it down. They were all dosed. They were happy.
SOFTHEARTED GIRL: Ricky gave Gary hits of mesc and bought him jelly doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts. First Gary didn’t want to go, but then Ricky said, “We’ll buy jelly doughnuts!” So he was, like, “Yeah!”
MARK FISHER: Ricky had twenty-five hits of mesc in a little stash bottle down at the park. I was gonna go get beers, and I gave them my box, had my tape in it, Black Sabbath, We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll. I came back, and they had left. Aw, shit! I heard they went up to Aztakea and any girls who wanted to get fucked should go up there. That was the word. So I went up to Aztakea, but I didn’t quite make it, ’cause it was so dark, I was bumping into trees and falling down. I heard noises as I was getting closer, but I couldn’t tell which way to go, and so I finally gave up.
Albert Quinones appears to be the only person who saw what happened, and will be the government’s star witness. Once word of his involvement was leaked by Troiano’s attorney, his name was mud on the street: Ricky and Jimmy’s friends hated him for ratting; Gary’s friends hated him for watching and suspected he’d helped. After this interview, his mother sent him out of state to be with a priest.
ALBERT QUINONES, 16: Gary already paid him his money back. Everyone was his friend. I mean, Ricky and Gary were both talking a lot, shit like that. The thing that bugs me out, man, is all of them were pushing me, especially Gary and Ricky, to take a hit of mescaline. They were all tripping. It bugs me out. I didn’t want to, but finally I just said, “What the hell,” so I took a hit. Ricky treated us to doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts. To me, Gary was being cool and shit. And then we went up to Aztakea, because they wanted to go to a good tripping area, and they’ve got a little field where you can trip out.
See, Ricky was getting pissed off, because he couldn’t start a fire, so Gary just takes off his socks, puts them in there. After Gary made a fire with his socks, he didn’t want to make it bigger. And Ricky comes out with a remark, “Why don’t you just burn your whole jacket?” The guy’s like, “How ’bout I just cut the sleeves off and use my sleeves?” It was fucked, man. So he took off his jacket and gave it to Ricky, and Gary just chopped off the sleeves. I guess he was going to make it into a vest.
All of a sudden Gary goes, “I have funny vibes that you’re going to kill me.” And Ricky was saying, “I’m not going to kill you. Are you crazy?” and shit like that. I was just tripping out, man. I was peaking. I was peaking out, tripping out. And they were just fighting, punching each other and shit, and I didn’t think anything was going to happen. I mean, I could see Ricky’s point, too, which is that he was friends with Gary, and he just turns around and steals ten bags of dust.
So they were just rolling on the ground and shit, and Gary got up to his feet after Jimmy had ran up to him and kicked him in the ribs and shit, and Gary had gotten up to his feet, and Ricky just bit him in the neck, bit him in the ear and then he just stabbed him.
It was a trip, man, I’ll tell you, man, it was a trip. I mean, you sit there and stare out, and you look at the trees, and it looks like they’re bending down and shit. I don’t know – that was a trip. I thought it was a nightmare. I couldn’t move, man. My whole body, all of a sudden, it just wouldn’t move, it wouldn’t function. It was like in shock. I was going crazy, man. I just stood there in my place, like all bugged out.
After Ricky stabbed him, Gary took off, ran, and Ricky got him, just like that. Jimmy picked up the knife after Ricky had dropped it, and he gave it to Ricky. And Ricky made Gary get on his knees and say, “I love Satan.” Then Ricky just started hacking away from him, man. He just kept stabbing him and shit, and then Gary was just screaming, “Ahhh, I love my mother.” It was really fucked, man. And they grabbed him by the legs and dragged him in the woods, Ricky and Jimmy, dragged him in the woods. They came running out of the woods after they just threw leaves on him and shit. They told me that he started stabbing Gary in the face and shit . . .
I wasn’t going to rat them out, because what’s, like, another body? Man, it’s no big deal. I mean, you see them kill once, you just don’t think, like, they’re not going to kill you.
It was just like Gary to take off without warning. Neither his parents nor his friends notified the police he had vanished.
BRIAN HIGGINS, 16: Gary had disappeared so often, you wouldn’t think about it.
PEACENIK GIRL: Just offhand, I said to Ricky, “I know you don’t even care, but have you seen Gary? ’Cause we talked to his mother, and she hasn’t seen him in a while.” He was just like, “No.” Later that night we hung out for a while. He started complaining he was getting flashbacks. He didn’t feel good. He said he was never gonna trip again. He just said, “I just had a bad trip, a really bad trip.” He had poison ivy all over him, and I gave him calamine lotion. It freaked me out after I heard about things – I helped aid him in the cure of his poison ivy gotten burying a friend of mine.
SCOTT TRAVIA, 18: I saw Ricky, and he kept saying, “Yeah, everything’s cool between me and Gary.” Then I got this phone call from Gary’s mom – she was wondering where he was. He used to sleep in my garage sometimes, in my ’69 Fairlane. I said I hadn’t seen him. She told me someone with this eerie voice called her and said, “You will never see your son again, because I just killed him.” Neither of us believed it.
GLEN WOLF, veteran dirt-bag street kid, 21: Gary was helping me fix my car. His tools were here. His hose was here. And some of his tapes were here. And I owed him thirty dollars. And it didn’t connect that he didn’t come back for all that stuff and ask for the money.
BOY AT WAKE: I was there when they threw the knife in the harbor. I saw Albert and Ricky talking, and Ricky said, “What should I do with it?” and Albert said, “Throw it in the water.” And then they went over and they threw it in the water. I said, “What was that?” And Ricky said, “Aw, nothing – it was a rock, man.” I didn’t think anything about it.
MARK FISHER: I was walking up Main Street, just applied for a job at the ice-cream parlor, and I saw Ricky making faces at a window. It was like a mirror. If you asked him what was he on, he’d just say, “Drugs.” After that, Ricky came and slept over on the couch in my room for a bunch of nights. He’d write “666” on steam mirrors when he’d take a bath, and he’d leave at 12:30 in the afternoon, before my mom came home. Jimmy spent a night, too.
One day I asked Ricky if I could borrow a knife. Jimmy and Ricky always carried knives in their jacket pocket.And he said, “I don’t carry a knife.” I said, “I don’t carry one either.” He said, “That’s good, you’ll just end up stabbing somebody.” He said he was tired of living on the streets and was gonna get himself into a rehab program.
One night he came back to my house. He was on dust. He went to sleep, and he woke up and thought he saw people in the room, people who had returned. He said that maybe people were haunting him.
Another night Albert and two girls held a séance at my house, a satanic ritual in which they tried to call forth the devil. It was probably the twentieth or twenty-first of June. Ricky wasn’t there. Troiano was in the next room with his girlfriend. They started out by drawing a five-pointed star – they just traced their fingers. They put a cup in the middle. We put our cigarettes in it. What they did say was “Satan will come forth in the form of fire.” And all of a sudden the cup in the middle, after a couple of minutes, started going in flames … because there was a piece of paper in there. And they said, “Oh, Satan has arrived! Welcome! Welcome!”
PEACENIK GIRL: Ricky asked me if he could have a ride up to Saratoga to see the Dead. I said, “Sure.” I told him Gary might be going, if we could find him.
THE SILENT CIRCLE
The only institution that mattered was friendship. The idea was to pretend you weren’t involved, to hang out and hope it went away.
RICH BARTON: I think it was two days after. I saw Ricky down in the round house. He was up that night. He was like, “Rich, come here, I gotta tell you something. I killed Gary.” I went, “Bullshit! Get out of here.” He’s like, “Come on, I’ll show you the body.” I thought he was kidding. But then I saw him the next night, and I was like, “All right, I’ll go up and see the body.” ’Cause I didn’t think it was true.
And so we go up there, it smelled like shit. I’m like, “Rick, what the hell did you kill, a fucking cat?” And all of a sudden he’s like, “There it is.” And there’s like a pile of leaves, and I’m like, “Holy shit, man.” I see all these maggots on him, a thick pile of them on top of the leaves. I said, “Rick, I’m getting the hell out here. I’ll meet you back downtown.” I just fucking booked out of there.
I met Ricky back in the park. He was calm, and he’s like, “See, I told you.” I said, “I think you’re crazy, man. You’re gonna get caught. Why’d you do this, man?” He said, “For kicks,” something like that. It’s like, now if he gets caught, I’m going to get involved. I didn’t tell anybody, but I couldn’t escape it. It came up every two minutes.
MARK FLORIMONTE, 17: The really gross part was smelling it like four blocks away. It smelled like a swamp that was after a thousand years, something just decaying for a thousand years and there’s maggots.
They asked me at the grand jury: Why didn’t you tell the police? I don’t know. When you’re a kid, why don’t you tell the police, you know?
RICH BARTON: Afterward, Ricky stayed over four times, I guess. I’d be sitting down in my room, and he’d just come through the back door. He was my friend. He’d sleep on the floor of my room and use his leather jacket as a blanket. He’d get up at two in the afternoon, and I’d cook him some hot dogs. The routine was the same as it normally was.
Ricky thought that because they’re gonna build houses up there that they’d stumble across the body in like a year or so. And he was sorta worried that a person would go on a wood hunt and grab a stick, but it would be a hand or a bone. He asked me to help bury it. I said, “Fuck that, man. I’m not getting near that thing. I saw it once, that’s enough.” I said, “You can have this shovel, and you don’t have to give it back.” Another guy drove Rick up there to do it, and he did it by himself. After, he just came up to me and said, “I buried the body.” I said, “Thank God.”
Then this other guy asked me about Gary, up at the loading docks. He’s like “You know, I think Lauwers is dead.” And I’m like, “Holy shit! Really?” I’m just acting. His friend Scott got a call from Lauwers’ mother. Somebody called her and said, “I killed your son.” I said, “No, he’s probably not dead, he probably just ran away.”
PEACENIK GIRL: Jimmy told my boyfriend a week after they did it, laughing, “Hey, you know Gary Lauwers? Oh, we killed him last week,” and then went into detail. My boyfriend wasn’t gonna say anything to me. I wear the peace signs – no one’s gonna tell me about a murder.
ALBERT QUINONES: For those three weeks when I didn’t know what to do, I was going crazy. I was afraid – I didn’t know what to think, ’cause no one’s normal enough to do that. If you do that, man, you gotta have losed it, you know. I’d think about going to the cops and just sort of, No, man, because they’d try to frame me, man. They’d set me up.
I tried to avoid them, and all they did was tag. We hung out. They’re very persistent. They would laugh about it and shit. They told so many people. They would just make jokes: “Oh, Gary’s dead, no big deal. Let’s go get another one . . .” They’d say, “Let’s go up there and watch him rot. . . .”
MARK FLORIMONTE: See, that day, July 4th, they were searching for the body, and they found it. So they wanted to find out who knew about it. They knew Albert hung with Ricky and him, so they grabbed Albert first. And they tried to find out, and Albert wouldn’t tell them anything, so that’s why when Albert came home, his lip was all cut, he had bruised ribs and a big bump on his head. They wanted to know the truth.
ALBERT QUINONES: The detectives were beating the shit out of me. See, I don’t trust them, man, I don’t trust no one anymore. They picked me up at two, and they were beating the shit out of me for like two and a half hours, in Yaphank. They brought me up to this room, and they started questioning me and shit, and they were beating the shit out of me. They didn’t tell me they were going for Ricky and Jim. I don’t know what to think. My head’s screwed up ever since that night – and it’s still screwed up, man.
The next day they said they were gonna let me go, ’cause Jimmy was coming in. He looked like he got away with it and shit – he’s playing it cool. I told them everything. Maybe Jimmy was probably thinking that I wasn’t gonna rat him out.
THE JULY 4TH HANGOVER
Some went downtown to scrape off the satanic graffiti and sing “Stairway to Heaven.” Some went to praise Ricky Kasso or to bury Gary Lauwers. Some went into the woods to get a look at the black spot. They were all hung over from chugging reality.
MARK FISHER: My mom brings in the paper, and they’re on the front page. She says, “See what your friends do, you’ve had murderers sleeping over at our house.” I was just cold as shit, I never heard a thing about it.
DENISE WALKER: It wasn’t shocking. It was disappointing. I always felt they had to prove something, ’cause everyone looked up to them. They had to keep doing things so people would think they were great. They’d wreck fences, rip down signs, beat people up. They stole a car and smashed it up. They just got carried away.
RANDY GUETHLER: Before the murder, I was known as a gravedigger. I did it to see bones, to see history. That’s why people go to museums. It’s just something teenagers do. But now people give me dirty looks everywhere I was, because I’m known as a Satanist. That’s a little different.
PEACENIK GIRL: Rick just went sick with the knife. I don’t think they carved his eyes out. Ricky just started stabbing him in the face when he found out he wasn’t dead. He probably just stabbed his eyes in.
Jimmy’s girlfriend told me at the Fireman’s Fair, “Really, I didn’t believe him. When he told me about it, he was laughing! I feel like I have a disease.”
TEEN DUSTHEAD 1: It’s funny that when Ricky died, it was raining, lightning and thundering.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 2: My door all of a sudden slammed open. It was shut and locked tight, and it slammed open and banged against the wall. It was two a.m. ’Cause indirectly we were the ones that got him started in this whole thing. It was just his way of coming to my house, saying, “Hey, man, look at this shit.”
BAKER: Ricky wanted to be the devil’s second hand. He said he was gonna chase Gary’s soul and kill himself in jail. Everybody knew that.
DAN PETTY: I think Ricky shouldn’t have been able to commit suicide. I think Ricky deserved much worse than that.
SOFTHEARTED GIRL: Ricky wanted the suicide. He always talked to me about it. He always said how much better his life would be if he was dead.
RANDY KORWAN, Vietnam vet, 33: I honor Kasso. I admire him. Why? Because he’s honest. He’s another rug rat at someone’s house; another one on the floor, eking out an existence; another wolf in a house full of wolves.
KING’S PARK GIRL, 16: Ricky hung out with the kid, and Gary stole from him. But, I mean, he had no right to stab the kid in the head. That’s where he was wrong.
KING’S PARK RAPPING BOY: Hey, Ricky, you’re so fine, why doncha stab me one more time! Do-de-do, do-de-do. Hey, Ricky, you’re a nice guy, why doncha stab me in the eye! Do-de-do, do-de-do. Hey, Ricky, you’re so swell, why you hanging in your cell?
TERRIE ALTO: This is the first time somebody I know died, other than people who send me checks on Christmas. It’s like, I still don’t realize he’s dead. I’ve dreamed about him. He’s always in my mind. There’s so much shit to remind me: his ID bracelet, GARY; his little marines hat.
BILLY LEASON, pall-bearer, 16: I’m not scared of death. You can’t live life that way. If you’re gonna live, I say have good times all the time. Go out and have a party. Push yourself as far as you can go. If I die tomorrow, I can always say that I lived my life to the fullest.
KING SARDONIC, Knights of the Black Circle, 20: I have theories about when you die. I think it’s what you think it’s gonna be. For me, it’s gonna be like this really classic Playboy cartoon from 1966 that had a group of people sitting around a pool. Girls and guys are drinking, and there’s a guy all dressed up in a tuxedo — has the horns on and all, like a devil — and he’s saying, “You didn’t actually think hell would be all that bad, did you?” Something close to that.
MICHELLE DeVEAU: My biggest problem in life is my friends dying. A close friend was killed at a New Year’s Eve party two years ago. He was fourteen. He called this girl a slut, and she freaked out and stabbed him. I was massively depressed. I tried killing myself. Two weeks after that another friend shot himself. First in the gut and then in the heart. He was about sixteen. Then another friend got hit by a truck, riding his motorcyle. And now Gary.
My mom and dad came in. They said, “We have something to tell you.” First thing I thought was somebody’s dead. They said, “Gary’s dead.” I ran into my grandmother’s kitchen, grabbed the biggest knife I could find and booked out into the backyard. And I just started hacking away at a tree, started freaking on a tree. That poor tree. One of these big oak trees. It’s gonna die.
I imagined him the last time I saw him: in his denim jacket, a Billy Idol T-shirt (I always called him Billy Idol, ’cause he looks just like him), his jeans, his Led Zeppelin pin — you know, where the thing is blowing up — and his Beatles pin. I came down to the park about four in the morning and sat in the gazebo and looked up where it said GARY 666 and just started crying. My parents have been watching me with a fine-toothed comb — looking at my wrists, making sure I don’t come in stoned.
I think, Why Gary? Gary was a skinny little guy, an easy target. He went with Ricky to the woods because he was gullible. He was very insecure. He was a sweet guy, and very funny. He always had a joke about something, even something that scared him. He had a lot of jokes about Kasso. Gary’s parents were blind to the drugs. Like most parents. He did them to be accepted. Like most kids.
I was committed to Gary. I was in love with the guy, you know. It’s sick: I’ve seen thirteen-year-old girls running around with RICKY LIVES on their T-shirts. They put around graffiti, RICKY LIVES, DEAD OR ALIVE. So I’m putting around GARY LIVES IN OUR HEARTS. Yeah, we were lovers — that’s what takes a lot out of me. I still got one of his hickeys. It won’t go away. It’s a scar.
THEY HAD DRUGS
A summer ago, Gary and his pals got stoned in his forest of white hand prints, and they made a tape to document the event. At one point, Gary stopped the proceedings and enthused: “We contribute this to the society of the man who invented acid, fucking drugs. Man, I dedicate this tape to the man who invented ’cid and mesc. Man, this fucking dude, thanks a lot, man, wherever you are. Fuck the world.”
BOY, 17: I started selling off all my possessions to get drugs. I sold my tape recorder; I was about to sell my Walkman. I sold my coin collection. That’s just the way it works with drugs. At first, they’re fun. Then they become necessary to get you through the day. Then they just become your total desire.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 1: You feel like you’re ten feet tall.
TEEN DUSTHEAD 2: You don’t feel anything. You feel like you could rip your gut open and not even know it.
FEARFUL BOY, 17: Dust is the ultimate. The end. Complete hallucinations. You sit down, totally numbed out, and you start sinking into it. People can put out cigarettes on you and you don’t even care. You can experience yourself sinking into a cinder-block wall.
It’s just the suburbs. There’s nothing better to do than take drugs. What else can you do? You can go shopping. Go roller-skating. Go bowling. To the movies. There’s only so much you can do before things wear out. You start taking drugs, just like the people in the Bronx.
RICH BARTON: The dust high was great, but the aftereffects make your brain feel like a pile of shit. You can’t function, can’t think for shit. When you’re on it, it’s like you’re drunk, stoned, tripping. When you walk, it feels like you’re walking on water. You feel like a feather. And you feel pressure start building in your skull.
MARK FISHER: In about a year, it will be back to normal. There’ll be different dealers. A substitute for Ricky, a substitute for Jimmy.
STOCK BOY: It was the dust, man. Just put it down that it was the dust. That’s all.
MARK FLORIMONTE: We were on the Long Island Expressway the other day, stuck with a flat tire for four hours, tripping on mesc. I looked out from the windshield at these clouds, white clouds, all of them in a circle, and one big one in the middle. They were like drifting and coming closer, and they were like skeleton things. They weren’t like a regular skeleton — they were all distorted. But you could see the eyes, the nose and the mouth, like a regular skeleton.
THEY HAD DREAMS
Two months after the murder, Rich Barton was still sleeping on the living-room sofa, afraid to sleep in the bedroom where Ricky had crashed so many nights. His mother says, “These kids are going to need a hundred years of therapy.”
RICH BARTON: We were hanging out in Aztakea, getting wasted. I was standing closest to the grave. We had beer and weed. And all of a sudden someone pops up, grabs me and drags me into the woods. It was Gary, and his face was all mangled and stuff. He took me into the woods, and I woke up. I just stayed up and watched Benny Hill, movies and stuff.
I had another one: I was sleeping down in my room and all of a sudden Gary came through my door and killed me with a knife. I was sitting there with my mouth wide-open, saying, “Holy shit!” He just comes in and stabs. Doesn’t say nothing. I died right away.
ALBERT QUINONES: I was trying to forget about it, man, and I couldn’t. It was like, every time it would hit after twelve, I’d start bugging out. I’d get scared to go in my room, because Ricky used to stay in my room. I had some really wicked nightmares, man. I had nightmares that I killed him. It was weird. And I had a dream that I killed another guy. I just started stabbing him in the back of the head. And then a cop came in and scooped him up with this little pick or something and threw him in the garbage. It scared the hell out of me.
MICHELLE DeVEAU: My dream is to get the hell out of here. I want to go somewhere there are no sickos and you don’t get hurt by people. I think my generation is a bunch of lowlifes. No ideals. Most of us just bumming around getting stoned. People hate each other for stupid reasons. People have no morals. I’m gonna be a peace freak. I’m more like a hippie-type person man anything else. I’d like to be back in Woodstock.
SOFTHEARTED GIRL: The first night I found out, I had a dream, a dream that Gary talked to me. I apologized to him for something. It was so real. And he said it was okay. And I said, “Can we hang out again?” And he was like, “There’s only one problem.” And I’m like, “What?” And he said, “I’m dead.” I woke up with tears on my face.
The quotations in this article were drawn from interviews conducted at various times and locations over several weeks, then arranged by the author to describe the chronology of events. Some persons were interviewed individually, others in groups.
The parents of Ricky Kasso declined to be interviewed.