David Kulczyk, crime historian

PHOTO by lauran fayne thompson

“Forgotten Sacramento Murders,” a talk by David Kulczyk, Tuesday, October 24 at the Sacramento County Historical Society, 5380 Elvas Avenue. No cover. Kulczck’s works are available at Time Tested Books in Midtown. Listen to episodes of his Death in California podcast at www.deathincalifornia.com.

With not a single happy ending in any of his four books, crime historian and author David Kulczyk revives the stories of the dead in vivid descriptions that shine a light on Sacramento’s darker side and California’s underbelly. Last year, Kulczyk published his fourth book, California’s Deadliest Women: Dangerous Dames and Murderous Moms, with illustrations by artist Olaf Jens. It focuses on 28 cases, including that of the stone-faced “Acid Queen” of Clovis, and the cannibalistic nightmare titled “She’s a Man Eater.” For Kulczyk, a man who enjoys the many nuances of California’s rich history, murderers and psychopaths are part of the Golden State’s past, and should be remembered along with its dead.

Were you always fascinated by the true-crime genre?

I was never really interested in true crime. I started out writing fiction and the first two things I ever sent out got published. I was pretty successful getting short stories published and I started writing for weekly magazines and things like that. I never thought about writing about crime at all. Ever. I enjoyed reading true crime books like Jay Robert Nash, but I never liked single-issue crime books. I found them hideously boring.

So what inspired your first book?

We have really great history around here. Sometimes, you see an old building in Elk Grove or in Jackson and it’s this living piece of history. I was reading all these California history books by Quill Driver/Craven Street Books, and I thought, “I got a pretty good idea,” and I pitched to them and that became California Justice: Shootouts, Lynchings, and Assassinations in the Golden State.

Do you favor certain methods of murder?

I have no favorite stories in these books because every single person I write about is the most horrible, hideous [person] that you’ve ever heard about. These are senseless crimes and I never glorify the killer. I always make sure that I have as much as I can get about the victim and still make it a readable story. I like to put in names and address and dates, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about in my presentation at the Sacramento Family Historical Association. I’ve done so much new research for this show “Forgotten Sacramento Murders.”

What should people expect when attending a David Kulczyk Dead Talk?

I like to inform and entertain in my shows. I just go up there and I tell a story and I watch people cringe a lot. With California’s Deadliest Women, I never had so many cringers. But, people will start cringing in their chairs and I’ve seen people hug each other and go, “Ahh!” and stamp their feet.

Was there ever a case that struck you emotionally?

Yeah, I’ve experienced that in other books. But, in this one, I guess the only person I have any kind of feelings for is the Batgirl, [which] happened here [1991]. I feel bad for her because she never had a chance in life. She was a stripper by the time she was 14 and was fried out of her mind by the time she was 19. She killed a guy and she’s still in prison, too, because she has not been a good prisoner. Usually, if you only kill one person, you only get about 17 years.

Do women kill differently?

Women seem to use what’s handy. Two murders in the book happened with a clothes iron. It was handy.

Your Google history must be insane. What is your research process like?

I read so much boring stuff so you don’t have to. I scour through newspapers and websites. I do all the work in the trenches and I’m starting to get more and more secretive about what I do. I’ve even been ripped off by a couple TV production shows. So, I’m very guarded about what I do now. I read a lot of books and I have a really good memory. But, there are certain things I do in order to find just what I’m looking for.

What makes a case worthy to be written about in your eyes?

I think the ridiculousness of the crime is the thing that catches me the most. I found out about this guy [who] was 67 years old, and he was out partying all night, in like 1949. Some friends were supposed to come in on the train, so he walked over to Union Station to meet them. Next thing they know they found him on the I Street Bridge shot dead. What the hell? I’m almost 60 years old and I don’t even like going out at night. I hardly like leaving my house.

Are people ever intimidated by you because of the nature of your books?

No. They’re my ghoul-friends.

Why “Forgotten Sacramento Murders?” Will the event solely focus on cold cases?

Not all of them. Some of them are solved. But, once everything goes out of living memory it just turns into, “Yeah, my uncle got murdered in 1948.” What does that mean? Then it just becomes a family story and it falls out of living memory. I always laugh when people say, “This is the crime of the century.” We’re only 17 years in.