Writer David Kulczyk (a frequent SN&R contributor, often dubbed “the angry freelancer” for his boisterous personality) was born in Bay City, Mich., which explains the accent and funny slogans (i.e., “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck!”). Since he moved to Sacramento in 2002, the historian and lover of grisly murder stories has been writing books, such as California Justice: Shootouts, Lynchings and Assassinations in the Golden State and his most recent Death in California: The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State. Kulczyk’s combined fascination with history and death make him a unique asset in Sacramento’s pool of writers.
I was going to ask you about some chapters that I liked [in the new book]. The first one is the Ape Boy. That’s a weird one, man.
One sick mofo, huh? … The thing I like about Ape Boy is that he’s completely insane, and [the judge] probably should have just said, “You’re insane,” and stuck him away. But instead they let this show trial happen.
They gave him a chance to make a crazy buffoon of himself.
Yeah, and he was a complete moron.
Why did you start writing about this stuff?
I was, uh—
Because you’re into it. I can see your eyes lighting up when you start talking about death.
[Death is] the last thing that’s going to happen to anybody, and nobody knows how it’s going to happen. You can get up one day, put your pants on and then you could be dead. … There was an accident in Seattle when I first became a bike messenger, like in ’88, where this car went through a parking ramp on the fourth floor right into the wall. It ended up falling backwards and landed on top of a car with a guy just sitting there going, “Doop-de-doo,” you know? What happened? Dead.
But why does that excite you?
My brother made up this theory that between 1966 and 1969 I was an altar boy and I lived in a little town—
Really? I thought that’s where that story was headed.
No, I lived a block from the church, so when somebody died I was the guy they called. … So I buried everybody in my town for probably three years—every single person that died that went to my church. So I was [a kid] seeing all this sadness and death.
My brother died last year. He was pumping gas, coming back from a conference—he was like 100 miles from home, 56 [years old]. He had no idea he was going to die that day … and he died in a gas station in Missouri; it was a state he hated, too.
It was cool to see Bill Graham in the book, but seriously, who dies trying to contact Huey Lewis?
You’d think he could have just made a phone call. Instead, he had to get in the helicopter. He could have had a driver drive him. … I’ve heard that the helicopter hung up in the tower for like a whole day, and there were pieces of people all over the place. And I heard that some people went around there and found Bill Graham’s foot.
Did anyone take it?
Yeah, somebody out there has Bill Graham’s foot!
What’s your favorite story in this book?
The Penny Bjorkland one; the Penny for Her Thoughts [chapter]. It’s something out of a Camus story. … She shot the guy 18 times and had to reload twice. And when they caught her she was just like, “Yeah, I did it.”
Does your death writing contribute to your being “the angry freelancer”?
I’m not that hard to deal with.
I have never missed a deadline in my life.
No, I’m not talking about deadlines; you’re just hard to deal with.
You think so?
Oh my God.
You think I’m hard to deal with now?
Now you are fine. The whole freelance thing is where the problems begin.
I think you rub people the wrong way.
Some people need to be rubbed the wrong way. … Well, you know, I’m a big Polack, so I’m kind of scary. I’m a big Slavic guy and I’ve got a bald head and I have a penchant for skulls and stuff, but you know, I think I’m a pretty nice guy.
You’re a goddamned gentleman.
I think I have Asperger’s, man. I have all the symptoms where I kind of fuck up in social situations. I don’t really do anything too embarrassing, but I have this bad authority thing, and it’s like I was always told, it’s like this Chicago Polack thing, “If somebody does something to you, do it back twice as hard.” That’s the way I was raised.