Amanda Howard doesn’t just write to serial killers; she also interviews them face to face. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Brett Williamson)
For true crime author Amanda Howard, getting inside the mind of a serial killer is a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Howard takes a seat in the recreational room of Adelaide’s Z Ward, once a home for the state’s criminally insane.
She empties her bag and out tumbles mail she picked up before leaving home this morning.
“I have about half a dozen letters sitting there from various serial killers around the world including Ivan Milat, Paul Denyer, John Robinson and Hadden Clark from America, Mark Valera,” she said calmly.
“I’ve been talking to Ivan Milat since 1995.
“This is my standard daily drop of letters. I can get up to about 40 or 50 a week.”
A handwritten note from American serial killer Arthur J Shawcross to Howard. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Brett Williamson)
Howard writes to the world’s most notorious serial killers as part of the research process for her true crime novels.
“When I was a young girl I had an English teacher tell me to go to the source,” she said.
“I don’t think she thought going to the source meant talking to serial killers but it’s worked for me.”
Threatened with an ice pick
Howard doesn’t just write to serial killers; she also interviews them face to face.
“Sometimes I’m the cat and sometimes I’m the mouse,” she said.
“It’s usually not the killers who are the problem because they are in jail for life.
“It’s the rapist in the cell next door who is coming out in a month and knows who I am who will come after me.
“I had Roy Norris [a serial killer and rapist] in America say that he was going to send someone to put an ice pick in my ear, which is what he and his partner had done to his victims.”
‘I am the serial killer whisperer’
Some of the criminals Howard communicates with are just looking for forgiveness; others want attention.
One of the most notorious is American paranoid schizophrenic and cannibal killer Hadden Clark.
Clark is serving two 30-year sentences for the murders of a six-year-old girl in 1986 and a 23-year-old woman in 1992.
Howard will meet with him face to face later this year.
Convicted killer Hadden Clark suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. (Montgomery County Police Department)
“He is terrifying because he is unpredictable,” she said.
Howard will interview Clark as part of a television project she is developing.
She said she hoped Clark might unveil clues to other crimes he was suspected of committing.
“I seem to have that way of being a serial killer whisperer who can get those little details out of them by asking the right questions.
“Hadden will be a very interesting interview, though scary.”
Clark, like all of Howard’s pen pals, was accused of the most heinous of crimes.
“We all have a line in the sand that we don’t cross. A lot of these killers, like Ivan [Milat], don’t have that line,” she said.
“We want them to be monsters, but they are not because they look like us and are us and that is the scary part.
“In every other aspect of their lives they are just the same as us.”
Backpacker murderer Ivan Milat was convicted in July 1996. (Megan Lewis, file photo: Reuters)
Reaching breaking point
While researching her 2009 book Predators: Killers Without A Conscience, Howard said she reached her breaking point.
“I threw my laptop across the room and said, ‘I’m not doing this’.”
At the time she had been going through case files of Australia’s worst paedophiles.
She turned her mind for a time to writing crime fiction, “because people don’t have to die for me to write that”.
But eventually she returned to true crime.
I am here to help
Howard is studying a masters degree in criminology and criminal justice, as well as a masters in writing.
She said she ultimately wanted to use her experience to obtain new clues from the killers she communicates with and in turn help solve crimes.
“Some of them want to help — we should use their expertise,” she said.
“[I want] to bring a family closure, to say, ‘we got the guy, we got the woman, we got the killer’.
“My ultimate goal is to come to that point where we can point the finger and have someone go to jail because of what I have learnt from all of these other people.”