Oct. 8, 2012
Killing is just child’s play. A game. In fact, it’s so easy, you can plan it out on a computer, if you’re smart enough. And he is smart. A real genius, they all say: honor student, salutatorian, class vice president. So…what is that magic number then? How many times can he get away with murder?
On the outside, the quiet and withdrawn 17-year-old seemed just a harmless high school nerd, preoccupied with technology, money, computer games, and college. But on the inside he was a seething psychopath, conspiring with classmates to massacre his family so he could have a six-digit inheritance all to himself.
Meet the wily Wyley Gates, twisted mastermind of an assassin-style program called Infierno, which he used in 1986 to execute a bloodbath so heartless and gruesome it was dubbed “the crime of the century” in upstate New York.
DUNGEONS DRAGONS MURDER methodically pieces together physical evidence, autopsy findings, police accounts, trial testimonies, and even the confessions of the killer and his accomplices, to reconstruct the Gates family shootings and the other carefully orchestrated criminal acts designed to lead up to it.
Third in the 'Killing Killers' true crime series by Eponymous Rox, this special report reveals a chilling portrait of a remorseless and deeply disturbed mass-murderer set free on a technicality to slay again. And shows why it’s possible that he has killed at least once before the massacre—and since.
“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind, and the fool shall be servant to the wise.” Proverbs, 11:29
Chapter 1: Dead of Winter
Maple Drive, Canaan New York - 7:00 P.M. December 13, 1986
He isn’t aware of this as he’s driving away from the scene, but there’s a fresh spot of blood on the front of his down parka, a small smear of it on the inside of the coat’s breast pocket, and a few tiny droplets as well on the left pant leg of his blue jeans.
In the dim glow of the car’s dashboard, everything, including his tired trigger finger, looks clean to him though, and to celebrate finally pulling it off, more or less without a hitch, he’s wearing a new tie this evening, too. A brand new tie signifying a brand new start for him. One without a family, without hindrances.
His mood is uncharacteristically elevated, bordering on exhilaration he’d have to say, but on the exterior he’s as calm and collected as always, and, just in case, maintaining a state of hyper-vigilance. Still, despite this intense concentration on all the large and small details now, he has not spied those telltale stains on his clothing yet, because, even though he’s young, even though he’s only 17 years of age, he really doesn’t see very well. In fact, his vision is that of an old man’s and, much to his annoyance, he’s as good as blind without eyeglasses.
Glasses are a necessity but they can be a pain in the ass, he’s learned, especially in winter. When you go outside they fog up in the cold, they get moist and blurry from melting snowflakes, they refract weirdly whenever another’s headlights shine into them causing dangerously distracting halos and glare.
So he’s focusing every ounce of his attention on the winding dirt road leading away from his father’s rustic-styled home, crawling carefully down the slope to claim his hard-won freedom. Someplace in these woodlands that surround him, he’ll discreetly make a pit stop next and dump the bagful of bloody items he’s got stashed in the trunk back there. Then, for the most part, he’ll have cleared the first hurdle.
He’s eager to toss that incriminating sack as soon as possible, but he’s making sure he doesn’t drive too fast or too slow and thereby give rise to undue suspicion. He mustn’t hit anything along the way and total the borrowed automobile before he’s done using it tonight. He mustn’t slip on an invisible patch of ice, go careening off the treacherous shoulder and have to call from a neighbor’s house for an emergency tow.
Any and all of these unexpected mishaps would act like a wrench in the works, he understands. Send it all toppling around him with a terrific crash.
As expected, and to his relief, it’s not snowing tonight, and at about 12 degrees Fahrenheit the ground is solidly frozen, which is also convenient. But he’s lived in this northern region long enough to know that any time of year and in any kind of weather one has to drive cautiously on Maple Drive. As with the entire network of dirt roads in this one-horse town, it’s a classic backwoods affair, unpaved and rocky, and all manner of wildlife own it.
In spring, it’s the jittery does and their wide-eyed fawns to be constantly on guard for, as, without warning, they leap back and forth, devouring the new greens sprouting around the ditches. In the summertime, it’s bumbling wild turkey and their oblivious broods crisscrossing haphazardly in order to pluck at the brambles and flowering sumac shooting up along the roadsides in dense groves.
And in autumn or in winter, one could encounter just about anything running around in the darkness, usually quite large. Deer, packs of coyote, big cats, even prowling bears are relatively common.
Common. This is what it boils down to in his mind, what life in this banal environment really represents for him. It’s a joke, is what it is. A cruel, sick joke that someone of his caliber should be, or should have been, so hopelessly stranded here in redneck land. Born to common truckers and hunters and lumberjacks and mechanics.
Car coming up around the bend—idiot neighbors—take a left then—left onto Goetz Road—how he hates this stupid place and every stupid creature in it. How he hates the worthless scum he’s always meeting up with.
But at last he has competently addressed these injustices he’s been so burdened with, finally had the best day of his whole goddamned life. He squints hard again, holding off that sense of accomplishment welling up from deep inside, postponing a creeping joy which is so completely foreign to him, and peers instead as far as the car’s high-beams will allow into the illuminated abyss. This is the final stretch, he reminds himself, which must now be flawlessly navigated.
Just a stone’s throw from the Massachusetts border, both Maple Drive and Goetz Road come out onto Frisbee Street, and this junction runs parallel to and almost kisses Interstate 90, at the place where it becomes the Massachusetts Turnpike. If this young man was truly a smart lad, as smart as everybody claims he is, as smart as he believes himself to be, he’d probably scratch his next course of action, take that superhighway right this very minute and get the hell out of town.
Before anybody finds the bodies.
He’s got a great big, multipronged scheme, however, and to him it makes a lot of sense, so he’s sticking to it. He’s not going anywhere but the movies tonight. There’s a new Clint Eastwood film playing at the old Crandell Theatre in the neighboring village of Chatham, some seven miles away, and he and his number one cohort are going to go see it.
Or, better put, be seen seeing it, together.
He’s worked out any possible snafus to everything well in advance via a computer game program he specially designed called “Infierno,” and so far, albeit he is running much later than anticipated, everything’s basically going to plan. He’s braking gently for the traffic sign looming up ahead, and preparing to take a left onto Frisbee Street. Then, once on Frisbee, he has only to travel three more miles and hang another left to climb up Schillings Crossing Road to complete phase one of the operation.
Up there, at the very crest of its hill, is where he’ll pull off, park, and unload his extra baggage.
By December, gravelly Schillings Crossing is rarely ever used save for the hardy few who live there year round, particularly on this less-peopled side of it, because the snows can quickly make the steep route impassable. But his luck is going strong this month and there has been no precipitation for days in a row. Moreover, his scouts have double checked the terrain for him already and they’ve reported unfettered access from beginning to end.
It was the least they could do to assist today, he thinks with a sudden sneer. Cowards and blowhards they each proved to be in the eleventh hour.
Like any conscientious, law abiding citizen would do, he has brought the car to a full stop at Goetz and Frisbee and, looking east and then west, is cautiously preparing to make a left turn, hitting the blinker switch sharply with his thumb and only then realizing he’s got a cut on it.
Shit, he mutters low, his breath suddenly billowing into the car’s icy cold compartment like a dragon’s.
He cruises into the middle of the intersection, hastily feeling of the torn flesh on his thumb, and licks at the tender spot as if to make it disappear.
“Shit,” he says again, much louder this time, but, nevertheless, still properly maneuvers the vehicle into the right lane and accelerates to 40 miles per hour.
Recoil from the handgun.
He knows without a doubt that this is what caused the minor injury because the same thing happened to him last week out at Bailey’s old farm, when he and his crew were secretly target practicing with it.
He should’ve been more mindful of that incident this evening, he scolds himself. Worn a thicker pair of gloves for protection.
But it’s just a superficial nick in the flesh. A small, angry-looking gouge and nothing major. Certainly not like getting your face blown off! He’ll have to thoroughly wash the spot, that’s all, and then disguise it with a bandage. Before they head for the cinema.
Getting a bruising was not part of the bargain, of course, but Infierno is nonetheless a masterpiece, in his humble opinion, and computers themselves an amazing new technology he can’t, and never will, get enough of. He is completely addicted to computers, he acknowledges. Spends nearly every waking moment on one it seems. Sometimes becoming so absorbed with the images and text on his screen that he forgets to eat or sleep.
There are actually three brilliant facets to this next particular stage of Infierno, he congratulates himself, rolling over the details once more in his mind with a lopsided smirk forming on his lips:
One, he’s establishing an airtight alibi tonight. Two, he’s dropping off the murder weapon. Three, he’s setting up the fall guys, even if those two morons had both backed out at the very last minute. Then, after all hell breaks loose, he can just sit back and relax for awhile, as he waits for a nice fat check to arrive and begins living a real life.
As to the hillbilly cops, his grandmother down the road, his schoolmates, his teachers…none of that is going to be a problem either, he’s already long ago decided. After all, his record is spotless, absolutely impeccable. He’s never gotten caught for anything and he’s at the head of his class, just one slot short of being the top ranked student at Chatham High.
Besides, when it really comes down to it, when compared with his own intellectual powers and prowess, they’re just a bunch of imbeciles anyway, every last one of them, those second-rate instructors included.
On the opposite end of Schillings Crossing the road widens considerably in order to accommodate a creek bed and the railroad tracks which both cleanly slice through it. Here, just past the bridge that spans these two landmarks, the road meets up with Highway 295. A sharp right turn and another few yards from this exit, on the left, is the entrance to yet another dirt road called Colane. There, in a tree-sheltered house located further up, he knows an excited co-conspirator is presently pacing, awaiting his arrival with bated breath.
He pulls into the driveway and shuts the headlights off, walks toward the house with his head down.
“You’re late,” the boy informs him, locking the front door behind them once he steps inside. “It’s past 7 already. My aunt called a little while ago. Should be here any minute, I think. Where’s Miles—what the hell happened?”
“A slight snag,” he replies to his shaky host, unmoved by the boy’s anxieties. “Miles backed out of it. Said his mother wouldn’t loan him the car tonight. Here’s your ‘little toy’ again. It jammed on me, by the way. Do you have a band-aid?”
His friend takes the holster he’s just been handed, draws the small pistol out of it. But, despite that he’s held the Walther .380 semiautomatic on a number of other occasions, this time he balks at the feel of it. It’s warm to the touch, and there’s a splash of blood on the barrel, some on the grip as well. “What?” he says, seeming perplexed.
“It jammed and I cut my thumb on it again. I need a band-aid.”
“You did it then…?”
“I did it, Damian. They’re dead.”
“Ah…you did…well…I had a feeling Miles was going to reneg on you. Try the bathroom cabinet. I think I saw a new box in there.”
Alone in the bathroom, he gently scrubs the gun wound clean and dries it with a towel, pasting a band-aid gingerly across it and, one by one, inspecting his nails. He is spotless, he ascertains, examining his stone face in the mirror and seeing nothing out of the ordinary with it, either. No blood spatters, no scratches, the same eyes as always placidly staring back at him. In fact, if anything, it’s that cream white tie, devoid of any patterns, and the pastel striped, button-down shirt he’s wearing beneath his parka, that strike him as odd-looking. The outfit seeming a bit mismatched and maybe too prim, for some reason.
He folds the hand towel and returns it, perfect, on its rack.
Entering Damian’s room with a perfunctory, “OK, all set,” he finds the gun has already been secreted into its hiding place once more, and Damian has produced what little remains of the bottle of liquor they stole nine days ago from the log cabin. He’s offering a quick swig of it before they depart, in a slightly shaky voice suggesting they should both share a toast.
“I can’t believe you did it,” the boy croons, his eyes burning brightly with a mixture of lurid curiosity and awe. “Come on, have a sip, Wyley. We must commemorate this auspicious occasion. We have to.”
At the sound of his own name, admittedly strange even to him, and the first he’s heard it spoken perhaps in hours, he eyes his pale pal, coolly contemplating the almost empty bottle in his outstretched hand and the boy’s palpable nervousness.
It’s his father’s booze, which he feels is unnecessary to point out, and “no” he doesn’t want any of it, not now or ever. “Can’t risk that tonight,” he answers matter-of-factly, thinking of the trooper who typically lurks in the shadows on 295 near East Chatham, setting a speed trap for the unsuspecting. “We better just leave. Miles says he’ll get a friend to drive him there so he can vouch for us, if it ever comes to that. We can’t be each other’s only alibi, remember?”
No, indeed, they cannot. Damian shrugs and takes one quick gulp for the road, grinning incorrigibly as he whisks the liquor bottle into its secret spot too, and grabs a heavy coat from the closet. “Are you all right?” he asks, hurriedly buttoning up and glancing at his wristwatch. “You’re going to tell me all about it on the way, right Mr. Gates?”
“Of course,” Wyley Gates answers without hesitation, softening his voice a notch at the show of respect he’s just been given, and trying to mask his impatience and a feeling of superiority he can’t help but to have tonight, knowing he’s at last won their diehard competition and can never, ever be outdone.
Yes, yes, he’ll happily tell his friend all about it, exercise his bragging rights. Except he isn’t going to mention the woman because, frankly, she’d never been preapproved as one of the targets. That part has to be omitted then, and the part about the bitch not dying automatically, about the fierce struggle she put up to remain among the living. And, of course, he’ll also have to omit any reference to a whimpering young cousin. That one too had not been discussed.
“Of course, Mr. Rossney. It will be my pleasure to brief you.”
And, with that, Damian appears to be his swaggering self once more, locking eyes and horns with him as he usually does. “And now I’m $3,000 richer too, aren’t I?” he spars, meaningfully rubbing his fingers together.
“Yeah. Three-thousand dollars richer when I am. You’ll be wanting me to sign that check in blood, I presume?”
Damian pauses to pretend he is reflecting on the unseemly image this brings to mind. “That would be cool,” he replies, feigning to shudder in horror at the thought of it. “But you know me, Wyley. I only accept cash.”
In fact, Wyley knows he is only half kidding about this, the two of them sharing no greater love or ambition than for money. Real money, that you can hold in your hand and sniff, fill every one of your pockets with. In this unbridled pursuit they are Gemini; he is inclined to think, and he doesn’t know how he’d ever survived so many years without his twin. He understands as well, that he couldn’t have gotten this far without him. Damian was his connection to everything he needed to get the job done this evening. Damian was the middleman.
This conniving youth, with a hidden trove of firearms and stolen loot and survivalist guides and torture books, is a transplant to the bucolic hills and vales of Columbia County. One year his junior, Damian is originally from downstate New York, exiled to the boring countryside by parents at their wits end, desperately trying to keep their son out of trouble and hoping that mingling with the hicks would cure the juvenile delinquent, prevent him from straying too much farther than he had and ending up a hardened criminal someday, incarcerated.
It’s all pretty much lost on their wayward son, though, because, unfortunately, he isn’t that intuitive or intellectual. Discounting his exceptionally high IQ and a genuine knack for being underhanded and devious, insipid is probably the word that might describe him best, as demonstrated by that phony, vacuous smile always plastered to his face.
And his uncle, a trained clinical psychologist, he’s got to be a delusional nitwit too, if he truly believes he’s playing a role in the boy’s rehabilitation. Damian is intrinsically and incurably criminal; that’s what makes him so likable.
This modest house on Colane Road belongs to Damian’s aunt and uncle, and, from their ideal location, if you hike across Route 295 and head in a southwesterly direction, you can actually walk unnoticed through the woods to the Gates’s secluded home on Maple Drive, if you wanted to. For the fleet of foot and familiar, it probably wouldn’t take much more than 15 or 20 minutes.
In light of that convenience and the teen’s rather mercenary nature, he’d previously offered the kid a contract to do the killing for him. But the greedy ingrate required a small fortune for performing the service, he’d glibly announced: 25 percent of the six-digit inheritance Wyley could expect to receive once his father and brother had met their demise.
Alternately, Damian was more than willing to “only” charge a “mere” fee of $3,000 for the use of the prized semiautomatic, now permanently part of his collection, should Wyley decide he wanted to do the shootings himself. An obscenely high figure when taking into account who the gun originally belonged to.
Three-thousand dollars or 25 percent was annoying beyond words—you could hire a professional hit man for a fraction of that. Still, there isn’t much point in quibbling about it at this moment when the deed itself, in its entire scope, hasn’t been completely realized yet, and while the clock, for Wyley anyway, is still ticking.
They can always chat about the money tomorrow.
“I left the car running, Damian. Let’s get out of here.”
"If assassination is being attempted by or on behalf of a player-character, a complete plan of how the deed is to be done should be prepared by the player involved, and the precautions, if any, of the target character should be compared against the plan." 1986 play rules for “Dungeons & Dragons”
"It was a consensus of the kids from school that if plans were made, they were made on computers," Columbia County investigators in 1986, addressing rumors that the Gates family massacre had been preplanned in a “Dungeons & Dragons” game-style computer program designed by Gates and some classmates
''Wyley is an extremely quiet individual. He spent most of his time working with computers…he spent a great deal of time with the computer." Howard Hatch, Wyley Gates’s uncle
"He was playing the game like a CIA agent. Money was part of the game, but the real payoff was just playing the game, the thrill of it. Wyley was into thrills and taking risks." Anonymous school source, commenting on the massacre and related crime spree that led up to it
Chapter 2: Begin ‘Infierno’
“It” speaks to him sometimes, and sometimes he has to tell “It” to be quiet.
On December 13, 1986, “It” had, in fact, been incessantly nagging Wyley, beginning with the moment the appointed driver of the designated getaway car called him at his father’s repair shop, where he worked on the weekends, and said he needed to cancel. A wary parent would not lend the vehicle in question, Miles had regretfully explained. So he was begging out of Infierno.
“Abort mission,” the voice had advised Wyley after he hung up the phone on his skittish collaborator. But, instead, because he was so high on the prospect, his unprecedented happiness mounting with every passing hour, he wouldn’t hear of it. He’d simply have to switch to the much lesser rehearsed option, he reasoned: borrowing his father’s car for the night, or that of his father’s live-in girlfriend of nine years, Cheryl Brahm.
Cheryl had had some difficulties with her car in the morning. Actually, as she was running her errands, it had stalled out on her in the center of town and wouldn’t restart again. But the Gates men, Robert Sr. and Robert Jr., had promptly towed it to the shop and tinkered with it on and off all day. By afternoon, Wyley had even test-driven it for Cheryl before she picked it up, so he knew for certain the car was operating smoothly.
A dependable mode of transportation to and from the potential crime scene was an absolute must have, and between the two of them, Cheryl or his father, she was usually the most sympathetic to Wyley’s needs and wants. Indeed, it had been Cheryl herself who’d taught him how to drive in the first place, who’d done whatever she could to help him get his driver’s license—so, just as he was hoping, and just as he’d expected, she didn’t have an issue with loaning him her car, she said. No problem at all, Cheryl assured him, driving away with it that day from the garage. Just as long as he was careful and came home before midnight.
“Okay,” he answered, a quick, crooked smile coming to his lips. “I promise I’ll drive carefully.”
Later in the evening, after he’d eaten the spaghetti dinner she prepared for the family, after he’d washed the work grime off and put on a clean set of clothes to go see a movie, after he’d left the log cabin to park the borrowed car up the road and stealthily backtracked to the house again on foot, Wyley would thank Cheryl Brahm for her generosity, and for the woman’s many other acts of kindness as well, by slapping her in the face with his father’s stolen gun, and killing her last.
But this impromptu variation on the theme of Infierno was far from a perfect plan “It” warned him, as Wyley stood, undetected, at the top of the stairs to the recreation room where Cheryl, his father, and his cousin Jason had retired to digest their suppers in peace.
He craned his neck and cocked his ear, straining to listen in. His father was having a conversation on the telephone, winding it up and saying goodbye, and in the adjoining room he could hear the television.
“It’s not too late to call this off,” the voice in his head earnestly told him again. “It’s not too late.”
But “It” was not omnipotent, was it? As a matter of fact, tonight, “It” was dead wrong, Wyley Gates believed. He had to do this now or never, and there was no better time than the present. He’d devoted every day, every week, every month of his senior year to it. Had missed an enormous amount of school days and even let his grades slump in order to plan this massacre. In fact, he’d gone so far as to steal what he required to execute it successfully. Pilfered things to the tune of thousands and thousands of dollars. Computers, guns, money, bullets.
And that’s not all, hardly the only considerations that made this frigid December date possibly his last best chance, why he couldn’t and shouldn’t delay any longer.
His father and Cheryl were, after all their years of unwedded bliss, talking marriage of late. Contemplating legally tying the knot so the two could then be declared eligible to adopt that toddler sitting down there, presumably watching TV.
The kid was his dead Uncle Dane’s orphaned son, and that whole matter was nothing but a stinking can of worms for Wyley. Yet another Gates tragedy, but one he hadn’t ever expected to have to contend with.
Fuck that brat and his varied misfortunes, he thought. Fuck them all, and any future stakes they think they might lay claim to regarding his father’s estate, either through marriage or adoption. Right now is what counts and, right this second, there existed only two legitimate heirs to Robert Gates’s monies, and one of them would be dead soon, blown away with his own father’s stolen handgun and ammunition.
That too was weighing on Wyley’s mind. All week his father had been bitching about the break-in, every day becoming more and more obsessed with it, and more and more convinced that the items stolen from the log cabin on December 4th, the missing guns and cash and booze, had actually been confiscated by Wyley and his friends, not some anonymous burglar. And it didn’t help, everybody stressing that Wyley was the only member of the Gates household who hadn’t lost anything in the heist.
It had been trying enough, Wyley felt, with the overbearing bastard springing on him that he wouldn’t be paying for a “fancy” university after all. That he would send him instead to the local community college and see how well he does there first. But, because of the burglary, and because of other growing suspicions formulating in his mind, even this much Robert Gates was debating whether he would actually do now. Worse, Wyley had overheard him tell Cheryl that he was thinking about speaking with the police once more, conveying his new theory about the robbery to them.
It would be an extraordinary act of betrayal and Wyley was bound and determined to prevent his father from exacting it. The stingy, hard-assed, ball-buster would never live to see his 40th birthday.
He was himself a mere 17 years of age, and this also ranked very high on his list in finally deciding an ideal timeframe for the massacre. At 17, if he did screw it up somehow, get linked to these killings, which he truly doubted was ever going to happen, then it wouldn’t really matter anyway. He’d still firmly qualify as a Youthful Offender, with all the benefits and leniency that comes with such a status.
He’d learned that valuable little tidbit in his criminal justice class this year. Smart, decent guys like him, 16 maybe 17, with no priors, an honor student, class salutatorian, vice president…it was practically a guarantee he’d get a drastically reduced sentence and his record permanently sealed, even if charged with murder.
Call off Infierno then because “It” was ordering him to? No way. Besides, in truth, he’d backed out of killing his brother and father at least twice already – in recent fumbled attempts at staging an armed robbery at the garage, losing his nerve each time.
At that rate, before Wyley knew it, he’d be 18, 19, 20, 21, 22…his father remarried, with Cheryl his first-in-line successor, and another, much younger, heir to the throne.
Marriage. Adoption. Community college. His brute of a father could go to hell, and Wyley would gladly be the one to send him there. He was not going to waste himself, his youth and his vast talents, on some rinky-dink excuse for higher education, get an inferior degree composed of worthless and mostly nontransferable credit hours. That was well beneath him.
So, in spite of his excellent class standing and high grade-point average, or the gentle nudging of a few of his worried teachers, he hadn’t even bothered applying to any colleges yet, and doing so was getting close to the wire.
But not to worry. Wyley Gates knew if he played it right and didn’t fail himself again, there would soon be plenty of money for attending reputable universities in Boston or California. And there would also be plenty of weeks left within which to send out some timely applications.
Time was of the essence, however. Wyley Gates was pressed for time on December 13, 1986.
Those three grouped together down there in a virtually soundproof basement; his brother in the music room over the garage banging away on a drum set to the cranked up stereo; everyone convinced he was gone.
The moment was perfect, Wyley argued with his unseen gadfly, the gun delicately poised in his gloved hand, his sneakered feet silently descending the stairs to the basement, one after the other. I am the dungeon master. I’ve got the element of surprise.
His father saw him first. “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded, still standing beside the table with the telephone, his eyes narrowing at the sight of his long lost Walther, his hand reaching out to grab the receiver again, lifting it up…
BANG—and Cheryl was on her feet too, the bullet whizzing only inches past her face and ripping into his father’s diaphragm and liver, the phone receiver jerking from the stricken man’s fingertips, tumbling free to the floor from its cradle, his own ears ringing…
BANG—Cheryl was turning her back on him, rushing toward his teetering father, the second missile piercing her breast, traveling clean through the gland and smashing the gasping man’s wrist…
BANG, BANG—he shot the woman twice in the back near her shoulder and Cheryl was down, her startled cry stifled from a fractured rib, a shattered vertebrae, and a perforated lung…
BANG—he fired again, and his father collapsed as well, the bullet tearing through his right arm and traveling into his lung and heart.
Count the spent bullets now…one…two…three…four…five…
BANG—this time shooting wildly at the three-year-old who emerged wet-faced and teary-eyed at the other side of the rec room where the television sat.
The boy flinched at the sting of a bullet grazing his left arm pit, hesitated, and frantically retreated into the darkened corner again to hide.
“Oh no you don’t,” Wyley growled, with long legs stepping over Cheryl’s body to pursue the child; grabbing hold of the shrieking toddler from behind so fiercely that he bruised the skin on his back; clamping his small face so tightly with one hand in order to silence him, that he left abrasions near the boy’s eyes…
BANG—he discharged his last shot at pointblank range into Jason’s chest, and his cousin ceased struggling.
The basement was completely still then, except for the images dancing across the television. It stunk down there, too, Wyley suddenly realized. The stench of Cheryl’s cigarettes and gun smoke and piss and…he turned down the volume on the TV set to see if he could hear drums beating in the distance. Turned it back up again, and reloaded his weapon.
It was not necessary anymore for him to sneak through the house, or even into the adjoining garage. The dead are deaf as stones, and it was obvious his brother hadn’t heard a sound over his own racket. In fact, he was able to walk within only a few short feet of the young man before he finally noticed him approaching with an arm raised, and recognized, too late, the stolen gun Wyley held in his hand. The meaning of his bloody coat and pants.
“You stupid fool!” Robert Jr. blurted in disbelief.
It was the standard insult his older sibling always hurled when disgusted with him. Wyley merely ignored it this time, squeezed the trigger and—BANG, BANG—Robert Jr. keeled over backwards, still gripping a drumstick with the one good hand that was left to him, a gaping hole high up in his opposite shoulder at the clavicle, another, lower, in his chest.
One more shot up close and this phase would be complete, but then the Walther jammed, two bullets simultaneously misloading into its firing chamber.
Wyley paused in his tracks to pry one of them loose with his finger, popping a live round out and letting it fall to his feet. His brother, he could tell by the spastic thrashing noise coming from directly behind the drums, was not quite dead yet…
Wyley exited the garage with the music still playing behind him and a smug expression on his face. Quietly he made his way back into the main part of the house again and went straight to his room where clean clothes and a plastic garbage bag lay in a neat pile beside the bed. This precaution taken so he wouldn’t have to touch anything undressing and redressing again.
He was a bloody mess he discovered, once he got in there and took a close look at himself. The gloves, the coat, even his pant legs…much, much worse than he’d calculated on. As well, although it had all transpired in what felt like only a couple of heartbeats, in reality it had taken him almost twice as long as expected, and, according to the clock on Wyley’s nightstand, he was now seriously off schedule, if they were going to make that movie.
He had run into overtime for some odd reason, and was only midway through his quick-change from armed assassin to harmless schoolboy again, when he thought he heard a sound coming from the basement. The dead clamoring.
She was not dead, however, and, having regained consciousness, had staggered in a daze to her feet once more, shakily taking stock of the event and, in shock, proceeding to half crawl, half walk up the stairs, bleeding.
The slugs in Cheryl Brahm’s back that didn’t kill her, but which eventually would, had rent serious damage to her spine and pericardium, but not to her heart.
It was a strong heart, Wyley Gates was about to learn that evening, and, with it, she fought him to the bitter end, wrestling to get past him in the stairwell so she could get help for her wounded family members, breaking one of the buttons on his shirt as she tried to seize the gun from him.
Here, in the middle of the stairs, the semiautomatic went off inadvertently in rapid succession, injuring Cheryl four more times in a tight cluster on her left thigh, and decimating her femur.
Here, a badly unnerved teenager, panic overtaking him, grasped the hated woman by the collar and struck her in the hand and face with the Walther, the two of them maniacally still flailing for ownership of it in a deadly standoff he could never have envisioned. Until finally, in sheer desperation, fearful he’d be shot himself by accident, Wyley Gates kicked Cheryl Brahm down the stairs, and she expired.
He hovered in the stairwell, rattled, after that. For how much longer, he couldn’t remember. When she didn’t move again, and he was certain she was really dead, he crept down past the battered corpse to check on the status of his cousin and father, for safe measure, emptying the last bullet into Robert Gates Sr., although he, like the little boy, had already bled to death.
“Told you so,” Wyley was chastised, as he and “It” left the murder scene, but by then he’d regained his composure once more, and the upper hand. “Shut up,” he replied, and they drove off in the murdered woman’s automobile together, in silence.
The subsequent journey into the village of Chatham, from Damian Rossney’s home on Colane Road via Highway 295, was a cautious one, but notably short when compared to how long it takes to actually commit mass murder. Because of those time discrepancies, and taking special care not to mention the slaying of his young cousin, or the Cheryl debacle that had nearly foiled the plot in the final moments of its execution, Wyley recounted for his bloodthirsty passenger an abridged version of the shootings. Satiating Damian with detailed descriptions of how the bullets sounded entering the bodies of his father and his father’s namesake, and, yes, his father’s woman.
Of how many bullets he’d put into each of the victims.
Of the sight of their life fluids pulsing from their wounds.
Of the quantity of blood he’d witnessed spattering and oozing.
And his heartfelt disappointment there wasn’t more of it.
“Jason was all Gates. He was the spitting image of his [late] father, and Bob took him everywhere.” Don DeLapp, family friend, describing three-year-old Jason Gates and his uncle Robert Gates Senior’s devotion to him
“He was an awfully good little kid…happy as a clam to be at the garage…never a peep out of him.” Jim Klingler, close friend and associate of Robert Gates Sr.
“Bobby and I are going to get married…and we’re going to adopt Jason…then he’ll have a life like a little boy’s life, which he never had.” Cheryl Brahm, one month before she was murdered
Chapter 3: Pause ‘Infierno’
September 16, 1985
“THREE KILLED IN FIERY CRASH NEAR BORDER / CANAAN NY - Three New York residents were killed and another critically injured early yesterday in a fiery one-car accident near the Massachusetts-New York border, Columbia County authorities reported. A car driven by Dane Gates, 25, left the north lane of Peaceful Valley Road in the Town of Canaan, hit several trees and burst into flames, said the Sheriff’s dispatcher. Gates, his wife Georgia, 24, and a friend, were all killed in the accident. Authorities say they are still not sure what could have caused the crash and fire but are investigating.”
Fate can come off fickle, even heartless, at times, and for those people who find they’re too frequently the object of her capriciousness it becomes difficult after awhile to resist loudly lamenting their misfortunes. In some extreme cases, ruing their very birth.
Until they read the newspaper headlines, that is, hear of the tests and trials of individuals even more luckless than themselves.
Good-natured three-year-old Jason Gates of Canaan New York was a luckless individual, as demonstrated by the record of his brief but tumultuous existence.
Murdered in a family massacre by a demented teenage cousin aspiring to inherit all of the family’s wealth, the “Infierno” planned for this hapless infant appears to have been well underway before that brutal December evening when he and his relatives were shot to death. It actually began 15 months prior to the bloodbath, only a few miles away from the Maple Drive log cabin, in a fiery car crash that left the toddler instantly orphaned.
But even before this mysterious inferno claimed the lives of Jason’s parents, his father had always said he expected to die at a young age of some horrible death. That hunch, formed early in life from observation, didn’t change with his happy marriage or the birth of an only child. Tragedy ran strong in his family’s bloodline, Dane had deduced. Especially for the men.
Dane and his older brother Robert were more than a decade apart in years, but otherwise inseparable, it has been claimed. Described as natural-born “daredevils” and risk-takers by many who knew and admired them, both brothers were fond of the outdoors, motorcycles, and stockcar racing. Both were at their happiest when engaged in some physical activity, whether it was playing or laboring. Both were mechanically adept at disassembling broken things—cars, trucks, motorbikes, tractors – and putting the machinery back in good working order again.
Activities such as those formed the core of Gates Enterprises, owned and operated by Robert, and he hoped to live long enough to see his own two sons take over the thriving business one day. Hoped they would nobly carry on his legacy of being hardworking, clever, and handy.
Those dreams were to be bitterly dashed, unfortunately, once his youngest son, the very bookish and highly unmotivated Wyley, was “forced” to join the team at the Gates garage.
Their own father, who had ruled Dane and Robert and their other siblings with an iron fist, to the point of being abusive, would never have tolerated Wyley’s attitude for a minute, the brothers would now and then remark, well out of earshot of the boy.
Wyley’s rudeness to everybody who worked at or came into the Gates repair shop; the contemptuous looks he gave his uncle, brother, father and Cheryl; the deliberately slow way he performed all his chores, sometimes sabotaging a job completely; the sitting and staring routine he would resort to, often for hours; and his disrespectfulness in general, as if everyone and everything at the garage was beneath him…any one of those offenses Wyley’s hot-headed grandfather would’ve beat him senseless for, the brothers both knew, let alone all of the combined.
Robert confessed to being deeply perplexed and disappointed about his son’s hostile behavior, but he let it slide, optimistically declaring anytime someone brought up the issue, including his brother Dane, that someday Wyley would “grow out of it.” He did not want to ever see himself acting like their father had, mistreating them all till his dying breath, abusing even his mother.
Dane did die prematurely just as predicted, and when people die young it’s not usually achieved peacefully, so, in this grim prophecy of his which he’d harbored for most of his life, he also proved correct.
Still, he did live long enough to see his nephew Robert Jr. gradually following in Robert Sr.’s footsteps. That one was going to turn out just fine, he could tell, with a sense of pride and relief. But Wyley—resentful, scheming Wyley – he wasn’t like any of them, Dane privately decided. He was a terror.
Shortly after Dane’s hellish death in the one-car accident only a few miles down the road from them, Robert was visiting with their mother Vivian at the stately family home located only a quarter mile from his log cabin. That day, in his brother’s old room, he swore he heard a voice that sounded like Dane’s speaking to him. But, if it was him, trying to deliver a message from the grave, he couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Jason could understand, apparently. One afternoon he stood alone in that same empty room and chatted with the spirit for more than an hour, family members who witnessed this reported. When the conversation ended, the child abruptly ran out of the room to go and find his grandmother. “Grandma,” he called, “Daddy wants to talk to you.”
It is not known what the late Dane Gates wished to impart on his mother, or if he ever got the opportunity.
Vivian Gates was very stoical about her son’s terrible automobile accident. It was not the first catastrophe in the family and not the first tragic death either, nor would it be the last wake she’d be required to attend before she herself eventually passed away. Conspicuously absent from any of Dane Gate’s funeral services, however, was her grandson Wyley.
In keeping with that precedence, Wyley would likewise fail to make an appearance fifteen months later at the funerals of 39-year-old Robert Gates Sr., 19-year-old Robert Gates Jr., 3-year-old Jason Gates, and 36-year-old Cheryl Brahm.
But for a somewhat different reason.
“‘My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part god—nothing of man in me at all!’ (when I read that I say, That’s how I feel.)” Wyley Gates, in a note he sent to Damian Rossney, written on a page torn from Caesar and Cleopatra by author George Bernard Shaw
Chapter 4: Resume ‘Infierno’
Wyley turned his back on Miles when he saw him milling about the front of the Crandell Theatre, waiting for the second showing of Heartbreak Ridge with a boy who wasn’t one of them. When he saw Miles McDonald’s eyes light up with fear at the sight of him, the coward’s awkward hand-wave, his bravado.
Damian had leaned toward the pair and quickly whispered something to them, and then Wyley saw it come across Miles’ features like a dark shadow: that same expression of terror he had witnessed back at the cabin. The face of a victim.
Miles, handsome Miles, the popular class clown and his number two collaborator, whose family had strong ties to local law enforcement, would be his Judas if given the chance, Wyley suddenly worried. He could readily comprehend this possibility now, see how it might unfold. And the boy’s last minute squeamishness, his potential for betrayal, to undo everything that had been so skillfully planned and done, was overwhelming to Wyley that minute.
So he turned around. This way he couldn’t see Judas, smell the fear oozing from Miles’ pores, act upon it, kill him.
It was an uncontrollable urge and it had surprised Wyley, being only a few hours since the shootings. But it was there, and he knew he couldn’t deny it.
He wanted to stab this weak friend of his, to strangle him, to shoot him down. There was no doubt about that compulsion. Whatever his feelings had been for this young man in the past, if the two of them had been alone someplace together tonight, he would have murdered him without a second thought, and cherished the slaying.
“What did you tell him?” he asked Damian, as they were walking back to the car. “What did you say to Miles?”
“I told him you did it, that’s all,” Damian replied, in typical jocular fashion. “Why? It’s not exactly going to be a big secret come tomorrow, Wyley.”
Right. “In front of that kid?—I forget his name—did he ask what you meant by that?”
“Yeah, he asked. Miles told him it means you crashed Cheryl’s car.”
Crashed her car…? Oh, all right then. Let it pass. Phase two complete. Alibis established. “Okay, let’s get back to your uncle’s house now. I need to check the program one last time before I go home and finish. I want to be sure there’s no kinks in it. Something we haven’t contemplated.”
Back at the house on Colane Road, Damian’s aunt and uncle were sitting upstairs engrossed in a movie they were watching on television. The boys greeted them politely, attempted some small talk, and then went straight to Damian’s room, shutting the door behind them, clicking on the computer, and turning down the volume.
Wyley chuckled to himself, perching on the end of the bed as they waited for the machine to warm up. The world was chock full of dunces, he was finally realizing. Teeming with idiocy.
“What’s so funny?” his bemused cohort asked, thinking he was the brunt of the amusement.
“I just can’t believe they’ve never seen that,” Wyley answered, pointing to the bold stamp on the back of Damian’s computer monitor and snickering.
Damian flashed a wry grin. PROPERTY OF CHATHAM CENTRAL SCHOOL, it read.
“No, I'm not going to sit down. Tell me what happened.” Vivian Gates, mother of victim Robert Gates and grandmother of victim Robert Gates Jr., telling a New York Times reporter what she said when her grandson Wyely came to inform her that he’d “discovered” the family shot to death in their log cabin down the road
''We've had a massacre. The bodies were found around the house. They had been shot several times each…worse than anything I saw in Korea.'' Columbia County Sheriff Paul Proper
"It was a bloody mess up there. We started talking to the boy and his story came up with holes." Columbia County Undersheriff James Bertram.
"There is no evidence that the shooter required any extraordinary knowledge of firearms. Of all the shots that were fired, I think only two or three struck the heart." Dr. Michael Baden, director of the New York State Police Forensic Science Unit and former chief medical examiner of New York City
THIS PREVIEW IS PROVIDED BY THE KILLING KILLERS WEBSITE
Eponymous Rox writes about cops, curs and killers, and is the author of THE CASE OF THE DROWNING MEN: Investigating the Smiley Face Serial Murder Theory as well as THE BUTCHER OF BRAINTREE: the Homicidal Soul of Amy Bishop. The newest investigative piece DUNGEONS DRAGONS MURDER is the third in Rox’s true crime series. Next up: KILLING KILLERS, How the World’s Wickedest Got Whacked, profiles some of America’s most infamous murderers and their famous last words and moments before they were executed. Fully illustrated in both digital and print editions, KILLING KILLERS will be released in early 2013. Visit the Killing Killers website for press announcements, and for free online reads and breaking news updates to all prior publications.
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