Denise Noe is a contributor to a variety of true crime e-zines, crime magazine and TruTV among others.
In her articles, Denise explores the reason behind the crime and it is just this curiosity that brought her to get in touch with the 1960s Tate’s killer Charles Manson and is currently writing an update.
Here’s Denise to tell us about that experience and much more.
First off, please, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m handicapped and have been since my early teens. My survival was ensured when my ex-husband, a finance professor, made a divorce settlement requiring him to pay me alimony for 25 years after our divorce. That alimony isn’t a great deal and it couldn’t be since he’s hardly wealthy, but it is enough to cover basics. I live very, very frugally but at least I’m not on the streets as I might be if he had not been a decent person.
My interests are varied and include dinosaurs, simians, backgammon, literature, and social welfare issues. I had a calendar filled with drawings of dinosaurs. After the year was up, I took the drawings, together with the paragraph of information about each dinosaur that was printed under each drawing, and had them framed. They are still hanging around my apartment.
I am a big fan of Koko the Signing gorilla and have posters of her around my apartment. I also have a poster of a painting created by Michael, her adoptive gorilla brother who is now deceased and was the only other gorilla to learn to Sign.
My favorite classic novel is Wuthering Heights. Also dear to my heart are Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw. My favorite modern writer is Joyce Carol Oates about whom I’ve written some essays that can be found online. Among her works, I’m especially fond of the novels With Shuddering Fall and Son of the Morning.
As a kid, math was always my worst subject. However, in the past few years I’ve read several books about math, some of them directed to the math-anxious, so I finally understand why many people think this subject is fun. I used to look at people who enjoyed math as if they came from another planet.
Where does the interest in crime come from?
It might relate to the fears with which I grew up. In my teen years, I heard a great deal about sex crimes and was obsessively afraid of them. I was particularly afraid of the possibility of being raped and impregnated through it. This was one reason why, during my adolescence, I tended to isolate myself and spend almost all my time in my room if I wasn’t at school or church. My parents couldn’t punish me by “grounding” me since I was always in my room by choice – or by fear.
Reading the novel Compulsion by Meyer Levin may have contributed much to my interest. I read it when I was a teenager and was fascinated by this fictional treatment of the Leopold and Loeb case – a case on which I have an article at crimemagazine.com. I read Helter Skelter during the same time period and was utterly persuaded by its portrait of Charles Manson as a demonic and charismatic madman, a kind of proto-Hitler able to draw others into his insanity and command them to murder for it. Later, I began to doubt this portrait and I have an article about that as well called “The Manson Myth” that is also at crimemagazine.com.
What inspires you to write about true crime?
I am fascinated by what leads to crimes and by what leads some crimes to grab headlines and public attention.
I wonder about what leads some people to become dangerous. How does a person grow from an innocent baby to a deadly psychopath?
For example, I wrote the article for TruTV.com’s Crime Library about Carlton Michael Gary, who was convicted of the Columbus Stocking Strangler murders. In that case, a young black man attacked elderly white women in Columbus, Georgia. He broke into their homes, then raped and strangled them. It’s not hard to see a link between Gary’s childhood and the offenses. He was born to a single and impoverished woman. His biological father took no interest in him and he had no father substitute. Because of his mother’s poverty, the child was shunted between her, his aunt, and his grandmother. Both his mother and his aunt worked as housekeepers for elderly white women. I think it is likely that, as a child, he heard complaints from both women about their employers. It is possible that Gary took on a vendetta against that demographic group because of what he heard about them from his mother and aunt.
In other cases, I want to explore why previously ordinary, inoffensive people may erupt into violence. You can see that in the Jean Harris case about which I also have a story at Crime Library. Here is someone with no history of violence, a completely respectable middle-class person – yet she ends up convicted of murder. Of course, in that case, it is at least possible that she shot her longtime boyfriend, Herman Tarnower, accidentally and that the jury made a mistake in convicting her.
Social reaction to crimes can tell us much about the culture. For example, I wrote a story about the terrible injustice of the lynching of Leo Frank for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a crime of which he was almost certainly innocent.
At Phagan’s funeral, thousands of people massed into the street to mourn this previously unknown child. Why was there this outpouring of grief for a stranger? The reason was that the society of the South was in a transitional time period. It was moving from a primarily rural economy to an urban one. In the rural settings, people had been able to closely watch young females to protect them from sexual abuse and exploitation and from the unwed pregnancies that often resulted from these things. In the urban setting, families could not keep such a close eye on the girls and women who now had to work in factories. The murder of Mary Phagan had sexual overtones so many believed she had been murdered in a rape or attempted rape. Thus, in death, Mary Phagan represented the sexual vulnerability of the sisters and daughters of the poor and working-class people who grieved for her.
One of the most fascinating of your articles to me is My Friendship With Charles Manson. Would you like to tell us more about it?
As I said previously, after reading Helter Skelter, I was convinced that Charles Manson was a madman with extraordinary powers including, as the book stated, “the incredible power to have others kill for him.” Then I read books by his supposed “followers,” Will You Die For Me by Charles “Tex” Watson and Child of Satan, Child of God by Susan Atkins. These books awakened doubts about that portrait. I read another book called Manson In His Own Words by Nuel Emmons and those doubts crystallized. I talked to other people who had some familiarity with Manson and became convinced that the depiction in Helter Skelter was largely false. This led me to write The Manson Myth.
Awhile after it was put online, I ran off a copy of it and mailed it to Manson. Since I know he gets more mail than he could possibly read and turns most of it away for that reason, I wrote “The Manson Myth” on the envelope. He wrote back and the relationship developed from there.
Your articles are very thorough. What tools do you use in your research?
Anything and everything I can. I read books and articles. I search the cases on the Internet. I watch videos, DVDs, and YouTubes about cases. Very often I interview police officers, attorneys, and other principals connected with a case.
What are your current projects, if any?
I have projects that are not true crime related. I’m the Community Editor of “The Caribbean Star,” a bimonthly newsmagazine oriented toward the Caribbean community in metro Atlanta and the Projects Editor of “The African Star,” a monthly newsmagazine oriented toward the African emigrant community in metro Atlanta. I write Community Calendars for both publications in which I list and describe events and organizations of interest to those communities. I’m always working on my Calendars.
As far as true crime work, I’m working on an update for an article about Charles Manson. I did not write the original article for TruTV.com’s Crime Library about the case but was assigned to write the update.
I write for The Hatchet: A Journal of Lizzie Borden and Victorian Studies and am researching an article for it.
Will we ever see a book cover with your name on it as the author?
I would love for that to happen! Are there any publishers reading this interview? If so, I’d be delighted to have a book contract!
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
I always appreciate feedback on my work. I adore compliments but constructive criticism is also appreciated because it helps me improve.
Next week’s interviewee is Lawrence O’Brien, former IT manager and now published author. He will tell us more about his publishing experience and how long it took to finally get his name on the cover of a book.