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Opinion: Remember the victims, not the killer

Steven Hicks was 18, had just graduated from high school, and was hitchhiking. Someone driving by offered him a beer, took him back to a house, and killed him.

Steven Tuomi was 24 and a short-order cook. Jamie Doxtator was 14, but already almost six feet tall. Richard Guerrero was 22 and close with his mother.

They were the first of 17 men and boys, most of them Black, Asian, or Latino, murdered by the same man between 1978 and 1991. They were brutalized and horribly violated.

We mention their names now because their killer has become a household name all over again. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms 30 years ago, and then killed in prison.

And he is now the subject of a popular new series on Netflix.

I covered some of the investigations into this man's crimes. I remember testimonies about clues the Milwaukee police failed to follow. I remember families in the courthouse holding on to one another as every agonizing detail of the death of their loved one was presented and documented in crime scene photos, and in the dry recitation of Dr. Jentzen, the medical examiner.

I am embarrassed that this week, I had to look up the names of those who were killed.

Anthony Sears. Raymond Smith. Edward Smith. Ernest Miller, David Thomas, Curtis Straughter, and Errol Lindsey.

Eric Perry, who identified himself as Errol Lindsey's relative, posted this week on Twitter: "It's retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?"

There have already been four films, a raft of true-crime TV episodes, and at least 10 documentaries about the killer.

Not a great artist, citizen, or scientist, but a serial murderer. The man who killed Anthony Hughes. And Konerak Sinthasomphone. And Matthew Turner.

Of course, crime sells in entertainment. I enjoy reading murder mysteries and watching crime dramas. But does making so many films and series that put all the attention on a killer like this one risk flaming the idea in some violent minds that you can become famous and remembered in America by committing terrible crimes?

Jeremiah Weinberger was murdered by that man, too. And Oliver Lacy. And Joseph Bradehoft.

Today, let's remember them.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.