"After termination ... there is a let down. Anytime you get an adrenaline rush like that, there's a let down. Hard enough where it puts you to sleep." - Curtis Dean Anderson from jail.
This is the Anthony-award nominated story behind my Anthony and Macavity-award nominated book, Blessed are the Dead.
Letters from a Serial Killer is a novella-length true crime/memoir about my life as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area covering the crime beat and my dealings with a serial killer and one little girl he kidnapped off the streets of Vallejo — Xiana Fairchild.
More than a decade ago, I lugged a big box across the country that has become a dark memorial to a man I feared and despised. I've kept it in a far dark corner of my basement. It contains sick mementos of a monster — dozens of reporter's notebooks filled with interviews with this man, newspapers filled with articles I wrote about him, and documents, such as his birth certificate and jailhouse interview requests stamped "denied" or "approved."
Letters from a Serial Killer is a story about a seven-year-old girl snatched off the street on the way to school and never seen again.
Readers will also hear from Stephanie Kahalekulu — a mother herself and great aunt to Xian Fairchild who took the girl in and raised her after the child was born in jail. She will tell you how her life changed forever on Dec. 9, 1999.
In this book, we share details of our jailhouse conversations with the killer and the letters he sent us from behind bars and how we are forever bonded by our dealings with a monster, but more than that—by our quest for justice for Xiana.
In this letter to me, Curtis Dean Anderson is beside himself because of an article I wrote where all these experts (FBI profilers, criminologists, etc. said that he's all talk - that he thinks he's the Poster Boy for Evil, but he's just a narcissist.
PS here is the "chart" he mentioned. He would communicate with me over the phone in jail by spelling out words, such as 1-8= B
FBI WANTED PAGE
When his dark star shone brightest — in Solano County Jail, accused of heinous crimes against one Vallejo girl and suspected of abducting another — Curtis Dean Anderson would spew about it in his slippery, cryptic way.
He counted on a future in prison as he awaited trial for snatching 8-year-old Midsi Sanchez in 2000, shackling her to his car and molesting her before her escape after two days captive.
In the meantime, Anderson relished the attention, the time with visitors, the chance to taunt and tease.
Then 39, he vaguely claimed an array of child abductions and killings. He told a reporter and the great-aunt of 7-year-old Xiana Fairchild that he took the girl off a Vallejo street in 1999. He wanted money for the details, where to find her alive. He tried to send reporters on errands and remote searches for bones. He used code language and appeared to feel clever.
“He actually, at one point, referred to himself as Hannibal Lecter and said the reporters were like Clarice,” said Kristi Belcamino, a former Contra Costa Times reporter who visited Anderson in jail several times. “He acted like he was smarter than anyone else, smarter than the cops. I think he was a miserable, lonely person and all of a sudden he was important for the first time in his life, and he was taking advantage of it.”
As Pinole police closed the book Monday on the 1988 disappearance of 7-year-old Amber Swartz, of Pinole — noting a signed confession by Anderson a month before his death in 2007, and no evidence to refute it — the news brought hope of resolution for her family. But memories of his manipulating ways cast a lingering doubt.
Amber’s mother, Kim Swartz, sounded cautious Monday. She said her sons are skeptical because no body has been found.
“The hard part is the roller coaster, the ups and downs. People would call up and say she was fed to pigs, she was pushed out of a plane. Who knows? Is this another one of those or is it real?” she said. “I don’t want it to be him. I knew what kind of a person he was. It makes your mind run crazy with the possibilities.”
Anderson confessed to several Bay Area abductions, sexual assaults and killings a month before his December 2007 death at a Bakersfield hospital while serving a combined 301-year sentence for Midsi’s abduction and Xiana’s kidnapping and murder. He only signed a confession in Amber’s case.
“Wow. I hope this is real,” said Marc Klaas, whose daughter, Polly, was kidnapped and murdered at age 12 in 1993 in Petaluma. “You want to know what happened to your child. You want to know who committed the crime against your child and you need assurance that that individual is no longer out there. People who are left hanging oftentimes seem to be suspended in time.” Still, Klaas couldn’t help but recall Anderson’s prevaricating ways.
“I remember he played (Stephanie Kahalekulu, Xiana’s great-aunt) for a long time, had her coming back to jail, sending letters to give him money, all these things so she could get the answers she needed,” Klaas said. “He was a real monster, that one. If somebody like that were to tell the truth, you wouldn’t know it.”
It’s unclear what other motive would prompt Anderson to describe a random snatching of Amber on June 3, 1988, and her killing in Arizona.
Eight years ago, it was time in the spotlight, and the hope for cash in jail.
“It’d buy me a TV, a Walkman, soup to eat every day, candy bars, ice cream, sodas, smokes, probably some sex — cuz you gotta have that,” he told Belcamino.
Xiana’s skull was found in Los Gatos as Anderson sat in jail for Midsi’s abduction. A day after it was identified, Anderson offered the Times an account of his life — crime, drugs, growing up in Vallejo with dreams of being like motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel. He refused to admit or deny killing Xiana.
“That’s a question for them 12 people in the courtroom,” he said. “If I jumped up on the table and screamed ‘I didn’t do it!’ would the headlines be as big?”
AUTHORS HOPE BOOK CAN HELP THEM HEAL
Stephanie Kahalekulu of Vallejo and Kristi Belcamino of Minnesota say that for the past 16 years, they’ve had the same dead madman squirming around their brains.
Now they’ve collaborated on a book about their often bizarre and infuriating dealings with the late convicted child killer Curtis Dean Anderson in part, they said, to exorcize the demons and move on with their lives.
“Letters from a Serial Killer” comes out April 26.
Belcamino, a former Bay Area crime reporter, met Kahalekulu after Xiana Fairchild, the little girl she’d raised to age 7, was kidnapped on her way to school in Vallejo and murdered.
“Letters from a Serial Killer” is a novella-length book that “delivers a riveting true crime/memoir that offers intimate details of their journey to seek justice for Xiana,” according to marketing material.
Though Anderson’s crimes garnered much media attention at the time, there were some things the women never felt comfortable sharing before — about their efforts to get Anderson to come clean about Xiana — that are explored in this book, they said. Anderson died at age 46, on Dec 12, 2007, while serving a combined 301-year sentence.
“Stephanie and I kept in touch over the years and talked about sharing our letters from Curtis Dean Anderson,” Belcamino said. “We talked about different ways to do that — a blog post, or something like that. But, this winter we thought we’d do a small book — not a true crime book, but just our take on what happened at that time, our story — as a reporter and the mother of a child who was kidnapped and killed.”
Kahalekulu said she wasn’t ready until recently to relive the worst period of her life.
“Last year, when (Belcamino) asked me, I was in the middle of a time in my life when I was just trying to enjoy and not think about that stuff,” Kahalkulu said. “This winter, when it came up again, I was OK with it.”
Both women said their encounters with Anderson left lasting scars that have impacted the way they parent their children. Both also said the process of writing this book has helped them heal.
Anderson was convicted of kidnapping and other related charges after a second Vallejo victim — Midsi Sanchez who was then 8 — escaped from him and ultimately helped authorities track him down. At that time, Xiana was still missing, but the discovery soon afterward, of a tiny skull in the Santa Cruz mountains, dashed all hope of finding her alive.
“Writing this book was cathartic for me, and I felt it was empowering for (Kahalekulu),” Belcamino said.
It has been more than a decade since two little Vallejo girls with similar physical characteristics went missing within a few months of each other — one on the way to school and the other on her way home, so, in many ways, both women have moved on, they said.
But, they have never really been free from the effects of coming face to face with evil. For entirely different reasons, both women met and corresponded with Anderson after his arrest and they explain in the book what they were trying to accomplish and what those encounters were like.
“You just felt dirty after talking to him,” Belcamino said. “The long hot showers afterward didn’t help. You can’t really wash that ugliness off.”
About a decade ago, Belcamino quit full-time reporting, became a mother and moved to Minnesota where her husband’s family lives, but she was still affected by the encounters with Anderson and that followed her there, she said.
“I found I was extremely paranoid about my two little girls, knowing what some people do to little girls,” she said.
As writing has always been therapeutic for her, Belcamino started journaling about those Anderson encounters, and those musings became several works of fiction, with only the first being loosely based on the Xiana Fairchild story, she said. These include “Blessed are the Dead,” “Blessed are the Meek,” “Blessed are Those Who Weep” and “Blessed are Those Who Mourn.”
“Over the years, Stephanie and I kept in touch,” she said. “We talked about being mothers and about knowing Curtis Dean Anderson, and knowing people like him exist and how this affected our parenting. So, we sort of bonded on that connection and our friendship grew.”
But, as much as she’s tried to forget Anderson, Belcamino said she still has all his letters, and she’s not sure why.
“I keep thinking now I can get rid of them,” she said. “I think I’m still trying to figure out what made him the way he was. Maybe that’s one reason I haven’t been able to let it go. I still don’t understand what makes people like that.”
Kahalekulu said she also became over-protective of her remaining children.
“I still worry about my kids now, and they’re all grown up,” she said. “Right after we finished the book, and I read the completed manuscript, it felt like being able to grab all of that, roll it up and throw it all away.”
Kahalekulu and her grown children still celebrate Xiana’s birthday every year. She often comes up in conversation and Kahalekulu said she often wonders what she’d look like and what she’d be doing now had she not encountered a serial child killer that day.
Anderson, too, has a way of cropping up from time to time, despite Kahalekulu’s best efforts to block him out. Like the time Kahalekulu, a local realtor, accidentally stumbled on a notice for his mother’s Vallejo house which had been listed for sale, she said.
“That monster still creeps into my brain periodically,” she said. “The things he said about Xiana still crop up. But (finishing the book) felt like throwing him and any ability he had to take over my life, away.”