THE BILLY LETTERS

What better mentor for a 10-year-old than Charles Manson? Little Billy seeks life advice, and America’s most notorious killers are happy to oblige

In the late ’90s, pop-culture historian Bill Geerhart had a little too much time on his hands and a surfeit of stamps. So, for his own entertainment, the then-unemployed thirtysomething launched a letter-writing campaign to some of the most powerful and infamous figures in the country, posing as a curious 10-year-old named Billy.

 

To his surprise, replies soon started pouring in. Everyone from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (on tree-fort diplomacy) to Oprah WinfreyMister RogersJanet Reno, and members of the Supreme Court had words of wisdom for Billy. (“I like the Egg McMuffin,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas when asked about his favorite McDonald’s food. “Actually, I like almost everything there.”) Responding to Billy’s idea for a “Hustler for kids,” Larry Flynt wrote back encouraging the fourth grader to “Hang in there. You’ll be 18 before you know it.”

As it turns out, no group hates to disappoint a child more than convicted killers, all of whom responded promptly to Billy’s questions about dropping out of school. Their letters, published here for the first time, range from criminally insane to downright sensible, offering snapshots of the personalities behind some of America’s most hideous crimes. Recently, Radar asked Billy to follow up with his mentors as a college student. (Click here to skip ahead and read Billy’s correspondence with Arnold SchwarzeneggerLarry Flynt, and other non-murderous celebrities)

Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker
Résumé: The devilishly handsome Satan-worshiping rapist and serial killer terrorized Los Angeles in 1985, racking up more than 25 victims. Known for nocturnal home invasions and occasional impotence, Ramirez was an equal-opportunity madman, using guns, knives, and blunt objects to slay single women, couples, teenagers, and senior citizens. He currently sits on death row in California’s San Quentin State Prison, though he managed to marry his number one fan, fellow crazy person Doreen Lioy, in 1988.
Notable Quote: “Send some girls in bikinis.”

Billy
From: Richard Ramirez
Received: January 21, 1999

Billy,
Greetings. Got your letter. What school do you go to? Who’s your friend? You should stay in school. Send pictures.
Richard

Billy
From: Richard Ramirez
Received: February 22, 2008

Bill,
Greetings. Received your letter. Glad to hear my letter to you in ’99 made a difference. When do you graduate? Yeah, get me a subscription to Radar Magazine. What is it about? Know any Asian girls willing to correspond? Send pictures. You can photocopy 5 on 1 page or send ’em singular. Nothing scenic though. Send some of girls in bikinis. Do you go clubbing? Seen any good movies? Saw 3:10 to Yuma the other day. It was an OK Western. Didn’t do too good at the box office though. Do you have family? I’m youngest of five. That’s all for now. Take it E/Z write when you get a chance.
Your friend,
Richard