Within the first few pages of her newly released book, â€śHis Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killer,â€ť Anne K. Howard described the whirlwind of emotions she felt talking to admitted serial killer William Devin Howell.
â€śPredictably our author/subject relationship was complicated, confusing, surprisingly intense and, quite frankly, a head-trip of the highest order,â€ť Howard explained to her audience, which included Howell who read the book. â€śMany times I wondered what I had gotten myself into by deciding to write a book about a man alleged to have committed such heinous crimes.â€ť
Howell is currently serving a 360-year sentence after admitting that he killed five women and one man in a 10-month span in 2003.
Howell agreed to speak exclusively to Howard, an attorney, shortly after he was named as a possible suspect in the deaths.
He was already serving a 15-year prison sentence in the disappearance and death of Nilsa Arizmendi, whose remains were found in the same location as the other victims in 2015.
His victims had been missing since 2003 and he told Howard that he decided to continue murdering women after killing his first victim, Melanie Ruth Camilini, and burying her body in a secluded wooded area behind a strip mall in New Britain.
Howard admits that she never really had an interest in serial killers until she moved to Connecticut in 2013.
She was more into true-crime reading.
But her Connecticut home was located near the area where the Route 8 serial killings had occurred.
She was writing a blog about the Route 8 killings when in May of 2015 she saw Howellâ€™s face plastered on the television as state authorities announced that Arizmendiâ€™s body had been found with three others: Camilini, Danny Lee Whistnant, his only male victim, and Marilyn Gonzalez.
The remains of Diane Cusack, Joyvaline â€śJoyâ€ť Martinez and Mary Jane Menard were found in the same area in 2007.
It took New Britain police seven years to identify Cusack, Martinez and Menard.
But with the discovery of the other four victims, the case moved rapidly and New Britain police arrested Howell about four months later.
But, by May of 2015 when state authorities announced the possible connection between a man serving a sentence for Arizmendiâ€™s death and the deaths of six others, Howard said she saw â€śan opportunity to tell a fascinating story.â€ť
She was careful not to ask him to confess until after he had admitted to the crimes in court in September 2017.
Their talks and correspondence and phone calls lasted months until after he told her his version of the events following his sentencing.
â€śI think his attorney saw that he was not going to stop working with me,â€ť she said.
Howard thinks that â€śsheer lonelinessâ€ť on Howellâ€™s part, drove him to continue to speak to her.
They developed an odd friendship, sometimes simply talking about movies or his activities in prison.
Other times, he would express his anger over how the case was being handled by prosecutors and his former cellmates who had provided the information that ultimately led to his arrest.
â€śI was his only contact,â€ť she said. â€śHe knew people hated him and see him as a monster. Sometimes we chatted about what was on TV. Heâ€™s an extremely sociable person, he valued his friendships.â€ť
Based on information from visits to the prison, phone correspondence and letters Howard reveals Howellâ€™s motives and the manner of how he killed his victims.
She also reveals his humanity, and his inability to fully understand why he committed the murders.
At one point, after reading the manuscript, he told her he felt exploited, which she said took her by surprise.
â€śI felt I had gone easy on him,â€ť she said. â€śI tried to portray him as a human being.â€ť
When they would meet, she would be much gentler than her descriptions in the book, because she â€śhad to be the good copâ€ť to get him to open up, she said.
â€śThe crimes did give me nightmares and I had never shared that with him,â€ť she said.
It appears in recent months that he has come to a greater awareness of how devastating his actions were to the families of those he killed, she added.
â€śEvery day he seems to be getting more insightful to the fact he caused so much pain,â€ť she said.
Howard last spoke to Howell by phone on Sunday.
She plans on visiting him once or twice a year until one of them dies, she said.
â€śI know I have been judged for that,â€ť she said. â€śI feel like everyone hates him, but if one person can show him an ounce of compassion, I have to follow what I believe is right.â€ť
â€śHis Garden: Conversations with a Serial Killerâ€ť is available on Amazon.com.
The official book launch will take place Wednesday at the Torrington Public Library from 6 to 8 p.m.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.