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The Secrets of Singapore Valley

p. 4 of 10


          It was Bob Grisby, through his attorney, who first stipulated that our conversation be recorded. This addressed my only real misgiving at the outset of this assignment, which was maintaining my credibility as a reporter while relying overwhelmingly on the word of a witness who you couldn’t trust not to kill your daughter.

          For the Singapore Valley Slayer had turned out to be a guy who mowed the lawn on Sundays and brought his coworkers coffee the way they liked it, just as neighbors and churchgoers had predicted.  But perhaps SingValians had only been affecting their jadedness about the inevitable reveal of this devil’s identity—reminding themselves they’d seen it all before (old headlines out of Wichita, old Katie Couric stories)—to protect themselves from the shock of learning which neighbor had done these things. They tried to defeat the threat from within with eye rolls, with preemptive contempt for whoever was pulling this old prank.

          It didn’t work.

          For one thing,  the template had changed.

          Bob Grisby was neither a loner, nor a retiring family man—the quiet leader of his brood, blending in with all the other cookie-cutter heads of all the other cookie-cutter households.  He was a family man—but one with no reluctance to stand out. He was crude, almost doltish—slapping a pal on the back and hollering, “It’s beer-o’-clock, baby!,” or farting when the person speaking paused, or pulling up his polo shirt to show off his fat belly, which he would shake to and fro while solemnly intoning, “Jiggle foo!”  Displays like this provoked disgust in nearby females (who were not his cringing wife)—but precisely because he was so tastelessly noisy, Grisby was on no one’s radar to be the Singapore Valley Slayer.  In-your-face irritants like Bob Grisby did not turn out to be cunning, self-erasing serial killers.

          Therefore, the announcement of his arrest—first for the murder of Pierce Rhenshorn, and only later (after that initial charge had been dropped) for the killings previously attributed to the anonymous Singapore Valley Slayer—hit locals harder than they had been anticipating. Grisby’s camouflage had been too good: he’d taken SingValians’ lives from them, and then had kept circulating among them, loud and obvious, making fools of them while seeming to make a fool of himself.

          And that was how his betrayal got past the community’s jadedness—SingValians not only had to learn that it had been just the one they’d been looking past who had secretly been their adversary all along, but then had to stare into memories they no longer understood.

          Bob had been right there—at their kids’ birthday parties, at backyard cook-outs, at late-night card games.


          Bob has a formidably detailed and precise memory.  He knows the order of books on shelves in someone’s home.  He knows how his wife’s friend tilts her head and swoops her hand when she comes in and stands at the kitchen counter,  talking with Paula about their sons’ high school, becoming incensed,  her voice getting tight.

          That is what he studies: how they make their tones relax and constrict.

Bob always listens to the tones of people’s voices. He listens to volume, pitch, tempo, rhythmic evenness and offness, regional accents (for varying vowels), expressive emphasis on words and phrases, and timbre. He observes how people combine these elements of vocal delivery with message content, vocabulary, syntax, idioms, and colloquial or non-colloquial language modes, to convey shades of meaning and provide emotional cues to their listeners.  With great sensitivity to detail, he prepares to interact with people, mimicking their expected delivery and methodically rehearsing his responses—trying out possible paces and emphases until he achieves fluency and naturalness.  He rehearses behind the wheel of his car, or in his bathroom in the morning (shaving, standing on the scale), or whenever he has some privacy and feels like it.

          I met him on September 30, 2019,  three days after I had spoken to Colson and accepted the assignment for this story, and one day after I had flown into Reno and started driving west in a rental car.  Talking to Colson, I’d focussed on keeping up a front he wouldn’t question.  He hadn’t, and now I was speeding across the west, to meet a serial killer.

          For a while, the desert highway ran parallel to rail tracks, and I passed two silver Amtrak passenger trains; but then the road diverged from the rail line.   And then the evenly spaced telephone poles started coming at me; and then I passed the water towers and the smokestacks.

          And then the industrial desertscape melted into something surreally verdant, and I was no longer remembering that I was in Eastern California.

I blasted through outskirts, under overpasses, and into the SingVal itself, which is a specimen in isolation—California grafting itself onto a space where it has not organically grown.  And slowing, and glancing at the multi-level parking garages, the Spanish-style bell tower, the nicely spaced concrete planting boxes containing birch saplings, I recognized, as you do when you come from outside of a place, that this self-asserting culture was somehow odd for going about its business so serenely, while constantly forgetting that this space was not its own.

          I checked into my room, and left the hotel to wander through the immaculate downtown, where a theater hosting famous stand-up acts had been made to look like it was a hundred years old but gleamingly restored, and faux-Irish pubs with hanging stained-glass lampshades and red-vinyl-upholstered booths similarly mimicked venerability, as craft-microbrew pubs gleamed storefronts away. 

          The next morning, after driving out of the downtown core and into a neighborhood of strip malls with hippie health-food stores and vagrants pushing shopping carts down alleys, I arrived at the office of Kevin Brooks. 

Brooks, who had been Grisby’s attorney before Grisby really needed one, went over the conditions of the interview with me. I would be alone with Grisby in the conference room, but two cameras on the table would provide a closed-circuit stream of our conversation to Brooks and law-enforcement representatives in an adjoining room. I was encouraged to separately record the interview, whether on my phone or with a digital recorder, or both; his - Brooks’ - client was highly concerned that his - Brooks’ client’s - words, should be reported just as they were spoken. 

The conversation would be published only if and when this magazine confirmed with the SVPD that Grisby’s allegations against Rhenshorn were true.

          I was ushered into the conference room.

          Cameras were mounted on tripods at either end of the conference table, and pointed at its center. 

          High-backed leather chairs were evenly arranged around the table, but Grisby was sitting in a swiveling office chair with a fabric-upholstered seat and an exposed lever to make the seat go up and down.  He was a regular-looking guy in a brown suit and blue dress shirt (open collar, no tie). He had a professional-looking haircut and chestnut-colored eyes.

          I sat across from him.  I took my phone from my purse and propped it against a fat volume of caselaw that was conveniently on the tabletop.  I folded my hands on the table and looked at Grisby.

          I said, “So. You are the Singapore Valley Slayer, and you have been caught.”

          He set an ankle crosswise on the opposite knee, and leaned back in his swivel chair. 

          “Tell me about it,” I said. “How did you go so long without getting caught?”

          “Planning,” he said, lacing together his fingers and stretching his arms. “I planned things. But can I just say first, Meredith, I’m really glad you came. Thank you.”


          “People get upset about guys like me, Tanov, whoever, because they think we’re cruel—we’re so cruel.  So they make things up.  They invent labels to explain us, so we won’t bother them as much.

          “When I read your piece about Yuri, I was invigorated, because you didn’t comment on him—you showed him. I tried to show the piece to Paula, my wife, but she wouldn’t read it—creeped her out too much. But I was almost as interested in your writing as I was in learning about Tanov. My brother Yuri. One of my brothers who is out there, drifting about, that I will never meet.”

          “It’s a lonely life, I’d imagine,” I said, “having to be so methodical.”

          “Yes,” he nodded, “that’s right.  And insightful, because being so methodical is really the same as being so lonely.  That is, when you first realize no one else is paying such close attention.”


          “Oh, yes.  You’re playing a game others can’t see.  You’re anticipating expectations and meeting them.  You’re planning in advance.  No one thought I was too smart.  No one thought I was threatening.  I was just some guy.  I was a lot like other guys.”

          Except that he wasn’t.  Inwardly, he was strict with himself, constructing private protective rituals and living by sets of secret rules, to keep any bit of his authentic self from accidentally showing.  He studied speech patterns and vocal inflections;  he noted the weaknesses in people’s hearts without any echoing care.  He killed people and was fascinated, in the preceding periods, by the weirdness of the interactions between their desperate resistance and his regimens of enforced caretaking.

          Then decades passed, without his ever being caught, and he and his audience got bored.  The public came to accept his random strikes as unavoidable occurrences.  And little by little, the Singapore Valley Slayer’s own thirst was slaked,  or his experimental curiosity was satisfied,  and the spaces between his strikes got longer—until the day arrived when a potentially vulnerable female could not come home,  without its immediately triggering certainty that she had been snatched up; until – one might say – the day arrived when the Singapore Valley Slayer had become less threat than legend.


          It was during such a period that Bob Grisby tricked his last victim into accompanying him to the Jeep he’d parked away from the other cars, and wrangled her into the trunk, and got her wrists duct-taped behind her back, and started carting her back to his dungeon.

          Christina was easy to capture:  she had known Bob forever, and so when he cornered her with small talk and unappealing jokes in the parking lot of the grocery store where she worked, as she was leaving her shift (he’d checked out with a different cashier inside, and she cheerfully told him she’d noticed him in the next aisle), the encounter had seemed innocuous—mere neighborly chatter.  Bob had a prepared ruse to get Christina to go with him to his inconveniently located car, and an explanation for why he hadn’t been able to park in the store’s lot that sounded reasonable when you heard it.  And when they got to his Jeep, he had his ether and his duct tape ready, too.

          He was driving home and singing along with the radio when he noticed a text from his wife and buzzed a red.

          He was whirred to pull aside.

          And Christina was awake.  Her mouth was covered with tape, but if her mmphing were heard by the officer,  it would all be over.  And Grisby could not stop her from mmphing.

          But as he rolled down his window and wracked his brain,  a black Tesla cruised to a stop alongside the cop car.

          And Rhenshorn chatted with the officer, until the officer got back in his car and drove away.

          And then Rhenshorn approached the shaken Grisby,  settling his elbows on the other man’s partly-lowered window.  He told him to handle his prisoner and get in touch—impatiently pumping his business card at Grisby with his knuckles. 

          “I took [Christina] back to my dungeon with me, but I couldn’t enjoy it,” Grisby told me. “It was my first time in a while—and I had never been disrupted before.  So I was way off my game and I really wasn’t feeling ready to start her captivity,  so I just hurried through it.  And then I came back upstairs to my shed and went into the house.  And I gave Paula some excuse and I left and drove off to Rhenshorn Hill and Rhenshorn Manor.

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The Secrets of Singapore Valley

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