A couple in Yonkers had a dark hobby for decades: seducing serial killers by mail.
For more than 20 years, at least 100 of the country’s most vicious serial and celebrity murderers — including John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, Arthur Shawcross, Edmund Kemper, Karla Faye Tucker, Robert John Bardo and Gerard Schaefer, among others — eagerly corresponded with Barbara and Richie Dickstein.
To “hook” the criminals, Barbara and Richie wrote letters pretending to be whatever turned on the killers — like when she sent photos of a local stripper and pretended it was her to tantalize Ramirez.
“If you look at most of these serial killers’ childhoods, they never had any love. I think they thought that with us, ‘Here’s someone willing to show me love and I’ll try it with them,’ ” Barbara told The Post.
The Dicksteins first wrote to Son of Sam around 1992. It was Barbara’s idea, she said, because she knew someone who had narrowly missed being a Berkowitz victim. Richie was a corrections officer, and they both were curious about the minds of killers. The letter writing took off and continued until they stopped around 2005.
Richie, who was heterosexual and died in 2018, persuaded Gacy, Dahmer and other gay murderers that he was homosexual. Dahmer, a serial killer and cannibal, wrote to Richie asking to see “every unclothed muscular inch of you.” When Dahmer’s fellow inmate Christopher Scarver killed him in 1994 by crushing his skull with a metal bar, the Dicksteins began writing to Scarver and he sent them death photos of Dahmer.
Richie also managed to convince Susan Smith, the South Carolina mom convicted of murdering her two young sons in 1994, that he was in love with her.
“Susan Smith was obsessed with my husband and Bardo was really obsessed with me,” said Barbara, now retired from a career in marketing.
Bardo, who fatally shot actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 after stalking her for three years, mailed Barbara an average of 15 letters, some as long as 20 pages, a week until she got sick of trying to keep up with them and dumped him.
The Dicksteins’ trove contains more than 30,000 letters. Many reference killers chopping up their victims, raping and torturing them, and delighting in their pain, and are too graphic to publish.
The collection — which includes audiotapes of calls from the prisoners and their artwork — forms the basis for a new crime podcast, “Killer’s Vault,” launching June 28. The podcast will be hosted by “Law and Order” actress Elisabeth Rohm. Actor Eric Roberts, will voice the murderers as he reads from the letters.
“I was shocked by the content and the amount of detail in the letters and the bond Barbara and Richie managed to develop with these guys,” said producer Rob Cea, a former NYPD homicide detective.
“These killers lie to everyone,” Cea said. “They lie to psychologists, reporters, their own lawyers. So it’s extraordinary to see how they let their guard down in these letters. Some of them told about crimes they’d never admitted before.”
The pair developed strong platonic ties to some of the killers as well, Barbara said.
Richie and the Son of Sam got so close that the killer’s lawyer told Barbara he cried when he found out about Richie’s death.
Barbara herself was upset when she found out one of her favorites, Karla Faye Tucker, had been executed by lethal injection in 1998. Tucker, a one-time groupie attached to the Eagles and the Allman Brothers, killed two people with a pickaxe during a 1983 burglary.
“I started crying,” Barbara said. “Richie was like why are you crying? I said I feel the same way about her as you do about Berkowitz. We just clicked. We both loved cats and gardening.”
Barbara also liked the so-called “Angel of Death” Richard Angelo, the Long Island nurse who was convicted of killing eight of his patients and poisoning 26 more in 1989.
“We had an affinity,” Barbara said.
She added that Richie and Charles Manson wrote to each other for years but Manson was “certifiable” and his letters barely made any sense.
“In the beginning I liked it,” Barbara said of the letter writing. “But after about five years it got to be more of a job. The [higher] the body count the more Richie wanted to write them. I got close to a few with low body counts and Richie would say, ‘Why are you spending time writing to nobodies?’ But I liked some of the nobodies.”
Richard ‘Night Stalker’ Ramirez
Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1960, the “Night Stalker” terrorized residents up and down the California coast in 1984 and 1985. Ramirez was convicted in 1989 of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries. He corresponded with both Richie and Barbara but didn’t know they were married. Ramirez talked endlessly about his sexual fetishes with Barbara and asked Richie, who told him he was a strip-club manager, to send him hardcore porn magazines. (Ramirez died of lymphoma complications in 2013 while on Death Row.)
In a handwritten September 1994 letter to Richie, he recalled: “I used to go to downtown LA to take pictures . . . There was a place where I could go under the street. It was at a stoplight. I’d be able to look up the [women’s] dresses as they would wait for the walk sign to change. I’d take pictures. You’d be surprised how many chicks walk around w/ no panties . . . You see Madonna at the MTV Awards? I was with Sean Penn at the LA County Jail. He was in jail for 30 days for punching out a camera. She came to visit him and I saw her. She’s tiny . . . Something about Hillary Clinton that I dig. Her calves and ankles are definitely healthy. I think you’d agree.”
He also filled out a questionnaire in an undated correspondence, which reads in part:
Perfect Woman or Man: Superman, Wonder Woman
Childhood Hero(es): Jack the Ripper, Frankenstein
Favorite Movie: Unforgiven
Every January 1st I Resolve: To be more of an a–hole than I already am
Nobody Knows I’m: more depraved than they think I am
What I Don’t Like About People: A lot of things
My Biggest Fear: None
Friends Like Me Because: Who needs friends?
If I Were An Animal, I’d Be: A panther
Personal Goals In Life: None
Favorite Number: 666
Political Views: Crazy anarchy? Whatever that means
Religious Thinking: Evil?
What You Are Thinking Now: Evil thoughts. Evil doorways
John Wayne Gacy
Known as the “Killer Clown” — because he had worked as a clown at children’s events and also painted clown portraits — Gacy, born in Chicago in 1942, was convicted of murdering at least 33 young men and boys. After talking to Richie on the phone, Gacy regularly badgered him for a photo from Richie’s younger days, as in this July 25, 1993, typewritten letter adorned with childish stickers:
“But now you have your word on the line, saying you would send those photo[s], hey who knows maybe if I like one of them i’ll do a painting of you then out of the 2,100 painting[s] I have done you would have a personal one. That would be cool.”
Gacy wrote to Richie sounding like a spurned lover in the months and days before his execution in May 1994, complaining that Richie — who Gacy believed was gay — had promised to visit him and hadn’t:
“You have failed to keep your word with me for the past few months. Always saying that you were going to send me more revealing photos, etc. or just the younger one, and yet your word is for sh-t. I still have not gotten one. So why keep saying things to me if you don’t intend on keeping your word?
“How soon are you coming out? Hell, I have been hearing it since last August and you’re still not here. Almost as bad as not sending photos, so get with both and stop making excuses. No more, ‘I can’t find them’ or ‘I forgot.’ Hell if you mean what you say then do it, that would make me happy.”
David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz
Born in Brooklyn in 1950 and known as the “Son of Sam” during his killing spree that terrified New Yorkers in 1976 and 1977, Berkowitz was the first killer to whom the Dentons wrote. He and Richie became close friends, and Barbara said Berkowitz, who is imprisoned at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in the Hudson Valley, was among the “least sexual” of all the killers they befriended.
In a January 2003 typewritten letter, he wrote: “You asked me for a photo and then you asked me to draw you a picture of what I look like. For some reason this put me ill at ease. I know you were kind of joking but it spooked me . . . I don’t think you understand what I go through and the pain and grief I have in my heart over the past. And even 25 years later the media still chases me around. I am ashamed of the past and want to move on. I have a fear that some people write to me for other motives.”
Dahmer, born in 1960, was a Milwaukee-area cannibal and necrophiliac convicted of the murder of 16 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Richie told Dahmer he was gay.
In March of 1984, eight months before he was found bludgeoned in a prison bathroom and died from his injuries, Dahmer sent Richie a letter using what appears to be a word processor:
“. . . with all the mail I get, it’s difficult to know who I should respond to. In your next letter would you please send me some really good photo’s to help make your letter stand out in the crowd. You said you’re a bodybuilder, that’s good. I’d like to see every unclothed muscular inch of you.”
Born in 1934, Manson died in prison in 2017 while serving a life sentence for nine murders. Like many serial killers Manson thought he might get out some day and hoped, in this undated and handwritten letter, that Richie could get him a job at the strip club where Richie pretended to work.
Richard – It’s always good to here [sic] from you – i’ve been a few years working out of the hole – again. O, WELL. when the other tell on me and make up storys [sic] they want to believe because it adds to there [sic] job importance I get to go over the same old same old so it can turn the circle in the chains of command. Send your number and I’ll call you – I know you been used by some people who called me brother and one day maybe it will catch up. You and I are still solid as far as I’m concerned. I did ask a good friend to help me and I explained – will be in contact. Easy Charles Manson.
PS if I get out could you give me a job as a bouncer?