Wednesday, November 11, 2009
John Muhammad and a Real Killer Bar
When news of the execution of D.C. sniper John Muhammad, people every where recalled a three-week reign of terror as diabolical as anything bin Laden could conceive.
My first thought was of a warm, friendly tavern in the far northwest corner of the country. It was the Waterfront Seafood & Bar in Bellingham, Washington. It’s a place where everybody knows your name and the odds of one of them killing you for sport far exceed the national average.
I went there in 2003 after reading that the Waterfront was a real killer bar.
Its regulars over the years included three notorious serial killers: Ted Bundy, Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi and sniper Muhammad.
And here’s the hook: They were all good guys. They didn’t cause trouble. They played well with others and remembered to tip their bartenders and waitresses.
So what’s the Waterfront’s idea of a bad customer?
“That would be anybody who steals, breaks something, starts a fight or dies during my shift," said then-bartender Cheri Rookstool.
As I noted in a story that ran in Esquire, there was no evidence, forensic or otherwise, that there were any bad customers there the night I was there.
That made them all suspect in the eyes of another bartender, Wally Oyen, who told me, “Bianchi was the nicest guy in the world. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when Muhammad went nuts. Bianchi taught me that you just never know.”
Of course, no one was surprised when regular James A. Kinney was convicted in 1998 of beheading a woman. “Now, that guy was just an ass,” Oyen said.
How three notorious killers wound up regulars at the same friendly bar is a mystery.
The best explanation came from bar regular John Riley. He said the bar’s location is key. It’s situated at the lowest point in a hilly town that's as far as anyone can run in America without leaving the country. “Restless troublemakers roll into town and then gravity brings them down to the Waterfront," says Riley, who likes to boast he's the only man on earth who's been friendly with both Muhammad and Richard Saunders (son of Harrisburg, Pa.!/Carnegie Mellon University grad!), the squirrely actor who played farm reporter Less Nessman on "WKRP in Cincinnati," at least one of whom is among history's worst monsters.
I remember reading posted signs advising proper conduct on everything from loitering (not allowed) to five detailed steps for check cashing (No. 2: "Locals only!"). There was nothing gently hinting that thou shalt not kill anyone who doesn't really have it coming. That's a pity because strangers invariably wind up immersed in gory discussions of how former Waterfront patrons, now incarcerated in penitentiaries or hell, have combined to dispatch a minimum of 51 innocent souls.
I’d spent a couple of hours there and sipped a few beers before saying my goodbyes. I haven’t been back.
It’s the only bar in the world where even soda-sipping designated drivers are sure to leave with real killer hangovers.