Mass Murderer, Steve Nash, 1957…
The following dialogue is transcribed from the16mm film I shot as Steve Nash was being taken from the Los Angeles County Jail to Death Row after being sentenced to death April 4, 1957. This was the first story to be photographed with a hand-held sound camera. I had rigged my camera so I could move with the subject, uninhibited by a tripod as illustrated by the news photo of me interviewing Nash on the run, joined by an umbilical cord from camera to recorder. Soundman Ted Mann followed in lock step while I walked and shouted questions to the mass murderer along with the other newsmen. Even though I was surrounded by reporters the coverage resulted in an exclusive story for which I received the first award given for hand-held sound on film, a new category created by judges of the national Press Photographers Association, School of Journalism, University of Missouri, and Encyclopedia Britannica.
“How do you feel, Steve?”
“I’m the winner–like any champion should feel–King of the killers. Like any King should feel.”
“How do you feel about dying now, Steve?”
“You gonna ask for a Christian burial?”
“Nahhh. No. There never was any thought of that in my mind.”
“Steve! Look over this way, Steve.”
He raises his manacled hands, “I should hold up like a champion because I am the champ. ‘Course they’re gonna dethrone the champ, but…”
“Put your hands up again, Steve.”
“Steve, do you still think you’re going to die like a man?”
“What? I got plenty to die for. I didn’t have nothin’ to live for.”
“Hold your hands up….”
“Why don’t you kick in with ten bucks, huh?”
“Steve. Hold your hands up…”
“Didn’t we do it before?”
“We gave you money before, Steve.”
“How do you feel about the trial, Steve?”
“Didn’t I name what was bound to happen? I could have saved my life in that room l with the psychiatrist….”
“Well, why didn’t you?”
“Steve, will you look over here?”
“Steve. Steve. Will you look over here?”
“Steve. Why didn’t you save your life?”
“Steve. Over here. Wave goodbye…”
“It’s very simple. I wasn’t a man. I wasn’t a man when I lived, but I sure am one when I die.”
It had been approximately one year since I first started covering serial killer Steve Nash. He was arrested for suspicion of murder in Santa Monica and was placed at the disposal of the press in police headquarters. He posed willingly and candidly as though he had been doing it daily.
Steve Nash an admitted homosexual claimed eleven lives, offered the press names of his victims and locations of the graves all over the state of California. He had a price. I called the office and told them we could get this bizarre story for a few hundred dollars. In those days news agencies wouldn’t by a story, except Life Magazine, and Nash had no takers. Steve had a dollar amount on everyone he killed, running from ten, fifteen, to thirty-some odd dollars. He itemized everything, including the cost of the weapon, which often was a lead pipe. At times he included the cost of “lost” items like clothing, car fare, and the money he gave the victim to perform a sex act. Anything that crossed his diabolical mind. The office wouldn’t go for it.
Steve was asked what he intended to do with the money if he got it. Nash grinned broadly exposing his toothless mouth and said he wanted to take it to his cell on Death Row, tear it up into little pieces and laugh at his mother as he flushed it down the toilet, “’cause that was all she ever cared about–money.”
A week before his arrest he tried to beat a man to death in the 2nd Street tunnel in downtown Los Angeles. Nash had given him ten bucks to perform oral sex in a sleazy hotel room. But when Steve got his pants down the man ran with Nash’s money. Steve caught up with him in the tunnel and started beating him. Passing motorists intervened and chased Nash off before he killed the man.
I had been in and out of courtrooms for months shooting silent stories of Nash and was dissatisfied that the silent footage didn’t convey the madness that came from the self-proclaimed king of killers withan incredibly strong lanky Lincolnesque physique. He knew he was going to get death. He wanted to. Just as he announced, he may not have lived like a man but he sure as hell would die like a man. While the papers dutifully reported his cryptic remark, it didn’t have the impact of seeing and hearing him say it.
When a press conference was scheduled at the county jail, I begged the supervising officer to let me bring in a sound camera. Ted and I brought the equipment in to show how unobtrusive it would be. There were no Klieg lights, no cable running all over the room. He refused.
Nash was seated in a corner of the small room by an open door, a jailer a few feet away. Reporters were jammed into the tiny space. Another jailer stood next to me by a door that lead to a larger room where deputies gathered out of curiosity. Nash was telling us about the morning of his arrest, after he had killed a twelve year old boy under the Santa Monica pier.
In Long Beach forty hours earlier he murdered a homosexual and took his clothes. The all-points-bulletin described Nash as wearing the blood-spattered jacket belonging to the brutally murdered hairdresser.
Nash didn’t have sympathy for those he had killed. He was remorseful, however, over the young boy’s death. Nash said the boy befriended him early that morning and dogged him all around Santa Monica. Nash liked the boy and described him as wholesome, but said the questions got on his nerves. When they were under the pier he decided to shut the kid up.
Later Nash went into a lengthy, unbelievably grotesque description of strangulation with embarrassing flashes of humor, right out of Charles Dickens. Nash put his hands to his neck to demonstrate, wrapping his long steely fingers around his throat.
“When you choke someone to death it ain’t like they do in the movies. Hollywood’s got it all wrong. You know what they do?” He looked inquiringly at the astonished newsmen. No one spoke. You could hear a pin drop. This maniac was speaking with absolute authority, sharing first-hand knowledge. He laughed and continued his mock killing. “You know what they do? They do this,” he said as he puckered his lips and made a sucking sound. “They do that forever. It seems like hours. Takes at least twenty minutes and then when you think they’re gone, they start all over again.”
Obviously shaken by this, a young Sheriff’s beat reporter put his pad away and stood up from the folding wood chair. He puffed up his slender frame with righteous indignation and blurted out, “I don’t think you’ll die like a man. You never were a man.” The reporter moved toward me and the nearby door and stopped as Nash pointed a bony finger that seemed to reach across the room. Nash’s glare had the intensity of murder as he hissed, “If you were out on the street with me, you’d be dead in two minutes.”