William Devlin Howell is considered the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut history, having murdered a total of seven people throughout 2003. He was convicted of six of the murders while already in prison for manslaughter in the seventh victim’s death. He dumped the remains of his victims—Nilsa Arizmendi, Melanie Camilini, Danny Whistnant (also known as Janice Roberts), Diane Cusack, Marilyn Gonzalez, Mary Jane Menard and Joyvaline Martinez—in what he called his “garden” behind a mall in New Britain. In 2017, he received six consecutive life sentences.
In July 2015—before Howell pleaded guilty to the six murders—lawyer and writer Anne K. Howard struck up a correspondence with the killer, with Howell sending her hundreds of pages of letters. Her new book, His Garden: Conversations With a Serial Killer, is derived from these letters, face-to-face visits with Howell, discussions with victims’ family members, police interviews, trial transcripts and more. The excerpt below is from Howard’s book and is reprinted with permission of WildBlue Press.
The following content contains disturbing accounts of violence and sexual violence. Discretion is advised
“Why did you kill them, Bill?”
“It wasn’t about killing, Anne. It was about raping. The prosecutors don’t know this, but I didn’t just rape three of them. They based that on what [Jonathan] Mills (Howell’s former cellmate) had told them. How would they know that I raped just three? The bodies were nothing but bones when they dug them up. I raped all of them except Danny Whistnant.”
“‘Cause he was a man?”
“Yeah, I picked him up in New Britain after leaving The Cadillac Ranch in Southington. He was wearing a short miniskirt and high heels and he had long, shiny black hair. I thought he was a woman. I drove to a nearby grocery store parking lot for a $20 b***job. When I put my hand on his head and pulled off the wig he was wearing, I discovered he was a guy and I killed him right off.”
“How did you kill him?”
“I punched him a couple of times and then I strangled him.”
“Did you strangle Melanie Camilini, too?”
“Yeah, I first tried to kill Camilini by hitting her in the head with a hammer. She didn’t see it coming. That’s another thing Mills got wrong when he talked to the cops. He said I tried to strangle Camilini, but she wouldn’t die, so I beat her in the head with a hammer. That’s backwards. I hit her with the hammer first—pretty hard—and it didn’t even knock her out. She said, ‘Please don’t kill me. Don’t hit me with the hammer again.’ I didn’t have the heart to hit her again, if that makes sense, so I strangled her.”…
“How did you feel when you were killing them? Did it give you pleasure? A sense of power?
“No. No. Anne, it was never about the killing. I just killed them to conceal the evidence. I knew that once I raped them, they would go to the cops and I’d end up back in jail. So I had to keep that from happening. I definitely didn’t enjoy killing them. As I choked them out I was thinking—just hurry up and die.”
“But you didn’t rape Danny Whistnant, so you weren’t trying to conceal evidence then. Did you kill him because you were angry when you discovered he was a man?”
“When you sliced off Melanie Camilini’s fingertips, was that so cops couldn’t ID her fingerprints if they found the body?”
“Yup. And Mills said some s*** about me dismantling her jaw. That’s not true. I just pulled out a couple of her teeth after she was dead.”
“So police wouldn’t ID her that way, either?”
“Yeah, but then I gave up and stopped. I realized that if they found her, it would probably have been moot anyway. She was the only one I did that to.”
“What did you do with the teeth and fingertips?”
“I put them in a plastic grocery bag and threw them into a trash can outside the Family Dollar store on New Britain Avenue.”
Interesting. The same man who would open the door for me if I walked up behind him to enter the Family Dollar store was also capable of disposing of human remains in the trash bin outside the store.
In a follow-up letter containing detailed confessions about all of the rapes and murders, Bill wrote:
There is one thing I’ve been dishonest with you about. And that is that I did remove Camilini’s lower jaw in an attempt to hide her identity. I lied to you about this because I was embarrassed by the sheer gruesomeness of it. Even as I was doing it I couldn’t believe I was doing it…. I put her fingertips and her jaw in a plastic grocery bag and threw them in a dumpster beside the dollar store on New Britain Ave in Hartford.
“Mills said you slept beside Camilini’s body in the back of the van and called her your ‘baby.'”
He adamantly shook his head. “I slept beside her because I had no choice. But I never called her my baby. I told Mills that I slept beside the body.”
“Words cannot express all of the pain and anguish so many of us had to endure since their murders… With every ounce of blood that run through my veins, I want to hate you, but all I can do is pray that GOD can forgive you for all you have done, and I pray that he will give us the peace to continue living our lives.” — Tiffany Menard, daughter of one of Howell’s victims, Mary Jane Menard, in her victim impact statement.
Excerpt from “His Garden: Conversations With a Serial Killer,” by Anne K. Howard, reprinted with permission of WildBlue Press. Copyright 2018 by Anne K. Howard.