The outcome of an expert on serial killers
Bourgoin’s story was not so much a house of cards as a total dismantling. Some of his lies made little sense except to satisfy his seemingly overwhelming desire to become a character in dramas that didn’t concern him. During a lecture he gave to high school students in 2015, he showed an excerpt from the interview he did with killer Donald Harvey, who was accompanied by his longtime lawyer, William Whalen. Bourgoin called Whalen “a very close friend of mine.” He told the students: “Every time he came to Europe, he stayed at my house in Paris. Unfortunately, last year he took his own life and in his suicide note he said he was ultimately never able to live with having defended a killer like Donald Harvey. Whalen, Bourgoin concluded, was a “new victim” of Harvey’s. Whalen’s family told me that they had never heard of Bourgoin, that Whalen had never traveled outside of North America, and that Whalen was, to the end, a strong supporter. of the American legal system and “very proud to defend Donald Harvey”.
The 4th Eye even composes a psychological sketch similar to the profiles of serial killers with which Bourgoin had titillated the public: “The typical mythomaniac is fragile, subject to a strong dependence on others, and his faculties of imagination are increased tenfold. Whatever his profile, he is often the first victim of his imaginary stories, which he struggles to distinguish from reality. The collective describes Bourgoin as a “thief of life”—a thief of life. “We in no way accuse Stéphane Bourgoin of being an assassin,” the group wrote. “By thief of life we mean he uses pieces of other people’s lives.
Most crooks get harder to track the longer they last, but Bourgoin’s was smartly self-contained. His lies gave him the very experience he lacked, and each prison interview also served as a masterclass in manipulation. Working his way through prisons and police academies, Bourgoin, by posing as an expert serial killer, became one at some point.
The 4th Eye extended the right of reply to Bourgoin on several occasions, but he never responded directly to the group. The closest he came was when he hired legal counsel who, citing copyright and privacy violations, had the band’s videos removed from YouTube. In February 2020, Bourgoin announced that he was closing his public Facebook page and moving to a private group. (He has almost three thousand members, but his administrators blocked me while I reported this story.) He was going to be less active on social media, he said, but only because he had to save everything his time and energy for “the most important project of my life”, the parameters of which he did not specify. Almost casually, he mentioned that he had been the victim of a “campaign of cyberbullying and hate on social media” and that he was targeted by “bitter and jealous” individuals. Their actions, he said, were akin to those of people who denounced their neighbors under Marshal Pétain’s collaborationist regime.
Three months later, as the pressure on Bourgoin mounted in the French press, he spoke to Émilie Lanez, of Paris Match. “STÉPHANE BOURGOIN, SERIAL LIAR? said the title. “HE CONFESSES IN MATCH.” The article was empathetic, attesting to Bourgoin’s “phenomenal knowledge” and the respect he commanded within the law enforcement community, and presenting his lies as an unfortunate accompaniment to a largely legitimate career. Bourgoin seemed erratic, oscillating between tears and flippancy, lamenting the weight of his lies but then dismissing them as “bullshit” or “jokes”.
While discharging himself, Bourgoin sowed further confusion. The article explained, for example, that Eileen was actually Susan Bickrest, who was murdered by a serial killer near Daytona Beach in 1975. The article described Bickrest as a budding bartender and cosmetologist who supplemented her income. through sex work. Before her death, she and Bourgoin had seen each other “four or five times”, and he had made her his wife because he “didn’t want people to know that he had helped her financially”. However, the dates of Bickrest’s murder and her killer’s arrest did not match Eileen’s story, and even a cursory glance at the photographs of the two women revealed that, except for the fact that they both had blond hair, they didn’t look much alike.
“Day after day, we patiently unraveled the threads, trying to distinguish right from wrong in the jumble of his statements,” Lanez wrote. Engaging with Bourgoin’s lies, I found, could have a strange generative power, inspiring those who tried to decipher them with the same kind of slippery speculation they tried to resist. Étienne Jallieu, people pointed out, was almost the anagram of “I killed Eileen– “I killed Eileen”, in French. (A more likely derivation is the town of Bourgoin-Jallieu, near Lyon.) A biography of Bourgoin at the end of an old, undated interview claimed that he sometimes used the pseudonym John Walsh during the time he made adult films. John Walsh is a fairly common name, but it’s also the name of the man who hosted “America’s Most Wanted” for many years. Walsh’s six-year-old son was murdered in Florida in 1981, and in 2008 Ottis Toole, the Florida drifter with whom Bourgoin joked about barbecue sauce, was posthumously recognized as the murderer of the child. Could Bourgoin have remade himself into a member of the family of a victim in imitation of Walsh? Or was his desire for closeness to mass killings born out of his work on the films of John Holmes, who was later tried and acquitted of the so-called Wonderland murders of 1981?
Just when I thought I was gaining ground on Bourgoin’s story, a small crack opened up, sending me down another rabbit hole. the Paris Match article, for example, made an unusually accurate claim that Bourgoin, in the seventies, lived on the eleventh floor of an apartment building on 155th Street in New York City. I remembered Bourgoin once giving a similar address in a Facebook post, saying he had “lived in New York at the time of the Son of Sam crimes.” This address turned out to be slightly different: 155 East Fifty-fifth Street. Curious, I typed it into a database. One of the first successes was a Times article from 1976 – the year of Son of Sam – describing an apartment at the address as an “inner city brothel”.
Xaviera Hollander, a former sex worker who now runs a bed-and-breakfast in Amsterdam, confirmed that 155 East Fifty-fifth Street was “the famous, or should I say infamous, apartment building where I I started as the happy prostitute”. in the early seventies, but she had no memory of Bourgoin. Hollander added that the building was once called the “Horizontal Brothel”, where “each floor had one or two prostitutes”. Eventually I found the owner of apartment 11-H, where Bourgoin allegedly lived, and he told me that a man named Beau Buchanan had rented it in 1976. Director and producer of porn films, Buchanan died in 2020. He could easily have known Bourgoin – but did Bourgoin take Buchanan’s address and make it his own, or had he actually lived there?
Given the fashions of the time and professional composition, it seemed reasonable to assume that the photograph of Bourgoin and the woman he had identified as Eileen had been taken on one of the film sets he was on. worked in the seventies. The 4th Eye was reasonably sure that Eileen was Dominique Saint Claire, a well-known adult film actress of the time. A porn expert I contacted independently suggested that Eileen might be Saint Claire, but, looking at the pictures of Saint Claire that were available online, I wasn’t convinced. (My attempts to contact Saint Claire were unsuccessful.)
I watched a mind-blowing selection of films from the era and called a number of ex-actors – one was a traditional, erotic chocolate maker – looking for a hint of Eileen. Films written by Bourgoin are nearly impossible to obtain, but Jill C. Nelson, biographer of John Holmes, has agreed to mail me a DVD of “Extreme Close-Up” from her personal collection. It’s a love triangle story in which, as the copy of the DVD jacket notes, an American writer “is drawn into a world of European sexual delights where fantasy merges with reality.” I watched the film carefully—at one point I interrupted an open-mouthed orgasm scene to look for a frayed tooth—but none of the women looked like the one in Bourgoin’s photo.
In early March, I called Bourgoin from a street corner in a rural village on the southwest coast of France, near where he now lives. I didn’t expect him to answer; I had already tried to contact him, without much success. But, to my surprise, he picked up and quickly provided his address. Several miles down the road, I found him standing in funky green shoes outside a modest house with an orange tiled roof and voile curtains with teapot appliqués and gingham trim.
Bourgoin invited me inside. I noticed, while he was making coffee, that his knife rest was shaped like a human body, with blades running through it at various points: forehead, heart, groin. Finally, we sat down at a small table on the veranda. He seemed unfazed by my unexpected visit, almost as if he had been waiting for someone to show up.
A person who was close to Bourgoin told me that he was an “excellent actor” and “extremely convincing, because when he lies, he believes it very strongly, and so you believe it too”. At the table, however, Bourgoin was suspicious. He didn’t seem to be making much effort to get me – or, perhaps, himself – to believe what he was saying. Or maybe he believed in it so deeply that the delivery was no longer relevant. When I asked him how many killers he had actually interviewed, he replied, in English: “It depends. Every time I went to prison, I asked to meet serial killers other than those I was allowed to film or interview. So sometimes at Florida State Prison I would meet in the yard on the walk – I don’t know, two? five ? – other serial killers. He was just as evasive on other topics. I asked him about the prank he had played on Dahina Sy. “It was a fake spider,” he said, as if that explained everything. (He later claimed he was unaware of Sy’s arachnophobia.) When I brought up the rings Alice, his father’s ex-wife, gave him, he said that he had called her to thank her the next time he was in New York.