This report airs on Dateline Saturday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m.
Jim Greenhill, author: There’s one theory that says that when we’re born, we’re a blank slate and we’re shaped by the world around us. And there’s another theory that we’re really little savages when we’re born, and that the job of our parents is to tame us. I have come to believe very much more strongly that we’re savages that have to be tamed. Evil is very much closer to us than many of us would like to think.
How close was evil now? It clung to him like sweat. Like the memory of that first murder... the anticipation of the next. Here was Jim Greenhill, an adult, enthralled of the mere boy locked in prison. Would he do the boy’s bidding like the others have done?
Could he kill?
His name is Jim Greenhill. He had run once before, but purposefully that time, when he left his native England and wound up in Fort Myers, Florida.
He landed a job here as the town’s crime reporter, the chronicler of evil. It was a grueling existence. It was a long string of yellow crime scene tape.
Greenhill: The reality is you’re always right up against a deadline. There are always too many stories. There are always too few reporters.
It was a grind. What idealism he once had had long since faded away. Gone was that naive sentiment that inspired him to name his dogs Woodward and Bernstein, in honor of the reporters who broke Watergate.
So at night, he’d escape. To the Indigo Room, the Cottage, the Gator Lanes and the French Connection—one Scotch drowning another.
Greenhill: It’s a constant cycle of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Too much caffeine. Too much nicotine. Too much alcohol and too little protein and carbohydrates.
He had just entered his 30s. He was jaded, numb, an alcoholic.
Strange, isn’t it, that when you least expect it, you come across the thing that changes everything?
For Jim, it was Kevin Foster.
And who was he? He was the wild boy – tough, masculine, a leader and a bully.
He was magnetic. For him, kids would throw their lives away. But what about Jim, the adult? Could he resist the boy-man Kevin? And his own demons too?
It all started in April, 1996
The last day of school was just around the corner at Riverdale High. For the senior class of ‘96, these were those nostalgic moments, those final glory days.
That is, for almost everyone.
Pete Magnotti was a brilliant, talented artist who dreamed of designing animation or comic books. But he was small, weak, ostracized by the in-crowd. He poured his anger into these violent sketches—his netherworld of fantasy.
His companion on the fringes of high school society was Chris Black, a chunky computer geek. He was just as smart, just as angry, and just as lonely.
They were seniors, good students who never got in trouble. Graduation was less than a month away. But these two would never make it. Within three weeks they’d be a story for Jim Greenhill, from promising college material to Fort Myers’ most notorious criminals.
They recalled those days before graduation later from jail.
Chris Black: All of us were pretty much at an impasse. Just... just such a time of indecision there, nobody really knew where they truly wanted to go. Everybody was trying to search for it. So everybody was just in sort of like an intellectual limbo.
They were isolated. High school society can be cruel. But then there was Kevin who seemed to know what they were worth, who could make their fantasies real.
Pete Magnotti: He’s really smart. He’s smarter than he lets on.
Pete and Chris worshipped Kevin Foster. He was a drop-out and had given up on school— and yet, to these boys, he was everything they could never be.
His house was a gathering place. outcasts were welcome here. Kevin’s mother was more like a friend, she and her son took the boys in like family.
Pete wrote in his journal: “If you’re a person of small stature like me, it helps to have big friends that have bigger guns that have a history of mental illness.”
Kevin was strong. Kevin was wild. Kevin had guns.
Magnotti: His parents had owned a pawn shop and sold lots of guns. He’s been around the guns for his whole life. It was like toys to him.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: How many did he have?
Magnotti: Oh, he had lots. I don’t know specifically.
Magnotti: Probably even more than that.
Kevin at 13, was holding a Christmas gift from his mother—a 12 gauge pump action Mossberg shotgun.
As he grew older, his mother’s pawnshop became a kind of private arsenal.
Magnotti: He’d go that further step. He was just that much more exciting than everyone else.
Morrison: He’s prepared to be a little bit more bad.
Morrison: Little bit more dangerous.
Magnotti: Mmm-hmm (affirms).
Morrison: And that draws kids?
Magnotti: At least us.
Yes, and the adult, too. The reporter. But not yet. At the time Jim Greenhill was busy covering accidents on the interstate.
It all changed on Friday night, April 12. Kevin ordered Pete and Chris in his truck, and they went driving.
Magnotti: We stayed out all night, drove around in Kevin’s truck and whenever the opportunity arose, we took it.
Black: Devil’s night.
Magnotti: Just a random spectacle of destruction.
In the dark woods, they smashed car windows, broke into a gas station store, set a bus on fire. In the back garden of a restaurant, they found two birds and burned them to death.
A few days later, they reconvened at Kevin’s garage. But it wasn’t just the three of them anymore. Word had spread. They were six now.
Kevin, the leader, decided to make order in the ranks. He gave them all one syllable code-names. There was Slim, Fried, Mob, Red, Dog. And then he named himself.
Morrison: He was “God.”
Magnotti: Yeah. Thought it up himself.
Morrison: Was it appropriate?
Magnotti: That’s the way he thought of himself. He pictured himself in that context. He was, you know, all powerful mighty being.
Someone came up with a name for the group: Lords of Chaos. Pete sketched a logo.
They typed up a manifesto, brimming with adolescent machismo. They wrote: “During the night of April 12, the Lords of Chaos began a campaign against the world. Be prepared for destruction of Biblical proportions. The games have just begun, and terror shall ensue.”
As luck would have it on, those very same days, Jim Greenhill was working on a related story.
Greenhill: Some school principals had met and talked about what would happen if they had a gang problem in the schools and how might they prevent that and what would they—how would they deal with it.
It was dry, academic—a far cry from the declaration of war brewing in Kevin’s garage. The Lords of Chaos went unnoticed. Oh, they did send the manifesto to the newspaper. But it never made it to Jim’s desk.
Only a small community paper noticed the vandalism at all which it diminished as the acts of “less-than-average intelligence,” carried out by “pea-brained vandals.”
Magnotti: There was an article in the newspaper talking about uh, how, the people who were doing things like that were just, uh, you know, stupid, below average, uh, you know, simians—
Black: —Below average intelligence. Simians—
Magnotti: —Running around...
Morrison: Pretty insulting.
Magnotti: Yeah. We were really hurt by that.
Magnotti: Well, you take a shot to the ego.
So the following Friday, The Lords of Chaos decided to show the unsuspecting town what they could do.
Black: "You want organized vandalism, we’ll give you some organized vandalism."
Magnotti: Yeah, we can, uh, we can do something that’ll uh, take a little bit of brains.
On one of the town’s main roads stood a historical monument: an old Coca-Cola plant.
The Lords of Chaos broke into two nearby hardware stores, stole propane gas tanks, opened them, and then lit a fuse.
Black: It was really theatrical, the whole angle that we were watching it from.
Morrison: How’d it feel?
Black: Oh, it was majestic.
Magnotti: It’s like look at us, we can wreak you know, whole loads of destruction on whatever we want.
Black: Right in full view of the public.
Greenhill: I’m coming home from a friend’s house. I’ve been out late. I’ve been drinking. And as I drive up McGregor Boulevard, there is thick smoke hanging over the boulevard. And I go to where the smoke’s coming from. And it turns out that the Coca-Cola building, which is a historic building in Ft. Myers, has just—it appears blown up.
The fire made headlines.
But who did it? That remained a mystery.
Alone, in his house, Kevin, the mastermind of destruction, collected the articles Jim wrote. Police would later find them on his desk. He liked them.
He told his followers it was time for something bigger. Time to target a human being.
One of the boys knew about a diner, where, every night at closing, the owner carried a bag of money to his car.
Kevin made a plan. The Lords of Chaos would ambush the man at gunpoint, steal his car, and take his money.
The heist didn’t go quite as planned. There was no bag of money and Kevin forgot Pete’s code name as he screamed at him to get in the car and drive off. Frustrated, their anger quickly turned to violence.
Morrison: What’d you do to his car?
Black: Uh, we trashed it. We beat it down for a while just to entertain ourselves, get it out of our system.
Morrison: Made some dents in it.
Black: Oh, we made more than dents in it, We totaled it.
Morrison: But you weren’t there?
Morrison: What did you do?
Magnotti: I went home. Um, I had a little curfew restriction with my parents. I had to come home before 10. The supercriminal with a curfew.
Night was falling and the Lords of Chaos had to go back to being teens again, obeying parents and curfews and bedtimes.
For Jim, it was another night at the Indigo room, the Cottage, the ‘Gator Lanes and the French Connection. Another night of escaping.
Still outside the orbit of that dark magnetic power. But in four days, someone would die. And Jim would find himself in that elastic border between reality and the fantasies of a teenage killer.
Tuesday, April 30th
Jim Greenhill’s beat was an accident this time and another sad story—more police tape, more hours to kill before the bars opened.
But fate is a strange business. As Greenhill stood by thehighway, not far away, a murder plot was forming. In a few hours, one man would be dead and the reporter would begin his strange tryst with evil.
Young boys, just weeks from graduation, would have thrown their lives away all because of the actions of one young man, barely a year older than them, but with authority and charisma well beyond his years. Kevin Foster.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: What sort of person is he?
Derek Shields: Double personality, the way I looked at it. In front of most people, he looks like an innocent little kid you know with intelligence and all. If you see the dark side, he’s a psycho.
Derek Shields is in prison now, but on that Tuesday afternoon he was an all-American boy, a member of the high school band, his ambitions still intact.
But he was shy, too, an outsider like Pete and Chris, like them in thrall of Kevin. And by day’s end, his dreams would be over.
It was early evening now. Riverdale High was alive. Mark Schwebes, the school’s music teacher and band leader, was holding an open house, greeting next year’s freshmen and prospective musicians.
Mark grew up here. He went off to join the Marines and came back to teach. It’s all he ever wanted. He liked his kids. He loved his music.
Butas the event was winding down, the Lords of Chaos circled the school.
Chris Black: It was a whole big knot of people that night.
Pete Magnotti: Yeah, we had about eight or nine of us that night. And, we decided we’d go back to Riverdale and break some of the windows up. It didn’t seem like a really big production. We had parked the cars across the street, and uh, we were walking up to meet the rest of the group when Schwebes pulled up and confronted Chris.
Black: Everything went downhill from there.
The teacher had been heading home when by this pay phone in the empty schoolyard he saw them: Chris andone of the others looking suspicious, wearing latex gloves, carrying heavy tin cans.
Morrison: What was going through your mind when he came up and confronted you?
Black: Everything’s... everything’s screwed up now. Everything’s all screwed up, everything’s all messed up.
The teacher confiscated the latex gloves and the cans, and told the kids to expect a call in the morning. He threw the evidence in the back of his truck. Then he drove off.
Black: Nobody knew what to do. And so I threw something out there in the open, an idea and everybody latched right onto it. “The man should be killed,” no one disputed it. Everybody went for it. Group decision.
Morrison: You said, he has to die?
Morrison: Did you think about it before you said it?
Morrison: You were upset?
Black: Very angry. Very.
Morrison: In a rage?
Black: Oh yeah.
But Kevin was excited. A process had begun. He and Chris called information and got the teacher’s home address.
But now it was getting late. Murder was in the air. But remember, these were boys. It was time to be home.
Morrison: Did you have a curfew that night?
Magnotti: Uh, yes, 10 p.m. But uh, I stayed out, I didn’t follow it.
Morrison: You decided I’ll brazen this one out because this is important?
Magnotti: Because how many people can say, you know, "we killed a guy last night"?
Some of the teens did leave.
Out in the night, Pete and Chris went with Kevin to his house.
Morrison: Where were his parents at that hour?
Magnotti: Out, they’re, uh, really social. You know.
Derek—on the way to Kevin’s house—had a crisis of conscience. What was he doing? He drove home, pulled into his own driveway. Turned off the car and sat there. To go or not to go? Mark Schwebes was his music teacher. He liked Mark Schwebes. To go then, or not to go?
Derek pulled out of the driveway and headed to Kevin’s.
Morrison: Did you take him seriously?
Shields: A little bit but not all the all the way. Not until we got to his house he started pulling out the guns.
From the arsenal of guns in his bedroom, Kevin picked the gun he got for Christmas when he was 13: the Mossberg twelve gauge pump shotgun. And a silencer. And a map.
Magnotti: Once we got the idea in our heads that we were going to kill somebody tonight, it was just going to happen.
Derek watched. Excited? Or anxious?
Morrison: Why didn’t you leave then? I mean if there was ever a red flag for God’s sake. You go to some guy’s house and he starts pulling out guns and talking about killing a teacher who’s your teacher— why didn’t you leave?
Shields: I stayed to try to talk him out of it.
Morrison: But he wasn’t paying attention to that was he?
Shields: No. Eventually Kevin just blew up at me one time and just you know grabbed his shotgun and told me you know shut up now or you know somebody’s gonna die tonight if it’s not gonna be him it’ll be you. So I shut up.
Morrison: How were you feeling at that point?
Shields: Very scared.
That night, as the reporter was filing the story about the accident on the interstate, on that very same road, four boys were in a car on their way to commit murder.
Morrison: Didn’t take four people to do it.
Black: No sir.
Magnotti: Of course not.
Morrison: So why’d you all go?
Magnotti: Kevin needed an audience.
Black: Mm-Hmmm (affirms).
Magnotti: That’s the way I see it. If, he was by himself, he wouldn’t have done it. He needs show everyone how tough he is. All the really bad things he can do and not get caught.
As they approached the house, Kevin finalized a plan: one of them would knock on the door. When the teacher opened it, Kevin, hiding in the bushes would shoot.
But who would be the one to knock? No one wanted to. Kevin gave the order: Derek will do it. Mark Schwebes would recognize Derek from band practice if he looked through the peephole. But Derek couldn’t move.
Morrison: He didn’t want to go to the door?
Magnotti: He really really didn’t want to do it.
But Kevin ordered again.
Magnotti: Kevin and Derek got out of the car. Me and Chris we waited in the car. They walked around to the front of the house, and uh, they walked out of our viewpoint.
Kevin hid in these bushes. Derek approached this door and knocked.
He turned around. Kevin’s gun was pointed straight at his face.
Shields: I basically came face to face with the barrel of the shot gun. That’s when everything it just felt like time slowed down everything got cold and my mind just went blank. At the same time you know, it was only matter of seconds, Scwebbes was uh, undoing the locks on his door. And that’s when I spun back around and as soon as he opened the door he you know it was like uh, “yes may I help you?” or something like that. And that just totally flipped me out and I ran.
Morrison: And then bang.
Shields: Yeah. Two bangs from the gun.
Chris, sitting in the car, staring at the dashboard, heard the first shot. Then the second. Why two? Could Kevin have shot Derek? But then, two silhouettes came running frantically toward the car.
Morrison: Derek came first?
Black: Derek was really screwed up.
Magnotti: Yeah, Derek was, uh, shaking.
Shields: At the time my mind was just flipping around. The next thing I remember I just jumped in the car and just crawled up into a ball and started shaking. Just repeating, “oh my god.”
The car took off. Kevin dropped silent. Pete and Chris asked him: what happened?
Magnotti: He was being real quiet because he didn’t want to disturb Derek. He put his hand, you know, up to the mid section of his face, and uh, he swept to the right and then he said, “Just gone.” You know, he was implying that he just, you know, shot off the right side of the man’s head.
Kevin told them the first shot hit the teacher in the face. He fell to the ground in a fetal position. Kevin aimed again and shot the buttocks.
Morrison: How did you feel sitting in the car there once he’d come running out and sat down and Derek was there shaking like a leaf and you’re driving off as fast as you can.
Magnotti: It...it didn’t really even really seem real to me. It seemed just like I was, you know, watching myself from outside.
Driving into the night, Kevin handed out cigarettes. He was elated.
Magnotti: He was so proud of himself, so full of himself. He was like king of the world, on top of the world, he could do whatever he wanted now. And he just got away with like, you know, the worst thing you can do.
When Pete came home his mom was waiting, angry. The boy missed his 10 p.m. curfew. But that night, Pete was no longer a child. He walked past his mother and went to bed.
It was quiet that night in Fort Myers. The ripples of that focused horror were just now spreading outward.
And reporter Jim Greenhill was blissfully unaware of the force that was already pulling him in.
Jim Greenhill: If you know about homicides in a community like Southwest Florida, then you know that almost no one ever dies randomly. People die in murders because they’re selling drugs, buying drugs, selling themselves for sex or staying in an abusive relationship where there have already been calls to the police. That’s why people get killed in this region in the country. They don’t die because they go out and answer their front door to someone and get shot dead. That doesn’t happen.
Every crime reporter will tell you about that one defining case of their lives. The night it happened for Jim Greenhill, he was drunk in a bar.
Two people had called 911. At 11:35 a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched.
A crowd had gathered. The body of a male Caucasian in his early 30s was lying in the doorway, welcome mat soaked with blood. Shotgun-pellets were everywhere.
The investigation began.
Why two shots? Why in the buttocks?
There was cash in his pockets so robbery was unlikely. In the back of his truck, deputies found latex gloves and an assortment of tin cans. Strange? Yes. But not much of lead.
Name of victim: Mark Schwebes. A teacher.
That night, his sister, in Atlanta, was awakened by a phone call.
Pat Dunbar: My dad was crying. And he said, “Something’s happened to Mark.” And I asked him “what?” And he said, “Mark’s dead.” And... I tried to figure out, I asked him “Was it a car accident? What was it?” And um, he told me he had been murdered. In his house.
At about the same time in Fort Myers, another phone call was made: to Chris Burnett’s house.
Chris Burnett was one of Kevin’s closest friends. Unlike Pete or Chris or Derek, Burnett was Kevin’s peer—an equal, not a follower. They learned together... about cigarettes, and cars, and girls.
He was there with Kevin the night Mark Schwebes caught the Lords of Chaos by the school. But unlike Kevin’s followers, Burnett was one of the boys who decided to leave.
Now it was kevin on the line. He told Burnett: “It was done.”
Reporter Jim Greenhill arrived at the scene of the crime early the next morning.
Greenhill: I had gone to the house where the band director, Mark Schwebes, had been killed. For a few seconds, it had crossed my mind—what if it was kids from his own school? And I laughed at myself. I remember laughing out loud because it just seemed so incredibly improbable.
Sheriff John McDougall headed the investigation. With little to go on, his deputies zeroed in on the pellets lodged in the victim’s pelvis.
Sheriff John McDougall: We call it a signature. When there’s any sexual connotations in a homicide, we try to look at "why is that there?" Was Mr. Schwebes involved in some kind of a love triangle?
That theory was the subject of Jim’s front page story the next day.
Gossip from the teachers’ lounge leaked out: Mr. Schwebes was growing close to a teacher who was breaking up from her boyfriend—was this some kind of love triangle killing?
Kevin, the real killer, at home, followed the coverage. He called his close friend Burnett and the other teen who bailed out before the murder. He laughed: “Everybody in town is so far off.”
Then Kevin called to brag to two more boys. Told them what he did. Told them to keep it secret.
Pete Magnotti: Foster got it into his head that you know, we can’t be touched, we, you know, we’re free. There’s nothing else, no one can stop us.
Morrison: No one even suspected you?
But Kevin was wrong. Four boys had committed a murder. At least four others knew about it. Who would be the first to break?
Morrison: A few days after the murder... you got a big boost?
Sheriff McDougall: Yes. We did.
Morrison: What happened?
Sheriff McDougall: It was a girlfriend of one of the members of the Lords of Chaos that had called us and said that her...her boyfriend had told her that he had killed Mark Schwebes.
Julie Schuchard: And he said, “Well I need to tell you something. He’s like. “That was us. Or me.” Whatever. “We did it.” I’m like, “We? We who?” And he’s like, “Me and Kevin.”
Two days after the murder, Julie Schuchard's boyfriend confessed to her he killed the teacher. She told her mom.
Schuchard: She just stood still with like no expression on her face like she didn’t know what to say.
Mother and daughter went to the sheriff. And before long Julie’s boyfriend was hauled to the station.
Which one was he? Craig Lesh. He was one of the boys who heard about the murder from Kevin.
He wasn’t even there.
In the interrogation room he quickly confessed he had nothing to do with the murder. But he knew who did: Pete Magnotti, Chris Black, Derek Shields, and Kevin Foster.
Kevin, the mastermind, at home, oblivious to all this, decided it was safe. He would strike again. Bigger this time.
Magnotti: He wanted to do some kind of, you know, a movie...movie theatrical—
Magnotti: --"Commando," "Delta Force" kind of thing.
His plan: an armed robbery of the fast food restaurant where Pete and Derek worked.
And so the night arrived. It was a Friday. Fort Myers was quiet. Unusually so.
The murder of the teacher was now 72 hours old.
Pete and Chris filled a car with guns and drove to pick up this boy, Brad Young, who heard about the murder and wanted in on the gang.
Magnotti: We pulled up to his house, we walked around behind his house and the cops jumped down on us. That was it. It was over.
Black: End of story.
Morrison: No siren, no...
Black: No siren no warning.
Morrison: Pull over now?
Black: Flashlight in your face, gun to your back of your head. Face against the wall. That’s, you know, when reality intrudes and you know, you can’t deny me anymore, here I am.
Black: Live with me, you’re screwed.
Deputies had been following Pete and Chris that entire evening. Shortly after, the sheriff’s men picked up Derek as well.
And a snake of deputy cars in the night zeroed in on the mastermind. Kevin, with his best friend Burnett in the car, was heading to the meet point when, at 8:45, a sheriff’s car signaled for them to pull over.
“What to do?” Burnett asked.
“Pull over, I guess,” Kevin answered.
In his last seconds of freedom, Kevin turned to his friend and said: “See you in hell.”
Seven young men were brought to interrogation rooms. Deputies raided their homes, confiscated their computers, took their notebooks. And from Kevin’s house: more than 20 guns and rifles.
Jim Greenhill: The telephone rings. It’s the sheriff. “Jim, I’ve been trying to reach you. I’ve got this story.” He never does this. He never does that.
The sheriff told the reporter: you should see the gun show we’ve assembled down here.
But when Jim arrived at the station, it wasn’t the 20 odd guns that struck him. It was a single photo of the young man who had the guns in his house.
Greenhill: Something happened the moment I see the photograph of Kevin with the gun, because when I see the expression on Kevin’s face, I recognize someone.
It was a suprisingly pure, lonely memory. And it flooded Jim. That picture reminded the jaded, alcoholic reporter of a boyhood friend he’d long forgotten.
Greenhill: He was stronger than me, bigger than me—got away with more than me, was way cooler than me. He was physically and mentally advanced for his age—had the first experiences with girls out of anybody I knew—
And suddenly it all came back: how in his youth, he says, he was pulled into strong friendships, followed charismatic boys, boys like Kevin.
Greenhill: Since my early teens, I had a tendency to be pulled towards kids who were had a certain charisma to them. Who, perhaps, could fulfill some things that I felt were a little lacking in my own life.
Of course that was long ago. But that image would ignite passions long laid to rest, stir up emotions long drowned by the bottle.
Among those arrested that night were three who never made it to the teacher’s door. Brad Young, the new gang member, was quickly released. He was not involved with the murder. But then there were the two other boys. Yes, they left before the murder, but they could face years in prison for just being there in the planning stage. One of the two was Kevin’s best friend, Chris Burnett. Now he had to choose: Freedom or friendship?
So Burnett turned on Kevin, his close friend. He told investigators everything. This is part of his statement:
Christopher Thomas Burnett: He was saying how it was cool. He said the side of his face just blew off. And then I shot him in the ass were his words.
Christopher Thomas Burnett: Derek, Pete, Chris.
That statement to police opened the door to more confessions. Right away, the second boy who left before the murder took place, agreed to implicate Kevin Foster.
Investigator: Did Foster describe how he shot him?
Tom Terrone: Yes. Just did the, you know how you hold the gun straight and he just showed us like that, boom, boom, boom.
In return for testifying in full against the others, these two were promised lenient sentences. They were out of custody soon after.
In the paper the next day Jim quoted extensively from their confessions, their betrayal, as Kevin saw it.
Derek, who stood closest to Kevin when he pulled the trigger, now saw Kevin’s anger in jail.
Morrison: Did you ever hear Kevin say, "somebody is gonna pay"?
Derek Shields: Yes.
Morrison: What did you hear?
Shields: Right out of Kevin’s mouth telling me about how he, his mom was gonna get some connections done they have Burnett, Terrone and Young murdered.
Morrison: Those are the three people who he thought as ratting you out.
Shields: Yeah. They were the first ones that turned state.
Morrison: And they didn’t have to go to jail.
Morrison: So he was gonna see them killed.
Were the seeds planted for another murder? Chris Burnett, once Kevin’s close friend, was out now: a teen free to start living his life all over again. The price: handing over his best friend to authorities.
Perhaps Burnett could forget the man he helped put behind bars. But, behind bars, could Kevin forget who was first to turn on him? It would become quite a murder plot. But Jim Greenhill wouldn’t report that story. He was about to live it.
In sunny Fort Myers, the wheels of justice ground slow. It was almost two years before The Lords of Chaos went to trial.
Reporter Jim Greenhill kept in close touch with prosecutor Randall McGruther. McGruther was pursuing the death penalty. This was a huge story for Jim’s newspaper.
Randy McGruther, prosecutor: Jim had always been a good writer. Pretty factual. He took great pains to confirm things before he, he would put them in the paper. He called me several times on articles he was writing about the Lords of Chaos to make sure that things were accurate and he wasn’t overstating.
As the trial loomed, parents and lawyers persuaded Pete, Chris and Derek, one by one, to testify against Kevin and plead guilty to their roles in the murder plot in return for being spared the death penalty.
In March 1998, Kevin Foster stood trial alone.
And that’s where reporter Jim Greenhill saw him for the first time in the flesh. But gone was that charismatic grin. The defendant sat in court steel-faced.
Jim Greenhill: [He was] not smiling not frowning, not moved by testimony, not angry when his codefendants who struck plea bargains got up and testified. Flat. Impenetrable.
But Jim Greenhill, sitting in court, was transfixed. Unbeknownst to Kevin, he was already impacting the reporter, who, no longer content to file short articles about this case, left the paper and started working on a book about the Lords of Chaos.
Jim sat in court listening to the state’s evidence laid out by those who once called Kevin, “God.” The same plot repeated over and over again.
Pete Magnotti: Mr. Shields would knock on his door, Mr. Schwebes’ door. When he opened the door Kevin Foster would shoot him with a shotgun.
All the stories matched—save one. When Kevin’s mother, Ruby, took the stand she insisted her son was with her that night, and he was innocent.
Ruby Foster, Kevin Foster’s mother: My son did not do this. I do not want my son to die for something he didn’t do.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: What were your impressions of her?
Greenhill: Somebody that was absolutely uh determined not to believe in her son’s guilt.
Morrison: She thought he was innocent honestly? Or she was just telling herself?
Greenhill: I can only give you my opinion. But I think that she, on at least, on a conscious level, had convinced herself that he was innocent.
She had fought to have her son’s trial moved. Said Jim’s coverage had tainted the jury pool.
It was after all her demands were finally denied that she finally confronted Jim face to face.
Greenhill: I ran into her in the corridor and the first thing that she said to me was, “I hate you.” Those were the first words that she said
Morrison: "I hate you"?
Greenhill: "I hate you."
The trial was short. Only three days. Kevin Foster was convicted of first degree murder.
On April 10th, the jury came back with a sentence, read by the judge.
Judge Anderson: For the murder for Mark Schwebes, the defendant is hereby sentenced to death. It is further ordered....
Randy McGruther: Kevin Foster of course was convicted at trial sentenced to death and is at Union Correctional in Starke, Florida, which is death row.
Several months later the three other “Lords of Chaos” learned their fate.
Randy McGruther: Peter Magnotti was sentenced to 32 years in prison and he is currently serving that sentence. Chris Black and Derek Shields were each sentenced to life imprisonment and are serving those sentences in the Florida state prison system.
Morrison: How old are you?
Chris Black: 20 years old.
Morrison: You will never see the outside of a prison.
Morrison: As long as you live. Do you think about things that you’ll never have?
Magnotti: All the time.
Black: All the time.
Morrison: Never have a wife, never have kids.
Black: Never drive.
Magnotti: Go to college.
Black: Go to college.
Magnotti: Fall in love.
Black: Ride a bike.
Magnotti: You wake up every day and you don’t have anything to look forward to for the rest of your life.
Morrison: How do you feel about that murder now?
Derek Shields: I feel guilty about it.
Shields: Yeah. like I should have done something to stop it.
All too late now. Corrections’ department vans had scattered the boys throughout Florida. And Fort Myers resumed its languid normalcy.
But not Jim Greenhill. He couldn’t stop thinking about the case. He reviewed the scores of articles he had once filed about the Lords of Chaos. Still, he felt none of those—even put together—could explain what happened, or why he cared so much personally. It ate at him.
Greenhill: I knew there was something unusual about it to me but I wasn’t sure what it was. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Jim must have assumed that the key to the story lay in the past... if only he could grasp it. What he didn’t grasp then was that the story was about to change, take a turn, that it was no longer about the past—not about murders that had happened but about killings to come.
The second half of this murder mystery was yet to unfold. And the key lay in that one phrase Kevin uttered to his best friend in his last minutes of freedom: “See you in hell.”
Jim Greenhill had no idea what was to come: the Trial of the Lords of Chaos was over. His trials had just begun. First: trying to become an author. But harder still: trying to be sober.
Jim Greenhill: I spent a great deal of time going to 12 step meetings. And just sort of decompressing and limbering up for the task ahead.
And nights once spent at the Indigo Room, the Cottage, The ‘Gator Lanes and the French Connection were now dedicated to hour-long phone conversations with the murdered teacher’s sister.
Greenhill: At some point in that she said, “Jim, this is important to you.” And I said, “Well yes, I’m writing a book about it.” And she said, “No, there is more to it than that.” And I said, “Oh I don’t know what you’re talking about kind of thing,” or, “I’ll have to think about that,” or something. And I hung up the telephone and that’s when—that’s when I remembered concretely thinking to myself, “You know, she’s right.”
The sudden insight of a clear memory long drowned in alcohol, lost from childhood.
It occurred to him that perhaps looking into his fascination with the Lords of Chaos would mean finally looking into that dark hole in himself—confronting demons he thought defeated, urges he thought he’d overcome.
Greenhill: And I decide that the first person to try to talk to is Kevin. Kevin is the most important person in the story.
Kevin was on death row, in the process of appealing his conviction. His mother, Ruby, was still in town. But could Jim approach her? The last time they’d met she told Jim she hated him.
Greenhill: I called Ruby up and said, “Would you, and/or Kevin like to talk me at this point?” And she said, “Yes.” And she said, in fact, that she had been trying to reach me. And she had felt the time had come to talk. She wanted to convince me of Kevin’s innocence.
Jim met Ruby several times in that same house in which her son plotted murder two and a half years earlier. And soon Jim started corresponding with Kevin.
Greenhill: I went into it willing to listen to a completely different side of the story.
And so letters began going back and forth between the killer in the cell and the reporter on the outside.
“I know and God in heaven knows I’m not a murderer,” Kevin wrote.
They wrote each other about religion, morals, driving a truck on the open road. It was a tentative relationship, but a growing one.
Finally, in March of 1999, Kevin invited Jim to meet him face to face on death row. The jaded reporter found himself feeling something he thought he had lost—excitement.
Greenhill: There’s a very idealistic and I’m told naive side to me still. And I really had this idea that I could go there and he would tell me the truth. Whatever the truth was. And in learning the truth I would have a better book. And it would help him somehow.
Jim coordinated the trip with Ruby, Kevin’s mother. He was ready, but nervous. Two policemen he knew from his reporting days told him to watch out—Kevin and Ruby come from the pawnshop world, they are manipulative, they will get you to do things.
Greenhill: I had been warned these people are very manipulative. They’re people who use people. They want to use you. And I was like "Well, maybe. You know, I’m intelligent enough. They’re not gonna do that to me."
But these two seemed to have an eye for the outcast, the lonely, the fallible...to know how to draw them in. In the upcoming months, mother and son would pull Jim closer, with compliments, assurances of innocence, the intimacy of little secrets and tender moments.
The reporter didn’t know it then, but he was edging ever closer to a murderous plot of revenge—a scheme that had him at its cold heart.
In 1996 a teenager named Kevin Foster led a pack of young followers on a crime spree that ended in murder. Now he was on death row. Three of the boys faced a life in prison. Three others were trying to put that episode behind them. And a reporter named Jim Greenhill believed he had a great book on his hands.
How could he know that the murder of that school teacher, Mark Schwebes, would only be the first half of his book? That he was about to become a character in a new plot about murder—and that Kevin would have plans for him?
It’s an appropriate name for the place where they keep Florida’s death row: Starke. This is where Kevin was brought to live the rest of his life.
In March 1999, Jim met Kevin face to face there for the first time.
He was struck by Kevin’s eyes. They were not cold, as he remembered from court, but rather lost, even pleading.
Kevin too seemed surprised, he later wrote Jim: “It was a touch weird finally meeting you face to face, you know? … I had pictured you as shorter and heavier than you are. Most likely dressed like a preppy in Dockers and collared shirts... But I have to say I’m impressed.”
Kind words. Was it gentle seduction? Though initially it was Jim who sought Kevin, now it seemed Kevin took equal interest in the budding friendship. Jim’s motive, at least on the surface, was his book. What was Kevin’s? He kept encouraging Jim to come back.
So Jim became a death row regular, but not without commitment. It was a 5-hour drive from his house to Kevin’s hell. He made most of the trips with Ruby, Kevin’s mother. It was on the road Jim began to feel this was not a normal relationship of mother and son. These two were a team. They accomplices of sorts. They were almost, like, a couple.
Greenhill: When they are together as a pair they have a relationship that sometimes seems more boyfriend and girlfriend than mother and son. The way that she holds on him. The way they touch each other. The way they talk. And the things that they talk about... she talked about looking into his room when he was in his bedroom with his girlfriend. And watching him.
Why would Kevin and his mother entertain this stranger, this reporter? Make him part of their intimate group, of their weekend routines and family secrets? Was it to convince him of Kevin’s innocence, or was something else afoot?
Kevin insisted he did not kill the teacher. He said Derek did it, or maybe Burnett—his former best friend, who cut a deal and handed Kevin to authorities. From meeting to meeting, Kevin’s hatred towards Burnett seemed to grow.
But Kevin also showed Jim a tender, sensitive side.
Kevin wrote: “Kids my age, there is a growing number of them that see life as a waste of time. A trip from womb to tomb and no matter what you do it will always end the same. So why bother?”
Greenhill: He is not a simple person. He is quite a complex person. There is one level to him that is a sort of knee-jerk, adrenaline-fed, impulsive, teenage vandalism— things for kicks. And then, there’s another level that is extremely uncomfortable with the society that he sees around him.
In tender letters, Kevin asked Jim about missed opportunities. Girls he wanted to kiss but didn’t. Authority figures he wanted to confront, but hadn’t.
Did Kevin realize how things he said just kept echoing in Jim’s mind during those five-hour-long trips back from prison each week? Could he tell just how much Jim grew to relish these weekend visits?
Did Kevin know that—on weekdays, between visits—Jim would go visit all those places Kevin rattled off in their conversations? Did Kevin realize Jim was now trekking as far as Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, like a disciple doing his homework?
Each location, each visit, drawing him closer to the young man on death row. Meticulously, perhaps, Kevin was building a bond, and drawing Jim in.
Greenhill: Kevin has been raised to kind of form these very tight relationships and bring people in and call them family members. So that’s one of the things that he does.
Kevin told Jim how, for one summer, he took care of a neighbor’s son who was dying of cancer.
Kevin wrote: “I only regret that I didn’t have a chance to do more for him. A good kid died for no reason.”
True, Jim was Kevin’s senior by more than a decade, but it was in these moments that it seemed he came under Kevin’s wing like so many others before him.
Greenhill: He told me that he saw himself as a protector sometimes. That he liked to look out for—well, specifically for Pete.
Kevin wrote:“Pete didn’t have many friends… He didn’t want to be the small scared kid anymore.”
Kevin emboldened Pete all the way to murder. Was he preparing Jim for a mission too? Readying this former alcoholic to join him, in friendship, in some fantasy? They were still distant in age, but in spirit they grew closer and closer...
Greenhill: When you’re a recovering alcoholic and addict you are to some extent frozen at the age that you were at when you really started using heavily. And you are sort of emotionally retarded. I’m still a little back there in certain ways.
And Jim found it easy, even comforting, to spill the intimate details of his life. And explain to a man, just barely an adult, why, when he was that age, he started drinking.
Greenhill: I grew up in Britain, and I had parents who, I believe by American standards, would be very strict. And I won a scholarship to go to college in the United States. When I got to college, I had no parents. No strictness at all, no structure. And I sort of devolved into substance abuse and delinquency.
It all just poured out: stories he buried in the back of his brain during all the years of drinking.
Greenhill: There were incidents that in retrospect I can only describe just purely as sociopathic incidents. I mean, just really, really appalling behavior on my part.
He told Kevin that one time he stood drunk just before dawn on a five lane highway going through his college town, and fired an AK-47 into the air, and loved it.
So there it was. Kevin managed to draw out of Jim confessions long drowned in alcohol, long dormant by lulling adulthood. That Jim was turned on by violence.
Greenhill: I told Kevin there were times when at a younger period in my life I liked to go out and vandalize things… that I would just go out in the middle of the night and vandalize things. Just for the fun of it. And I didn’t need an audience. The day that I told him that he jumped up from his seat and he goes, “Yeah.” He’s like really excited, “Yeah you too, I like to do that too.”
Kevin wrote: “I have very few friends. I can count them all on one hand and for them I would do anything. You’re now one of them. For my friends I would die.”
What would Jim do for his friend? How could he know that Kevin may already have hatched a plan for revenge.
And what would happen when Kevin found out about the woman who would get in his way?
Jim Greenhill, once a crime reporter—now a man obsessed by a killer—roamed and wandered—drawn to someone else’s world.
His nights at the Indigo room, the cottage, the ‘Gator Lanes and the French Connection now replaced by pilgrimages to places like this on the dark side of town.
Jim Greenhill: I had to walk in Kevin’s footsteps as far as I could in order to understand Kevin. There is no other way to do it.
These were Kevin’s footsteps, but where were they heading? And who was leading the way?
Was Kevin upping the ante now, with gifts he now gave Jim? Items of clothing to make him look more like him? A gold chain, a hoop earring, a black leather jacket?
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: You wore a leather jacket, he asked you to wear?
Greenhill: Yes. That, that I still don’t really understand that. He asked me to wear this jacket. I did and I still don’t really get that but I did.
Kevin encouraged Jim to send photos of himself from the road.
Morrison: There were those who felt as if you were falling in love with him. That you were just falling for the guy. Was that...
Greenhill: I haven’t heard that. I wouldn’t share that opinion…
Perhaps not as lovers, but it was a tight bond Jim knew well. He had somehow become, in his own words, a follower.
Greenhill: There is a chemistry between somebody like Kevin and his followers that can be mistaken by people viewing it from a distance as perhaps, rather, like an amorous relationship or something. But I think it’s psychological. I think it’s a psychological attraction.
But in Fort Myers, Florida, there was something, and someone, who could have stoodin the way of Kevin’s plans.
In Fort Myers’ morgue, on a warm spring night in 1996, came the body of Mark Schwebes. And here, death after death, works this woman. Her name is Dr. Carol Huser. She is the district medical examiner. She testified against Kevin in his trial. She is also Mrs. Jim Greenhill.
Did she realize that night after night her husband was pouring his heart out to a young man on death row?
Morrison: Was your husband falling for a psychopath?
Dr. Carol Huser: Jim has an attraction for Kevin. I can understand that. I’ve had powerful attractions to people though not a person like Kevin. I think we all have different triggers. We all have different things that appeal to us. I think what you’re looking at here is the dark side of falling in love.
Jim never told Kevin about his wife. It was Kevin’s mother who found out. And told her son, who, furious, demanded an explanation.
He got it.
Privately, far from his wife’s domain at the morgue, Jim told Kevin that his was a loveless marriage. “She who must be obeyed,” as he called her, was oblivious to the secrets the two were sharing. She was authoritarian, possessive, rigid, and corporate. Jim spent hours complaining about her.
It was as though Jim wanted to tell Kevin all... as though it were liberating.
Greenhill: In theory, there is this side to me that is impulsive, and wanting to do all these things and go out and be a certain kind of person. How Kevin will help me is by bringing this out of me. He will stop me from—doing what I’m doing, which is to repress and choke myself by staying in a loveless marriage, and living in a corporate world.
Was Jim becoming a character in his own book? Did he realize it? Did Kevin?
Following Kevin’s footsteps meant roaming from gun show to gun show across the south. It wasn’t long before he bought a gun.
It had been years, since his college days, that he shot one of these. He liked how it felt in his hands.
Greenhill: I was interested in what the attraction was. What the appeal was. Kevin had guns from a very young age.
Morrison: He loved them.
Greenhill: He loved them, yes. I think it for him borders on a sexual interest.
In the field behind his house, he shot. Once. Again. And each pull of the trigger increased the strange affinity he felt to the young man on death row.
And Kevin, quietly encouraged Jim’s new found hobby. He arranged for his mother to lend Jim his favorite gun. In a letter, he carefully explained how to clean the prized possession.
Was he training his new recruit?
Jim wrote back: “I borrowed the Colt finally. Man, I love that gun. I love the weight of it and the look of it and its power, that it’s a gun that means business in a way a .22 somehow isn’t, even though I know that’s what the professionals use... the .22 just doesn’t seem like a gun compared to your Colt, if you know what I mean. I also like that it fits inside my waistband, in the small of my back or in front, either way and I’m surprised by that. I wore it (I guess this is taking a liberty, maybe, bro?) several times and it isn’t uncomfortable to sit down with, nor to drive with. Nor did anyone seem to notice anywhere. So I like it.”
In a letter, Jim told Kevin about a violent dream he’d had. In it, Jim walked into a Victorian house and slaughtered everyone inside.
“I have (vividly) killed every single person in the house in their beds. I am going to escape scot-free. Here’s the kicker: I do not experience this as a nightmare. It is, just a dream.”
This was something Kevin seemingly wished to explore. “What if you could pull three or four capital cases in one day with no chance of getting caught?” he wrote.
What if you could get away with murder?
And this was Jim’s reply: murder would excite him. Sexually.
Jim's reply: “There’s a quivering in my crotch. I stir down there, involuntarily, just contemplating the question and I am quickly aroused. But it’s more than that: I feel something in my arms, in my hands, in my chest, in my whole body... and I recognize it as adrenaline... it’s so strong I actually have a slight tremor at first. My pulse increases. My breaths shorten. Most interesting to me, I am about as fully aware of all around me the light, the breeze, the feel of life—as I ever get. Now, this is NOT ‘normal’, bro. I know it ain’t. I have lived with it (and repressed it and pretended it isn’t there) since before my teens. And the only person I’ve ever told is you.”
They loved the same gun. They exchanged similar violent fantasies. They even shared the same clothing.
Was it time now for Kevin to launch the final salvo in the battle for Jim?
The subject of killing, of murder, was discussed often, freely. But the actual murder, that which landed Kevin on death row, was still taboo. That is, until one visit, 13 months into their relationship, when, Jim says, Kevin told him a secret he had never shared with another adult before.
Greenhill: He conceded that he killed Mark Schwebes.
Greenhill: He started talking about the, the murder. He didn’t say, “I killed Mark Schwebes.” It wasn’t quite like that. It was a given. He just started talking about the murder.
But immediately after, Jim says, Kevin told him another secret. Even darker. This was not something that had happened. This was something that was going to happen: a plan.
Jim says Kevin wanted to silence those who betrayed him after that murder. He wanted to punish them. Especially his former best friend Chris Burnett—the first to hand Kevin over to authorities. But how could Kevin do it from the depths of death row?
Morrison: Did you go out and buy guns?
Morrison: Did you tell Kevin you would be willing to kill another human being?
Morrison: Did you tell Kevin that you would probably find some sexual satisfaction from killing another human being?
Greenhill: Yes, I did.
Here was a reporter who was writing letters of fantasy about killing, saying he was a downtrodden husband confessing violent dreams, a follower with a loaded gun.
Did Kevin groom the perfect accomplice? Was Jim ready for murder?
Jim Greenhill reading his old letter:“I wish you were out. I was born at the wrong time in the wrong place. It’d be awesome if I could pick up the fucking phone and say “Hey, bro, I’ve got some ideas for tonight, let’s go get it on. They ain’t seen nothing.”
Perhaps that was the wishful thinking of a friend. But Kevin believed he could get out. He was waiting for the results of an appeal. Hoping for a new trial, and possibly even acquittal, but for one serious problem: six witnesses.
In a recorded conversation in the noisy reception room of death row, Kevin told Jim that he should have taken care of his accomplices Pete, Chris and Derek long ago, right after he killed the teacher.
Kevin Foster (recorded conversation): I should have wasted their whole fucking act that night.
Foster: Oh man, so many times. Dude, I had a f*ng 12 gauge and a 45. bam bam bam (laughs). The only problem and the only reason I didn’t is the simple fact that everybody knew who they hung out with.
Yet why worry about them now? Locked away for life, what would they gain by testifying again in a new trial?
But then there were others boys who had heard from Kevin personally about the murder. Three of them cut deals to testify against him, and were rewarded for their treachery with freedom. How sweet revenge could be.
On June 11, 2000, his voice sometimes muffled by the clatter of death row, Kevin laid out for Jim a plan to kill the three who had betrayed him. Tell them you’re an author, Kevin said.
Foster: You call all the f*ck*rs up, you say “I’m so and so”... “I’ll give you a grand, come hang out with me for a day, show me around.”
They would meet in an empty parking lot, one at a time in hourly intervals. There, Jim would zap them unconscious with a stun gun. Drive them to an open grave. And shoot them.
Foster: You ain’t going to be pumping 30 rounds... what you do when you do it, is you put it against the f*cking flesh. Heart, head, either one.
Most of Kevin’s hate focused on his former best friend Chris Burnett.
Kevin’s last words to Burnett when they were caught were: “See you in hell.”
Now he seemed intent on carrying out that promise. He planned Burnett’s execution down to the last detail. Jim would shoot Burnett with Kevin’s favorite gun, a Colt combat commander. And Jim would have to wear Kevin’s favorite necklace.
Greenhill: And he wanted me to say, “See you in hell”—because he wanted Chris to know that it came from Kevin.
On the night of June 25, Ruby called. “I know what’s up,” Jim recalls Kevin’s mother saying. “He told me everything.” She was in on the plan.
Ruby and Jim met in his truck, outside a fast-food joint.
Greenhill: Did he say anything about me borrowing his necklace?
Ruby Foster: Yes. He did.
Greenhill: All right, so he told you everything?
Ruby Foster: Mm huh. You think I don’t know everything, huh? (laugh)
Greenhill: He wanted me to say something to him too.
Ruby Foster: Hmm. Do you know what to say?
Ruby Foster: Okay.
Greenhill: “See you in hell.” (laughing)
Ruby Foster: “See you in hell?”
Greenhill: He wants me to say it and he wants him to see the chain so he knows who it came from.
But there was a problem. Ruby said Kevin’s favorite gun would be traceable. She came up with a better plan.
Ruby Foster: My problem was the gun item, that’s my biggest worry about the whole thing.
Jim Greenhill: That was my—
Ruby Foster: I will get you an unregistered off the street gun.
The following Saturday, Jim saysRuby invited him to her house and gave him a Remington Model 31, 16 gauge shotgun. In this tape, you can hear them finalize a plan.
Greenhill: I’m gonna kill Burnett first. I’m gonna do Burnett first, ‘cause he’s gonna be the trouble. Torrone and Young are not gonna, they’re not gonna
Ruby Foster: Why are you not getting Lesh?
Greenhill: ‘Cause, Kevin doesn’t think that Lesh can testify.
Ruby Foster: But Kevin will get him later?
Greenhill: That’s what Kevin said.
Craig Lesh was the teen who, by confessing to his girlfriend, brought down the Lords of Chaos.
In a meeting in Jim’s truck in an empty parking lot, Ruby was adamant that this crime—unlike the teacher’s murder—remain unsolved. She repeatedly told Jim to dispose of any forensic evidence before leaving the murder site—things like shell casings.
Ruby Foster: I don’t care if you have to dig for them, you don’t leave those shells.
Greenhill: Okay, you got it.
Ruby Foster: You swear to me you won’t leave shells.
Greenhill: I absolutely promise. I swear to God.
She also told Jim to sprinkle a powerful chemical on the bodies.
Ruby Foster: Did he tell you about you getting a bag of lye, lime?
Greenhill: No, he didn’t.
Ruby Foster: You do that, then the animals won’t come and bother the hole and won’t dig it up.
And so the deal was done. The crime reporter had turned partner-in-crime.
Greenhill: Now that we don’t have any kind of barriers or anything, do you remember that time you asked me like what gets me off or whatever?
Ruby Foster: Mm huh.
Greenhill: This is pretty sick.
Ruby Foster: Sick?
Greenhill: Thinking about Burnett kneeling at that hole in the ground ...
Ruby Foster: Mm huh.
Greenhill: ... right before I shoot him.
Ruby Foster: Mm huh.
Greenhill: That’s what gets me off.
Ruby Foster: How do you know? You’ve never done it before.
Greenhill: No, you’re right, but I’ve known for a long time, Ruby.
Before they parted the conversation turned to the young man who had brought them here—to Kevin.
Greenhill: What are you gonna do if they put him to death? I mean, that’s just unthinkable.
Ruby Foster: They’re not gonna put him to death.
Greenhill: They better not.
Ruby Foster: The world will come to an end before he dies.
Greenhill: What do you mean by that?
Ruby Foster: That’s none of your business. Right at the moment your mother’s not gonna have to tell you.
As the summer of 2000 was nearing its end, Jim drove up to death row for the last time. In over 17 months, he and Kevin met 25 times, spending over 150 hours together. Over that period Jim wrote Kevin 62 letters. Kevin wrote Jim 53.
Now, in what would be their final moments together, Kevin promised Jim that once the second trial was over, once he wasfree, they would team up again: outlaws on the open road. And these three killings coming up, these paltry necessity killings, they would be only the beginning.
Kevin Foster: I’m gonna rip people’s f*ng’ heads off...
Greenhill: Oh yeah.
Kevin Foster: I’m going to rip Craig Lesh’s head off with my bare hands (makes sounds). ... I’m a twisted individual, you know what I’m saying?
Greenhill: Yeah, join the club.
Kevin Foster: We got some shit to do when I get out of this motherf****er. (laughs)
Four years earlier, a ring of murder tightened around a teacher named Mark Schwebes. Now it was tightening again. The plot had been hatched, revenge was in the air. Everything was in place. But would Jim go through with it? And who would the victim be?
Here, behind the pale green barricades of the penitentiary, from his cell on death row, Jim Greenhill says Kevin Foster was cooking up a hit list—and his mother was helping him.
And now the reporter himself was involved too.
Marked for death were the three key witnesses who had betrayed Kevin.
But they weren’t the only ones. Also on Kevin’s hit list: the judge, the prosecutor, a defense lawyer... even the sheriff.
Keith Morrison, Dateline correspondent: What did they want to do to the Sheriff?
Jim Greenhill: Kevin said that he um, would like to gut him…
Morrison: With a knife?
Morrison: What did he want to do to your wife?
Greenhill: He said that he would, if I would like it, he would like to go into the morgue and conduct a, uh, live autopsy on her and, uh, perform sexual acts on her.
Morrison: On your wife?
Morrison: What did you do when he said that?
Greenhill: I actually didn’t react to him.
Morrison: What did you think?
Greenhill: Sick. [chuckles] Very sick. That’s what I thought.
Jim still liked Kevin. Kevin was his friend. But to Jim, these were concrete plans for real murder. This was not abstract fantasy anymore.
Greenhill: Kevin said that he was going to blow up a historic building. He did it. Kevin said, in the presence of a fairly large group of teens, who should’ve known better and some of whom went home and did nothing, that he was gonna go and kill their band director, Mark Schwebes. He did it.
Now Jim found himself in exactly the same spot as those boys who’d gotten in a car alongside Kevin, on their way to murder. Would he go along too, surrendering his judgment to follow Kevin?
Greenhill: What I came to realize, working on the book, is that I could’ve been sitting in the car. There was a period in my life when I could’ve been one of these kids that got alongside a kid like Kevin Foster and went along and watched somebody be killed.
But what to do now? It was now up to Jim. He thought of Derek, the one boy who—almost grudgingly—walked up to murder’s door and knocked.
Greenhill: The night that Mark Schwebes was killed, Derek actually drove home and he sat in his car at the end of his driveway and he thought to himself, “Am I going to go to this murder scene? Are they really going to kill my band director? What should I do?” For some reason, Derek didn’t pick up a telephone and talk to someone.
But Jim was not a teenager. Not a juvenile delinquent. And in the end, he was not a killer. Jim picked up the phone.
Randy McGruther, prosecutor: He was obviously concerned I could tell by listening to him.
He called Randall McGruther, the prosecutor in the original case, and told him everything:
McGruther: He said that Kevin and, and his mother in fact had plotted out a scheme to take care of some the witnesses in the case and then along with other people uh, including the prosecutors. That of course got my attention.
And so, Jim Greenhill—a reporter turned author turned prospective hitman—agreed to turn state’s witness and help investigators unravel the plot ripped out of his own book.
McGruther: I’m thinking I’ve been doing this 21 years and I thought I’ve seen it all but I guess I haven’t.
And that is why when Jim met Ruby next, in his truck outside the Walmart where she worked, he was wearing a wire.
She suspected nothing, presuming the conspiracy exclusive to their little group, like the Three Musketeers.
Ruby Foster: It’s the Three Musketeers only that know what’s going on and ever will know what’s going on.
Her son was here, on death row. How far would Ruby go to free him?
Jim Greenhill was about to hand over his friend to authorities.
Jim Greenhill: I did not talk to them after Kevin suggested this to me I talked to them after his mother suggested this to me and that’s different.
Greenhill: Because it is one thing for a 23-year-old convicted murderer on death row in conditions of very high security to talk about doing something. And it’s another thing for a person who is free, a 50-year-old adult who is supposed to be a responsible member of society to talk about doing something like that.
But didn’t Jim himself talk about murderous fantasies? Jim now says he never meant to carry out any of those dark plans. Today, he insists he never lost control. Quite the opposite: The character teetering on the edge of murder was just that—a character. A fiction created by a writer wanting to get to the heart of his subject matter. It was a literary trick. A plot that would undo Kevin, the master plotter himself.
Greenhill: He does not open up to authority figures. So, I felt that it was important to show Kevin that I could be on his level.
Greenhill: No. I don’t feel guilty. Kevin made his choices. Kevin showed himself to me. And Kevin tried to use me. Um, the chips fell where they may.
Morrison: What, you’re using each other.
Greenhill: In retrospect, I think that that he was using me as much or more than I was using him.
But what would Jim’s wife say to all this? The woman scorned in letter after letter—the woman on whom Kevin wanted to perform what he called a live autopsy, as a gift to his friend.
She says she supported her husband all along. She says she knew about the whole thing.
Morrison: He denigrated you at every turn, he vilified you he demonized you.
Dr. Carol Huser: I thought he did it pretty well.
Morrison: How do you come by this willingness to allow yourself to be used that way?
Dr. Carol Huser: I don’t really feel that I was used I feel that I was a participant a willing participant even a partner.
Ruby Foster was arrested near her workplace.
The alleged plot made the front page of Jim’s former newspaper. The reporter was not writing the story this time—now he was one of its main characters.
The day news broke, Kevin was moved to even more strict confinement. He had no idea why. He wrote his friend Jim what would be their last exchange: “I don’t know what’s going on... I got transferred ... And don’t know why. Placed in this maximum management lock-down... This is a cage in a box in a huge box in a huge cage... Stay out of trouble, I’ll catch you next time. See ya!”
Several days later he found out what going on: he’d be facing the same charges as his mother—conspiracy to commit murder.
Morrison: How do Kevin and his mother feel about you now?
Greenhill: I don’t know. I haven’t talked to either one of them.
Morrison: You, you must know.
Greenhill: Uh, I, imagine.
Morrison: You know them pretty well.
Greenhill: I imagine that I’m on the top of the list.
Ruby Foster was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to five years in prison.
Jim,the reporter, turned hitman, turned witness, finally turned author. His book, titled “Someone has to Die Tonight,” was published.
It’s now up to readers to decide who used whom—was it the reporter in control? Or the killer? Or both? And who, if anyone, really fell for the other?
But in making your decision, consider this: As Jim looks back on the final chapters of his tale, those about the author who inserted himself into his own book, he says he still wishes he could have changed the ending.
Greenhill: In my fantasy world, frankly, I would’ve liked to have stayed in touch with Kevin. I would’ve liked it if the book had come out and I had portrayed him in such a way that he could recognize himself and at least know that it was fair.
Jim used to have guns all over his house, and always within reach... just in case Kevin tried somehow to seek revenge.
He expects that one day he’ll hear that Kevin has been executed for the murder of a teacher named Mark Schwebes. Jim opposes the death penalty. But in his fantasy world, he would like to be there the moment they pull the switch on Kevin. Not for revenge. Not for anger. But for friendship.
Jim Greenhill’s book about the Lords of Chaos, “Someone Has To Die Tonight” was published this year. Kevin Foster remains on death row.
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