A CASE STUDY:
Evil Influence & Evil Outcome
The Dyleski “Goth Murder” Case
Jay B. Gaskill
On October 15, 2005, the body of Pamela Vitale, wife of criminal defense attorney, Daniel Horowitz, was discovered in the couple’s trailer home in suburban Lafayette, California. My commentary started in the web on October 20, 2005.
Because Dan Horowitz was a Court TV celebrity, his agony was displayed on the evening television news, along with helicopter shots of the property. The Vitale-Horowitz trailer was a temporary dwelling on the construction site of the couple’s dream home.
Daniel’s wife had been severely beaten and was stabbed a number of times. An abdominal stab wound was inflicted and other stab wounds in her back, probably inflicted post-mortem. Pot shards were found on her head – apparently left when a pot was shattered with such force that her outer skull was exposed. A “Satanic” symbol was carved into Pamela’s back by her killer, a crudely formed “H”. The coroner opined that Ms. Vitale was still alive during that carving.
The prime suspect, Scott Dyleski, a high school student in Lafayette California (whose few friends and acquaintances were shocked), was charged with Pamela’s killing, and was tried as an adult for the crime of first degree, special circumstances murder. Scott Dyleski was found guilty as charged by a jury and sentenced to prison.
I was drawn to this case partly because of the agony I saw on Daniel Horowitz’s face on television (I knew Dan in the old days) and because, it seemed to me that the WHY question would prove to be paramount. That would be my task.
Shortly after the arrest, I made this observation:
Dyleski’s case may well present us with the poster child for what is dreadfully wrong with the current non-religious culture, a milieu in which children are too rarely raised in authentic reverence for the deep ethical traditions that have held up earlier generations.
Think about it: In an earlier era, even the bare suggestion that a homicidal minor was involved in some kind of satanic activity would have been extraordinarily sensational. Something in the general lurid category of “two headed alien’s body found in ditch”. Sadly, the hints of a satanic connection (that I assume to be true here for purposes of this discussion, only) produce a different reaction: “Oh, one of those again.”
So common has the cultural deterioration become that we are no longer surprised by evil in high school.
After Dyleski’s conviction (I followed the trial closely and my comments, posted on line and read about 40,000 times are archived at )
Why did Scott Dyleski, a 16 year old suburban male, brutally murder Pam Vitale and carve a double armed cross symbol in her back? Then why did he attempt to eviscerate her abdomen?
Don’t tell me this was some ordinary crime.
Post conviction, we have good reason to believe that Scott Dyleski was particularly receptive to the morbid and warped elements in the local teen culture, and that he found in that stylistic darkness, an “art” that contained the precursors and suggestions of evil.
You don’t have to believe in some medieval version of Satan to understand the reality of evil in the modern world. In any reasonable sense of the term, the language and images that Dyleski apparently found so attractive -see my discussion below – suggested real evil. Far, far too many of the graphic and musical narratives that enthralled Dyleski were explicit anti-life urges.
Bleak calls to despair and meaninglessness are as harmful to the teenage mind as a computer virus to your hard drive. And these images and narratives were too often coupled with the symbols of murder and mayhem. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were invitations to evil.
I grant that this kind of analysis, especially the use of the “E” word, tends to make “modern” minds a little uncomfortable. And the crime itself did not?
Not every teenager is susceptible to this crap. Why was Scott? And not every neighborhood contains a cesspool of satanic followers. Did Scott’s? Are there others? The internet seethes with this stuff. What was going on in Lafayette?
And why is any of this important?
No parent of a killer, mugger, burglar or robber wants to feel responsible for the acts of his or her child. Yes, responsibility does shift; the new generation gets to carry its own guilt. The sins of the children are not those of the parents.
All parents are at least minimally responsible to prepare their children for the challenges of the world. As part of that preparation, the parent generation needs to impart a robust moral code to those who follow.
And why is any of this important? That crucial intergenerational moral transfer probably did not happen in Dyleski’s life. And it is too often not happening in the modern family setting.
The Mark of Satan?
The mark carved into Pamela Vitale’s body by her killer has been variously described as an “H” or as a “double T”, but both descriptions could easily depict the same thing. One correspondent has asked me whether the killer carved the “Cross of Lorraine” onto Ms. Vitale’s back. That emblem represents two crosses sharing the same center pole; and seen on edge, the symbol makes a credible “H”.
Only the killer knows what symbolism was actually intended. But it is clear enough that some symbolic meaning was meant – this mark was not the random gibberish of a drooling idiot, but the calculated sign of someone who was visiting the dark side.
Ancient alchemists used this symbol to denote a powerful poison.
In Medieval France, certain conspirators against the regime used the symbol, as the “Cross of Lorraine”, a heraldic motif that depicted both the “arms of Christ” and the “arms of Satan”. Hence the “Satanic” overtones.
Since it was the killer (and not some innocent bystander) who inscribed this symbol, we can readily and reasonably conclude that its intended meaning was malevolent. Just what specific malevolent meaning did it hold for the fevered mind of Pam’s killer? We can only speculate at this point. But given the macabre nature of the whole event, it is hardly out of the ballpark to use the word “Satanic” at least in the metaphoric sense.
Given the signature nature of the killing, it should hardly come as a surprise that, at some point, the killer had adopted the dress code of the “Goth” subculture. Of course, most teenagers who dress like a character in an Anne Rice vampire novel are not killers. And, yes, there is a lot of understandable defensiveness about the topic, driven by the prevailing multicultural ethos taught in school and the general observation that teens have been dressing and acting out in rebellious ways ever since we adults started keeping track of such things.
But there are extreme and very disturbing examples, such as the 1996 murders committed by a “Goth” teenage male in Kentucky who played Dungeons and Dragons, was upset by his mother’s divorces, walked cemeteries at night pretending to be a 500 year old vampire. This eventually led him to found to a vampire cult, commit two senseless murders and receive a death sentence handed down by a New Orleans Judge.
I have no reason to suspect that Pam’s killer was acting under the influence of some shadowy cult figure. But I do believe that the dark imagery and symbolism of some anti-life subculture (however it ends up being described) were operating in the web of this killer’s homicidal motivation.
This event illuminates something much more serious than one more Charlie Mason cult. In this early 21st century cyber-culture, susceptible young men and women no longer have to fall into some sinister cult, or join some criminal cohort to become infected with evil. All sorts of bizarre and ultimately malevolent ideation, fantasies and dark power-ideologies are floating through our culture, just below of the radar of most adults.
These ideas act like an odorless and colorless toxic gas that primarily affects the emotionally, morally and intellectually vulnerable among us. Regrettably, that vulnerable population includes a disproportionate number of teenagers. And this presents the grave and growing problem for modern parents: In the current culture, those whose moral compasses have been damaged by the disempowerment of religious and other robust ethical traditions include more young people than ever before. This social problem will not soon go away.
The Address of Satan’s Followers?
Moraga is a high end Contra Costa County residential community not far from the Vitale death site. In September, the Moraga police investigated an illegal shed and tree house, apparently placed there without the owner’s knowledge.
In a Blair Witch Project moment, investigators were startled to find a recently decapitated calf’s head and a hand saw (with bits of fur) nailed to the shed wall. Recall one of the pictures that Scott Dyleski made for art class: It depicted a human or humanoid figure with an animal head holding two severed human heads, one head in each hand.
His “morally neutral” art teacher gave him excellent grades.
Prior to the gag order, Sheriff’s investigators had disclosed some interest in the site because of its Satanic implications, but indicated they had ruled out any connection to the Vitale killing. We heard no more about this at trial.
Scott and His Fascinations
Recall the Cross Examination and Redirect of Scott’s girlfriend:
Defense question: “Is a lot of Scott’s art similar to Velvet Acid Christ art?” [Velvet Acid Christ is apparently SD’s favorite Goth rock band.]
Here’s what the DA was not allowed to do with this.
Sample Lyrics from Velvet Acid Christ:
Pray For Life
“do you pray for life do you kick and scream …now i let go of the flow in my heads i see you die my vision make me want to cry forever lost in time spinning twitching losing control the rage of existence shooting my soul the crazy deeds of society batter my mind kill everything the edge of knife splatters my life kicks me in the head and leaves me dead for reason’s unknown the clock spins backwards reversing time and space no time is left to contemplate pray for life pray for life when souls are tortured life is a mess and everything is just your best as always lost in dreams and visions i let go of the flow in my head i see you die goodbye goodbye goodbye spinning twitching …”
”Don’t you understand me? …All my life waiting for the answers to these dreams alone of the knife that’s cutting from my life… Dead Tomorrow, dead tomorrow, You’ll be dead tomorrow
Dead Tomorrow, You’ll be dead tomorrow, Dead Tomorrow…”
Dead (Death Wish Mix)
“… life for you is a broken dream and i’ll spout it out your sick dream has come to me now for the end we’ll always pretend yeah where do you go what do you want it’s nothing at all feel the machines implanted in your thoughts mangled nervs twist and turn form new paths in your brain pull out all the wires and push them into your heart yeah push it into your heart yeah push it into your heart…so shoot it out your sick life has come to me your life ends you’ll never cry or breath again.”
I do not presume the role of art critic here. Whatever the poetic merit of these lyrics, their impact on a loopy, mixed-up teenage male with “issues” was gravely unhealthy, and — given young Dyleski’s sufficiently receptive mind – actually and actively malevolent.
Defense Question: “You ever see him fly into a rage?”
Answer: “No” He is “calm and collected. He didn’t lose his temper.”
As I recall, Jack the Ripper and other serial killers were reportedly methodical and cool about their “craft”.
The DA asked Ms.. Reddy whether she had discussed God and the devil with Scott. Yes, she answered. Scott apparently believed in both and saw good and evil in each. That was manifestly not an innocuous answer.
During her redirect examination by the prosecution, Dyleski’s girlfriend looked at some of the defendant’s artwork, and identified the two armed cross or “H” figure. It was Scott’s symbolic signature.
We don’t need to hire one of the characters in Dan Brown’s “DaVinci Code” to uncover the secret mysteries here. I doubt that young Dyleski was aware of all the history associated with this particular symbol. [For example, a simple form of the character is used in botany to this day as a symbol of a very poisonous plant.] But I am convinced that he inhabited an anti-moral universe in which this symbol represented something dreadful. The key – as far as this killing and the underlying mental state of the killer is concerned – is the confusion and intermingling of good and evil in a single holy figure. This confers psychological permission to do dreadful things.
Some Informed Speculation
Dyleski’s reported taste in music and his other dark predilections make me strongly suspect that he was familiar with the “industrial noise” musician Boyd Rice. His acid icon, Mr. Rice, was made a High Priest in the Church of Satan (it was founded by the nut case Anton LaVey) and wears a version of the two armed cross. He is a stone cold misanthrope. His “think tank”, the Abraxas, is said to promote the following ethos:
“The strong rule the weak, and the clever rule the strong”.
This might be an accurate description of the social climate in the nation’s capital, but it is not a moral sentiment. This is the nihilist’s creed. Moreover Mr. Rice and followers apparently support human depopulation by any means necessary. Rice’s followers are told that they transcend good and evil. That’s at least half true – the good has certainly been “transcended” (in the left-behind sense).
Whether SD inhaled this noxious stuff directly, he clearly sniffed something like it. The teen culture teems with this kind of thing. These notions are actually evil in my moral universe. They operate like a moral virus, infecting those with the most compromised immune systems. Modern teens, especially those raised in the New Age culture, have compromised moral immune systems.
[A note: I’ll return to this theme again as the full picture emerges. But I want to stress that in my moral universe, people are not automatons, sleepwalkers at the mercy of cultural forces. They are accountable as moral agents.]
The key of all these half baked, anti-life ideas is the tendency to blend good and evil, obscuring their differences. As Rice has written:
“Interestingly, the gods mentioned herein seem to be viewed as co-equal, with the ruler of the underworld being called upon in the same breath as he who created the Earth and heavens. In this context, Jesus (the “demon of the dead”), although being conjured, seems to be an intermediary between man and the gods.”
If you’re curious about this dark subculture (and every parent should be), you can learn more about this twisted nonsense at http://www.thevesselofgod.com/home.html .
Was she the Poster Mother of the New Age or just another soft hearted Mom?
Someone here profoundly failed a deep obligation shared by all parents. Mom and Dad may screw up parenting on a number of fronts – we all are flawed in some way – but parents above all else must protect their children from evil influences. You’d think that such an important task, at least in broad outline, would be a no-brainer.
Let’s review what the admittedly sparse record tells us about Mrs. Fielding’s attempts to protect her son from the consequences of his actions:
Mrs. Fielding (Esther) apparently discovered Pam Vitale’s information on a list of credit card numbers kept by Scott in his backpack, but at the preliminary hearing, she recanted: “I don’t think I saw Pamela’s number.” We’ll hear more about this.
Aware that suspicion for the Vitale murder would fall on her son, Mrs. Fielding became concerned that he might be keeping incriminating evidence. She told Scott: “I’m giving you one chance to get everything out of your room.”
Mrs. Fielding originally told authorities that Scott had placed the duffle bag, containing the suspect clothes, in the abandoned family VW Van, but she backtracked: “I think he said something about old clothes.” Right. Mom later spotted the bag (in the company of a neighbor) in the van, but simply left it there.
Mrs. Fielding admitted burning a book and some disposable gloves belonging to Scott. “It was a panicked reaction.” No doubt the disposable gloves were for Scott’s charity work. The box of unopened gloves and a journal were burned by Mom at the home of her sister, Marjorie Fielding in Bolinas. Really, are we to think that no one peeked first? At the same time, Sister Marjorie’s boyfriend, Robert, also burned Scott’s book, “Mass Murder.” No doubt the DA can find a replacement copy on Amazon. Sister Marjorie eventually persuaded Scott’s Mom to turn over Scott’s knife, as well as some other belongings.
Because she warned her son to get away from the police; and because she participated in burning or otherwise hiding, denying or obfuscating incriminating evidence, we can reasonably conclude that Mrs. Fielding was part of that “morally neutral” mindset that saw nothing particularly wrong with her son’s dark predilections. I grant that she noticed a change in Scott’s emotional outlook following his sister’s death (apparently via a drunk driver); she contemplated but did not follow through on getting him therapy – forgive me for dark humor here – an exorcism.
And I also must note that she apparently did nothing serious to react to his extraordinary morbid fascinations. Did she not notice?
Esther Fielding, was reportedly a New Age “healer”. She claimed to activate the DNA in a patient via remote viewing to overcome inherited problems. Is this bizarre enough for you? Suspend disbelief and presume Mom’s sincerity; read one revealing testimonial:
“The day after I had my DNA Activation I had to stop taking thyroid medication I had been on for fifteen years… Overnight it was healed. All my life I have been afraid of heights. One day after pulling inherited fears in a gene replacement workshop I realized I was no longer afraid of heights. I didn’t pull ‘fear of heights’ so I wasn’t expecting this. It was inherited. It wasn’t even mine. Later I was able to help a friend re-roof her house.”
Scott probably wishes that Mom had done a better job neutralizing the incriminating traces of Pam Vitale’s DNA on his ski mask.
Reputedly Mom also did removal of government and alien implants. Too bad, Scott may now think, that she couldn’t undo government search warrants.
Scott would have done far better, one suspects, had Mom remained in the food industry.
Better still, she and Scott would have benefited from more common sense and a stronger foundation in the fundamental moral precepts and values that have sustained our civilization. But maybe I’m asking too much.
We can all accept normal human frailty; but when we fall short of the mark, we usually try to do better, do we not? But something was gravely out of whack here. “Mark? What mark?”
There are a number of persons not publicly interviewed, especially in depth, who may shed light on Scott’s flirtation with the dark side, among them:
He attended the trial. He was seen briefly talking to Daniel Horowitz. You know he has essential biographical information on Scott and may she light on what made this young killer tick.
The Sheriff of Contra Costa County.
This crime took place in the Sheriff’s beat, the un-incorporated area of the county where his county agency (as opposed to city police) are “the only law in town”. Either on background or without attribution I suspect there is a story here about what is really going on among some of the teen and post teen set in Lafayette and surrounding areas.
Scott’s other acquaintances:
We should learn much more from his peer group who were not called as character witnesses. Scott Dyleski hung out with or was seen hanging out with a number of others who didn’t make the defense character list. This is a rich potential field for information.
Yes, Mom was and is protective about Scott. But she knows things about her son, things noticed or suspected, things acted on and things not. If she is willing to talk candidly, it would be an important public service.
Scott’s Hard Drive:
The computer exists. It could tell us much….
The “Malogens” in Our Culture
For too many parents, evil is no longer something devoutly to be resisted and from which children are to be fiercely guarded. In part this is a result of a cultural sea change – from right and wrong (including gray areas) to a morally neutral therapeutic model. For these parents, evil is irrelevant, meaningless, or marginalized. Why? The ethics and morality that give meaning to evil are themselves considered outmoded ideas. In this sub-culture, everything that is really important has been subsumed in the narcissistic agenda of self-healing. Without more it might be unfair to peg Scott’s mother as a card carrying member of this sub-culture, but the signs and suggestions are clearly there.
Even the more conventional parents, those who of us who cling to the “antiquated” notion that morality is deeply relevant (“Yes, Virginia, there may not be a Santa Clause, but good and evil are very, very real”) have a sharply uphill course, given the gravely wounded state of our culture. For traditional parents (dare I call them “normal”?) the job of protecting the innocence and moral grounding of our children is vastly more challenging than in earlier times.
Children and young “adults” are subjected to a seductive torrent of bizarre, unfiltered material, both emotionally and morally disturbing; it seethes through the culture and the adolescent sub-cultures like a computer virus. This toxic material is relatively harmless to those who are well rooted in the deep ethical traditions that have upheld humanity, but it is highly contagious to New Age addled juvenile minds. These are the malogens, the information-carried toxins (really they are moral pathogens); they saturate the internet; they are carried by computers, cell phones and personal contact wherever “modern” juveniles congregate.
Last year I was pleased to exchange some of these ideas with a political scientist, Maria H Chang. Professor Chang is author of “Falun Gong: The End of Days” – Yale 2004. She has written a paper, “Christology in Popular Culture: Christ Images as Antidotes to ‘Malogens’”.
“Transmitted via the media are cultural pathogens, for which retired Alameda County public defender Jay B. Gaskill has coined the word “malogens.” These are “malevolent” ideas, images, and themes in popular culture that are “as dangerous to the developing mind as biological pathogens are to the developing body.” The pathogens are transmitted through personal contact and the media—in music, movies, television, video (or virtual) games, and on the Internet. The malogens behave as opportunistic infectious agents seeking fertile breeding grounds, sometimes attacking and overtaking entire subcultures. The teen subcultures especially are vulnerable because they are among the most under-protected targets in American society. [Fn. Jay B. Gaskill, “Reading the Defense: The killing of Pamela Vitale-Horowitz,” September 23, 2006, http://www.jaygaskill.com/Vitalehorowitzdeath.htm. ]
“That the malogens are malevolent or evil can be seen in two ways. Gaskill identifies the first “telltale” sign to be “the celebration of violent, even homicidal imagery”; the second is “a nihilist, even anti-life ethos.” [Ibid.] Indeed, Gaskill’s conception of malogens as being malignant is consistent with a definition of evil among psychiatrists. Erich Fromm saw evil as “all that serves death” and “all that stifles life, narrows it down, cuts it into pieces.” [Fn. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 47.] M. Scott Peck similarly observed that evil is “live” spelled backward. “Evil is in opposition to life. It is that which opposes the life force. It has, in short, to do with killing. Specifically, it has to do with murder.” [Fn. M. Scott Peck, M.D., People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 1983), p. 42.]
“The cultural pathogens of anti-life nihilism suffuse contemporary popular media—in the ubiquitous pornography on the Internet, in increasingly violent images in motion pictures and television, in macabre role-playing computer games, and in the death-obsessed music of alternative rock.”
Chistogens are, in professor Chang’s proposal, an effective antidote. As she puts it:
“The most remarkable of these antidotes are the “Christogens”—Christlike characters in wildly popular works of film and literature, most notably J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the Superman mythos. The unmistakable draw of these stories suggests that, despite the efforts of those hostile to Western civilization, many in our contemporary society remain attached to its core values of good vs. evil, family, country, and private ownership, as well as personal virtues of charity, courage, loyalty, self-discipline, chivalry, honor, fidelity, and chastity. The stories’ enormous success signifies strong popular dissent from the Progressive worldview and agenda of moral relativism.”
[From Chang’s “Christology in Popular Culture”.]
So we are entitled to ask: Why are these toxins able to propagate so freely?
There is no effective resistance.
The New Age fog has disabled the faculty of critical intelligence among thousands of Northern Californians. These are the putative adults for whom the traditions of integrity and courage that animated the “Greatest Generation” have long been forgotten.
We inhabit a culture that is paralyzed by moral ambivalence and remains apparently unable – like the characters in Harry Potter who couldn’t utter the name of Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort – to actually recognize and name evil, even when it makes one of its blatant appearances.
All parents have a unique and essentially non-delegable responsibility to protect their children from evil influences.
When I defended juvenile cases, I was soon able to predict whether a particular miscreant minor would become a repeat customer. It usually took only a ten minute conversation with the primary parent for the dreaded pattern to emerge. It was all about the excuses for little Johnny or Jill, and evidenced a moral hollowness that was palpable. Sometimes I would see the minor again, years later, as a killer. See: http://www.jaygaskill.com/humancondition.htm .
As I intimated earlier, we may have in this case the makings of a poster child for what is dreadfully wrong with our culture. If any good comes of this sorry episode, maybe it may be the realization that young people like Scott are the canaries in our mine.
Evil (as I occasionally remind my naïve friends) is one of the realities of modern life every bit as much as it was in ancient times. Only now we just use the term “sick”, as if by “medicalizing” a profound moral mal-orientation, we can somehow create the comforting illusion that the world consists entirely of good people, some of whom occasionally “catch” a case of “badness” as if it were some kind of cold. Evil, in this faux-therapeutic mindset, is a very bad flu.
These insights are hardly secret information, but they are widely ignored. For an early speech of mine to a law enforcement audience, see: http://www.jaygaskill.com/sheriff.html.htm .
Of course, I was just stating the obvious to the receptive.
Monday, August 28, 2006, shortly after 4 PM Pacific, the Scott Dyleski jury announced the verdict:
Guilty of First Degree Murder
Guilty of Special Circumstances
But for his age at the time of the offense (16), this might have been a death penalty case.
Anything less than this verdict would have been a surprise (as thosewho have followed by analysis will readily understand). In SD’s case, we can detect the strong cultural link between a permissive drug sub-culture and a “malogen” infested node that rejoiced in lyrics like these:
Dead (Death Wish Mix)
“… life for you is a broken dream and i’ll spout it out your sick dream has come to me now for the end we’ll always pretend yeah where do you go what do you want it’s nothing at all feel the machines implanted in your thoughts mangled nervs twist and turn form new paths in your brain pull out all the wires and push them into your heart yeah push it into your heart yeah push it into your heart…so shoot it out your sick life has come to me your life ends you’ll never cry or breath again”
In all this and the other downward paths I’ve witnessed over the years, character is the first casualty of a malogen infestation and the capacity for true human fidelity is crippled or lost altogether: The early character casualties include:
· Honesty (truth fidelity);
· Loyalty (personal fidelity);
· Integrity (self-fidelity).
These three virtues, when linked to life affirmation and the respect for the intact, un-drugged, rational mind, can form an invincible firewall against life’s malogens.
The jury’s verdict confirmed in the legal sense that which many knew in the common sense: On October 15th, 2005, Scott Dyleski, a 16 year old male from Lafayette, CA, who affected the so called “Goth” style, brutally murdered an innocent woman, loved by many, named Pam Vitale, and left, in her back, a bizarre signature…..
From all accounts we also learned that Scott Dyleski was effectively disconnected from the great moral/ethical traditions that have sustained civil society, yet was strongly connected to an amoral and anti-moral subculture — on the web and in elements of his surrounding self-chosen community.
Goth as superficial dress and style, aping the dark side like a group of teens on Halloween is not the issue. Dyleski’s version was the real thing, and that is why we must all now pay attention to the free floating malogens in our culture.
Evil is alive and well in the 21st Century…