In the exclusive suburb of Grosse Pointe, Alan Canty was a respected psychologist, with clients drawn from wealthy families across Detroit. But at night, he ventured into the city’s seedy south side, where, under the name Dr. Al Miller, he met with prostitutes. One girl in particular caught Dr. Al’s eye: a skinny teenage drug addict named Dawn, an ex-honor student who had fallen under the spell of a pimp named Lucky. Canty became their sugar daddy, spending thousands to buy them clothes, cars, and gifts. But when the money ran out, Canty’s luck went with it—and he was soon found hacked to pieces, his body scattered across Michigan.
Covering the trial for the local press, Lowell Cauffiel became enthralled by this story of double lives and double crosses. In this thrilling true crime tale, Cauffiel shows what happens when deception turns fatal.
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About the Author
Lowell Cauffiel is an American novelist, screenwriter, and producer. He began his career as a journalist, contributing to publications including Rolling Stone and the Detroit News. In 1988, he entered the world of true-crime writing, publishing his first book, Masquerade. He later went on to write the New York Times bestseller House of Secrets. More recently, he has begun writing and producing crime documentaries and made his directorial debut in 2012 with the film Men in a Box.
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A True Story of Seduction, Compulsion, and Murder
By Lowell Cauffiel
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1988 Lowell Cauffiel
All rights reserved.
Very few individuals, regardless of their "intellect," can view their own emotional behavior objectively.
—W. ALAN CANTY, 1973, Principles of Counseling and Psychotherapy
The black Buick broke from the congestion at the Fisher Building and wheeled into the surging traffic on Third Avenue. Executives in wool suits and power ties of steel gray and scarlet hustled from the world headquarters of General Motors, stirring the New Center's streets for the lunch hour. But after a few blocks, only the granite tower of the Fisher dominated the Buick's rear-view mirror as the car headed south.
The man in the black Buick knew the drive well. If two and a half miles of Third Avenue between the New Center and downtown portrayed the character of the Motor City, Detroit could boast as many faces as Eve.
The Buick glided by the pampered landscaping and scrubbed windows of Burroughs Corporation, then cut the western edge of Wayne State University. It passed the campus's nineteenth-century homes, the University's contemporary architecture by Minoru Yamasaki, the 118 cobalt security lights. The blue beacons marked phones to campus police and burned small halos into the gray day.
When the Buick crossed Forest Avenue, the only university building left ahead was Wayne State's mortuary school. At Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, a church sign reminded the driver that "Christ Died for Our Sins." It sometimes lured a convert or two but also inspired a metaphor locals evoked to describe the people in the surrounding blocks:
"Those motherfuckers would steal Jesus off the cross, then go back for the nails."
The Cass Corridor, as the area just north of downtown is called, was marking its fourth decade as Detroit's Hell's Kitchen. The area inspired studies on urban decay and provided stark scenery for the film Beverly Hills Cop. But its main contribution to the Motor City remained dope, despair, and sex.
Unlike flashing porn strips that lure johns in other towns, the Cass Corridor had only broken glass to supply its limited accents of glitter. Street whores strolled blocks lined with weedy lots and gutted brick tenements. More stylish girls worked the saloons, perched along Formica bar rails dulled by many rotating drinks.
The Cass Corridor also was Detroit's Skid Row. Faded lettering on flophouses still advertised long-gone dollar-a-day rates, while alcoholics outside hugged brown sacks and shielded their wet brains with stocking caps. A state lottery symbol on one liquor store teased the drunks with dollar signs. Few could spare a buck for a two-way bet. If a gentleman of leisure hadn't hit bottom on Cass, Second, or Third avenues, he'd crashed through it.
The drunks and other indigents made the whores conspicuous, transforming the women into something more tempting than another backdrop might dictate. Beauty, like age, was a matter of perspective and perception in the Cass Corridor. Working girls in their late twenties were considered senior citizens.
A longtime drug-addicted prostitute was a hard sell in the sunlight. More often than not, her body was marred by poor-quality heroin, a neighborhood plague called "mixed jive." The dope was cheap and reliable only for its tendency to cause abscesses when it was cooked and mainlined. The scars were circular. A junkie with a lot of miles on her looked as though a pack of hot cigarettes had been put out one by one on her skin.
The man in the black Buick might have thought twice about the quality of the Corridor's merchandise had he been flagged by one of the older girls. But most past their prime worked the evenings, turning quick tricks in cars, aided by the cosmetic advantages of the night.
Dawn Marie Spens preferred working the noon hour, and she swore she would never let herself deteriorate like that. She stepped from Sabb's Market with a fresh pack of Marlboro menthols and full intentions of getting what she had to do over with before the rush hour emptied downtown that night.
Dawn's appearance fell somewhere between a Wayne State sorority pledge and a newcomer to the sisterhood of the streets. Her skin was largely unblemished, and her shoulder-length auburn hair framed full lips and sleepy chestnut eyes. Other whores called her a "young girl," not because of her eighteen years, but because she was a new face, one who needed hardly a touch of makeup.
That meant good money from the selective tricks, with only a little encouragement from her wardrobe. Her 105 pounds contoured a velour shirt and tight designer jeans but were largely concealed by her full-length leather coat. Her shapely legs would have looked as good in running shoes as in high heels. Her breasts were full, but not lofty.
Dawn Spens didn't need any special effects.
On November 30, that was left to the optical illusion fashioned by the Fisher Building from the prostitute's favorite corner at Second and Peterboro. The Fisher was the only skyscraper to the north on the city's horizon, with Second Avenue running one way dead center into its main doors. It appeared to be only a dozen blocks away, though the black Buick's odometer had measured the distance at nearly two miles.
The car approached in a slow roll, then braked, kissing the curb at her feet. The exchange was an old one, the kind where no one says exactly what each needs or wants.
"Hi, you working?" he began.
He examined her through a pair of tortoiseshell glasses. He had a peculiar grin and slightly squinting eyes.
"Want to go out?" she asked back.
No, he didn't want to go out now. He wanted to go out later.
"Do you have a phone?" he said.
She didn't give her phone number to just anybody.
"Well, my name's Al," he said. "What's yours?"
As she responded she watched him pull out a ten-dollar bill.
"Here, Dawn, get yourself some lunch."
She first guessed he was an accountant. Then she saw he didn't have a tie. A sport coat and knit shirt peeped out near the collar of his tan overcoat. He wasn't particularly good-looking, nor especially unattractive. Later she would guess his age as forty. But he grinned like a preschooler unable to conceal his mischief. She couldn't remember ever seeing a look quite like that on an older man before.
A vice cop wouldn't be so transparent, she decided. He was just another john. Dawn reached for the ten dollars and recited her phone number.
"I'll call you this afternoon," he said.
Still grinning, he drove off. He might have been nothing more than a dry hustle. As far as Dawn could tell, he'd failed to write her number down. A few minutes later, John Fry's calf muscle twitched as he heard Dawn's key slide into their apartment door.
The thirty-seven-year-old former biker had passed out smiling the night before, only to be rousted by daylight and the calling of his habit. The twenty-five dollars he'd held back had provided a couple of hours of relief. But a quarter's worth of mixed jive was hardly worth another dope-burned vein in his right leg, and it was certainly not enough to make John civil for the day. He'd sent Dawn out to make some money for more.
Dawn was barely through the door when he realized his girlfriend was returning with little more than a story about a trick with a funny grin.
"But John, this guy gave me money to eat," she said. "He says he's going to call me later."
John's nose was running and his head felt as though it was lined with steel wool.
"Fuck all that," he said. "I'm sick now. There is no fucking later."
He lit a Marlboro menthol. His eyes told her not to even bother taking off her coat.CHAPTER 2
I've seen a great many divorced people who burned out very quickly on the singles scene. Too many options make people insecure. They suffer from what psychologists call complexity shock. There is too much out there, too many choices. People want to narrow the field into something simpler and more manageable.
—W. Alan Canty, Detroit Magazine, September 1983; Modern Bride Magazine, July 1984
Jan Canty could have imagined spending Al's birthday in bed, but not two thousand miles away from him on a brilliant afternoon in Sun Lakes, Arizona. She still felt bad about leaving him alone.
She set the alarm for 11 P.M. Detroit time, pulled the blankets around her shoulders, and reassured herself with the little talk they had before she left for her parents' house near Phoenix.
"That means I will be gone on November 30, your birthday. You mean that won't bother you?"
"Not at all. Jan, you know that."
She must have asked him five times, five different ways. Al Canty had dismissed every one of his birthdays in their years together, but she thought that might be different this time. He was turning fifty, and she figured that called for something special. In fact, Jan had flirted with the idea of a surprise party.
Then she suspected he would probably dislike all the attention, and she was right. When she mentioned she had entertained the notion, he said, "No, Jan-Jan, I don't want any part of that."
It was so typical of the man she loved. The psychologist who put a formal "W. Alan Canty" on his clinic door preferred life easygoing and uncomplicated on the home front. In his practice he nurtured recovering alcoholics, searching singles, disillusioned divorcées, compulsive personalities, and desperately unhappy neurotics. After a day of helping them untangle their lives, she thought, who wouldn't need some simplicity?
But Jan suffered from her own affliction the week her husband would mark a half century of life. Mononucleosis. Mono—she hated even the sound of the word. It was the second infection that year, and the third bout in a lifetime. This siege had lasted three months.
Jan had tried to rest at home but never really felt sick enough to justify lying in bed all day, every day. Between her work load, Al's schedule, and four thousand square feet of house, it just wasn't practical. Finally, sore throats and fatigue rendered her useless.
"You've got a choice," her physician said. "You're going to have to be hospitalized or just go somewhere and get the bed rest."
She opted for a standing invitation from her parents at their retirement house on the edge of the Arizona desert. Al encouraged her.
"You should go and get well," he said. "Rest up."
He was right. Jan's parents hadn't let her do a thing but sleep since she got off the plane.
Jan suspected Al would be all for the respite the minute she brought it up. They celebrated their ninth anniversary in September, and she easily could say her years with Al Canty had been a pretty smooth ride.
Al seemed to delight in freeing her from pressures during her long pursuit of a career. She'd been a student for most of the marriage. Her quest for a doctorate in psychology had been Al's top priority as well as hers. For years, that Ph.D. had seemed her whole life, and their big, Tudor-style home in Grosse Pointe Park just a place to sleep and do homework between trips to the University of Michigan.
She couldn't have asked for a more understanding partner. He never complained about uncertain meals on nights before finals or about the years the living room went without furniture. Only recently did they buy a TV. There just wasn't time before. Al closed his evenings gently critiquing her papers or giving pep talks when she felt she couldn't take one more day of classes.
It was as good a relationship as she'd seen anywhere, and better than most. Now that she was winding up her postdoctoral program in family counseling, Jan only wished that she and her husband would spend more time together.
The mono aside, at thirty-two Jan Canty was in full bloom. Her toothy smile and turned-up nose blessed her with the good looks of an all-American girl in her twenties. Now they were the makings of a handsome professional woman. A hint of makeup around her green eyes went a long way. In a week, she could find a half-dozen ways to wear her light brown hair. She was just an inch over five feet, but a complement to Al's five-foot-ten frame.
Jan often turned heads, but keeping her husband at her side for extended periods was a more difficult proposition. She'd never met anyone with so much energy for his work. Only in the last year had Jan convinced him to take another day off. For half their marriage he'd worked seven days a week. Finally she'd talked him into Fridays as well as Sundays off. Still he managed to see nearly fifty patients a week and book sixty clinical hours of therapy. He saw patients at the office. He saw patients at home. He dabbled in forensic work in the courts. He supervised other psychologists in Port Huron, nearly forty-five minutes away.
The demanding pace generated a cash flow of more than $150,000 a year. But, Jan wondered, was the money worth days that began at dawn and ended well after sundown?
Some of her frustration, she guessed, had to do with their seventeen-year difference in age. Al didn't socialize much with her younger friends, though with his boyish smile and trim build he could have passed for forty.
The last time they really cut loose together in a big gathering was at a Halloween masquerade. She dressed as a bumblebee, Al as a race car mechanic, a fictitious character he named Al Miller. She guessed he came up with the name from an old Miller race car he was restoring in the garage. She found him a doctor's hospital coat and had the name monogrammed across the back. Al disappeared into the garage and returned with a wrench in his pocket and grease smudged across the smock. She never saw him so outgoing. They partied until 4 A.M. at her friend's.
But that night two years ago was an aberration. With her schedule lighter now, she was disappointed they didn't get out more and do that sort of thing. She liked concerts and Detroit Tigers baseball games. He preferred spending the time with a book.
Well, she reasoned, I can't expect someone his age to like Stevie Wonder. As for baseball, Al just wasn't the type who went for sports, though he never complained when she went to the ballpark with her friends.
In that way, the positives of life with Al Canty offset the negatives. The equation had worked well in June when she had a chance to go abroad as a chaperon for her friend's French class.
"Then Jan, why don't you go?" he said, smiling. "It's a great discount on the airfare. Do it. I'll be fine."
Al had been so comfortable with that trip to France, so why was she worried about this get-well trip to Arizona? He's already told me how he feels, she told herself. He's always been honest about his feelings.
"Are you certain you won't mind?" she'd asked.
"Jan, you go right ahead. I'll be fine. You needn't worry about me."
She remembered his eyes reassuring her through his tortoiseshell glasses. Soon the blankets pressed her into another deep sleep.CHAPTER 3
The personality is a product of growth, learning and experience.
—W. ALAN CANTY, Principles of Counseling and Psychotherapy
"Oh, Ma, you didn't have to do that," he said when she phoned him after his lunch hour.
"Well, Buster," she said, "you're a big boy now."
Gladys Canty was glad she'd marked her son's birthday with a card and five hundred dollars. Al Jr.'s birthdays always warranted one hundred dollars. But a man's fiftieth is a milestone, she told herself when she wrote out the check.
Buster. The nickname was one of those spontaneous things. It came the day her only child was born, Thanksgiving Day 1933, when Al Sr. called her sister to break the news.
"Well, Buster is here," Al Sr. said.
The name had stuck all these years, though no one else called him that. Al Sr., when he was alive, preferred to call him Alan. But it could get pretty confusing with two Alans in the Canty house. Sometimes she called him Alan Jr. But she preferred Buster and, in recent years, had shortened that to Bus.
He was all the family Gladys had left in Detroit. Al Sr. had died in 1976. She had no siblings in the area, and her only surviving sister lived in Cleveland. Buster called her once every day from the Fisher Building. Despite his heavy schedule, he always found time to chat.
Excerpted from Masquerade by Lowell Cauffiel. Copyright © 1988 Lowell Cauffiel. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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