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He was, after all, arrested on Easter weekend, smack in the middle of an NCAA Final Four that placed Kansas City and Kemper Arena at the center of every sports-obsessed mind in America. The grisly details of Berdella's crimes (a torture log book, electrodes, needles, Polaroids, disembowelment, decapitation, anal rape) should have burned the killer's name into the country's collective memory.
But they didn't. The case brought only fleeting attention to Kansas City, most notably with an appearance by the clown prince of journalism, Geraldo Rivera. Two years after his embarrassment at Al Capone's vault, Rivera tried lamely to connect the Berdella murders to his own contrived exposé on a nonexistent network of Satanic evildoers.
Over the years, though, Berdella's national fame receded entirely into the realm of sleazy, serial-killer-devoted Web sites. In Kansas City, stories about Berdella settled below the surface, as though waiting to be mined. Sixteen years after the murders, Meade encountered anecdotes, opinions, analyses and takes everywhere he went. Everybody, it seemed, had something to say about Berdella. He was an egotistical jerk. A know-it-all. A pompous asshole. A misogynist. He smelled weird.
"Everybody has some angle," Meade says before offering his own Berdella story.
"I was living in Brookside, and I heard it on a rock and roll station that picked it up off the news radio," he says of the day Berdella was arrested. "I grabbed a camera and got in my car and said, 'I'm going down there.' They had cops like bugs, all over the place. I tried going through here, but it was just nuts. On Sunday, I went down there with a friend of mine, and we went on the next street, where they busted down this fence in this guy's yard. They took a backhoe in there and were going to start digging up this guy's yard. That's when they dug up his [Larry Pearson's] head."
Meade struggled for position, hoping to catch a piece of history on film, but police had the area isolated. "I couldn't get close," he recalls. "I didn't get any pictures. It was a terrible thing."
Before he left that day, Meade interviewed a middle-aged couple who lived near Berdella. Though he didn't know it then, the shot would become the first filmed for Bazaar Bizarre.
For years the Berdella investigation left Meade unsatisfied. Everything went away, but nothing was settled. Myths had been presented as facts, and the actual facts were released so sparingly that the truth was incomplete.
"I think because of the timing, they needed to expedite the case," Meade says. "I think they had him by the balls because they had Polaroid photographs of a certain number of people, and they had a torture log, which was a loose-leaf binder notebook. So I think they knew they could get him on those six [victims]. I think they made a deal with him, and it was basically, 'We don't care what you've done outside of this. Let's cop a plea to these, and we'll spare your life and call it a day.'"
In the following decade, Meade left a lucrative but draining finance career to pursue his creative interests. He enrolled in graduate-level film courses, earned a doctorate from the University of Kansas, landed a teaching gig at Avila University and created two feature-length films, Vakvagany and Das Bus, both of which screened at numerous film festivals around the world and were sold to the Sundance Channel.