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"The whole film took a credibility leap when Bryson agreed to be in it," Meade says. "And then this thing with Karen Blakeman popped up. And the judge."
At the time of the murders, Blakeman covered the courts for The Kansas City Times. Her work led her to an extraordinary conclusion about how Berdella met his victims. Conventional wisdom said the killer found them loitering downtown, specifically at the seedy corner of 10th and McGee. To an extent, this was true. But Blakeman learned that at least one victim, Todd Stoops, had been sent as part of his probation to Berdella by a municipal court judge. How Berdella's name came to be included on a list of court-approved drug counselors has never been verifiably reported.
Less than a week after Judge Marcia Walsh delivered Stoops to Berdella for drug counseling, Berdella himself was arrested for trying to sell marijuana to an undercover police officer, Blakeman reported.
Blakeman also revealed that in 1984, Stoops had told police he suspected Berdella in the disappearance of his friend Jerry Howell and that he believed drugs probably had been used to sedate Howell. Four years later, when Berdella was arrested, Howell became known as his first victim.
"Although he was the subject of both drug and missing persons investigations, Robert A. Berdella was able to manipulate Kansas City's criminal justice system," Blakeman wrote in March 1989.
This spring, Meade traveled to Hawaii to interview Blakeman, now a reporter for The Honolulu Advertiser.
Blakeman told Meade about a prison visit she made to interview Berdella in 1991, following the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer, whom Berdella reportedly had deemed an "amateur." At Berdella's request, Blakeman brought two tape recorders, then listened as he told her how he had fooled the court system. At the end of the interview, Blakeman says, prison officials confiscated her tapes for review. Later, they told her the tapes had been inadvertently destroyed.
"I think people wanted her to leave Kansas City because of what she was digging around and found," Meade says.
In the film, Meade holds up Blakeman's story as proof that local authorities wanted to be done with the Berdella ordeal, even if it meant ignoring the possibility of more victims.
"If you're a no-count, then fuck you," he says of the city's attitude. "Die. Get picked up. We don't care. We've got better things to deal with. If you're gay, if you're black, if you're a prostitute, if you're a dope dealer, a drug user, you're down on the pecking order of human life value. And I don't think that's exclusive to Kansas City. I think that's everywhere. But I think that had a lot to do with this."
Meade's outrage, though genuine, is not the driving force behind Bazaar Bizarre. The film is ultimately a hodgepodge, an assortment of items that create nothing more tangible than a vibe. In certain moments -- interviewing the police officer in charge of missing persons in the 1980s, for instance -- Meade plays it straight. But then he cuts to an interview with an emergency room physician who claims to have reattached Berdella's penis multiple times -- and laughs about it. Or a chat with Berdella's hairdresser. Or a visit with his florist, who makes an eloquent if worthless argument that "this man was not all bad." Or Berdella's mechanic, who shows no such lenience. "I'm glad the sick son of a bitch got what was coming to him," he says. Leaning over the hood of a car, he adds that Berdella wasn't just a sadistic, psychopathic murderer but also a bad customer.