I find that a lot of people make jokes about my true crime book Wages of Sin being featured on the Investigation Discovery TV show Deadly Sins. There are just too many “sins” there not to crack a joke or a smile. And I must admit that I smirk a bit when I say that the book is the case of the Southern Baptist killer stripper — a woman who was reared a devout Southern Baptist, became a stripper, then a killer. But believe me, the case is not a joke. It’s a murder that still haunts people today.
For those who haven’t read the book or seen the Deadly Sins episode, let me summarize that it’s about Stephanie Martin, a beautiful young woman who danced in the Austin, Texas, strip club, the Yellow Rose. One night Stephanie was working the Rose when a young man named Will Busenburg walked in. Will was a polisher of orthopedic parts, but he told Stephanie he was a hitman for the CIA. Stephanie claimed to buy his story. In fact, she metaphorically lusted over his career as a hitman for our country and told Will — as well as many others — that she wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone. Months later, she and Will decided to fulfill her fantasy by killing Will’s roommate, a handsome young man named Chris Hatton. Not surprisingly, Stephanie says the murder was all Will’s doing and Will says it was all Stephanie’s doing.
I’m not going to tell you much more about the book, because I want you to buy and read it, of course. Only in Wages of Sin can you read Stephanie’s verbatim account of what happened. By verbatim, I mean the book ends with an edited transcript of my prison interviews with her, complete with my observations about her physical reactions while telling her story. And only in the book will you be able to glimpse Will’s medical and psychological records from his high school years and read bits of his love letters to Stephanie.
But let me give you an example of how/why the crime still haunts people today beyond the very obvious fact that a handsome young man who was loved by many was murdered over the ridiculously narcissistic motive of the thrill of the kill.
Recently, a relative of Will’s emailed me and asked if I was the person who wrote Wages of Sin. When I said yes, she said I made him sound mean and cold-hearted and that he was a really good man. Then she added, “Btw wills (sic) behavior started as a child (sic) he and the other children including mu (sic) mother were abused (sic) his father took him to a (sic) adoption center and left him there until my grandmother picked him up (sic) that adoption center is where he met the ‘victim’. My uncle protected my mom from as much abuse as he could (sic) when there (sic) father was about to hit my mom he would jump in front and take the beating for her . . . My uncle was a good man.”
She still hurts from the crime.
I also received an email from a man who said he was Stephanie Martin’s grade school boyfriend for 10 minutes: “She was always a nice girl, friendly, playfully snobish (sic) at times, but from a good Baptist home.” Later he added, “I wrote Steph once and she just wanted money, it was a real bummer, she is still scamming.” Twice he stated that Stephanie’s father isn’t doing well. If you read the book, you’ll understand why.
And then I received communication from a former inmate: “i just wanted to say that I was in prison with Stephine (sic) Martin and all the rest for 15 yrs. Stephine (sic) is a really sweet gil (sic) and a really good friend of mines (sic). Shes (sic) now on Mt. View unit speaking to the families of victims. She has truly matured since I met her when she first got to Hobby in 97. I was there when you were coming up there to write the book.”
But as I write all of that about Will and Stephanie, I don’t want you to forget the most important person in this case — their murder victim, Christopher Michael Hatton. His friends and family still grieve deeply for him. Deeply.
* * *
For an update on the story, read my blog post “The Taint of True Crime.” In fact, I encourage you to read the post.
You can find more photos from Wages of Sin on my Facebook page.
* * *
Please check out my newest book, Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American Sexuality. It’s a memoir about my journalistic research into Americans’ alternative sex lives.