She Just Felt Mean

The terrible case of Christa Gail Pike of Knoxville, Tenn., is a prime example of what happens to a young person raised without a sense of self-worth.
According to her mother, by the time Pike was 8 years old, she was incorrigible. Pike had been born prematurely, which is effective as an indicator of absolutely nothing, but her aunt testified that the girl had not bonded with her mother because she had been raised by her maternal grandmother until the grandmother died in 1988.
 
Of course, Pike’s grandmother was an abusive alcoholic. After her grandmother died while Pike was in her teens, the girl was shuffled between her parents, who were not married to each other and both of whom had begun new families. Pike’s mother, a nurse, testified at her daughter’s trial that as a pathetic, belated effort to bond with her daughter, the two of them smoked pot together “in order to establish a friendship.”
 
By the time she turned 18, Pike had been thrown out of her father’s house twice. He testified that she was disobedient, dishonest, and manipulative. She was finally told to leave because she was suspected of sexually abusing his 2-year-old daughter from his second marriage.
 
Before she became a murderer, there were plenty of public indications that Pike had serious problems.
 
Her mother claimed she had been growing marijuana in pots in her home by the age of 9 (a claim that is difficult to believe without corroboration considering most fourth-graders struggle to grow a bean plant in science class), and had been allowed a live-in boyfriend at 14 (a not-so-difficult-to-swallow allegation). When her mother’s boyfriend whipped her with a belt, she wielded a butcher knife against him before calling the police.
 
Pike’s aunt took the stand at her sentencing hearing and said she refused to allow her own children to associate with her niece because the girl lived in a filthy home with no ground rules. She didn’t say if she ever sought help for the girl, however.
 
In fact, none of Pike’s family members said much about what kind of help they tried to find for the obviously troubled young woman.
 
In January 1995, Pike, by this time a high school dropout, was taking classes at the Job Corps Center in Knoxville. On January 11, Pike told an acquaintance, Kim Iloilo, that she was planning to kill another student, Colleen Slemmer, because she “just felt mean that day.”
 
colleenslemmerIloilo discounted the threat as just talk. However, at 8 p.m. the next day, Iloilo saw Pike, Colleen, Shadolla Peterson and Tadaryl Shipp, who was Pike’s boyfriend, walking away from the Job Corps Center. Two hours later, she saw all of them — except Slemmer — return. Still, she thought nothing of it.
 
Around 11 p.m., Pike went to Iloilo’s dorm room at the Job Corps Center and confessed that she had killed Colleen. To prove it, she showed Iloilo something that she claimed was a piece of Colleen’s skull. In horrifying detail, Pike described how she had forced Colleen to remove her shirt and bra, beat her with a chunk of asphalt, slashed her throat, and carved a pentagram into her victim’s chest and forehead.
 
Iloilo testified at Pike’s trial that while Pike was recounting the butchery, she was dancing around in a circle, smiling and singing.
 
The next day, Pike told another student a similar story, pointing to brown spots on her shoes and saying “that ain’t mud on my shoes, that’s blood.” She presented her grisly trophy to the student, as well.
 
For whatever reason, neither Iloilo or the other student reported Pike’s claims to anyone. However, at 8 a.m. on January 13, Knoxville Police and the University of Tennessee Police Department were summoned to the greenhouses on the agricultural campus where an employee had found what he first assumed was the remains of an animal.
 
It turned out to be the body of Colleen Slemmer.
 
She was nude from the waist up. Her head had been bludgeoned and her throat had been cut. It’s really not necessary to describe in detail how she had been abused, suffice to say that the first responding officer testified that when he arrived at the scene he thought he was looking at the victim’s face, but he couldn’t be sure because it was so mutilated.
 
The medical examiner testified that it was office technique to document major sharp force or slash and stab wounds by assigning each one a letter. During the course of the autopsy the pathologist realized that if she labeled each wound according to policy, she would run out of letters and have to resort to labeling some of the major wounds “AA, BB,CC” and so forth.
 
“I basically threw up my hands and just said innumerable more superficial slash wounds on the back arms and chest,” she testified.
 
tadarylshippWith skills rivaling any Inquisitor, Pike tortured Colleen before killing her. The medical examiner noted numerous gaping wounds across the girl’s arms, torso and neck, and stated that “the area around each wound was red in appearance, indicating that the heart had still been beating when the wound was inflicted,” the Tennessee Appeals Court wrote. “She also testified that none of the aforementioned wounds would have rendered the victim unconscious.”
 
The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. The ME’s testimony corroborated that of the other witnesses who said Pike had kept a piece of Colleen’s skull.
 
It didn’t take long for police to connect Pike with the killing. For some reason Pike left a jacket in a counselor’s office on January 13, and when he returned from a long weekend and learned she was suspected of being involved in the murder, he turned it over to police. In the pocket was the piece of bone that really was from Colleen’s head.
 
The jacket was helpful evidence, but the prosecution didn’t need it because the same day, Pike, in an interview with police, confessed to the killing and consented to a search of her dorm room where they found her blood-soaked jeans. She then led the authorities to the trash bin where she dumped Colleen’s ID and gloves. Next she took the police to the crime scene, retracing her steps and describing in chilling detail the events.
 
Her confession, when transcribed, is 46 pages long.
 
According to Pike, she and Colleen had been having problems for some time. They liked the same man and Pike said one time Colleen had threatened her with a box cutter. She said on the day of the killing she had only planned to fight with Colleen because her rival had been “running her mouth” and Pike wanted her to leave her alone.
 
She lured Colleen into the deserted UT campus with the promise of some marijuana, but when they got there, Pike grabbed Colleen and slammed the girl’s head into her knee. She then threw Colleen on the ground and began the assault. At one point, as she slammed Colleen’s head into the concrete, the helpless victim pleaded, “why are you doing this to me?”
 
Something had clearly snapped in Pike’s head, because the more Colleen pleaded, the angrier Pike got.
 
The assault-cum-murder was also egged on by the two people watching Pike beat her victim. Watching is not a truly accurate term, because at one point Colleen attempted to flee, only to be grabbed by Peterson or Shipp and pushed back to the ground.
 
Pike told police she heard “voices” telling her to do something to prevent Colleen from sending her to prison for attempted murder.
 
slemmerskullFinally, in an effort to save her life, Colleen said that if Pike let her go, she would “walk back to her home in Florida without returning to the Job Corps Facility for her belongings.”
 
In response, Pike told her to shut up because “it was harder to hurt somebody when they’re talking to you.”
 
The assault took about 30 minutes and was interrupted at one point because Pike thought she heard someone coming.
 
So what made Christa Pike kill?
 
Psychiatrists examined her and found her to be an “extremely bright young woman.” Her IQ tested at 111, which the clinicians found remarkable considering her upbringing and the fact that she was a drop-out. They judged her to be sane in legal terms. They found no symptoms of brain damage, which can correlate to violence in some cases (usually frontal lobe damage).
 
The battery of tests found that Pike was marijuana-dependent and abused inhalants. She was diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder (pdf), a condition that takes its name from its original assumption that a person suffering from the disorder was on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis.
 
People with borderline personality disorder are similar to psycopaths and just as dangerous. They have poor impulse control, volatile affect, a fluctuating self-image that bounces between despair and self-aggrandizement, and they often have problems in relationships.
 
According to criminologist Katherine Ramsland, people with borderline personality disorder are highly resistant to treatment because, “like vampires, these people just drain a therapist and move on to the next one.” Even Pike’s own family found that she had refused to abide by the basic standards of society from an early age. There is almost no chance that she can change now. At best, the taxpayers of Tennessee will simply have to warehouse her until she is too old and feeble to be a danger to anyone, and even then I wouldn’t turn my back on her.
 
shadollapetersonShipp received a life sentence, while Peterson was sentenced to probation.
 
Shortly after she was convicted and sentenced to die for her crime, Pike wrote a letter to her boyfriend, complaining about the treatment she got from the court.
 
“Ya see what I get for trying to be nice to the hoe? I went ahead and bashed her brains out so she’d die quickly instead of letting her bleed to death and suffer more, and they fuckin’ FRY me!!! Ain’t that some shit,” she wrote.
 
There is no doubt that Pike killed Colleen. There is no doubt that she is legally sane. But still, the Tennessee courts look upon her and wonder what to do with her because of the depravity she exhibits. If a person does something this heinous, they must be sick and we can’t execute a sick person. But the courts keep finding that Pike is not sick. She just doesn’t care. And not caring is not the same as being insane.
 
She proved this by attempting to strangle another inmate while on death row. In July 2004, she received an additional 25 years for this attempted murder.
 
Pike may one day be executed by the State of Tennessee for her crimes. Besides spending a few years on Earth helping trees by converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, she hasn’t done much good in this world, and based on her track record and the predictions of those who study these things, there’s scant chance she is going to do much to make this world a better place.
 
It is truly awful to say that the world would be better off without someone, but occasionally, a person like Christa Gail Pike comes along who makes a very compelling case for that view.