We all have our baggage. We all have things that we wish we didn’t have to go through as kids. He writes, “to try to be normal,” but he knows that he’s not a normal person. He knows that.—Don Miller
Lt. Don Miller discovers the hand-written life story of the man who killed Susan Woods. The murderer, it turns out, wasn’t a stranger or an outsider to Stephenville, but a local boy nobody suspected.
Stephenville is produced and edited by Patrick Michels, and produced and engineered by Brian Standefer, who also wrote the music. Additional production is by Jackie Ibarra. Story editing is by J.K. Nickell. Executive producer is Megan Creydt. Paul Knight is our fact-checker. Artwork is by Emily Kimbro and Victoria Millner.
Bryan Burrough (voice-over): Back at the roadside park south of Stephenville, Don Miller had shown me the scene where Scott Hatley attacked Shannon Myers. The ditch where Hatley pushed Shannon’s face into the mud is still there, though it’s deeper today. The picnic tables where they sat are still there under an old metal roof, with fresh graffiti on the paint. Ninety-nine out of a hundred people who visit the park today will only ever see this much. Don and I, of course, see something very different.
Thirty-five years have passed since that pitch-black night in 1988. And it’s been seventeen years since Don first identified Hatley’s fingerprints in Susan Woods’s bathroom. A lot has happened since then. And I’ll tell you about all that in a bit.
But the best way to begin to tell you the whole story is with something that just happened, at Christmastime in 2021. Don had just retired from the Stephenville police force. That’s when he got that phone call. A man in Abilene said his neighbor had just died, and this man had bought the trailer where his neighbor had been living.
Don Miller: And as he was cleaning out the RV, in some cubby holes, he found some pictures of myself.
Bryan Burrough: Of you?
Don Miller: Of me. He found pictures of me and Shannon from newspaper articles—there were clippings about the case, about us, and then he found some writings.
The man who’d made this discovery had no idea what to make of it. But he was scared. The whole collection had a menacing feel to it. This man and his family had been living close by. He just wanted someone to come take it away.
So Don went. And that’s how he came to possess what the man had found—Scott Hatley’s handwritten life story, almost two hundred pages, in slanted, neatly printed capital letters. It was very dense and very long, but it told a story no one had known. Don reached out to me through a friend, thinking I might want to write about it. I had to read through it two or three times to begin to grasp how extraordinary it was. I’d brought along a copy, and asked Don to flip through it again.
Bryan Burrough: All right. So, first, just initial reaction, in these first few pages, which are about his childhood.
Don Miller: Well, this is a man who obviously, in my mind, was very proud of what he did. He wanted notoriety of it. I’ve since learned that it’s not uncommon for this type of personality to write manifestos.
When I read through what Hatley had written, I was struck by its candor, its wrenching self-awareness in places. By how this fifty-year-old adult, looking back on his life and where it went so horribly wrong, could be so clear-eyed about the little steps that led him to commit such violence against two women in Stephenville all those years ago.
He writes about the intense anger he’d felt since he was at least eight years old. How he had wanted to commit a Columbine-style school massacre, years before Columbine itself. How he amassed a set of secret habits that kept his violent fantasies in check for a time. And how his descent into violence turned him into something else. He wrote: “My God, I had become a monster.”
Yes, Scott Hatley was a murderer and a rapist, and I have no sympathy for him. But what he’d written provided an unusual glimpse of what remained of his humanity, while at the same time conjuring the self-portrait of a man who was aware enough to look inside himself for answers—but still couldn’t find them.
But Don, after more than forty years of police work, is a tough old cop, the kind who still calls criminals “maggots.” And he found this line of inquiry a little less engaging.
Don Miller: Okay, yeah, so we all have our baggage. We all have things that we wish we didn’t have to go through as kids. I feel like, that little boys who don’t like their mommies are not well-adjusted adults. That screams at me. He writes “to try to be normal,” but he knows that he’s not a normal person, he knows that.
Even if, to everyone else, that’s exactly how he seemed.
Don Miller: Yeah, and you know, you say nobody knew about him, I don’t know. I don’t know what his parents knew. I don’t know what his sister knew. I had no idea what his immediate people knew. Surely, somebody had known something that they didn’t talk about.
From Texas Monthly, this is Stephenville. I’m your host, Bryan Burrough. This is episode five: Scott.
The unpublished autobiography of Joseph Scott Hatley is laid out like a screenplay, much of it told in flashbacks after his arrest. It opens cinematically, with a scene inside a jail. He opens his eyes and hears a voice telling him a Texas Ranger was there to see him. He makes a few wisecracks to the jailer, and then to the Ranger: Why didn’t they send Walker? Was Chuck Norris busy today? The other men laugh.
He is pushed into the back of the Ranger’s car for a long drive to transport him to another jail. A routine transfer. He closes his eyes, leans back into his seat and starts asking himself questions:
He wonders how in the world he ended up here. What happened to his life? And then, the flashbacks.
Hatley came from a fairly well-known Stephenville family. He was born in 1965, the youngest of three children. He tells the whole story: His mother, Celia Hallmark, grew up poor in the country, picking cotton when she was a kid. His father, Levi Hatley Jr., was raised on a dairy farm. In the mornings, Hatley writes, young Levi would ride a bull across the field to meet the school bus.
Celia was a homemaker, and by the time Scott was growing up, his father, Levi, owned a Texaco station in town. As a little kid, Scott would help make popcorn or grease up the trucks in the mechanic shop.
On the face of it, this was standard small-town Texas life: Long workdays, orderly home, doting grandparents, church on Sundays.
It’s a different childhood than I had in the Central Texas town of Temple. I grew up there as a bit of an outsider. My father was a bank president, we were new to town, and we weren’t terribly religious, nor did we have family nearby.
But I knew lots of kids like Scott Hatley. Their lives revolved around family and the church, maybe football too, or farming. A lot of them were on the quiet side, and didn’t act out that much, at least until they were teenagers.
It was strange, reading Hatley’s manifesto. I realized how much I’d judged so many of those kids without ever truly knowing them. Reading Hatley’s memories, I realized I probably hadn’t known them at all.
In the seventies, when we were both growing up, Hatley was, like me, a blonde preteen with an awful bowl haircut. He was a Cub Scout. He played baseball, basketball, and football, and worshiped Roger Staubach. Check, check and check, I thought; you could have said much the same thing about 70 percent of the kids in small-town Texas.
He writes that his older brother was the wild child, his sister, Regina, was the smart one, and that he was somewhere in between. Smart enough to get by without trying too hard.
Bryan Burrough: What was he like at the age of twelve or thirteen?
Gloria Martin: Beaver Cleaver.
Bryan Burrough: He was?
Gloria Martin: Just a nerdly little guy, kind of chubby and didn’t look like he was particularly popular in school.
That’s Gloria Martin, who you’ve heard before. She was friends with Susan Woods. And she knew Scott Hatley as a kid.
Gloria Martin: When I was thirteen, I started making the drag—which is riding up and down the street—with his older sister, who was two years older than me. And we made the drag and made the drag and made the drag. And sometimes Scott would end up being stuck with us, and it wasn’t fun, and we didn’t want a twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy in the backseat.
Though she was eight years older, Susan Woods and Scott Hatley did have a few mutual friends. Those connections became significant later, of course, but to the police they meant nothing, because they’d never suspected Scott.
Bryan Burrough: As first cousin, can you help me understand your view of who he was as a boy?
Cindy Hayes: As a young boy?
Bryan Burrough: Boy. Let’s say five to fifteen.
Another voice you’ve heard before: Susan’s best friend, who went by Cindy Hallmark in those days, before she married Roy Hayes.
Cindy Hayes: That would be a better question probably for him. Because they went to school together.
Roy Hayes: I went school with him since first grade. I was dyslexic diagnosed. So I repeated first grade. And that’s where I met Scott Hatley. He had a speech impediment and we went to speech together. I mean a lot of people had trouble understanding him because his mother was the only one who could really understand him.
But yeah, we spent years together and going once a day to speech. And we were friends. And probably first or second, third grade, we were really good friends. I went over to his house and he came over to mine and everything was okay. I mean, he was a good kid, or at least I thought he was.
It can be a little too easy for someone like me to try and explore a murderer’s childhood for warning signs—especially when they weren’t obvious. But in his autobiography, Hatley spends a good deal of time doing exactly that. He knows he ended up somehow broken, and he’s trying to understand why.
From an early age, he writes, he was consumed by a burning anger he can’t fully explain. He claims his mother was abusive and slapped him often—though years later, both his mother and sister strongly denied this. The way he tells it, the abuse “enraged” him. But he kept it inside.
He says he was bullied at school, mostly about his weight. He and his sister were both on the heavy side, and by age eight, Hatley says, he had begun to conjure violent fantasies of revenge.
And there was the church. His family was religious—they were the kind of people who debated scripture at the dinner table. At an early age, Scott learned that there were powerful forces at play in the world around him: to him, God and Satan were tangible beings who could influence lives.
His favorite part of going to church was the leader of the youth choir, who he says was fun, and popular with the kids. But when Scott was twelve or so, the choir leader was suddenly fired. Scott was incensed. He decided he was done with organized religion. He was still looking for answers, but convinced he wouldn’t find them in a church pew.
Bryan Burrough: Okay. So reading this thing, he clearly wants you to believe, and I don’t have any reason not to, that he had a certain anger inside him from a young age.
Roy Hayes: And he thought he was smarter than everybody else too.
Bryan Burrough: Really, how did that manifest itself? Just an attitude?
Roy Hayes: Yeah. An attitude. I mean, he would act around in family reunions and stuff as we got older and me and Cindy started hanging out. He thought he was smarter than everybody who was older than him and he thought they were just codgers and basically just plodders. You know, people plodding along in life.
By the time he turned thirteen or fourteen, there’s a sense that Hatley is developing three very different personas. In school, he was mostly quiet. Not a ton of friends, especially girls. Then that louder, pushier side he displayed around his family. And then there was a third, darker side that few ever saw.
Roy Hayes: When me and Cindy first started dating, they knew I read books. And they said, “Well hey, you and Scott will be great together. He loves to read books too.” And we sat down and we talked and he loved true crime. He loved reading all about true crime and the Son of Sam and stuff like that, which we talked and I was like, It’ll never work. We’ll never share a book. Because in my books, the hero always has to win. And I guess I’d be good for Gunsmoke or something like that, but that’s just the world I choose to live in. Right wins the day.
In his writings, Hatley says that, “From the outside, my youth seemed like a normal, healthy, and happy time,” but that “on the inside it was confusion, violent thoughts, and hate.” He describes daydreams about orchestrating a school shooting, twenty years before Columbine. He says, “I loved my parents but knew I would have to kill them before I went to the school. This was my youth. They said I was such a good boy.’’
Gloria Martin: I heard them talking about how they were so out of the blue that it was Scott. He did do one thing when I was about fifteen that really kind of, in retrospect, was creepy. I was riding around with Regina and I had bought myself a bottle of Everclear, and I mixed it with a can of Big Red and went riding around with someone who will remain nameless that I would’ve never been seen with. I had got really tanked up. I remember the guy I was riding with, he drove me to Regina’s house and I slid down the wall of her brick house and passed out.
They were about to call the cops, couldn’t find me. And then Regina saw my feet sticking out of the flower bed. So she gets Scotty and they both carry me in the house and she’s trying to put me to bed and Scotty was totally fixated on the fact that I was unconscious and didn’t want to leave the room. And Regina finally said, “You’re not going to be in here when I get her undressed, Scott, you just get out of here. And he really, really wanted to stay.
When I talked to Gloria, I asked her when Susan first came on her radar.
Gloria Martin: Well, because of Regina, Scott’s sister, we’d be riding around, me and Regina, drinking beer and sneaking cigarettes. And then we’d see Susan and Cindy. We’d be like, “Oh my gosh, hide the beer, hide the beer, they’re straight arrows. They’re straight arrows.” And it turned out at the same time they were going, “Hide the beer. They’re some straight arrows.” But that’s how we became friends.
This kind of teenage drinking—sneaking around, begging strangers to buy you beer at the 7 Eleven—was common in small-town Texas in those days, as I suspect it was everywhere. I snuck my share of beer, and like Scott Hatley, I had a hard time handling it. But like most people, I ended up learning how to drink without it damaging my life.
Hatley, though, never did.
In his manuscript he writes that he was about thirteen when his sister or one of her friends handed him his first beer. By the time he finished it, he realized even then, his life had changed forever.
“Booze!’’ he writes—with an exclamation point. “From the first buzz, I knew that alcohol is what I craved, what I needed, what I had to have.” Pretty quickly, he graduated to vodka.
His second great love—again, discovered in his early teenage years—was pornography. Which in those days meant dirty magazines. You could shoplift them, or ask an adult to buy them, at many convenience stores. Scott Hatley wasn’t the first fifteen-year-old with a secret stash of porn mags. He seems to have kept a stash of vodka as well. They became reliable in a way that people, especially girls, seldom were. He says, “I would lie to myself and say that I have my booze and porn so I don’t really need a girl.”
Bryan Burrough: So Scott writes in there about discovering alcohol, discovering porn, getting . . . having violent fantasies. All of this would come as news to y’all.
Cindy Hayes: Oh yeah.
Roy Hayes: Never knew anything about it.
Cindy Hayes: We did know the alcohol.
All this was pretty much a secret. At Stephenville High, Hatley seemed like a normal teenager, finally shedding his baby fat and learning how to at least talk a little with girls. He spent much of his free time working for his father.
Like Susan Woods, he was curious about the world outside Stephenville, but like Susan, he had a hard time navigating it.
During his senior year, he joined the Air Force Reserves, and trained to be a munitions specialist at bases in Texas. After graduation he went on to an Air Force technical school at a base in Colorado, outside Denver.
It was at a dormitory there that he met his first girlfriend. She was a young, serious dark-haired woman from Ohio. We’re not naming her here for privacy reasons. Scott was very much a virgin; he had never even kissed a girl. He writes that it was love at first sight. After hours, they slow-danced to Prince’s “Purple Rain.’’ On weekends they made love in a cheap hotel. Scott writes that it was the happiest time of his life. They were both young, they were both inexperienced, and on an impulse, they got married. No one, not their parents, not their commanding officers, was terribly happy about this.
His new wife went ahead and joined the Air Force. Scott actually decided not to enlist. But when she was assigned to a base on the island of Guam, seven thousand miles away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Scott joined her there. He stepped off the plane and into a strange new world of blue ocean, white beaches, and deep-green jungle.
But from the moment the newlyweds reunited, he knew something was wrong. He writes that the fire between them “had cooled just a bit,” and that, quote, “There was a story in her eyes I could not read.”
They had a small apartment in a village off-base. Scott got a job at an insurance agency, and they passed the time drinking and having little adventures: When his wife went skydiving with their new friends, Scott was waiting on the ground. When they missed the landing spot, he slashed through the jungle with a machete to find them.
But between the two of them, Scott writes that the magic was gone. They grew distant. The drinking turned to arguing, almost every day. Scott found himself missing his family. Missing Texas.
And this is when, he says, that something began to shift inside him. The darkness he had known since childhood returned. Their love life deteriorated. Once, when his wife was still half-asleep, Scott discovered he enjoyed having sex that way: being in total control of a woman.
His drinking took a toll at work, too. His sales commissions were shrinking. He began using an office copy machine to forge company checks.
This is when he started praying again, for the first time in years. He fell back on what he’d learned around the dining room table, the epic struggle between good and evil. And when praying to God didn’t seem to help, he decided he would pledge his life to Satan.
The problem was, he had no clear sense how to summon the devil. But in the movies, he knew, it always seemed to involve a whole lot of candles. So one evening when his wife was out, he gathered up every candle in the house, and lit them. Then he kneeled and asked Satan for help. He wanted his wife dead, so he could get her life insurance payout and move back to Texas. In return, he offered up his soul.
As ominous as all this sounds, conjuring the devil seems to have been a one-time thing. But this memory plagued Hatley for years. Over and over again in his writings, he returns to this incident. He wonders if the deal he made with Satan explained the things he would later do.
Meanwhile, his wife began going out alone. One night she came home late, and Hatley was struck with a strong sense that she’d been unfaithful. He was overwhelmed with a sense of his life falling apart. He writes that this was the night that changed everything. He says she’d given him the, quote, “fuel that I would use to destroy my life.” He acknowledges that he didn’t have the maturity or the experience to overcome this, and that, quote, “my inner demons were unleashed.’’
This is the story Scott Hatley tells, and of course it’s imperfect. There is probably some self-mythologizing going on here, and certainly some blame-shifting. He was an angry kid; for this, he all but blames his mother. He was a scorned and vengeful husband; he says that was his wife’s fault.
So for me, the question becomes: Is he concocting these feelings—after the fact—to absolve himself of responsibility for the crimes he committed? Or were these feelings truly what drove his behavior? This struck me as something for an expert.
So I called one.
Bryan Burrough: Good morning. Can you hear us?
Katherine Ramsland: I can hear you.
Bryan Burrough: Oh, fabulous. Welcome aboard. Can’t thank you enough for doing this.
Dr. Katherine Ramsland is one of the nation’s foremost experts on the criminal mind. She teaches at DeSales University, in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania.
Katherine Ramsland: So I teach forensic psychology at the graduate and undergraduate level, and I spend a lot of my days researching extreme offenders, typically mass spree and serial killers, sometimes also one-off type killers. But for the most part, I’m immersed in violent minds.
We talked over Zoom. Behind her, I could see what looked like the living room wall of an old house. Wood paneling. A metal handrail on the stairs to a second floor. But it’s not her home—it’s more like part of her office.
Katherine Ramsland: The setting I’m in is a house we have on campus where we use as a crime scene lab experience, and we lay out various scenarios for people, for our students to come and learn investigation.
Katherine keyed in right away to those lines Hatley wrote about his mother. That she’d slap him regularly. A time, when he was fifteen, when he claimed he walked in on his mom beating his sister and threatened to kill her if she did it again. He doesn’t dwell on this, but the moments are there. Neither his mother, Celia Hatley, nor his sister, Regina, I should point out, are alive today, but years ago both denied all of this.
Bryan Burrough: I didn’t know what to make of what he said about his mother, because I also have testimony in a grand jury from both the mother and the sister denying anything like this. So I thought . . . I don’t want to portray this woman or something she violently says she’s not. But based on what he does say, what do you think the most likely scenario is for how he became what he became? Do you see evidence that he was a powerless youth?
Katherine Ramsland: I see evidence that he was a powerless youth. Now, it’s not necessarily about what’s reality, it’s about what’s perception. So he could exaggerate. Let’s say his mother took the wooden spoon to spank the sister, and he exaggerates that in his imagination to being a far more violent beating than it really was. It’s always about how the children perceive and process the information, and then it becomes part of the fantasy life.
Katherine told me this explains a lot of his attitude toward women he meets later.
Katherine Ramsland: Whatever he can find to make the female in the relationship look bad certainly does go back to these childhood fantasies that he said he had about feeling powerless to a woman, to his mother. He didn’t talk about his father in this way.
Bryan Burrough: When you look at the path that he lays out toward the young adult that he became—heavy drinking, the vodka, porn, little to no interaction with girls, no dating—do you read that, just going, “Yeah, yeah, I read that a million times,” or is there anything unusual about that path?
Katherine Ramsland: No, that seemed to me a very typical kind of . . . a way to absolve himself of responsibility for his own life, for his own sense of things. He even, when he wants to, he’ll use Satan, he’ll use God, you know, “God didn’t answer my prayer. If only he would’ve done so, everything would’ve been different.”
The question that seems to be driving Hatley throughout his life story is “Why am I like this?” And he never quite answers it. But he pinpoints that moment in Guam—believing that his wife had been unfaithful—as the moment when everything changed. The moment, he says, his demons were unleashed, when he kind of began to snap.
Katherine Ramsland: Well, there’s not really any such thing as snapping. I know that’s a popular idea that there’s a tipping point, but it usually is accumulation of things as well as how one’s personality and temperament come into it. So his inability to really deal with how his decisions have gotten him into certain situations, his tendency to drink it away or get high, to not really see his own hand in what he’s done, that’s who he is. That’s how he set his life up and that’s how he continues to live for most of his life.
The way Hatley tells it, the demons that emerged in Guam didn’t surface overnight. First, he called his mother.
She told him to come home, and he did, leaving his wife and eventually divorcing. In Dallas, he stumbled off the plane, he says, “so drunk I could barely walk.”
Stephenville was exactly the same as he’d left it. But he realized that he wasn’t. This was 1986. He was 21 years old, back living with his parents, which was bad enough. But to add insult to injury, his old boss at the insurance company had discovered that he’d been printing fake checks. Scott had to ask his dad for help paying back the money.
He made a stab at reinvention, asking people to call him “Joseph,” his first name, instead of Scott. But his primary accomplishment around this time was the invention of something he called “V”-syrup, which was a cocktail of vodka with a bottle of cough syrup. He drank it from a large foam cup, sometimes mixed with Pepsi, often while driving in the brown pickup his parents bought him for graduation.
He’d cruise the roads around Stephenville for hours, brooding, cranking up Mötley Crüe on the radio, and hashing through the mess he’d made of his life.
He was pretty much aimless. Living in his parents’ house and working for his dad, just like he’d done as a teenager. Drinking at his sister’s house, with her and her friends.
Roy Hayes: My opinion, anyway—I think Cindy agrees. We thought he was drowning his sorrows because of his divorce.
Cindy Hayes: Yeah.
Roy Hayes: And we thought eventually he’ll snap out of it when he’s vented enough. And we thought that we’d go there and we’d talk to him and listen to him talk about what a “blank” she was, how things were and everything. And we’d play cards because I cannot talk without playing cards normally.
Bryan Burrough: So this is the group that—this was at his sister’s house? And he called it the round table. So y’all were members of the round table?
Cindy Hayes: I guess so, yeah.
Roy Hayes: I guess so.
Cindy Hayes: I guess so.
Hatley writes about these nights they spent gathered at the round table in Regina’s kitchen.
Bryan Burrough: How many people typically will we be talking?
Roy Hayes: There really wasn’t that many, there was normally Cindy and myself, there was Scott, there was Regina. Sometimes Sherry would drop by. Melissa would often drop by. Troy always sat in the living room watching TV. Then there was the two kids and they were small children. But that was it pretty much, wasn’t it? Yeah. I mean, it wasn’t . . .
Cindy Hayes: Sometimes there might be another person every once in a while.
Roy Hayes: It wasn’t like a huge party.
Cindy Hayes: No, it wasn’t.
But on a fateful night in July 1987, a new face appeared at the round table: Susan Woods.
Cindy Hayes: I remember one time she—
Roy Hayes: See and I don’t remember that.
Cindy Hayes: Yeah, he don’t remember it, but I do. She did come one night. Because she always worked second shift and so she was always working when we were over there because it was usually Friday night, Saturday night or whatever.
Roy Hayes: I didn’t even know they knew each other. I really . . . I told her, I said it stunned me because I didn’t even think Scott and Susan knew each other.
Hatley writes that he’d known Susan for years, since she was his cousin Cindy’s best friend. That night, he insists, the two of them engaged in a little drunken flirting.
Cindy Hayes: Uh-uh. Nope, she wouldn’t have flirted with him. She wouldn’t have touched him with a ten-foot pole, because Susan had a type and being overweight was not her type.
Roy Hayes: She also had a thing about younger men. And Scott was, I mean Scott was about six months younger than me even. And she was one of these women . . .
Cindy Hayes: He wouldn’t have…
Roy Hayes: Of that age . . .
Cindy Hayes: She wouldn’t have . . .
Roy Hayes: Who believe the man had to be older.
Bryan Burrough: I don’t believe for a second that she was flirting. What I believe is that Scott was very drunk and very high. And he seems to have pretty much stayed that way.
Cindy Hayes: I mean she would be nice to him. She was going to be nice. But she was nice to everybody.
It was on a Sunday night a week or so later, he writes, almost certainly after a long drive in his pickup sipping his V-syrup, that he drove to Susan’s house unannounced. He says his plan was to see if she wanted to smoke a couple of joints before he went home. Nothing more.
She let him in.
He says they listened to some albums and smoked together—from the evidence, it appears they were cigarettes. And then at some point, he writes, he, quote, “overstepped [his] bounds,” and she slapped him. What happened next, Hatley writes, was a blur.
And then comes his confession. The point where he admits he murdered Susan Woods. But he doesn’t describe it. Instead, he just says he came out of a fog and realized that he had “brutalized” her—that’s the word he uses. He says he felt he was, quote, “controlled by an outside source.”
He does remember one exchange, during the attack: She promised not to tell anyone what he had done, if he’d only let her go. He writes that he, quote, “found it interesting that she thought any of that mattered.” He says he asked if she believed in God, and when she said yes, he told her then she needed to pray.
There’s so much that isn’t here—anything that would illuminate the brutality evident in the scene police found later. Hatley says he left out those details out of a sense of propriety, and respect for his and Susan’s families. Now, I’ve written about my share of murderers, and I had a sense of what was going on here. I put the question to Katherine.
Bryan Burrough: I suspect that he’s hiding something. And that is that for a lot of killers, and I see the clues to this throughout what he’s written, they are preoccupied, if not obsessed, with violent sexual fantasies. And I think that’s what he was acting out when he did this, and yet I find little to no indication that he wants to go there. Would you buy that?
Katherine Ramsland: Well, I think they’re obsessed with control. That’s the first thing. And that need for control typically comes from a feeling of powerlessness as children, and so especially control over women and control over their ability to humiliate him or make him feel powerless. So he wants that. And so the violent sexual fantasies come out of that initial need. Even before he’s becoming a sexual person, the fantasies are there because he needs that control.
Bryan Burrough: So when he writes something like, “That night, I took the life of a kind, sweet, loving woman who never did anything to me but show me kindness. My God, I’d become a monster,” you basically think that this is a form of virtue signaling?
Katherine Ramsland: I don’t think it’s virtue signaling. I think it’s just he knows what to say. In fact, later on in his document, he does talk about, “Why don’t I really feel anything about this? It is monstrous, and yet it doesn’t really affect me.” And I think that’s why he’s able to put the right words to it, because he knows what people will expect. He’s certainly been raised in a religious household with realities of God and the devil and basic Texas family values. So he knows what to say. I just don’t think he feels it very much, and I don’t think he really believes it.
Even when he admits he’s a monster, he does not want to talk about what that means. He’s not willing to do that. I just didn’t see him being that insightful or wanting to explore where did this come from? He might say that, but he never actually does it. So there’s a big gap between his narrative and his behavior.
Maybe you’ve picked up on the fact that, with a career spent analyzing the most violent and antisocial people in our society, Katherine is not terribly impressed by Scott Hatley.
It was something we got out of the way at the start of our conversation.
Bryan Burrough: Is there anything unusual about Joseph Scott Hatley’s violent mind, or is he just, in the universe of violent people, is he just one more schmo?
Katherine Ramsland: Yeah, I would say he’s one more schmo who has found ways to justify and minimize his violence and blame everything he can find to blame so that he does not have to take responsibility. He’s very average in that respect.
But if he was, in fact, no criminal mastermind—well, you can see where he might get the wrong idea about himself, given what happened next.
He writes that he left Susan’s house and immediately started coming to terms with the punishment he was sure awaited him. The police station was on his way home that night. He paused at the stop sign and thought of turning into the parking lot. Of course, he didn’t. A few days later he went to Susan’s funeral. He says he felt nothing. There were police all around. No one seemed the least bit suspicious of him—as, in fact, they weren’t.
He read the story about her murder in the newspaper. In his manifesto, he says: “I wish with all my heart that I could tell you that I mourned for what I had done, but that would be a lie.’’
Instead, he says what he felt was a new kind of thrill. One day after the next, he went about his life knowing he was getting away with murder.
Next time, on the final episode of Stephenville.
Don Miller: The first time I talked to Hatley, you have to understand, I already know what he is. I already know what he did. But he comes in and he tries to act calm, cool, collective, nonchalant, which to me is a big red flag anyway. If I were to call you into my office and say, “I think you killed somebody,” you would immediately—immediately—start denying it and hard denying it. That’s not what he did.