‘Believe me Jim, I am a real psychopath’

Full Force Frank was one angry psychopath..

The Brooklyn man sent a three-page letter complaining about my Obscure Publications #6 (June, 1990) review of his “Singin’ Dose Anti-Psychotic Blues,” a murder-zine that — in Frank’s words — “salutes and pays homage to violence of all sorts …[and] attempts to acknowledge and glorify the courage of those rare people that turn their thoughts and dreams and fantasies into reality, mass and serial killers.” (The Xeroxed publication was also about Frank’s obsession with women’s feet; you could get his zine for free if you sent him a pair of heels.)

Frank wrote to me, using red ink:

I’m sitting here reading over issue #6 of Obscure for about the tenth time, and lemme tell you, I am one pissed-off psychopath!!! …

Basically, I have no problem with your entire review except for the one sentence of “Frank’s essay is chilling and legitimate cause for an investigation into his background.”

Where do you get off suggesting that my background should be investigated?? Fuck you, Jim! …Where the hell do you get off prompting the pigs to look into my personal, private life??? Effective immediately, you are being dropped from my mailing list and will never receive any future zines from me. And please do not send me any future issues of Obscure either.”

Where do I get off? Well, consider this excerpt from one of Frank’s lengthy screeds:

I do in fact live, breath, dream violent thoughts and fantasies. The only reason I don’t carry them out is that I make a conscious choice that I wish to keep my freedom, not to be jailed and abused by the criminal justice system. That is the only thing holding me back. If this barrier was removed, my Browning Hi-Power, sitting on my desk as I type this, would get a real workout. How many people would I kill? I can easily name fifty right off the top of my head.

Frank told me that “I have no intention of threatening you in writing,” but added: “Believe me Jim, I am a real psychopath. I do not act. If people screw me over and think they can get away with it, they are wrong. I never forget and I never forgive. …Rest assured, making enemies is one thing, but making an enemy of a person who is a genuine psychopath is a house of another color and is a GRAVE mistake.”

He signed off — as he always did — “SINcerely and PSYCHOpathically yours, FRANK.”

Frank was just one of the many unusual characters I’d dealt with during my years as publisher of Obscure Publications and Video, an eight-page fanzine I launched in 1989. It was produced on a Macintosh SE, using Quark XPress, printed at Kinko’s, and published a few times a year. (At the time, I was also a city magazine senior editor and an adjunct University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism instructor.) I was introduced to the fanzine world by former Milwaukee Magazine colleague Simon Dumenco, now Ad Age’s “The Media Guy” columnist. He sent me a copy a Factsheet Five, an all-text catalog of fanzines with thousands of titles and ordering information. What I didn’t see in this directory was a fanzine that profiled zines and their publishers; I got to work and started Obscure. The first issue was just a single sheet that I traded for other zines. Obscure got bigger over time — well, 8 pages — and became known in this publishing subculture as the place (other than Factsheet Five) to get reviewed and profiled.

I received and reviewed zines about Pez collections, devil-worshipping, dishwashing, HIV/AIDS, living in the East Village, and many other topics. I got to know publishers from around the world. I talked on the phone regularly with zine editor Seth Friedman, who mysteriously stopped calling some time in the late 1990s. In 2003, I went to see the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” and learned that Seth was in that family. (His brother and father were convicted of sexual abuse of children; Seth was the one family member who declined to cooperate with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki.)

Here’s what I wrote about fanzines and their publishers in the Winter 2000 Poynter Report:

In Obscure, I profiled the most interesting of these amateur journalists and gave their works wider exposure. For a decade, I traded publications with thousands of other micro-press publishers, taught classes on fanzine history and production [at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design], and spoke at conferences about the role of zines in the publishing world.

I also introduced many mainstream journalists to the fanzine world through an American Journalism Review article published in April 1992. Suddenly zines were being written up everywhere. And it seemed like everyone was getting into zine-publishing. Factsheet Five was fatter than ever. Its exhausted publisher, Mike Gunderloy — he had a policy of reviewing every zine he received — decided he’d had enough, quit the job, and donated his entire fanzine collection to the New York State Library.

Meanwhile, there was no word from Frank. He stopped publishing after I reviewed his “Singin’ Dose Anti-Psychotic Blues,” but zine editors — myself included — continued to write about him.

I helped Frank become what The New Republic called “a fringe celebrity.” In a February 21, 1994 article titled “Art to Die For,” the magazine said that Frank was “interesting” because “he claims to be serious about action, and he makes thick-hided observers shiver in their boots.” Nick Bougas, identified by TNR as a “California crime buff,” told writer Alex Heard that “I think Frank was very, very very serious” about his threat to go on a killing spree. Heard wrote:

In a colloquy of Frank buffs published in Obscure, a zine that tracks other zines, Scott Williams, editor of Caffeine Addiction, moaned, “I hope he’s just in hiding. I hope I hear about him on the news in the next six months — hear that he’s become the most infamous mass murderer in the history of the world.”

Williams was just one of several people I asked to speculate on Frank’s whereabouts. My “Where’s Frank” cover story in Obscure #17 was published three years after the psychopath went silent, and included all sorts of intriguing theories. “It seems perfectly possible that a government agency could fabricate a character named Frank to function as an informant,” wrote photographer and fanzine publisher Julie Lindemann. She continued:

A stroke of genius! Frank’s publications could be deliberately designed to elicit a response from the target audience of “psychopaths.” Readers would then describe their morbid fantasies in detail, brag about their past psychopathic deeds and venerate the anti-social behavior shunned by the powers-that-be in their letters to Frank. Voila! The FBI has another document to add to their file or the beginning of a life-long dossier signed, sealed and delivered.

“Someone could have killed him, you know — cops maybe,” said Mike Diana, who was convicted in Florida in 1994 for drawing “violent” cartoons. “What I hope happened is that he’s out somewhere doing heavy training” for his massacre.

I presented my own theory, one I hoped would draw Frank out. “I think he was a fraud,” I wrote. “I don’t believe he was a true psycho or that he had plans to commit a massacre. I think he’s the kind of guy who would sit in libraries for hours on end and study the bios of killers and read books on criminal investigations.”

My plan worked. A manila envelope from Brooklyn, with my name and address typed in all caps — as usual, there was no return address — appeared in my Milwaukee PO box a few weeks after issue #17 was mailed out to subscribers. Frank wrote on July 2, 1993:

Why don’t ya give the “Where’s Frank” business a rest? You really piss me off with your whole style of publishing. Whenever a zine comes along pushing the boundaries of acceptability, there you are, good ole’ Jim, chronicaling [sic] the downfall of yet another psycho publication! Just what the hell is your motivation??

Are you a defender of the First Amendment, indignantly protesting Big Brother’s censorship?? Your articles certainly don’t indicate any such indignation! Are you a coward who is actually obsessed and revels in gore and extreme psychosis, yet are afraid to publicly applaud and salute the zines that secretly delight you?? Are you a right winger or an agent of law enforcement, trying to discourage and eliminate extreme publications by making it appear that every psycho zine is forced out of the scene by FBI/pig investigations??

Look, we know that I’m a genius, but mindreader I’m not quite. All I know is that your Obscure rubs me in an unpleasant manner.

That was the last I heard from Frank.

I mention Frank and other fanzine publishers in my contribution to finite + flammable: The Definitive Zines about Zines, which is being published this week by Jessanne Collins and Joe Pompeo. The launch party is Wednesday at ABC No Rio in New York.



  1. Heidi said:

    I saw the article on MediaShift where you said that this post not having any comments made you reconsider what you’d be posting on the blog. Let me tell you that, even though it has no comments, it was fascinating. I read every single word, ever document and watched the video. If you can track “time on site,” I bet this post has a very high number associated with it!

  2. Jim Romenesko said:

    Heidi — I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t hear from Frank about this. (Nor did I hear from Irena Briganti about my Fox News PR Machine story.)