Horrific: D.C. Sniper Boasts of Post-Shooting Sex ‘High’ With Accomplice in New Doc
The new Vice docuseries ‘I, Sniper’ provides the definitive account of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo’s 2002 reign of terror that left 10 people dead.
fexpIn I, Sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo speaks at length about the 2002 reign of terror he and partner John Allen Muhammad carried out in the Washington, D.C., area, resulting in ten deaths. Yet despite using audio clips from his phone calls as narration, Vice’s eight-part docuseries (premiering May 10) is most notable for putting its prime emphasis on the pair’s innocent victims, and the countless friends, family members and loved ones left to cope with unthinkable tragedy. To its admirable credit, it’s a true-crime affair that seeks to understand its “monsters” while simultaneously recognizing—and highlighting—the fact that such comprehension doesn’t necessitate empathy, especially when the atrocities in question are as inexcusably heinous as these.
Spearheaded by director Ursula Macfarlane, I, Sniper’s calling card is those phone conversations with Malvo from Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison, where he’s currently serving multiple life sentences. In them, the killer recounts, in exacting and chilling detail, both the sniper attacks he perpetrated as a 17-year-old, and the troubled upbringing in Jamaica that led him into the welcoming arms of Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran with a surplus of rage and a desire to unleash it on his homeland. Abandoned by his dad, abused by his mom, and eventually left to fend for himself, Malvo found in Muhammad a father figure who promised to love him as he did his own biological offspring. From the outset, though, theirs was a bond built on exploitation, with Muhammad becoming not only Malvo’s surrogate parent, but also his lover—as well as his mentor, pouring all of his long-simmering hate and resentment into the impressionable, desperate-for-acceptance teen.
Muhammad’s gripes were many—he despised the military, white people, and just about every American institutional structure. However, he reserved his greatest enmity for second ex-wife Mildred, who dared to take back her kids after Muhammad had kidnapped them. The loss of his (abducted) brood seems to have been the proverbial match that lit Muhammad’s homicidal spark, and he soon began molding Malvo into his instrument of destruction. Friends and relatives suspected that something was up with their relationship, but no one foresaw what was to come: the cold-blooded murder of Keenya Cook, the niece of Mildred’s friend in Tacoma, Washington, followed by violent robberies, shootings and slayings in Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. All of those initial acts were merely a test run for Malvo and Muhammad’s grand scheme in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of American power, and thus Muhammad’s venue of choice to strike fear into the heart of the republic by proving that everyone was vulnerable—even children.
What transpired was a 22-day nightmare in which 13 individuals (white and Black, young and old, well-off and working-class) were shot, 10 of them fatally, in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Because Malvo and Muhammad’s intention was to terrorize in increasingly escalating fashion, each victim was chosen at random at gas stations, on street corners, and in parking lots that afforded the killers ideal vantage points and easy escape routes. They committed these crimes in a customized 1990 blue Chevy Caprice, with Malvo lying in the trunk and firing through the rear keyhole. It was a stealthy plot, and the two benefited from the fact that an early eyewitness said they’d seen a white box truck near the scene—thereby sending police, for the better part of the next three weeks, on a wild goose chase for the wrong vehicle. With no other ballistics-related leads, law enforcement was stymied, which proved to Malvo that Muhammad was right: no one could stop them from exacting their revenge.
The question, of course, is revenge against what? I, Sniper connects the dots of Malvo and Muhammad’s troubled pasts and despicable 2002 presents, but no convincing argument is made that Muhammad—the mastermind behind this madness—had suffered losses that weren’t of his own making. Be it his unhinged military tenure, his marital craziness, or his transformation of Malvo into an assassin, Muhammad comes across as a man righteously angry over things that were his own fault. As for Malvo, his cold, clinical recitation of his murderous conduct (and claims of remorse) neuters any sorrow one might feel for his adolescent travails. His present-day compunction is far too little, too late, just as the case he makes for his own victimhood vis-à-vis Muhammad sounds like an accurate and yet insufficient explanation. He knew that gunning down men, women and children was dreadfully wrong, and yet in order to maintain Muhammad’s affection, he actively, and enthusiastically, chose to do it—and even got a thrilling kick from it, as he explains that post-shooting sex with Muhammad was exceptionally exciting and delivered a “high.”
Malvo and Muhammad’s rampage of “retribution and punishment” was unforgivable; as Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose says, “There’s just no excuse for their behavior. None whatsoever.” To hammer home that point, I, Sniper consistently juxtaposes Malvo’s recollections with prolonged, heartrending interviews with the wives, brothers, aunts and friends of the duo’s victims, as well as some of those who survived their encounters. Those accounts turn out to be vital, providing an up-close-and-personal view of the anguish and trauma that Malvo and Muhammad brought about, and the lingering scars left by this ordeal. They’re the human face of this awful tale, stricken with grief, regret, guilt and fury over senseless crimes that robbed them of loved ones who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Comprised of news reports, crime scene footage, 911 calls, Malvo-penned illustrations, maps and chats with patrolmen, detectives, reporters and doctors, I, Sniper is comprehensive enough to earn the description “definitive.” Yet more than its insight into the mind of its young subject—and, by extension, Muhammad, who was executed in 2009 by lethal injection—what separates it from much of the true-crime pack is its dogged refusal to forget the real, incalculable horror at the center of its story. Malvo is frequently heard but never seen, while the countenances of his and Muhammad’s victims (and those close to them) remain front-and-center throughout. That directorial decision is critical and commendable, allowing the series to pay fitting tribute to the individuals who deserve to be remembered, while keeping its central villain largely faceless, in the dark and out of sight, where he chose to live and kill with his murderous mentor, and where he’ll now remain for the remainder of his days.