Death Sentences

A gruesome triple murder puts a Boulder publisher and its how-to-kill book in the crosshairs.

Months before he and Horn were introduced, Perry had ordered and received two books from Paladin Press, Hit Man and How to Make a Disposable Silencer, Vol. 2. He paid for the manuals with a personal check. It bounced.

Books on subjects related to the professional hit man are hard to find. But there are a few publishers out there who have the backbone to provide those of us who take life seriously with the necessary educational materials. Paladin Press advertises in almost every issue of Soldier of Fortune, and other publishers also offer relevant reading material, available by mail order.

--Excerpt from Hit Man

Panther Publications was founded in the early 1960s by Robert K. Brown, a former Green Beret. Brown believed--and time would prove him right--that there were plenty of armchair soldiers in the world who represented a ready market for military manuals and action/adventure books.

In 1970 Brown took on as his partner Peder Lund, another Special Forces veteran and self-proclaimed "adventurer." The men tossed aside the name Panther (to avoid inadvertent identification with the Black Panther movement, according to a Paladin promotional insert) and rechristened their venture "Paladin Press" after the twelve knights who served Charlemagne.

The pair specialized in reprinting military manuals and publishing books that, as Brown brags in a three-page biography distributed by Soldier of Fortune, "outraged liberals." But by 1974, political provocation was not enough to satisfy Brown's appetite for risk-taking. He wanted to be where the action was, and he dreamed of starting a magazine featuring reports on mercenaries and revolutions--what he called "hairy-chested journalism."

Lund wasn't interested, and he bought out his partner's share in Paladin. The following year, Brown took the money and established Soldier of Fortune magazine, which as recently as 1992 claimed a circulation of 90,000.

Paladin's success was equally impressive. According to a self-congratulatory article in the Twentieth Anniversary catalogue Paladin published in 1990, "From the late 1970s on, Paladin's titles and sales doubled almost yearly, and today the company has established itself as the unquestioned leader in the 'action' book market, with a list of more than 350 titles, generating sales of hundreds of thousands of books and making Paladin a multi-million dollar enterprise."

Lund accomplished that by expanding beyond military subjects to "topics he felt were right for the times." And what times they proved to be.

For a small price (most of the books in Paladin's catalogue range from $10 to $30), readers can own a copy of such offerings as The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle; 21 Techniques of Silent Killing; Be Your Own Undertaker: How to Dispose of a Dead Body; 101 Sucker Punches; Head Butts, Eye Gouging and Hair Pulling: A Scientific Approach to Dirty Fighting; The Ancient Art of Strangulation; Fun, Games and Big Bangs: The Home and Recreational Use of High Explosives; and Kill Without Joy: The Complete How-to-Kill Book.

Paladin's do-it-yourself manuals teach readers how to convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, how to pick locks and circumvent security alarms, how to destroy bridges, how to convert model rockets into explosive missiles, and how and where to sell bodily organs to the highest bidder. Customers can learn how to make grenade launchers, bazookas, flamethrowers, silencers, claymore mines, 9mm submachine guns, nitroglycerin and plastic explosives.

Lund declined to speak with Westword about either the lawsuit or his company's publications. But he has conceded in the past--without apology--that Paladin peddles "forbidden fruit."

"Many of the books dealt with--but did not advocate using--potentially illegal activities or devices," reads the Twentieth Anniversary catalogue. "These generated a lot of controversy--and sales. Even die-hard advocates of free speech found themselves second-guessing their opposition to censorship when it applied to books like the How to Kill series by John Minnery or the bomb books by various authors." (At least two Paladin titles, Kill Without Joy and How to Kill, have been banned in Canada.)

Paladin first published Hit Man in 1983 and has since sold about 15,000 copies, says Tom Kelley, a Denver First Amendment lawyer who is representing Paladin in the Horn suit. The book was written under the pseudonym Rex Feral, which, loosely translated, means "king of the animals" or "king of the wild."

According to the author's biography on the book jacket, "Feral is a hit man. Some consider him a criminal. Others think him a hero. In truth, he is a lethal weapon aimed at the enemy of the one who pays him. He is the last resource in these times when laws are so twisted that justice goes unserved. He is a man who controls his destiny through his private code of ethics, who feels no twinge of guilt at doing his job. He is a professional killer."

In truth, all of that is hogwash.
Rex Feral is actually a woman, contends Kelley. And she's not a contract killer. Nor, says Kelley, whose other clients include the Denver Post, is the book intended to be taken seriously. "Most people might call this an outlaw fantasy," he says.

But the book doesn't exactly go out of its way to drive home that distinction. "A woman recently asked how I could, in good conscience, write an instruction book on murder," "Feral" muses in the preface. "'How can you live with yourself if someone uses what you write to go out and take a human life?' she whined.

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