BEST DEATH 2007 | Robert Comer | People & Places | Phoenix
So, you're arguably the most heinous murderer and most feared prisoner ever to hit the state of Arizona, the guy who made Charlie Manson look as benign as, say, Mayor Phil Gordon. Along your two-decade-long road to possible execution by lethal injection, you decided in the privacy of your own home (a prison cell in Special Management Unit II, that hellish Supermax facility designed for the worst of the worst) that you wanted to call it quits, to end your appeals, and expedite your own demise at the hands of the state. And let's say that you turned out to be an articulate, straight-shooting SOB, albeit a truly cold-blooded killer and rapist.

In the end, once you got past the bleatings of both your court-appointed habeas attorneys and their counterparts — the elected talking-head prosecutors, who would as much pass up a publicity opportunity as Barry Bonds would pass up a fresh load of 'roids — you faced death with an unexpected dignity and jailhouse élan. And your last two words on this Earth, "Go Raiders," are almost as good as the Missouri killer whose last words in 2000 were, "Someone's got to kill my trial attorney." Really.

Driving through downtown Apache Junction feels like you've somehow tripped your way through some ungodly warp of the space-time continuum, ending up in some small backwater Western town from 50 years ago. Take the Superstition Freeway (U.S. Highway 60) and head 30 miles east until you've reached the ass-end of the Valley, and proceed north on Idaho Road until you hit the Apache Trail, the city's main drag. It's populated with Western apparel outlets, country bars, dirt parking lots, antique boutiques, saddle shops, and kitschy restaurants, most of which occupy buildings boasting 1880s architecture and decor. Although the city fathers are currently attempting to lure more modern and upscale commercial development into the area with tax breaks and incentives, the burg is currently like Phoenix's hayseed cousin, or our own little version of Mayberry R.F.D. We've even heard a rumor that ol' Andy Taylor might be coming out of retirement to run for sheriff, next election.
Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for both birds and word games, so our fair-feathered city provided him with the perfect location for the opening of his now famous Psycho. Unlike the mythical bird for which Phoenix is named, however, Psycho heroine Marion Crane didn't exactly rise from the ashes reborn, which is why local developer/gadfly Michael Levine thinks Crane pretty much personifies Phoenix's historic warehouse district — or what's left of it. In a deft reworking of the film's opening credits, posted on YouTube, Levine gives us "Phil Gordon's Phoenix," starring a host of city functionaries "and Janet Leigh, as the warehouse district." With "screenplay by the City of Phoenix Planning Commission, based on the novel by Downtown Urban Forum Project," we don't need to see more than the credits to know where this story is going. (Levine himself, after buying and restoring such downtown jewels as the Southwest Cotton Company Building and the Bentley Projects space, has finally given up and is moving shop back to his hometown of Brooklyn.) From the Psycho opening — including that slow pan over downtown Phoenix, in which Levine has highlighted landmark buildings — we go straight to the famous shower scene. Watching it is doubly chilling when you think about everything that's really going down the drain.

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