Kenneth Thompson couldn't help but hear the taunts when he walked down Buckeye Road, past the windowless social clubs with signs that read "No One Under 21 Allowed," past the vacant lots where men gathered beneath the Arizona ash trees and warmed their hands over fires in barrels.

He heard the men gossiping about the horrible thing that happened to him. They narrowed their eyes when they looked at him, and he could hear them whispering that he had been raped several years earlier, after a drinking spree.

And when he sat on the porch of his mother's house on South 11th Avenue, where he'd lived all his life, he felt the scorn of people he'd known from his boyhood--family friends, former schoolmates, neighbors he'd met up with in prison. They called him a coward, said he wasn't man enough to defend his own manhood.

On April 20, 44-year-old Kenneth Thompson couldn't take it anymore. He remembers walking up to the home of Lee Russell, the man he claims had raped him, and saying: "I'm going to take from you in the daytime what you stole away from me when I was unconscious. I am going to cut your nuts off."

He bashed the old man's head with a hammer. He doesn't remember how many times.

Then Kenneth Thompson tried to cut off Russell's testicles with his mother's scissors. The scissors broke. Thompson remembers finishing the work with his hands.

He recalls stashing his bloody clothes and Russell's testicle in the stove of an abandoned house just across the street from his mother's house.

And then, finally, he was a man at peace. He had defended his manhood. The taunting would stop now.

EVEN IN HIS light blue jailhouse fatigues, Kenneth Thompson doesn't look as if he's just been charged with attempted murder. He has intelligent eyes and a soft, gentle voice. He is eager to tell his story. He thinks it's important that people know the truth.

Thompson grew up in South Phoenix, after his family moved to the Valley from Oklahoma to pick cotton. MD120 Col 1, Depth P54.10 I9.14 Thompson was the second youngest of eight children. His father, a barber, left the family when Kenneth was a little boy.

He dropped out of high school because "no one I knew ever profited from an education." He went to jail when he was eighteen for snatching purses. While in jail, Thompson and two cellmates killed a man. They served time for manslaughter.

Once he was released, Thompson lived with his mother. He got hooked on heroin, and began dealing. He was arrested for selling heroin and was sent to prison again. By the time he'd finished the second term in the mid-1980s, he'd spent more than fifteen years behind bars. He does not consider the attack on Russell a crime. "What I did was right," he says.

HE'D ALWAYS KNOWN Lee Russell. They lived in the same area and Russell, although nearly twenty years older than Thompson, was often at the house because he was a friend of Thompson's older brother.

But it wasn't until a few years ago that the two struck up a friendship. "I counted this man as my best friend," says Thompson. The two, as Thompson tells it, would go to clubs together. And when Russell was "sick" and needed heroin, Thompson would provide it.

Then one night about four years ago, Thompson says he met Russell at an after-hours club near Buckeye Road. Thompson was drinking Seagram's.

He asked Russell for a ride home. That's all he remembers. He figures he must have passed out.

The next day, he woke up in an abandoned trailer at 13th Avenue and Tonto. His pants were down. Later, he says, Russell put the word out on the streets that he had taken sexual advantage of him. "This was a very big deal in the neighborhood," says Thompson.

"I asked Russell about it, and he said, `It's not true, I'm your friend,'" Thompson says. But the talk didn't die down. So about a year and a half ago Thompson says he asked Russell to go with him to the bars and empty lots and tell people the story about the rape wasn't true. "We got halfway there and got into a fight. I beat him up. I found Russell had a knife," says Thompson. He says he would have castrated Russell then. But "a guy across the street had a rifle and Col 3, Depth P54.10 I9.14 demand they stop talking about him.

"He states that frequently throughout his life he would hear people calling him `crazy' or `queer.' Sometimes he would be walking with friends and he would hear this namecalling. He would ask his friends whether they heard it, and invariably they would tell him that they had not heard anything."

Another court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Rubinow, noted Thompson suffered from "delusions of persecution" and "auditory hallucinations." Dr. Rubinow also recommended long- term hospitalization.

So a judge sent Thompson to Arizona State Hospital. But he only stayed a few weeks because state doctors insisted he was faking insanity to beat the murder rap. "He is attempting to appear ill but does not appear psychotic in any way," wrote one state psychiatrist. "He thought he heard a voice a week after his admission that was saying disparaging things about him," the doctor said in Thompson's release report, "but then he thought it was his own voice he had heard, condemning himself.

"He states that when he came to the hospital he was angry and he thinks it was because someone in court inferred he was crazy and people at court were picking on him."

Thompson was released from the hospital, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a plea-bargain arrangement. He served just under five years in Florence. The doctors' letters and warnings were copied onto microfilm and forgotten. They were not mentioned again in Thompson's extensive criminal files.

At the time of his arrest for the assault on Russell, Kenneth Thompson was wanted on three outstanding warrants for aggravated assault.

FROM HIS BED at St. Joseph's Hospital, sixty-year-old Lee Russell watches the Cubs-Reds game. He has just downed two RC Colas and a candy bar. "Glad to be alive," he says.

After the hammer attack, Russell's head was shaved by emergency-room doctors who stitched up the eight gashes caused by the hammer. His face is still bruised, and there are hammer gashes over his brow and beneath his left eye. "I woke up at the hospital," says Russell, "and the doctor told me I'd lost one testicle. I thought he said intestine, and that the maniac had hit me in the Col 2, Depth P54.02 I9.03 HER REAL NAME is Elvira, but everyone in the neighborhood knows her as "Miss Jessie." She is Kenneth Thompson's mother. She's almost 82, but she's still raising children. There are three little toddlers living with her now, two children who were rejected by their mother and then, of course, the four-year-old boy--the son of Kenneth Thompson. Miss Jessie sits on the couch near her dog Kip, who is eighteen and was given to her by a "first cousin of the Jackson Five." On the TV, a minister is talking about how he cured a child with the Lord's help. Miss Jessie is deeply religious.

"I never smoked or drank or did anything bad," she says, explaining her longevity and good health. Some of her children have followed that example. Others haven't. But of all the children, she says, Kenneth is the only one who is "crazy." It seemed to start when he was about eleven or twelve and began fighting with other children. At first she thought he was just being "mannish." Then, after numerous violent outbursts, she realized he was mentally ill. "One day he came up to me and told me, `You old bitch, you ought to be dead,'" she says. "I didn't say a word."

"Does what he did to that poor old man seem normal?" she asks a visitor. "And does it make sense? How could that old man rape Kenneth, who's twice his size? "And then he came home with my scissors broke half in two and full of blood. Is that normal?"

Kenneth Thompson's little child comes into the room. He is missing a shoe and is crying angrily. "Now what did you do with your shoe?" Miss Jessie asks him.

But her thoughts drift back to her son Kenneth. "That boy needs help," she says. "If they let him out, no telling what he might do."

"I'm going to take from you in the daytime what you stole away from me when I was unconscious."

He does not consider the attack on Russell a crime. "What I did was right," he says.

Since he attacked Russell, he says, his self-respect has returned. When he returned to his mother's house, he found her hammer and the scissors with bright orange handles.

"He is attempting to appear ill but does not appear psychotic in any way," wrote one state psychiatrist.

"Nobody has ever raped that man, it's all in his head. He's crazy."

"That boy needs help," she says. "If they let him out, no telling what he might do.

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Terry Greene