We’re big fans of spooky season. Free candy, sexy costumes, wild parties, ghost stories. What’s not to love?
Here at New Times HQ, we got to thinking the other day: Who are some locals we could plausibly dress up as for Halloween? Who are the scariest Arizonans? Who are the public figures or criminals (or sometimes both) who freak us out? We debated the topic a bit and compiled a list. Here it is — 11 Arizonans that spook the hell out of us. Happy Halloween!
Before Jake Angeli, aka the “QAnon Shaman,” became the horned mascot of a massive far-right insurgency, he was skulking around Phoenix, evangelizing at local right-wing protests. “We’re the mainstream now,” he told the Arizona Republic in the fall of 2020, waving a sign that proclaimed, “Q Sent Me.” That became difficult to deny when, just months later, Angeli burst into the U.S. Senate chambers with a rampaging mob, ensuring that Arizona would be well-represented in this latest, most high-profile episode of right-wing extremism. And indeed, the photos of Angeli from January 6, dressed in a furred trapper hat with horns, hoisting a spear strung with an American flag, were immediately iconic, in some sick way. What better captures the bizarre horror of our current political meltdown than a guy from deep in Arizona’s fringe political circuit, preaching from the Senate dais?
At first, what happened to Angela Tramonte sounded tragic but not altogether shocking: A 31-year-old out-of-towner disappears while hiking Camelback Mountain in extreme heat and is found dead and dehydrated several hours later in a random backyard off the trail. Then more details began to trickle out. Tramonte had flown in from Boston to see Dario Dizdar, a hunky Phoenix cop she’d met on Instagram; they’d never seen each other in person before. They hadn’t brought any water to their hike, even though Dizdar is a longtime local and the temperature reached 108 degrees that day. At some point during their hike, Dizdar says Tramonte got too hot and turned around and headed back to the parking lot. Dizdar continued on to the top of the mountain. He says he never saw her again. But Dizdar has said a lot of things. At first, he told the rescue team on the mountain that day that he regularly hikes the mountain top to bottom. Later, though, he changed his story. He said it was his first time hiking the trail, and that he got lost and had to take an Uber down to the parking lot. Then it came out that Dizdar had previously been disciplined for lying to police after a 2009 bar fight in Glendale. What really happened on the mountain that day? How did Tramonte wind up dead so far off the trail? What kind of guy abandons a woman in triple-digit heat on a first date? Those are the questions Tramonte’s friends and family are asking, even as the police — Dizdar’s colleagues — say there’s no evidence of foul play. We’re waiting to see if any new information about the case surfaces — and hoping we don’t cross paths with this cop.
The Tattooed Realtor
We are not actually afraid of Justin Mercer, aka the Tattooed Realtor. We’ve watched a few videos he’s in online, and he seems like a pretty chill dude. But we must admit that we almost crashed our car the first time we encountered one of his billboards. Mercer doesn’t call himself the Tattooed Realtor because he’s got a sleeve tat or a barbed-wire design wrapped around his bicep. His body is almost completely covered in ink, including most of his face and head; imagine one of those sideshow performers with a beard of bees, except instead it’s tattoos. There is something vaguely unnerving and apocalyptic about seeing such an extreme-looking man peddling banal real estate in Phoenix. The juxtaposition spooks us, but then again, that’s his whole shtick. And it seems to be working: We keep seeing more of his billboards, and he claims to be in the top 1 percent of all realtors in Arizona. Good on ya, Mr. Mercer. We don’t suppose there’s any way you can scare Arizona home sellers into lowering their prices, is there?
In a video uploaded to Reddit in September, a grinning woman tails a mother and daughter through a Nebraska grocery store, coughing on them intentionally and ridiculing their masks. “You’re such sheep,” she says, laughing. The clip quickly went viral, racking up millions of views. The woman, dubbed the “Coughing Karen,” was eventually identified as Janene Hoskovec. She subsequently lost her job, and the world moved on. But there remains something unsettling about that video, if you go back and watch it again. As she follows the mother and daughter through the produce section, Hoskovec looks almost otherworldly, her eyes dead, a wide smile unmoving on her face. Maybe it’s Botox. Maybe it’s something more sinister. Either way, no one was surprised when it turned out that she was from Scottsdale.
You want creepy? We’ll give you creepy. Do an image search for Warren Jeffs on the internet, and try not to cringe as pictures of the so-called “prophet” of the Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints pop up. You’ll find one of Jeffs kissing a 12-year-old girl he raped (he would call it a “spiritual marriage”); you’ll find dozens of photos of young women wearing prairie-like dresses, gazing adoringly at a portrait of him. For years, Jeffs held sway over the FLDS community in the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, where he arranged marriages between underage girls and men much older than them (in some cases, decades older). Jeffs was convicted in Texas in 2011 on two counts of sexual assault against minors (the aforementioned 12-year-old and another 15-year-old he took as a plural wife) and will be eligible for parole in 2038. We have to say, the lanky, dead-eyed prophet looks much better in a prison jumpsuit than he does surrounded by vulnerable children.
At first, Kyrsten Sinema’s antics after becoming Arizona’s first Democratic U.S. Senator in decades seemed tolerable, if a little attention-seeking. She wore neon-colored wigs and sported outlandish fashion in the Senate, notably a white cape during Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial. Democrats were out of power, so there wasn’t much for her to do, anyway. That all changed with the election of President Joe Biden and a razor-thin Democratic majority in Congress. Now, Sinema has all the attention she could ever wish for. And what’s she doing with it? Braying about bipartisanship while obstructing all meaningful legislation. Cozying up to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and refusing to remove the filibuster. Giving an inane curtsy and thumbs-down gesture while voting against raising the minimum wage to $15, then flashing a “Fuck Off” charm ring while brunching in an Instagram photo. Tossing off cutesy non-answers to the press (when she’s not hiding from us). And being more interested in training for Ironman triathlons, teaching classes at Arizona State University, or interning at a California winery instead of doing her job. Along with obstructionist tag-team partner Senator Joe Manchin, Sinema has brought legislative efforts like strengthening voting rights, expanding the Supreme Court, and passing Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure package to a halt by preventing Democrats from a 50-vote majority in the Senate. At best, Sinema’s actions will hasten the GOP’s return to power in 2023. At worst, it will cause the country to slide even further into autocracy.
Most of the people on this list aren’t trying to be scary, but Alice Cooper’s made a decades-long career out of it. The legendary shock rocker may have been born in Detroit, but we definitely claim him as our own; his band got its start at a talent show at Cortez High School in 1964. Over the years, Cooper’s goth aesthetic and macabre stage setups (which at one point included an electric chair) earned him a rep as one of the scariest men in music. It’s pretty much all an act, though: Under the makeup and back home in Phoenix, we know him as the guy who founded the Solid Rock Teen Center, signed autographs for workers and volunteers at vaccination sites, and regularly participates in charity events. We must note, though, that after decades of scaring audiences around the world, Cooper pulled his most horrifying stunt ever earlier this year: He appeared in a video (a clip that included right-wing nutjobs like Paul Gosar and Mark Lamb) wishing Trump-approved Arizona gubernatorial candidate (and fellow Scary Arizonan) Kari Lake a happy birthday. Yikes to that.
After losing all four of her previous bids for seats in Congress, Wendy Rogers was finally elected to the Arizona Senate in 2020. Where to start with her accomplishments since taking office? She was a leading proponent of the conspiracy theory-fueled Arizona election “audit”; has described Robert E. Lee, the famous Confederate general, as a “great patriot”; spouted various white supremacist talking points; and called for the entire Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to be put in solitary confinement over baseless election fraud allegations. The woman represents the worst of American politics. Scariest of all? She’s a walking radicalization machine. Like zombies, her followers seem to hang on her every word.
Former Valley resident Robert Fisher presented himself as a family man, avid outdoorsman, and regular churchgoer. In truth, he was an antisocial, controlling tyrant with anger issues who was desperate to save his crumbling marriage. The warning signs were there: Fisher lashed out publicly and privately at his wife Mary and their two children. He shot a stray dog. And he reportedly fired bullets over the heads of a picnicking family while out hunting. Then, on April 9, 2001, Fisher allegedly murdered his family in cold blood. The next morning, their south Scottsdale home exploded, and firefighters found the corpses of his wife, his 12-year-old daughter Brittany, and his 10-year-old son Bobby in the wreckage. Each had their throats slit; Mary had a bullet hole in the back of her head. Police named Robert as the only suspect, determining he’d rigged a candle and severed a gas line to cause the blast and hide evidence. Fisher vanished into the Arizona wilderness. A statewide manhunt ensued; weeks later, the family’s Toyota 4Runner and dog were discovered outside of Payson. In 2002, the FBI added him to its Ten Most Wanted. Over the past 20 years, occasional sightings have been made, but none have panned out. Most believe Fisher committed suicide. The case remains one of the most heinous and brutal crimes in Valley history, a tale more haunting than any ghost story.
His scarecrow-like physical qualities are perhaps the least scary thing about Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar. Mostly it’s his fondness for white nationalists and efforts to undermine American democracy that have us wanting to run for the hills. Gosar defended the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in real-time and has denounced efforts to hold them accountable. In fact, Ali Alexander, the famous “Stop the Steal” activist, has claimed that Gosar helped him concoct the plan to bring a bunch of Trump supporters to the Capitol that day to put “maximum pressure” on Congress while lawmakers were ratifying the 2020 presidential election results. On the racism front, Gosar recently spoke at a white nationalist conference organized by Nick Fuentes, a far-right podcaster who once defended segregation and has been labeled as a “white supremacist” by federal prosecutors. Or you can just take a gander at his social media, a bizarre barrage of alt-right memes. Last time we checked in with the Congressman (he’s an actual Congressman!), Gosar was suggesting that a Trump-Biden rematch election should be held before the end of 2021. Talk about spooky.
If we had to pick the scariest person on this list, it’s probably Kari Lake. That wouldn’t have been true even just a couple of years ago, when Lake’s reputation was simply that of a longtime local news anchor with right-wing views. Sometime around the beginning of the pandemic, though, Lake completely lost the plot. First, she began promoting COVID conspiracy theories on social media. Then it became clear she’d embraced Donald Trump’s election fraud delusions. Lake resigned from FOX 10 in March and not long after announced that she’d be running for governor in 2022. A central theme of her campaign has been vilifying the media, a position that would seem to be at odds with the fact that she happily collected checks for her newscaster job for 25 years. But she’s also been consorting with QAnon crazies and said recently that she wouldn’t have certified Biden’s win in Arizona. And guess what? Lake is widely considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, and, worryingly, the Democrats who’ve so far announced their candidacy don’t have a whole lot of starpower. Kari Lake as the Governor of Arizona? Now that is some seriously scary shit.