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THE ARTIST & THE ASSASSIN: MY BFF KILLED 350+ PEOPLE
A True L.A. Story

by Justice Howard

Warning: This story has graphic content.

My best friend has murdered over 350 people.

It's funny how we get to know someone. A bond develops. An affection is exchanged and then we start to discover one another. We begin to trust and histories are revealed. At every encounter, we learn a little bit more.

I am a photographer. I am best known for my iconic images of an unconventional nature. During my 18-year career, I have photographed over 30,000 individuals and shot two million frames.

Waylon Jennings, Sonny Barger, Penn & Teller, Dave Navarro, Leon Russell, Marilyn Manson and thousands of other celebs have graced my lens. Some of these people impressed me, like Waylon. Most however, did not. Some were famous, most were just infamous.

I was invited to a Sullen Art party in Hollywood. I am part of the “Sullen Art Collective,” a movement that grew out of the tattoo culture. The guy that I invited, surprised me by bringing a guest with him.

On first inspection, this new attendee wasn’t dressed very well for a VIP event, but he did have a certain charisma that drew me in. My guess was that he was 50, but later I came to learn he was closer to 80.

He looked amazing for his age and would later come to be intimate with a few of my girlfriends who were around 24 and younger. So yah, I’d say he is kind of a fox.

His face was remarkable, full of spunk and character. But it was his swagger, his fearlessness that made the greatest impression. You could say that his cajones, his balls were bigger than any I had ever encountered. Disrespect him and you’ll find out just what I mean and where that goes. It won’t end well. Trust me.

He said his name was Fuego.

There was no time during the party for me to speak with Fuego. I was off doing my networking thing, having just launched "Revelations," a new hardcover book, photographs from the tattoo lifestyle.

After the event, my friend, Fuego and I went back to my house. We listened to Blues and just kinda sat in my bedroom and talked for hours. It's funny, because my bedroom is my sacred safe space and I don’t invite anyone in there. No drinks, no drugs, no sex; just the three of us and the Blues.

As we relaxed, I was able to talk to this new manperson. We spoke for hours about all kinds of things, life, death, sex, murder, spirits, aliens, and what makes up the universe.

Actually, we did speak quite a bit about murder.

His wisdom and worldliness makes him a great conversationalist. We bonded very quickly, forming an immediate trust. This is rare for me, as I generally hate everyone and don’t trust anybody.

I sensed that we formed some kind of ‘special connection.’ It was stronger than a physical plane, and rolled harder and faster to a spiritual realm. There are three planes: the sexual, the physical and the spiritual. Everyone can visit the first two planes, which are easy, but not everyone can touch the third.

Fuego started telling me all kinds of things, about his life and his exploits.

My disbelief grew. All of his tales were so unbelievable. I was sure that this guy was a pathological liar. None of this incredulousness could be true.

His brother-in-law was the famed drug lord Pablo Escobar. Fuego worked for Escobar and ran his operations for over ten years. He was the Candyman, selling product to all of the top Hollywood stars and celebs. He killed his first human being at age 14.

I was convinced he was a pathological liar, all male, macho bullshit, just trying to impress me. Fuego said he was a “pest control” professional for the Mafia, annihilating over 350 people during a 30 year career of death and dismemberment. He said his nickname came to be “Fuego” which means ‘fire’ in Spanish; he would light people on fire.

For the next three hours, he told me stories; the next one seemed more incredulous than the last. All of this information left me suspect at best, because I live in Hollywood, where everyone is generally full of shit. Everybody is usually just bullshitting, trying to impress you about who they are and who they are not. Fuego had me radically perplexed. My inner voice whispered that he wasn’t lying.

After some consideration, I decided to do some checking on my own. In my line of study, I know people. I called some East Coast guys who were connected to the Mob. I asked them “What’s up with this Fuego guy that I just met?”

To my surprise, the East Coast guys said, “No, he’s the real deal. He works for us. All of what he tells you is true. And one last thing, whatever you do, don’t piss him off!”

I had to reconfigure and reprocess all of this information. To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement.

I started to look at my new friend in a different light. I realized that there’s a story here that needs to be told.

Never before in the history of True Crime has an “independent contractor” come forth to spill the details: the whys, the hows and the how-tos of his profession. John Gilmore, crime writer of 25 books and author of “Severed: The True Story of The Black Dahlia Murder” was my best friend until his recent death. Gilmore wrote about some very dangerous stuff. He taught me to embrace the dark, to never be afraid of it.

I told Fuego I’d write the book if he told his story. My stipulation was that he had to put it all on the table: I wanted an emotional and visceral rollercoaster ride from him.

Fuego set forth telling his story. We basically just sat in his BMW and he reminisced. He is a remarkable storyteller. I made notes and caught the details on audiotapes. We never smoked or drank coffee. We just worked to get ‘er done.

The childhood memories were the hardest for him. That was when he got emotional. It is a miracle that the guy is not running circles in a padded cell. What he had to go through as a child was horrific.

The first chapter is entitled “Monster” and it is about his Father who was the sickest, most hideous motherfucker to ever head a family. The psychopathy of murder stems from rage, rage stems from abuse, and abuse comes from childhood. It was very easy for me to understand, and almost forgive.

There was so much information that I was overwhelmed with the job of selecting what should go in the book. After spending three months in conversation and note taking, it would take me three more months to narrow it down. The book was finished four months later.

The book is not a kind and gracious journey. Most people can't get through the first twenty pages. My friend Adam Rifkin, the film director, gave me a quote for the book cover: "Warning, read it, but do so at a time when you are of strong mind. This book is unembellished and tells the story of a life filled with violence and remorse."

But Fuego, bless his little black heart, impressed me. With his 151 IQ, his articulate nature, knowledge of six languages, strong heart and minacious, sweet smile, he is much more than a killer. For someone who is so complex, with a life so chaotic, his life is not easy to describe in words. An epic character this big and this complicated is not easy to define. This book was a difficult undertaking; it has taught me about redemption and forgiveness.

This is not an ‘easy’ story. That’s fine with me. I don’t want easy. I wanted deep, rat gnawing, gut wrenching, bone crunching and visceral. "Diary of a Hitman" is definitely that.

My best friend has murdered over 350 people, and I'm OK with it.

________________________________________

Diary Of A Hitman will arrive online and in bookstores in February 2020. The artwork of Justice Howard can be found at www.JusticeHoward.com

 

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