It started in 2006 when Bambi Madden went out cigarettes and was never seen again. She lived in a poor and rundown section of Binghamton where drugs and alcohol ran deep. I used to deliver pizzas to Bambi’s apartment on Winding Way, but I didn’t know anything about her until her disappearance made the news. Binghamton is a small town, and a disappearance like Bambi’s is sure to make headlines. She lived a hard life though, and attention faded as people came to assume her dangerous lifestyle had put her in a dangerous position.
The graffiti started two years later. The news ran a story about a message in black spray paint scrawled across the front of Bambi’s apartment. I’d seen similar pieces elsewhere around town. The messages suggested a cover-up and provided phone numbers for lawyers and law enforcement personnel that needed to know what was happening. A narrative began to appear. Bambi had been murdered while in police custody. The tags came with crude illustrations, and a caricature of a round-faced man with a pencil moustache and large vampire teeth.
I had recently began a career as a come photographer, and had taken up photographing local street art and graffiti. I would spend my afternoons poking my head into the abandoned factories, warehouses, and facilities that dominated the once-called ‘Valley of Opportunity.’ I was finding messages from the tagger nearly everywhere I went. Bambi had worked at the same pizzeria I had been at, so my attention was hooked with the mystery that was rising up around her.
The story deepened. Bambi had been murdered by none other than Binghamton’s Chief of Police. He was also guilty of murdering Terry Dittman, a prostitute whose killing had gone unsolved for more than ten years. The Chief killed these women to cover up his affairs with them. He had something to do with the murder of Michelle Harris, who disappeared the morning of September 11, 2001. At 3:30am, April 1st, 2008 Bethanie Dougherty disappeared from her driveway in her pajamas. According to the graffiti, this was the BPD Chief as well. The more I searched, the more I came to believe the story was the fantasy of a crazy person.
I was writing a story about the Bambi messages for the legendary National Police Gazette when I was contacted by members of Bambi’s family. They wanted to tell me about a message they had received from the tagger. It was on paper wrapped around a brick that had been thrown through the window of Bambi’s apartment. They told me the handwriting matched the spray paint, but they did not have the letter with them. I was assured that someone had a picture of it somewhere. I never saw this picture.
Seven years had passed, and the Binghamton police ignored every attempt I made to contact them on the story. The disappearance of Bambi Madden had clearly become a point of embarrassment for the BPD. Her family pushed them to follow many leads that went nowhere, going as far as to dig up the basement of a coke bar where Bambi was known to turn tricks. No trace of Bambi was ever found, and many people around town were looking with suspicion at the Chief. Accusations were tossed about and retracted between Bambi’s former lovers. Much time was wasted, and no more was being spent, especially if the notorious graffiti was involved.
I’ve named that chief elsewhere, but I won’t name him now. His tenure has been scandal-ridden to say the least. He was briefly removed from office for sexual harassment of a subordinate, but has been restored. I wrote a story called “The Vampire of Doom City” that included many photos of the graffiti, but at no point have I ever believed the story to be true. Ten years of investigation into this story has done nothing but confirm that the murder of Bambi Madden was not committed by Binghamton’s Chief of Police. The story written in the graffiti is madness. One 15-foot magnum opus literally portrays the Chief turning into Godzilla and and funneling money to Osama bin Laden.
The tagger was a guy named Mike that used to drink with Bambi’s father. He was caught with little fanfare. He had laid the roots of a legend though, and many people believed that Bambi’s murder had been part of a cover-up. I’d been following his graffiti a long time. He’d been at this several years before Bambi disappeared, writing about the crimes of the government. Before the fat vampire, his signature was ‘Geraldo Rivera.’ Every message included a phone number. That persisted through to the last message I ever found, which implicated the Chief in Jiverly Woong’s mass shooting in 2009.
Bambi and I had worked at the same pizzeria, but not at the same time. I’m told I met her as a customer, but I only remember those deliveries because Winding Way was not a place you wanted to go in Binghamton. I did work there with Kiesha Roman. Kiesha was a similar story to Bambi. Poverty, drugs, prostitution. Still, she was always laughing, always fun to be around as long as I knew her. Kiesha disappeared in the Spring of 2009. Her skeleton was found dumped in the woods. The puzzle was coming together.
The owner of the pizzeria had served six years on a ten year sentence for driving a college student out to the woods and raping her. He was on parole while I worked for him, and not allowed to spend time alone with women. This didn’t stop him though, and he was frequently in the company of women whose drug dependencies would loosen their morals significantly. Women like Bambi. Women like Keisha.
Keisha’s brother told me that in the days before she disappeared, Keisha had been driving a van. No one knew where she got it, and it was gone at the same time. After selling the pizzeria, the owner had opened a used car lot on the outskirts of town.
He was forced to serve the last three months of his sentence in prison after a female employee stole his car and fled to Long Island in terror. She was considered unreliable because of her own questionable history, and no additional charges were accepted. He was a violent man that would often take out his frustrations by punching himself in the head, often in front of customers. I slowly came to realize that all this time the real answer to the mystery might have been in front of me the whole time.
Bambi Madden is still considered a missing person. Keisha Roman’s murder remains unsolved. To the best of my knowledge, the convicted violent rapist that was connected to both women has not been investigated. The legend of the Vampire of Doom City continues.