November 27, 2014

‘Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder and the Manhunt to bring the Killers to Justice’ by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway

Posted on 22. Dec, 2012 by in Nonfiction, Reviews

Cobra Killer (Magnus Books) details (and I do mean details) the murder of amateur porn impresario Bryan Kocis by self-identified rivals, Svengali Joe Kerkes and his young companion in escorting, Harlow Cuadra. The reason for this horrid crime, the near-beheading and torching of the body, was to untangle young porn star Sean Lockhart from his contract with Kocis, so he’d be free to shoot porn with Cuadra. Unbeknownst to the killers, however, Kocis and Lockhart had just arrived at an amiable agreement. Got it? Crime scenes are typically messy affairs, and true crime writing rarely ascends to the literary coverage of Uncle Truman, much less provides objective reporting on something as divisive as the gay porn industry. The authors of Cobra Killer can be commended on structuring the book in a compelling manner while informing but never judging a often maligned business. Additional kudos can be extended on how well they managed the chapters concerning the trial. Trials are the quicksand of true crime books. The preponderance, the very granular nature, of evidence as well as the cast of characters suddenly introduced, can seriously bog down a book. The same can be said for extraneous moralizing, as if every reader needed a nudge in that direction (though some, without a doubt, do), not that that’s the case here. But what about the story?

Every crime is a hideous stitch that links otherwise previously unconnected bits of community; it is here where the tellers of the tale can rise above the terrible event to show how the players came together, how that community was affected. It might be this very point that elevates reportage to literature, and it’s here that Cobra Killer loses the plot. Cobra Killer lays bare all the particulars, riveting and banal, involving the killing of Bryan Kocis. The action swings from Black Beach to Virginia, Philadelphia, New York and Las Vegas. We also get the complete story of Lockhart’s introduction to porn as well as the resulting scandal once his status as an underage performer surfaced. Even a questionnaire concerning possible prejudices that was sent to potential jurors is included in full. Still, true crime writers have to pluck their WWTCD bracelets and ponder that very question, what would Truman Capote do? Well he’d take forever to finish the book, and contemporary crime writers have to produce while the crime is still fresh in the minds of potential readers, before interest has waned or been consumed by something even more ghastly. So scratch that. But Capote would show you the town. He’d make the people breathe. One of Cuadra’s regular clients was a middle aged Filipino man who lived with his parents while working two fast food jobs. Yet he’s introduced and then hastily forgotten.  Details are meticulously recorded, but no characters sketched. Same with murder victim Kocis. Certainly he’s no angel, and humanizing him is more challenging then chronicling his death. It’s stated that Kocis saved his father from a heart attack, but the scene is never painted for the reader, a missed opportunity to show him as more than a pornographer with a penchant for twinks.

One of the authors maintained a meticulous blog throughout the trial, and since this murder is ensconced in the world of gay porn, facets of it are spread across the internet. Readers can supplement chapters with websites, images and video clips galore, highlighting the more unsavory aspects of the genre. When not giving readers Capote-esque chills or exploring deeper cultural issues, ruined lives are displayed as moral car wrecks and we get to drive by slowly, shake our heads, and then speed away.

 

Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder and the Manhunt to bring the Killers to Justice
Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway
Magnus Books
Paperback, 9781936833016, 336 pp.
June 2012

Tom Cardamone is the editor of The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, author of Lambda Literary Award-winning speculative novella Green Thumb and the erotic fantasy novel The Werewolves of Central Park. His short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Black Quill Award. In 2013 he published the novella Pacific Rimming and the anthology Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, some of which have been collected on his website: www.pumpkinteeth.net.

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4 Responses to “‘Cobra Killer: Gay Porn, Murder and the Manhunt to bring the Killers to Justice’ by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway”

  1. Steve Berman 22 December 2012 at 3:26 PM #

    A smart review. I found the book boring and had to struggle to force myself to reach yet another chapter filled with information but lacking any sense of storytelling, emotion, or catharsis…and I was obsessed with the story when it broke because of its proximity to me. I am saddened that could have been a wonderful expose of true crime and the industry was turned into plodding facts without soul.

  2. Matt Fondel 23 December 2012 at 4:00 PM #

    What never ceases to amaze me is how reviewers of this book fail to note that: ( a ) Bryan Kocis lived in Luzerne County Pennsylvania, the epicenter of the “Kids For Cash Judicial Scandal” and; ( b ) that every single Luzerne County Official associated with Harlow Cuadra’s trial (and the investigation of Bryan Kocis’ murder) is currently either in prison or has been booted out of office over The Kids For Cash Scandal.

    What you have with the book “Cobra Killer” is Bryan Kocis’ life and death completely isolated from “the culture of corruption” in which Bryan Kocis lived and Bryan Kocis’ life as if producing hardcore pornography in The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was actually legal (when the production of porn has not been decriminalized in PA).

    BTW, describing Luzerne County Pennsylvania as a “culture of corruption” was done by William Ecenberger in his book “Kids For Cash”.

    Certainly, in assessing how “legitimate” the investigation into Bryan Kocis Murder was and how “legitimate” Harlow Cuadra’s Trial was, it would help people considering buying the Book Cobra Killer to know that BOTH President Judges of The Luzerne County Pennsylvania Court System (during Cuadra’s prosection) are currently in prison on racketeering charges.

    From what I’ve read, the book Cobra Killer makes repeated references to Michael Conahan without informing the reader that Conahan is now in prison on racketeering charges and that Conahan (while judge) met regularly with a head of the NE Pennsylvania Organized Crime Family. It was Conahan’s actions that lead to Bryan Kocis not being required to register as a sex offender.

    Do you understand what I’m saying here? The Court that tried Harlow Cuadra was adjudicated by a Federal Judge to have been operating as a Racketeering Enterprise by President Judge Mark Ciavarella, with former President Judge Michael Conahan pleading guilty to the same racketeering charges that Ciavarella was convicted of. It is this “culture of corruption” that the book Cobra Killer presents as bringing Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes to “justice”.

    • Matt Fondel 23 December 2012 at 4:27 PM #

      In addition to the above, The Judge who presided over Harlow Cuadra’s trial failed to be re-elected judge when, during his campaign for re-election, a photo surfaced of the Judge with Kids for Cash Judge Michael Conahan and A CONVICTED DRUG DEALER at the infamous Florida Condo that Conahan purchased with his Kids For Cash kickback money.

      Even the DA during Cuadra’s trial was booted out of office over Kids for Cash.

      It is apparent that readers of the book Cobra Killer come away from the book with no knowledge that Kids For Cash happened in the same county where Bryan Kocis was producing hardcore bareback porn from his basement.

      • Steve Berman 24 December 2012 at 3:22 PM #

        Kids For Cash might have been an interesting footnote to the book. But whether it was a focus or not does not change the fact the book WE are talking about is dull.


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