'Gay' porn, drugs and date rape
California, What's the Matter withGeneral
© Jack Cashill
By 1996--the year in which 53 year-old Juan Pifarre ruined 18 year-old sailor, Steven Nary’s life--pornography had become what gay culture critic Daniel Harris calls a “wholesale substitute” for sex in certain gay circles.
Early in the previous decade, the VCR and AIDS had hit America just about simultaneously. The timing proved useful. The former stimulated a massive new demand for sexual videos, and the latter had made voyeurism—and onanism—a safer, if not entirely welcome or wholesome, community pastime.
According to Maureen Orth, a Vanity Fair reporter who has done the best research on this subject, gay videos had come to account for 30 to 50 percent of the entire porn video market. The wife of NBC’s Tim Russert, Orth has taken a harder look at a subject than most reporters would dare to.
In the nether reaches of the California gay underground, bootleg “candid” videos became all the rage. The videos featured performers who had no idea they were being recorded. Some of these performers had no idea they were being raped.
The producers would slip their subjects, typically young boys, a date rape drug like Ketamine, better known as Special K, sexually abuse them and record the abuse on video. When performing under the drug’s influence, the boys were said to be in the “K Hole.”
Among those who took a keen interest in candid videos was a young, half Filipino and half Sicilian San Diego native named Andrew Cunanan. Unapologetically gay, the handsome preppy captured the increasingly exotic look and life style of the young Californian.
While still in San Diego, Cunanan found a mentor in a character named Vance Coukoulis, a notorious party thrower and producer of candid videos. Court documents allege that Coukoulis would befriend young men under some pretext or another, ply them with drug-laced booze, and then have sex with them on camera.
According to the documents, “Young boys appear to be unconscious or drugged to the extent that they cannot resist the sexual advances made upon them.” Even those in Coukoulis’ circle were reluctant to take a drink from him. “People walked away from there doing things they really did not want to do,” one of Coukoulis’ associates told Orth.
A born hustler, Cunanan shuttled back and forth between San Diego and the Bay Area throughout the early 1990s, selling every which thing he could, including a wide variety of drugs, and living off various sugar daddies.
His “dark fantasies,” writes Orth, “were fueled by crystal meth, cocaine, and pornography.” His porn tastes now moved more and more deeply into sadomasochism, but at the time and place, that was hardly unusual.
San Francisco has neighborhoods and festivals dedicated to the same. Its highly public Folsom Street Fair boasts of a whirlwind of people “in their most outrageous leather/rubber/fetish attire enjoying the worlds largest and best loved Leather fair”—not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with that.
In early 1997, Cunanan met a young fellow named Tim Schwager at a gay dance club in San Francisco and took him back to the hotel where he was staying. “I think I was drugged that night, or I had too much to drink,” Schwager told Orth. He recalled having “memory flashbacks of trying to fight [Cunanan] off during the night.”
This was a story that Orth had heard from other Cunanan acquaintances as well. When Schwager woke up the next morning he had three hickeys and no clothes on. “After that night,” he said of Cunanan, “I knew he had a rough side to him.”
Schwager’s comments stopped this author cold. I read them in Orth’s book late in my research, but I knew I had read comments almost exactly like these before. I thought I knew where. I went tearing through my correspondence file with Steven Nary, and Eureka! I found just what I was looking for.
Before I share what Steven Nary wrote to me from Pleasant Valley State Prison on May 15, 2006, allow me to backtrack a little to Saturday, March 23, 1996.
That was the evening the 18 year-old apprentice airman ended up drunk and alone at the Palladium where he met Juan Pifarre. Pifarre had been there before. His one time attorney and neighbor, Ralph Johansen, would testify that he once defended Pifarre on an assault charge stemming from an incident at an unnamed club whose description perfectly matched the Palladium.
Apparently, Pifarre had grabbed the crotch of a 19 year-old male and asked for oral sex. This led to a fight in which both were charged with battery.
Johansen had lived downstairs from Pifarre in the Castro for 13 years until 1993. Many a night he saw Pifarre come home with what appeared to be young military types. Often he heard “lots of noise, lots of screaming,” and at least once he heard a full-blown fight that culminated in a fist going through a window.
Johansen characterized Pifarre as being “cold and angry” all of the time and often drunk. Pifarre’s behavior apparently did not change a whole heck of a lot when he moved to Potrero Hill.
There, according to trial testimony, the downstairs neighbor gave “sort of a smirk” when the police asked whether she had ever heard altercations upstairs before. In the early morning hours of March 24 the sounds of violence had frightened her to tears, but tellingly, neither she nor her husband had thought to call the police.
That March night at the Palladium in 1996, Pifarre was on the prowl. He saw the drunken young sailor and sized him up quickly. As to the girls Pifarre originally sat down with, they put Nary at ease, and the ploy worked. Nary suspected nothing. When Pifarre offered him a ride back across the Bay Bridge to the Alameda Naval Station, Nary accepted.
He should not have. His simple trust would cost him, at the very least, the next twelve years of his life.
Next: Part 4 of this 5-part series, Victim of 'gay' rape fights back
Cashill’s newest book, What’s the Matter with California, is available in bookstores - or you can order your autographed copy online .
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