When asked for interviews, jail inmates almost always refuse. But James Allen Selby, the serial rapist who later committed suicide, said yes.
Selby arrived in March from Colorado, where he was serving 20 years to life for raping a 55-year-old woman who had been asleep.
Here, he was convicted of 27 counts, including attempted murder and sexual assault, victimizing three young women and a 13-year-old in 2001-02.
Selby waited for two women to come home, attacked another who had been showering, and tried to rape the sleeping 13-year-old girl while her parents were in the house.
Selby also was accused of rapes in San Diego; Norman, Okla.; and Sparks, Nev. Few of these cases illustrated the similarity in victims or attack methods, as is usual with such criminals.
Did a crafty Selby seek out diverse victims and methods? DNA evidence shows he did, say prosecutors in five states.
In two interviews and several neatly printed letters signed “Jimmy,” Selby shed some light on his life but hid much more:
As a child, he had few friends because his family moved a lot. He was devastated by the death of his one true friend, a guy named Chris.
“I was an outcast among the guys but popular among the girls having had many fights with other guys that felt threatened by me,” he wrote. “That’s sad as I never chased the girls. They liked that.”
He liked being a loner but disliked being labeled a “drifter,” equating that to being a bum.
“OK, OK, I’m homeless. I have four classic automobiles… . These are fully restored automobiles that I’ve had for a long time. I’m doing pretty good for a homeless man,” he said.
“Generally speaking, I hate people. Put me in a corner, give me something to do, you won’t hear from me for 20 years.”
Selby was slight, soft-spoken, bright and observant, with flashes of temper. But he wasn’t threatening.
He accused authorities of using him to close unsolved cases and persecuting him because of secretive activity in his military career. Jesus knew he was innocent, he said.
Selby refused to say whether he had been sexually abused. “Some things I need to keep inside.”
He liked control, insisting on having statements printed intact. “Please understand that I have no voice unless you print my words, don’t let the editors … add or take away from my words as this will stop further communication. This statement … was written in anger, take that into consideration while catching its many flaws. Feel free to correct them, ha ha.”
He complained about being tried in the press, yet kept writing and talking.
“This is the only … way to be heard. If there was no media attention on me I would be thrilled. I feel that I need to try and overcome the negative attention.”
He sent his final note May 26, angry about a court session that hadn’t gone his way: “There’s no fight left in me. It makes no difference if I win or lose these cases… . One life sentence is no different than fifteen.”
During Selby’s 10 months in Tucson, he wouldn’t talk to his mother, Betty Brewer, so I kept her informed.
When a jury convicted Selby, she still offered him all the love a heartbroken mother could give.
On Nov. 22, the day of his sentencing, my editor alerted me that Selby had committed suicide. Three hours after he had hanged himself, I called to see how his mother was coping.
She hadn’t been told of his death.
Whatever anyone thought of Selby and his crimes, surely his mother deserved to have this news delivered tactfully. How do you tell a mother such news? You just tell her.
Next to telling my father that my sister had died, it was the hardest thing I’ve had to do.
I was alarmed that officials were talking with the media but hadn’t told Selby’s mother, three hours after his death.
Brewer later thanked me for keeping her informed and passing her “I love you” messages to Selby.
“I pray every day for the women who said he harmed them,” she wrote. “I pray God will just lift them up and heal any hurts.”
Brewer said she was upset that people thought she demanded a military burial for Selby, a decorated Gulf War veteran. Military officials had suggested that option.
When she saw her son’s body, Brewer was shocked to see him so shaggy. She wrote: “Jimmie was immaculate in every way. Jim never got dirty enough or wore his clothes long enough to smell. He was a clean freak, trust me.”
I had hoped to learn from Selby what led him to face charges in so many horrible acts. Now those answers are buried in Fort Sill, Okla.
In olden days, reporters ended stories with
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I end Selby’s with a question mark.
A.J. Flick covers criminal justice for the Tucson Citizen.