A strip-club regular in Rialto, California, was so obsessed with a dancer he went to the club for several months specifically to see her. But when she refused to go home with him one night a few weeks ago, he shot her in the face – and then he shot himself in the head.
The stripper survived and is now in stable condition. The man is dead. And this kind of violence isn’t particularly rare. According to local news reports I’ve been combing through, strip clubs in the US have already seen at least 11 shootings this year, which have resulted in nine deaths. And that number doesn't even include the bouncer at a Tennessee strip club who was shot with an arrow.
Reasons for the shootings vary. Most of the time, it’s the result of a fight between patrons that gets out of hand, or a drunk who’s thrown out of the club and comes back with a gun for revenge. In a few cases, they were robberies gone wrong.
But what causes the violence? Your regular armchair psychologist might say the combination of booze and boobs causes men to revert to a primal state and try to kill each other. Richard McCleary, one of the few criminologists to have studied this subject, claims that violence happens because strip clubs with lax security attract unsavory people who carry weapons and end up causing violent situations.
The truth is probably a combination of the two theories, with a dash of America's gun-obsessed culture thrown in. At least, that's how it is in Alabama.
Alabama has the third-highest rate of gun violence in the country, and the strip-club murder rate is comparably out of control. Between 2010 and 2012, there were at least five strip-club shootings that resulted in four deaths; only Florida and California – two states that are much bigger and have way more strip clubs – can claim more strip-club shootings than Alabama over that period of time. The reason for all the shootings might have something to do with the state’s strict zoning laws, combined with its not-so-strict gun laws. Because people in the Bible Belt don't want strip clubs too close to their churches, if a strip club is allowed to open, they are typically forced to the outskirts of towns and operate in relative obscurity, far from other businesses and far from police protection. Add this with the fact that Alabama's gun culture is so intense, state lawmakers are fighting for their citizens' right to keep guns in their cars at work, and you have a recipe for a lot of shootings.
Curious to see the sites of such strange violence, I stopped by a couple of the clubs where shootings had occurred.
Teasers Show Club
With monthly midget wrestling, a stripper who comes by every once in a while to do magic tricks (sure, why not) and a friendly bartender who spends most of the year working as a chicken farmer in the Phillippines, Teasers Show Club in tiny Wicksburg is probably the most creative strip club in the South.
When I visited, it was about 5PM in the afternoon and the only people inside were a dancer who had just somehow cut her ankle on the stage, a few patrons sitting by themselves and the bartender, who was trying to convince a regular to move to the Philippines. The décor was upscale-strip-club tacky with red faux-leather club chairs and plain Christmas lights hanging on the walls. It looked like a nice place. You'd never guess that it was the location of a triple murder.
In August of last year, 22-year-old Ryan Clark Petersen was kicked out of Teasers for grabbing one of the dancers. According to several news reports, he later returned to the club carrying a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and shot and killed the bouncer, a dancer and the club owner's son.
Petersen fled, but police dogs found him half naked seven hours later in a wooded area less than a mile from the club. He's now facing multiple counts of capital murder – he's pled not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect, but he committed the murders in Houston County, which is one of the highest death-penalty-sentencing counties in the country.
If you visit, make sure to go when they have the midget wrestling. “You'll laugh your ass off for hours,” the bartender told me.
The Toy Box
Walking down the main street of Prichard, located just outside Mobile, I saw nothing but dilapidated storefronts, pieces of what used to be sidewalk benches and the Toy Box – a strip club with a broken BBQ grill out front where a rapper named Young Icey made a video to promote his new track, “Pregnant Pussy”.
It might not look like much on the outside, but inside it was the most happening spot in Prichard (not much competition, but hey). To get in, I had to pay a guy who stays in an elevated booth by the main entrance. I didn't see him until he yelled at me to stop and then yelled at one of the bouncers to pat me down. But the discomfort was worth it because inside there was a big booty dancer in rainbow-coloured spandex grinding on the stage to Dirty South rap.
The Toy Box's brush with fame occurred on December 28, 2011, when a man named Aaron Dunning was kicked out for “rude behaviour”, according to news reports. He returned with a gun and allegedly shot the manager and the bouncer, both in the leg, before fleeing in a red Cadillac. Neither were seriously injured, but the manager walks around the club these days with a limp. And there are several bouncers in front.
Dunning, who was acquitted on murder charges in 2004, was charged with two counts of second-degree assault and one count of shooting a gun into an occupied building. But according to public records, he was never convicted.
If you go, go late – I arrived at 11PM and the DJ was sitting on the bus bench in front waiting for the manager to open up.
Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayDowns
More strip club fun: