THE VOYEUR’S MOTEL
By Gay TaleseGerald Foos bought a motel in order to watch his guests having sex. He saw a lot more than that.
APRIL 11, 2016 ISSUE
I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.
I first became aware of this man after receiving a handwritten special-delivery letter, without a signature, dated January 7, 1980, at my house in New York. It began:
Dear Mr. Talese:
Since learning of your long awaited study of coast-to-coast sex in America, which will be included in your soon to be published book, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” I feel I have important information that I could contribute to its contents or to contents of a future book.
He then described the motel he had owned for more than ten years.
The reason for purchasing this motel was to satisfy my voyeuristic tendencies and compelling interest in all phases of how people conduct their lives, both socially and sexually. . . . I did this purely out of my unlimited curiosity about people and not as just a deranged voyeur.
He explained that he had “logged an accurate record of the majority of the individuals that I watched”
and compiled interesting statistics on each, i.e., what was done; what was said; their individual characteristics; age & body type; part of the country from where they came; and their sexual behavior. These individuals were from every walk of life. The businessman who takes his secretary to a motel during the noon hour, which is generally classified as “hot sheet” trade in the motel business. Married couples traveling from state to state, either on business or vacation. Couples who aren’t married, but live together. Wives who cheat on their husbands and visa versa. Lesbianism, of which I made a particular study. . . . Homosexuality, of which I had little interest, but still watched to determine motivation and procedure. The Seventies, later part, brought another sexual deviation forward, namely, group sex, which I took great interest in watching . . . .
I have seen most human emotions in all their humor and tragedy carried to completion. Sexually, I have witnessed, observed and studied the best first hand, unrehearsed, non-laboratory sex between couples, and most other conceivable sex deviations during these past 15 years.
My main objective in wanting to provide you with this confidential information is the belief that it could be valuable to people in general and sex researchers in particular.
He went on to say that although he had been wanting to tell his story, he was “not talented enough” as a writer and had “fears of being discovered.” He then invited me to correspond with him in care of a post-office box and suggested that I come to Colorado to inspect his motel operation:
Presently I cannot reveal my identity because of my business interests, but [it] will be revealed when you can assure me that this information would be held in complete confidence.
After reading this letter, I put it aside for a few days, undecided on whether to respond. As a nonfiction writer who insists on using real names in articles and books, I knew that I could not accept his condition of anonymity. And I was deeply unsettled by the way he had violated his customers’ trust and invaded their privacy. Could such a man be a reliable source? Still, as I reread the letter, I reflected that his “research” methods and motives bore some similarity to my own in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” I had, for example, kept notes while managing massage parlors in New York and while mingling with swingers at the Sandstone nudist commune in Southern California (one key difference: the people I observed and reported on had given me their consent). Also, the opening line of my 1969 book about the Times, “The Kingdom and the Power,” was: “Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places.”
As to whether my correspondent in Colorado was, in his own words, “a deranged voyeur”—a version of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, or the murderous filmmaker in Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”—or instead a harmless, if odd, man of “unlimited curiosity,” or even a simple fabulist, I could know only if I accepted his invitation. Since I was planning to be in Phoenix later in the month, I decided to send him a note, with my phone number, proposing that we meet during a stopover in Denver. He left a message on my answering machine a few days later, saying that he would meet me at the airport baggage claim.
Two weeks later, when I approached the luggage carrousel, I spotted a man holding out his hand and smiling. “Welcome to Denver,” he said, waving in his left hand the note I had mailed him. “My name is Gerald Foos.”
My first impression was that this amiable stranger resembled many of the men I had flown with from Phoenix. He seemed in no way peculiar. In his mid-forties, Foos was hazel-eyed, around six feet tall, and slightly overweight. He wore a tan jacket and an open-collared dress shirt that seemed a size small for his heavily muscled neck. He had neatly trimmed dark hair, and, behind horn-rimmed glasses, he projected a friendly expression befitting an innkeeper.
After we had exchanged courtesies, I accepted his invitation to be a guest at his motel for a few days.
“We’ll put you in one of the rooms that doesn’t provide me with viewing privileges,” he said, with a lighthearted grin. He added that, later on, he would take me up to the special attic viewing platform, but only after his mother-in-law, Viola, who helped out in the motel office, had gone to bed. “My wife, Donna, and I have been careful never to let her in on our secret, and the same thing goes, of course, for our children,” he said.
He removed from his pocket a folded piece of stationery and handed it to me. “I hope you’ll not mind reading and signing this,” he said. “It’ll allow me to be completely frank with you, and I’ll have no problem showing you around the motel.”
It was a typed document stating that I would not identify him by name, or publicly associate his motel with whatever information he shared with me, until he had granted me a waiver. I signed the paper. I had already decided that I would not write about Gerald Foos under these restrictions. I had come to Denver merely to meet this man and to satisfy my curiosity about him.
As Foos drove us to the motel, he took the opportunity to sketch out the story of his life for me. He explained that he had met Donna in high school in a farming town called Ault, about sixty-five miles outside of Denver, and that the two had been married since 1960. His parents, hardworking German-Americans, had had a farm. He described them as kindhearted people who would do anything for him—“except discuss sex.” Every morning, he said, his mother got dressed in her closet, and he never witnessed either of his parents exhibiting an interest in sex. He said, “And so, being very curious about sex even as an early adolescent—with all those farm animals around, how could you avoid thinking of sex?—I looked beyond my home to learn what I could about people’s private lives.”
He did not have to look far, he said, steering the car toward the suburb of Aurora, where his motel was situated. When he was a child, his mother’s married sister, Katheryn, lived in the farmhouse next door. At the age of nine, he said, he started watching her. Aunt Katheryn was in her late twenties then. She often walked around nude in her bedroom at night with the shutters open, and he would peer in from below the windowsill—“a moth drawn to her flame”—for an hour or so every evening. He watched her for five or six years and never got caught. His aunt Katheryn liked to sit at her dressing table with no clothes on, arranging her miniature porcelain dolls or her collection of “valuable thimbles.”
“Sometimes her husband was there, my uncle Charlie, usually deep in sleep,” Foos said. “He drank a lot. Once, I did see them having sex, and it made me upset. I was jealous. She was mine, I thought.”
I listened without comment, although I was surprised by Gerald Foos’s candor. I had known him for barely half an hour, and he was unburdening himself to me about his masturbatory fixations and the origins of his voyeurism. As a journalist, I do not recall meeting anyone who required less of me than he did. He did all the talking while I sat and listened. The car was his confessional.
He told me that he was a virgin through high school. It was only after joining the Navy, serving in the Mediterranean and the Far East, and training as an underwater demolition specialist that he enlarged his knowledge of sex under the guidance of bar girls. But he also kept fantasizing about his Aunt Katheryn.
When he returned from the service, he started dating—and soon married—Donna, who was a nurse at a hospital in Aurora. Foos found work as a field auditor for Conoco. He was miserably employed, sitting in a cubicle all day, keeping records of the inventory levels of oil tanks. To escape this tedium, he said, he began to undertake what he called “voyeuristic excursions” around Aurora after dark. Often on foot, although sometimes in a car, he would cruise through neighborhoods and spy on people who were casual about lowering their window shades. He made no secret of his voyeurism to Donna. “Even before our marriage I told her that this gave me a feeling of power,” he said. She seemed to understand. “Donna and most nurses are very open-minded,” he said. “They’ve seen it all—death, disease, pain, disorders of every kind—and it takes a lot to shock a nurse.” She even accompanied him sometimes on his voyeuristic excursions, and it was Donna, he said, who first encouraged him to make notes about what he saw.
“We’re getting close to our motel,” Foos said, as he drove along East Colfax Avenue, passing through a neighborhood of stores, a trailer park, fast-food outlets, and an auto-repair shop. He said he had chosen the single-story Manor House Motel as the site of his laboratory years earlier because it had a pitched roof—high enough for him to walk upright across the attic floor—which would make it possible for him to realize his dream of creating a viewing platform to peer into the guest rooms below.
He bought the property for a hundred and forty-five thousand dollars. “Donna wasn’t happy about giving up our house and living in the manager’s quarters of the motel,” Foos said. “But I promised her that we’d buy another house as soon as we could afford it.”
Foos pulled into the parking area of the Manor House Motel, a brick building painted green and white, with orange doors leading into each of its twenty-one guest rooms. He parked next to an adjacent building consisting of an office and the family quarters. Donna, a short blue-eyed blond woman wearing a nurse’s uniform, greeted us in the office. She was heading to the hospital, to work a night shift.
On the way to my room, Foos told me that their son was a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines, and that their daughter, who was born with a respiratory ailment, had to drop out of high school to be treated at a special clinic, where she lived. He opened the door to my room, switched on the air-conditioner, and put down my luggage, saying that he would collect me in an hour to go out to dinner. “After that, we can come back and take a little tour of the attic,” he said.
After I unpacked, I began making notes of my impressions of Gerald Foos. My interest in him was not dependent on having access to his attic. I was hoping to get his permission to read the hundreds of pages that he claimed to have written during the past fifteen years, with the result that he would one day allow me to write about him. I knew that he viewed himself as a sex researcher along the lines of Alfred Kinsey, and I assumed that his account centered on what excited him sexually, but it was possible that he noted things that existed beyond his desires. A voyeur is motivated by anticipation; he invests endless hours in the hope of seeing what he wishes to see. Yet for every erotic episode he witnesses he is also privy to hundreds of mundane moments representing the ordinary daily human routine—people channel-surfing, snoring, urinating, primping, and doing other things too tediously real for reality television.
I was intrigued by the notion of the voyeur, in the course of his trespasses, inadvertently serving as a social historian. I had recently read a book called “The Other Victorians,” by the literary critic Steven Marcus. One of the main characters is a wellborn nineteenth-century Englishman who overcompensated for his Victorian upbringing by having sexual experiences, including voyeuristic ones, with a vast number of women—servants, prostitutes, other men’s wives, and a marchioness. He wrote a voluminous memoir about his liaisons and escapades, which he called “My Secret Life.” He arranged for it to be privately—and anonymously—published on the Continent, and it gradually achieved notoriety as pirated editions circulated through the literary underground. In 1966, an American edition of the book was legally published for the first time, by Grove Press. Marcus considers it a trove of insights into the social history of the period.
“In addition to presenting such facts,” Marcus writes, “ ‘My Secret Life’ shows us that amid and underneath the world of Victorian England as we know it . . . a real, secret social life was being conducted, the secret life of sexuality.” As the anonymous author wrote in his memoir, “Man cannot see too much of human nature.” I hoped that Foos’s manuscript, if I obtained permission to read it, would serve as a kind of sequel to “My Secret Life.”
Foos took me to a restaurant called the Black Angus Steakhouse. After ordering a margarita and a sirloin, he promised that he would mail me a photocopy of his manuscript. He said he would send it in installments, because he anticipated having to photocopy it in the public library, a few pages at a time, for the sake of privacy.
I asked Foos if he ever felt guilty about spying on his guests. While he admitted to constant fear of being found out, he was unwilling to concede that his activities in the attic brought harm to anyone. He said that he was indulging his curiosity within the boundaries of his own property, and, because his guests were unaware of his voyeurism, they were not affected by it. He reasoned, “There’s no invasion of privacy if no one complains.” Still, he took great pains to avoid discovery, and he worried that, were he caught, he could be charged with a crime.
Over dinner, he described how it had taken him months to fashion his motel’s viewing vents to “foolproof perfection.” He’d initially considered installing two-way mirrors in the ceilings, but dismissed the idea as too incriminating if discovered. He then thought of installing the faux ventilators and hired a metalworker to fabricate a number of six-by-fourteen-inch louvred screens. Only Donna, who was in on the plan, could help Foos with the installation. She would stand on a chair in each of the designated rooms and reach up to fit a louvred screen into the opening in the ceiling that Foos had made with a power saw. As he lay prone in the attic, he secured the screen to the plywood floor and rafters with long flathead screws. He installed three layers of shag carpeting over a central strip of the attic floor; the nails that kept the carpeting in place were rubber-tipped, to deaden any squeaks from footsteps.
After the screens were in place, Foos asked Donna to visit each room, recline on a bed, and look up at a ventilator as he was staring down at her. “Can you see me?” he would call down. If she said yes, he used pliers to bend the louvres into an angle that would conceal his presence while maintaining a clear view of the bed and the bathroom door.
“This trial-and-error process took us weeks,” Foos continued. “And it was exhausting—with me constantly going up and down between the attic and rooms, and my hands aching from all those adjustments with my pliers.”
Foos said he began watching guests during the winter of 1966. He was often excited and gratified by what he saw, but there were many times when what went on below was so boring that he nodded off, sleeping for hours on the shag carpeting, until Donna woke him up before she left for the hospital. Sometimes she brought him a snack (“I’m the only one getting room service at this motel,” he told me, with a smile); at other times, if a particularly engaging erotic interlude was occurring in the room below, Donna would lie down next to him and watch. Sometimes they would have sex up on the viewing platform.
“Donna was not a voyeur,” he told me, “but, rather, the devoted wife of a voyeur. And, unlike me, she grew up having a free and healthy attitude about sex.” He went on, “The attic was an extension of our bedroom.” When Donna was not with him on the viewing platform, he said, he would either masturbate or memorize what he saw and re-create it with his wife.
While driving us back to the Manor House, Foos continued to talk. He mentioned that an attractive young couple had been staying in Room 6 for the past few days and suggested that perhaps we would get a look at them tonight. They were from Chicago and had come to Colorado to ski. Donna always registered the more youthful and attractive guests in one of the “viewing rooms.” The nine non-viewing rooms were saved for families or individuals or couples who were elderly or less physically appealing.
As we approached the motel, I began to feel uneasy. I noticed that the neon “no vacancy” sign was on. “That’s good for us,” Foos said. “It means we can lock up for the night and not be bothered by late arrivals looking for rooms.” If guests needed anything, a buzzer at the front desk would alert the proprietors, even in the attic, so that if Foos was up there viewing he could climb down a ladder in the utility room and arrive at the desk in less than three minutes.
In the office, Donna’s mother handed Foos some mail and briefed him on the maids’ schedules. I waited on a sofa, under some framed posters of the Rocky Mountains and a couple of AAA plaques affirming the cleanliness of the Manor House Motel.
Finally, after saying good night to his mother-in-law, Foos beckoned me to follow him across the parking lot to the utility room. Curtains were drawn across the windows that fronted each of the guest rooms. I could hear the sounds of television coming from some of them, which I assumed did not bode well for the expectations of my host.
Attached to one wall of the utility room was a wooden ladder painted blue. After acknowledging his finger-to-lip warning that we maintain silence, I climbed the ladder behind him. On a landing, he unlocked a door leading into the attic. After he had locked the door behind us, I saw, in the dim light, to my left and right, sloping wooden beams that supported the motel’s pitched roof; in the middle of the narrow floor was a carpeted catwalk about three feet wide, extending over the ceilings of the twenty-one guest rooms.
Crouching on the catwalk behind Foos, so as to avoid hitting my head on a beam, I watched as he pointed down toward a vent in the floor. Light could be seen a few feet ahead of us. Light also came from a few other vents farther away, but from these I could hear the noise of televisions. The room below us was quiet—except for a soft murmuring of voices and the vibrato of bed springs.
I saw what Foos was doing, and I did the same: I got down on my knees and crawled toward the lighted louvres. Then I stretched my neck in order to see as much as I could through the vent, nearly butting heads with Foos as I did so. Finally, I saw a naked couple spread out on the bed below, engaged in oral sex. Foos and I watched for several moments, and then Foos lifted his head and gave me a thumbs-up sign. He whispered that it was the skiing couple from Chicago.
Despite an insistent voice in my head telling me to look away, I continued to observe, bending my head farther down for a closer view. As I did so, I failed to notice that my necktie had slipped down through the slats of the louvred screen and was dangling into the motel room within a few yards of the woman’s head. I realized my carelessness only when Foos grabbed me by the neck and, with his free hand, pulled my tie up through the slats. The couple below saw none of this: the woman’s back was to us, and the man had his eyes closed.
Foos’s expression, as he looked at me in silence, reflected considerable irritation. I felt embarrassed. What if my necktie had betrayed his hideaway? My next thought was: Why was I worried about protecting Gerald Foos? What was I doing up here, anyway? Had I become complicit in his strange and distasteful project? I followed him down the ladder into the parking area.
“You must put away that tie,” he said finally, escorting me to my room. I nodded and wished him a good night.
When I met Foos in the office the next morning, he bore no trace of irritation, and he did not comment on the fact that I was not wearing a necktie. “Since we have some privacy here, I’d like to give you a quick look at my manuscript,” he said. He unlocked a desk drawer and removed a cardboard box containing a four-inch-thick stack of handwritten pages from yellow legal pads, the work of fifteen years. The penmanship was excellent. This was the manuscript he called “The Voyeur’s Journal.”
He explained that he kept small pads, pencils, and a flashlight stashed in the attic. “When I see or hear something that interests me, I’ll scribble it down, and later, when I’m alone down here, I’ll expand on it.”
He seemed desperate to share his findings. I wondered if voyeurs crave escape from their prolonged solitude by unburdening themselves to other people. Steven Marcus writes, of the Victorian adventurer in his book, “Had he really wanted to keep his secret life a secret he would not have put pen to paper. . . . He asks whether all men feel and behave as he does, and concludes, ‘I can never know this; my experience if printed may enable others to compare as I cannot.’ ”
A week after I returned to New York, I received in the mail nineteen pages of “The Voyeur’s Journal,” dated 1966. The first entry begins:
Today was the fulfillment and realization of a dream that has constantly occupied my mind and being. Today, I purchased the Manor House Motel and that dream has been consummated. Finally, I will be able to satisfy my constant yearning and uncontrollable desire to peer into other people’s lives. My voyeuristic urges will now be placed into effect on a plane higher than anyone else has contemplated.
He described the painstaking effort of converting his attic into a viewing platform:
Nov. 18, 1966—Business has been great and I am missing observing several interesting guests, but patience has always been my watchword, and I must accomplish this task with the utmost of perfection and brilliance.
His notes become increasingly grandiose as he nears his goal. “These idiots working for this sheet metal shop are dumb as radishes,” he writes. “ ‘This vent will never function properly,’ they say. If I told them what purpose it was going to serve they probably wouldn’t comprehend.”
If I had not seen the attic viewing platform with my own eyes, I would have found it hard to believe Foos’s account. Indeed, over the decades since we met, in 1980, I have noticed various inconsistencies in his story: for instance, the first entries in his “Voyeur’s Journal” are dated 1966, but the deed of sale for the Manor House, which I obtained recently from the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder’s office, shows that he purchased the place in 1969. And there are other dates in his notes and journals that don’t quite scan. I have no doubt that Foos was an epic voyeur, but he could sometimes be an inaccurate and unreliable narrator. I cannot vouch for every detail that he recounts in his manuscript.
At times, I could almost picture Foos rubbing his hands together, like a mad scientist in a B movie: “I will have the finest laboratory in the world for observing people in their natural state, and then begin determining for myself exactly what goes on behind closed bedroom doors,” he wrote.
In an entry dated November 24, 1966, he describes using the viewing platform for the first time:
Subject #1: Mr. and Mrs. W of southern Colorado.
Description: Approx. 35 year old male, in Denver on business. 5’10”, 180 pounds, white collar, probably college educated. Wife 35 years old, 5’4″, 130 lbs, pleasing plump, dark hair, Italian extraction, educated, 37-28-37.
Activity: Room #10 was rented to this couple at 7 p.m. by myself. He registered and I noticed he had class and would be a perfect subject to have the distinction of being #1. After registration, I immediately left for the observation walkway. It was tremendous seeing my first subjects, for the initial observation, enter the room. The subjects were represented to my vision, clearer than anticipated. . . . I had a feeling of tremendous power and exhilaration at my accomplishment. I had accomplished what other men had only dreamed of doing and the thought of superiority and intelligence occupied my brain. . . .
As I peered into the vent from my observation platform, I could see the entire motel room, and to my delight the bathroom was also viewable, together with the sink, commode, and bathtub. . . . I could see the subjects below me, and without question they were a perfect couple to be the first to perform on the stage that was created especially for them, and many others to follow, and I would be the audience. After going to the bathroom with the door closed, she sat in front of the mirror looking at her hair and remarked she was getting grey. He was in an argumentative mood and appeared disagreeable with his assignment in Denver. The evening passed uneventful until 8:30 p.m. when she finally undressed revealing a beautiful body, slightly plump, but sexually attractive anyway. He appeared disinterested when she laid on the bed beside him, and he began smoking one cigarette after another and watching TV. . . .
Finally after kissing and fondling her, he quickly gained an erection and entered her in the male superior position, with little or no foreplay, and orgasmed in approximately 5 minutes. She had no orgasm and went to the bathroom. . . .
Conclusion: They are not a happy couple. He is too concerned about his position and doesn’t have time for her. He is very ignorant of sexual procedure and foreplay despite his college education. This is a very undistinguished beginning for my observation laboratory . . . .
I’m certain things will improve.
Things did not improve for Gerald Foos with regard to the second couple he observed. The man and woman were in their thirties, and they talked about money, drank bourbon, and went to bed with the covers pulled “up to their noses.”
The third couple, affluent-looking people in their early fifties, were more interesting. They were in town to spend Thanksgiving with their son and their daughter-in-law, whom they had not met before and of whom they did not approve. Foos writes that he observed them discussing their son’s marriage. He noted that the wife unhooked her bra by sliding the closure around to the front.
She removed her shoes and sprayed the interior of the shoes with some sort of deodorant. . . . After the bath, she spent 1 hour preparing her hair in rollers and primping in front of the mirror. This is a 50 year old woman! Imagine the hours she has wasted in her lifetime. By this time her husband is asleep and no sex transpired tonight . . . .
The next morning at 9 a.m., I observed her giving him oral sex to completion.
After watching them for two more days, Foos summed up, “Conclusion: Educated, upper-middle-class older couple who enjoy a tremendous sex life.”
Between Thanksgiving and January of his first year as a motel voyeur, Gerald Foos spent enough time in his attic to observe guests perform forty-six sex acts, at times alone, at times with a partner, and, on one occasion, with two partners. Each time, he summed up his observations in a formal conclusion.
One day in December, two neatly dressed men and a woman came in and requested a single room. The more vocal of the two men, who had red hair, explained that his furnace at home had stopped working and that his wife was freezing. Later, Foos realized that when the man signed the register he had listed as his home address a regional vacuum-cleaner store.
Within minutes, Foos was in the attic and had positioned himself over their room. They were a “very polite, very organized couple with [a] male companion,” he wrote. All three immediately disrobed. Then the husband snapped photographs as his wife and the other man had sex in various positions. Foos recorded the encounter in minute detail. When it was over, he wrote, “They all three laid quiet on the bed and relaxed, discussing vacuum cleaner sales.” (Foos also learned that the companion was a sales rep for the couple’s firm.)
The trio represented the first group sex that Foos witnessed at the Manor House. Within a few years, however, he stopped regarding additional bed partners as a deviation; rather, he viewed them as posing a financial conundrum. Should he charge higher room rates for threesomes or foursomes than he did for couples?
As it was, extra charges were levied only on guests who checked in with pets; they were required to leave a fifteen-dollar refundable security deposit. Foos liked to spy on guests with pets, but for different reasons than he spied on couples. When a couple from Atlanta arrived holding the leash of a large hound that they referred to as Roger, Foos went right to the attic.
He was disgusted to note that the couple bickered about money, with the wife complaining about having “to stay in this dump.” Foos was infuriated: the motel, he wrote, “is not first-class, but it is clean, and has had guests from all walks of life.” Foos watched with horror as the dog proceeded “to do his duty in a large pile behind the chair.” Roger’s owners cleaned up the mess, hoping that the chair would hide the soiled carpet.
The next morning, when the couple asked for their fifteen-dollar deposit, Foos shocked them by escorting them to their room, moving the chair, and pointing to the spot on the rug. (It seems not to have occurred to him that this action could have given him away. Also, he told me, dogs, unlike people, often seemed to be aware that someone was lurking above. When Foos was in the attic, dogs often pointed their snouts up toward the vents and barked.) Before the couple checked out, Foos returned to the platform to eavesdrop. The woman said to her husband, “He’s just a dumb-idiot manager who probably keeps all deposits for himself anyway and was just lucky in pointing out a particular spot on the carpet.” Foos’s darkly philosophical conclusion:
My observations indicate that the majority of vacationers spend their time in misery. They fight about money; where to visit. . . . All their aggressions somehow are immeasurably increased, and this is the time they discover they are not properly matched. Women especially have a difficult time adjusting to both the new surroundings and their husbands. Vacations produce all the anxieties within mankind to come forward during this time, and to perpetuate the worst of emotions. . . .
You can never really determine during their appearances in public that their private life is full of hell and unhappiness. . . . This is the “plight of the human corpus,” and I’m sure provides the answer that if the misery of mankind were revealed all together spontaneously, mass genocide might correspondently follow.
As time went on, Foos became increasingly disenchanted with his guests, whose behavior prompted him to confront larger questions about the human condition as well as his own political convictions. Within walking distance of the Manor House Motel was the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, which, during the sixties and seventies, served as a temporary home for injured Vietnam War veterans. Foos was only moderately against the war when he built his observation platform, but as the struggle continued he revised his opinion. In “The Voyeur’s Journal,” he wrote:
Checked in this male who is in the Service and had apparently lost his leg in Vietnam. He rented a room for five days, and has received a pass from the Hospital to stay with his wife who has come from Michigan to visit him.
His artificial leg was attached just below the knee, the stub raw and sore. In the evening, Foos watched as the wife opened two bottles of cola, and her husband made a toast:
“Here’s to what makes the world go around!”
“Sex . . . ?” She smiled.
“No! Money! It’s the one thing people will do almost anything for. What do you think we are at war in Vietnam for. It is the god-damned money.”
A few years later, another wounded veteran—this one a paraplegic—checked in to the Manor House with his wife. Foos watched as the wife tried to help her husband out of his wheelchair and emptied his catheter bag. At one point, the husband asked her, “Why do you continue to love me when I’m in this condition?” The wife was affectionate and supportive, and after observing the couple completing a successful sexual encounter, Foos wrote, “I have had the opportunity to observe many of the deplorable and regrettable tragedies of the Vietnam War. This subject is lucky. He has a loving and understanding wife.”
Another time, he rented two connecting rooms to a pilot, his girlfriend, and a male friend. Foos spied on them and heard the pilot bragging about once “throwing a Vietcong soldier out of his gun-ship.” Foos wrote, “The subject makes me sick.” The pilot also described “his favorite sport, which is chasing and shooting coyotes from his aircraft.” Later that night, Foos saw the single friend masturbating as he listened, with his ear against the connecting door, to the pilot in bed with the girl. In his conclusion, Foos registered his distaste: “Their disregard for animals” and the fate of the Vietcong soldier infuriated him, although he did add a self-serving note pointing out that the friend’s lascivious eavesdropping “makes a truism out of my contention that all men are voyeurs to some degree.”
Foos liked to strike up casual conversations with his subjects after he’d observed them. If he discovered that a guest lived in the Denver area, he would sometimes follow the person home after checkout.
One was a middle-aged woman who checked into the motel with a well-dressed younger man. The woman mixed a drink, then removed her clothes. As the two entwined on the bed, the woman moaning frantically, the man abruptly stopped. “I’m having difficulty making my car payment,” he told her. She reached for her purse and handed him a hundred-dollar bill. He then returned his attention to her prone body. After satisfying her, he rebuffed her offer to reciprocate, then relented. “I need an extra fifty dollars to finish paying my bills,” he said. She gave him the money, and several minutes later he left.
When the woman drove off, Foos followed her in his car and saw her enter an apartment in a retirement complex. He watched through her kitchen window. “She was in tears,” he wrote. Foos walked around the complex and asked a neighbor about the woman. He learned that her husband had been killed in Vietnam and her son was away at college. In his conclusion, he wrote, “The tremendous sexual desire that some women of middle age express during these encounters is a definite tragedy.” He added that he had seen the same gigolo in his motel with men.
In addition to collecting data on sexual styles and positions, foreplay, and pillow talk, Foos took an interest in his guests’ bathroom habits. He had installed viewing grilles in several of the Manor House’s bathrooms for this purpose. One woman sat on the toilet “side-saddle.” A man sat on the toilet backward, facing the wall. Foos noted, “Every imaginable position or approach to the commode has been observed.” More men than Foos could count urinated in the sink. He expressed anger at the toilet industry for its failure to address the challenges men have in directing their urine stream accurately. (“If I had my way, I’d design a household toilet that was more like an upright urinal,” he told me.)
He complained about the guests who smoked, not because it fouled the room but “because the smoke rises and floods the vent,” impeding his view. He also made note of guests whose behavior he found weird or upsetting: the guy who secretly urinated in his date’s bourbon; the obese fellow who checked in with a much younger man and then dressed him up in a furry costume with horns, saying, “You are heavenly; I have never seen a more beautiful sheep-boy.”
But more often Foos found observing his guests depressing. They argued. They watched too much television. (This was especially irksome when the guests were attractive and could have spent their time having sex instead.) After watching one sexual encounter, which he regarded as typically unsatisfying for the woman, he wrote:
This is real life. . . . These are real people! I’m thoroughly disgusted that I alone must bear the burden of my observations. These subjects will never find happiness and divorce is inevitable. He doesn’t know the first thing about sex or its application. The only thing he knows is penetration and thrusting, to orgasm, under the covers with the lights out.
My voyeurism has contributed immensely to my becoming a futilitarian, and I hate this conditioning of my soul. . . . What is so distasteful is that the majority of subjects are in concert with these individuals in both design and plan. Many different approaches to life would be immediately implemented, if our society would have the opportunity to be Voyeur for a Day.
As Gerald Foos reflected upon his “burden” as a committed voyeur, he saw himself as an entrapped figure. He had no control over what he saw and no escape from its influence.
As I read the sections of the journal he sent me, which covered the mid-nineteen-sixties through the mid-seventies, I noticed that his persona as a writer changed, gradually shifting from a first-person narrator into a character whom he wrote about in the third person. Sometimes he used the word “I,” and sometimes he’d refer to himself as “the voyeur.”
The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below. He was looking down on Room 6, where he saw a guest eating Kentucky Fried Chicken while sitting on the bed. Instead of using paper napkins, the man cleaned his hands on the bedsheets. He then wiped the grease off his beard and mouth with the bedspread. Without realizing what he was doing, Foos shouted, “You son of a bitch!”
The subject stopped eating and looked around the room, and then went to the window and looked out. Apparently he knew someone shouted S.O.B., but couldn’t determine from which direction the insult came. He went to the window and looked out for the second time and pondered the situation for a few minutes, and then continued with his animalistic eating habits.
Foos lost control on other occasions, each time risking exposure. One time he was watching a couple who were in town on a cattle-buying trip. After they ate McDonald’s hamburgers (wiping their hands on their bluejeans) and watched a rerun of “Gunsmoke,” they got into bed. Foos was eager to see the woman undressed, but the man turned off the lights. “I won’t stand for this at all,” Foos wrote in the journal. “I return to the ground level and park my car directly in front of his unit, and turn the lights on bright.” After going back to the attic, Foos was stymied once more.
The room is lit up real well, and he begins his animal-like thrusting under the covers. [After three minutes he] immediately withdraws and departs for the bathroom. I finally get to see her body when she un-covers to wipe the semen away on my bedspread. . . . She is very beautifully proportioned, but probably equally stupid and dumb.
He comes back from the bathroom and notes that the lights outside are still on. He says, “I wonder what the situation is with this car with the lights on.”
The journal entry ends with an existential rumination: Foos is sinking deeper into isolation and despair. The more I read, the more convinced I became that Foos’s stilted metaphysics were his way of attempting to elevate his disturbing pastime into something of value.
Conclusion: I am still unable to determine what function I serve. . . . Apparently, I’m delegated the responsibility of this heavy burden to be placed upon myself—never being able to tell anyone! . . . The depression builds, but I will continue onward with my research. I’ve pondered on occasion that perhaps I don’t exist, only represent a product of the subjects’ dreams. No one would believe my accomplishments as a voyeur anyway, therefore, the dreamlike manifestation would explain my reality.
Foos made it clear to me from the beginning that he regarded his voyeurism as serious research, undertaken, in some vague way, for the betterment of society. At the end of each year, he tallied his observations into an annual report, trying to identify significant social trends. In 1973, he noted that of the 296 sexual acts that he witnessed, 195 involved white heterosexuals, who favored the missionary position. Over all, he counted 184 male orgasms and 33 female orgasms. The following year, there were 329 sexual activities that he believed warranted recording. He also broke people into categories according to their sex drive:
—12% of all observable couples at the motel are highly sexed.
—62% lead moderately active sexual lives.
—22% are of low-drive sexually.
—3% have no sex at all.
In 1973, he had observed only five instances of interracial sex; by 1980, he told me, the number was closer to twenty-five. Foos viewed this as one of many examples in which his small motel reflected social changes throughout the nation.
Another of Foos’s categories, and one of the largest, was “honest but unhappy people.” A great majority of these were out-of-town couples who, during their brief stays, filled his ears with complaints about their marriages. He constantly reminded himself how lucky he was to have Donna for a wife. She was an in-house nurse, a co-conspirator with regard to his prying, a trustworthy manager of their family finances, and a private secretary, who would take dictation in shorthand when Foos was too tired to write in his journal.
As the years passed, he became more preoccupied with receiving recognition for what he viewed as his pioneering research. By necessity, he existed in the shadows, running his laboratory for the study of human behavior. He considered his work to be superior to that of the sexologists at the Kinsey Institute and the Masters & Johnson clinic. Much of the research at such places was obtained from volunteers. Because his subjects didn’t know they were being watched, they yielded more accurate and, to his mind, more valuable information.
In the late seventies, two things happened that changed the nature of Foos’s journal. He grew jaded about what he was seeing through the vents, and he began to realize that it was impossible for him to get the scientific credit he felt he deserved. His writings began to reflect not only what he felt while watching other people but also how he felt about himself and his compulsion, beginning with his origins as a farm boy infatuated with his aunt Katheryn.
He started another, more biographical notebook, which he called “The Collector.” In it he recounted the story he had told me the night I met him, in the car from the airport. But he wrote about himself in the third person, as if he were a character in a novel:
The youth moved silently through the night over the grass and across the barbed wire fence. . . . Shutters folded back, unsuspecting, letting the northwest breeze play through the arrangement of the bedroom. The youth looked in, forgot about the cold and rain outside, forgot about essence, forgot about time. . . . While observing his aunt, she began to move toward her collectibles.
The closest he came to admitting his special interest in his aunt occurred one day, just before his tenth birthday, when he confessed to his mother that he was envious of his aunt’s thimble and doll collection and wanted a collection of his own. His sensible mother suggested that he begin collecting baseball cards. This started him off on a lifelong hobby, resulting in his amassing tens of thousands of sports cards by the time I met him, in 1980, when he was forty-five. But he always associated his collecting with his boyhood attraction to his aunt. He wrote, “The youth will confuse sexuality and the art of accumulating objects. . . . There was a direct association from his aunt being nude and his collecting.”
In later years, he also collected stamps, coins, and vintage firearms, and as a boy he kept a stash of muskrat tails, a by-product of skinning the ones he and his father trapped—one of his chores. (The collection was dispersed, he says, when his parents complained of the “special odor in my room.”)
Gerald was the first of two children born to Natalie and Jake Foos; he was five years older than his brother, Jack. Gerald acknowledged that he was by nature a “loner.” When he was not busy with farm chores or spying on his aunt, he would often “look up at the sky, and know there was something out there for me.” His mother had encouraged him to get a library card, and he spent hours reading. He wrote, “I was mesmerized by books, and what might be called ‘the life of the mind,’ and the life that was not manual labor or farming or housework, but seemed in its specialness to transcend these activities.”
Some of Foos’s reminiscences offer glimpses of what he would become: “The town was truly a rural paradise; even into the 1920s, some 2,000 farms averaging 80 acres each.” He continued, describing his childhood:
I am very curious about everything and everyone I see . . . and so I have felt invisible also, as a child feels himself invisible, beneath the radar of adult supervision. The consequence of so much unsupervised freedom was that I became precociously independent.
Foos never got over his first love, a high-school cheerleader named Barbara White, who, along with crowds of onlookers, cheered from the grandstands after he had hit a home run or scored a touchdown. This was in 1953, his senior year, and I saw clippings about him from the Greeley Daily Tribune, which regularly printed his picture and described his achievements. “Foos made a beautiful run, escaping a couple of potential tacklers at the line of scrimmage and plowing on after being hit again at the 10,” read one story. Barbara White broke up with Foos when she discovered that he had a foot fetish.
Foos’s stint in the service produced few insights in his notebook because, as he claims, his most interesting Navy experiences were “top secret.”
Years after being discharged, after building the viewing platform in his motel, he felt at times as if he were still in the Navy, adrift on the sea, peering down through the vents the way he used to squint through binoculars on deck duty, keeping a lookout for objects of interest. Life in the attic was humdrum. His motel was a drydocked boat whose guests endlessly watched television, exchanged banalities, had sex mainly under the covers if they had sex at all—and gave him so little to write about that sometimes he wrote nothing at all.
He also got bored with cataloguing his guests’ dishonesty. They sometimes tried to cheat him out of the room rent, and hardly a week passed without his witnessing instances of chicanery. One working-class couple asked him for a few days’ grace period to pay their bill. Foos spied on them the next day and heard the husband tell the wife, “The dumb guy in the office thinks I have a check coming in from Chicago, and we will fool him the same way we did the motel in Omaha.” Foos locked the people out of their room and kept their possessions until they paid him.
Conclusion: Thousands of unhappy, discontented people are moving to Colorado in order to fulfill that deep yearning in their soul, hoping to improve their way of life, and arrive here without any money and discover only despair. . . . Society has taught us to lie, steal, and cheat, and deception is the paramount prerequisite in man’s makeup. . . . As my observation of people approaches the fifth year, I am beginning to become pessimistic as to the direction our society is heading, and feel myself becoming more depressed as I determine the futility of it all.
These experiences prodded Foos to concoct an “honesty test.” He would leave a suitcase, secured with a cheap padlock, in the closet of a motel room. When a guest checked in, he would say to Donna, in the guest’s hearing, that someone had just called to report leaving behind a suitcase with a thousand dollars inside. Foos then watched from the attic as the new guest found the suitcase and deliberated over whether to break the lock and look inside or return the suitcase to the motel office.
Out of fifteen guests who were subjected to the honesty test, including a minister, a lawyer, and an Army lieutenant colonel, only two returned the suitcase to the office with the padlock intact. The others all opened the suitcase and then tried to dispose of it in different ways. The minister pushed the suitcase out the bathroom window into the bushes.
A few years after Foos started mailing me photocopies of his handwritten journal pages, I received a large package from him containing a three-hundred-page typescript of his viewing logs through 1978. This included the material in the handwritten journals from his early years as his motel’s voyeur, but a good portion of the manuscript was new to me. It continued in the same vein as the earlier entries—a litany of undifferentiated sex acts and accounts of people squabbling. There was one entry from 1977, however, in which the Voyeur claimed to have seen, for the first time, more than he wished to see.
What he saw was a murder. It occurred in Room 10.
He described the occupants as a young couple who had rented a room for several weeks. The man, in his late twenties, was about a hundred and eighty pounds. The Voyeur deduced from his eavesdropping that he was a college dropout and a small-time drug dealer. The girl was blond, with a 34D bust. (Foos had gone into the room while the couple was out and checked her bra size, something he says he did often.) Foos devoted pages and pages to an approving account of the couple’s vigorous sex life. The journal also described people coming to the door of Room 10 to buy drugs. This upset Foos, but he did not notify the police. In the past, he had reported drug dealing in his motel when he saw it, but the police took no action, because he could not identify himself as an eyewitness to his complaints.
One afternoon, Foos saw the man in Room 10 sell drugs to a few young boys. This incensed him. He wrote in the journal, “After the male subject left the room that afternoon, the voyeur entered his room. . . . The voyeur, without any guilt, silently flushed all the remaining drugs and marijuana down the toilet.” He had flushed motel guests’ drugs several times before, with no repercussions.
This time, the man in Room 10 accused his girlfriend of stealing the drugs. The journal continues:
After fighting and arguing for about one hour, the scene below the voyeur turned to violence. The male subject grabbed the female subject by the neck and strangled her until she fell unconscious to the floor. The male subject, then in a panic, picked up all his things and fled the vicinity of the motel.
The voyeur . . . without doubt . . . could see the chest of the female subject moving, which indicated to the voyeur that she was still alive and therefore O.K. So, the voyeur was convinced in his own mind that the female subject had survived the strangulation assault and would be all right, and he swiftly departed the observation platform for the evening.
Foos reasoned that he couldn’t do anything anyway, “because at this moment in time he was only an observer and not a reporter, and really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned.”
The next morning, a maid ran into the motel office and said that a woman was dead in Room 10. Foos wrote that he immediately called the police. When officers arrived, he gave them the drug dealer’s name, his description, and his license-plate number. He did not say that he had witnessed the murder.
Foos wrote, “The voyeur had finally come to grips with his own morality and would have to forever suffer in silence, but he would never condemn his conduct or behavior in this situation.”
The next day, the police returned and told Foos that the drug dealer had been using a fake name and had been driving a stolen car.
I came upon this account in Foos’s typescript a few years after I’d visited him in Aurora—and nearly six years after the murder. I was shocked, and surprised that Foos had not mentioned the incident to me earlier. It almost seemed as if he regarded it as just another day in the attic. But, as I thought about it, his response—the observation that he “really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned”—was consistent with his sense of himself as a fractured individual. He was also desperately protective of his secret life in the attic. If the police had grilled him and decided that he knew more than he was telling, they might have obtained a search warrant, and the consequences could have been catastrophic.
I called Foos right away to ask about the situation. I wanted to find out whether he realized that, in addition to witnessing a murder, he might have, in some way, caused it.
He was reluctant to say more than he had written in his journal, and he reminded me that I had signed a confidentiality agreement. I spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to turn Foos in. But I reasoned that it was too late to save the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Also, since I had kept the Voyeur’s secret, I felt worrisomely like a co-conspirator.
I filed away his notes on the murder along with all the other material he had mailed me. I now knew all that I wanted to know about the Voyeur.
Over the next decades, I continued to get letters from Gerald Foos of Aurora, Colorado. He reported that, as far as he knew, investigators had failed to find the killer, but that the police had been summoned to the Manor House for other reasons. He told me that one guest had committed suicide, shooting himself with a pistol. A five-hundred-pound man had suffered a fatal heart attack, and, because his bloated corpse could not fit through the door, firefighters had removed the room’s picture window.
In addition to these bits of news were his ongoing complaints about the appalling examples of human behavior he’d witnessed, including robbery, rape, and sexual exploitation. He had come to believe that the arrival of the birth-control pill, in the early sixties, which he’d originally celebrated, encouraged many men to expect sex on demand: “Women had won the legal right to choose but had lost the right to choose the right moment.” He felt that the war between the sexes had escalated and that sexual relations were getting worse, not better. (Lesbians, whom Foos admired, were an exception.)
As his misanthropy deepened, the language he used about his motel clients sounded more and more like unintentional descriptions of his own conscience. He wrote that he felt “overwhelmed by the fantasy, the play-acting, and the game-playing of the real world.” He continued, “People are basically dishonest and unclean; they cheat and lie and are motivated by self-interest.” He claimed to have become extremely antisocial, and when he was not in the attic he avoided seeing his guests.
It occurred to me that Foos might be approaching something like a mental breakdown. He reminded me of the psychotic anchorman in the 1976 film “Network,” who implodes, screaming, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” I also thought of John Cheever’s 1947 story “The Enormous Radio,” in which a couple’s marriage slowly suffers as their new radio mysteriously allows them to overhear the conversations and secrets of their neighbors; and of Nathanael West’s 1933 novel, “Miss Lonelyhearts,” in which an advice columnist’s life deteriorates as a result of his ongoing exposure to his readers’ sad and empty lives. Gerald Foos had literary and scientific pretensions, but he had no self-awareness. Here was a snooper in the attic claiming the moral high ground while passing judgment on unsuspecting people below.
Where was I in all this? I was the Voyeur’s pen pal, his confessor, perhaps, or an adjunct to a secret life he chose not to keep completely secret. Several times over the years, it occurred to me that I would be wise to discontinue our correspondence. Foos was not a subject I could write about, despite my curiosity about how it would end. Would he get caught? If he did, what would be the trial strategy of his attorneys? Was he naïve enough to think that jurors would accept that his attic was a laboratory in quest of truth? Moreover, might I be subpoenaed to testify?
Still, whenever an envelope from Foos arrived, I opened it. In March, 1985, after a long silence, he wrote to say that Donna had died. She had been in her mid-forties and suffered from lupus. There was a new woman in his life, a divorcée named Anita Clark. He had met her one afternoon when she was pulling her two small children down East Colfax Avenue in a red wagon. Anita took over Donna’s duties in the motel office. Like Donna, she was happily complicit in Foos’s secret life. She considered herself a full-fledged voyeur. From subsequent letters I learned that business was going so well that, in 1991, Foos bought a second motel down the street, called the Riviera. He installed four faux ventilators in the bedroom ceilings there, but the Manor House remained his observational headquarters.
Despite this apparent success, Foos was still tormented. He wrote, “Voyeurs are cripples whom most people think are flawed and imperfect and whom God has not blessed.”
I had not heard from Gerald Foos for a long time when, in July, 2012, I read on the front page of the Times that a twenty-four-year-old man, the son of a nurse, had fatally shot twelve people and wounded dozens more in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre. After scanning the article and seeing that Foos’s name was not listed among the victims, I called him. Bizarrely, he told me that he had once been inside the gunman’s apartment: Foos’s son had been an earlier tenant. “After I moved my son into another neighborhood,” he said, “this guy apparently replaced him, although we don’t ever recall running into this guy whose picture is now all over the news.”
A few weeks later, Gerald Foos resumed writing letters to me, and he used his familiar bombastic style in response to the movie-theatre shooting: “Haven’t the people of Aurora treated their fellow men with kindness and consideration, so that the sword of Damocles was lowered on us?”
He had sold his two motels in 1995, when arthritis in his knees made it too painful for him to climb the ladder and crawl around the attic. First, he’d removed the vents and patched up the holes in the ceilings. With the proceeds, he and Anita bought a ranch in the Rockies, splitting their time between it and a house on a golf course in Aurora. He missed his motels, which he called “that protected space, that sacred ground,” although he took comfort in the belief that the business was in decline. When he began, in the sixties, motels thrived because of the “tryst trade”; guests could walk directly from their cars to their rooms without having to interact with anyone in a lobby or elevator. Couples today, he said, seem less concerned with that kind of secrecy and discretion.
He wrote to me of missing the power he’d felt as the Voyeur. He wrote about having dyed his hair and later feeling ashamed as he studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror: dyeing his hair was a form of deception that challenged his self-perception as a truth-teller.
Since we last communicated, Foos had a new hobby. He had become preoccupied with government and corporate surveillance. “Almost everything we do is on record,” he told me over the phone.
He talked about how the private lives of public figures are exposed in the media almost every day, and about how even the head of the C.I.A., General David Petraeus, couldn’t keep his sex life out of the headlines. He insisted that the media is in “the Peeping Tom business, but the biggest Peeping Tom of all is the U.S. Government,” which keeps an eye on our daily lives through its use of security cameras and its ability to track activity on the Internet, credit cards, bank records, cell phones, G.P.S., and airline ticketing, among other things.
He asked me, “Perhaps you may be thinking, Why is this of interest to Gerald Foos? Because it is possible that someday the F.B.I. will show up and say, ‘Gerald Foos, we have evidence that you’ve been watching people from your observation platform. What are you, some kind of pervert?’ And then Gerald Foos will respond: ‘And what about you, Big Brother? For years you’ve been watching me everywhere I go.’ ”
During the spring of 2013, thirty-three years after I had met him, Foos called me to say that he was ready to go public with his story. Eighteen years had passed since he had sold his motels, and he believed that the statute of limitations would now protect him from invasion-of-privacy lawsuits that might be filed by any former guests. He was seventy-eight years old, he reminded me, and he felt that if he did not share his findings with the public now, he might not be around long enough to do so. He said he was dissolving the confidentiality agreement that I’d signed in 1980 and gave me permission to write about him and to use all the material he had shown me over the decades. (Later this year, I will publish a book about Foos, a large part of which consists of entries from “The Voyeur’s Journal.” For the use of his manuscript, he received a fee from the book publisher.)
I flew to Denver and met Foos and Anita for breakfast at an airport hotel. He carried a cane, and his thinning gray hair was offset by a gray mustache and goatee. Tightly buttoned over his massive chest was a tweed jacket and, under it, an orange sports shirt. Anita was as he had described her in his letters: eighteen years younger than Gerald, she was a petite, quiet woman with frizzy red hair.
He wanted to show me his collection of sports memorabilia—tens of thousands of sports cards that Anita had organized in alphabetical order. He explained that one of the reasons he was now willing to reveal himself as a voyeur was that he hoped the media notoriety might draw attention to his collection, which he was eager to sell. He believed it was worth millions.
I was more interested in discussing the murder that Foos claimed to have witnessed in Room 10 of the Manor House Motel in 1977. I had let Foos know that, without naming him as a witness, I intended to contact the Aurora Police Department to find out if it had uncovered any new information about the homicide. Foos did not object, saying that he regretted his negligence in the matter. In going public with his story and confessing his failings, he hoped to achieve some sort of “redemption.”
During our breakfast, I showed Foos a letter from Paul O’Keefe, then a lieutenant, now a division chief, of the Aurora Police Department, who wrote, “Unfortunately, we can find no record of such an event.” He had checked several cold-case databases and found nothing. Two coroner’s offices had no information, either. In subsequent phone calls, two former officers said that it would not be impossible for there to be no remaining police records in a “Jane Doe” case such as the one I described: the identity of the victim was unknown, after all, and the crime took place before police departments kept electronic records.
It is also possible that Foos made an error in his recordkeeping, or transcribed the date of the murder inaccurately, as he copied the original journal entry into a different format. Over the years, as I burrowed deeper into Foos’s story, I found various inconsistencies—mostly about dates—that called his reliability into question.
“It seems as if that young woman just fell through the cracks,” Foos said. I thought he might be relieved, but he told me that he had talked to a lawyer. In publicly admitting that he had witnessed a murder and had not acted to prevent it, he said, “I could be an accessory to a crime. I might be convicted of second-degree-murder charges.”
Still, Foos went on, after years of hiding, he was ready to come clean. “Life comes with risks, but we can’t be concerned with that,” he said. “We just tell the truth.”
After the meal, we drove to the Fooses’ house. “I hope I’m not described as just some pervert or Peeping Tom,” he said. “I think of myself as a pioneering sex researcher.” I asked him if he ever considered filming or recording his guests.
“No,” he said, explaining that to be caught with such equipment would have been incriminating, and using it would have been impractical.
He maintained that most men are natural voyeurs. “But most women prefer being watched to watching others,” he said, “which may partly explain why men spend fortunes on porn and women on cosmetics.”
Later, I asked Foos if he had heard of Erin Andrews, the television sportscaster who was secretly filmed coming out of the shower in her hotel room by a stalker who had altered the peephole in her door. The man, who then posted nude footage of Andrews on the Internet, was convicted of a felony and served twenty months in prison. Andrews sued him and the hotel for seventy-five million dollars in damages to compensate for the “horror, shame, and humiliation” she suffered. Last month, a jury awarded her fifty-five million dollars.
Foos had been following the case on the news. His take on it did not surprise me; it echoed the twisted justifications for his own behavior that he’d offered over the years. “While I’ve said that most men are voyeurs, there are some voyeurs—like this creep in the Andrews case—who are beneath contempt,” he told me. “He is a product of the new technology, exposing his prey on the Internet, and doing something that has nothing in common with what I did. I exposed no one. What this guy did was ruthless and vengeful. If I were a member of the jury, I’d unhesitatingly vote to convict.” He insisted that he had little in common with Andrews’s predator.
I asked him why, since he had spent half his life invading other people’s privacy, he was so critical of the government’s intelligence-gathering in the interest of national security. He reiterated that his spying was “harmless,” because guests were unaware of it and its purpose was never to entrap or expose anyone. He told me that he identified with Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who illegally released government documents alleging that, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies were tapping the cell phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
“Snowden, in my opinion, is a whistle-blower,” Foos said, adding that instead of being prosecuted Snowden should be praised “for exposing things that are wrong in our society.”
He considers himself a whistle-blower, too, even though, so far, he hadn’t revealed anything to anyone except his wives and me. Asked which “things that are wrong” he wished to expose, he said, “That basically you can’t trust people. Most of them lie and cheat and are deceptive. What they reveal about themselves in private they try to hide in public. What they try to show you in public is not what they really are.”
While he was on the subject of morality, I brought the conversation around to the murder again.
“If I’d known that this particular lady was dying, I’d have called an ambulance immediately,” he said. He had subsequently thought about how he might have saved the woman without incriminating himself. “I would have said, ‘I was walking by the window and heard a scream’—or something like that.”
Foos recounted the night of the murder once more, filling in some details that were not in the journal I had read decades earlier: When the maid found the body in Room 10, “I thought, Oh, no,” Foos said. He had Donna check that she was really dead. Then he called the police. As the coroner was loading the body into a van, Foos said, “I was sick, telling myself, ‘You know, I could be responsible for this.’ ” Still, even after acknowledging his remorse over the woman’s murder, he would not connect his behavior in the attic with serious wrongdoing.
I remained perplexed about Gerald Foos’s motives. How could he assume that going public with his sinister story would achieve anything positive? It could just as easily provide evidence leading to his arrest, lawsuits, and widespread public outrage. Why did he crave the notoriety? Unlike the nineteenth-century adventurer in “The Other Victorians,” who produced a lengthy confession—“My Secret Life”—but then withheld his name from it, Foos wanted to send his manuscript out into the world, and he was willing to acknowledge his true identity, even with all the risks that entailed.
It occurred to me that Foos had something in common with another American who wanted the world to read what he had written: Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber. In 1995, after he had already killed three people and injured twenty-three others with homemade bombs, he promised “to desist from terrorism” if theTimes or the Washington Post would publish his manifesto condemning industrial society. Kaczynski’s wish was granted, but he was later discovered and arrested. His brother had recognized him by his writing style; the Unabomber was done in by his manuscript.
The people who bought Gerald Foos’s motels in 1995 presumably never knew why some of the guest rooms had six-by-fourteen-inch plasterboard patches in the ceilings. In 2014, the Manor House was sold to a real-estate partnership headed by a local developer named Brooke Banbury. The day after the transaction, the former owners promptly left, abandoning their personal belongings and the contents of the motel. Among the items found in the Manor House was a submachine gun with three loaded magazines and extra bullets.
Banbury’s wife had hoped to donate the motel’s contents to a local welfare agency, but she couldn’t find one willing to accept it all. So her husband hired a wrecking crew to demolish everything and haul it away. Within two weeks, all that was left of the Manor House Motel was a plot of flat land enclosed by a chain-link fence.
That is what Gerald and Anita Foos saw, four months later, when I paid a visit to the site with them. They hadn’t known that the motel was being razed, and there were tears in Anita’s eyes as she parked their car near the fence.
“Seems that everything is gone,” Foos said, opening the car door and, with the aid of his cane, stepping out. The couple walked arm in arm through the fence’s open gate.
“I hope we can find something to take home,” Foos said, walking slowly, with his head down, searching for a memento or two that might be added to his collections—perhaps a doorknob or a room number. But the demolition crew had pulverized everything. Finally, Foos bent and picked up two chunks of green-painted stone that had lined the walkway along the parking area (he had painted the stones himself) and a strip of electrical wiring from the red neon sign that had spelled out the motel’s name.
“It’s too bad we didn’t get here earlier,” he said. “We might have gotten a piece of that sign.”
They walked slowly around the lot for fifteen minutes, keeping their heads down. It was a hot day, and Foos was perspiring.
“Let’s go home,” Anita said.
“Yes,” he agreed, turning toward the gate. “I’ve seen enough.” ♦
Gay Talese is the author of thirteen books, among them “The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge” and “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which includes photographs by the late Phil Stern.