With Death Row Hovering, Java’s Singing Serial Killer Eyes Pop Stardom

By Arlina Arshad
Agence France-Presse

DEPOK, West Java ~ For a man facing the death penalty, alleged serial killer Verry Idham Henyansyah reveals more than a little gallows humor in the title of his upcoming album, My Last Performance.

The smooth-faced 31-year-old has already achieved national infamy with his confessions to a series of grisly murders – including a mother and her toddler – and details of his life as a gay man in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Now Henyansyah, popularly known as Ryan, is chasing fame of a more orthodox kind – with a prison-penned autobiography published in February and a collection of pop songs due out in April.

Holding court in his jail cell recently, dressed in flowing white robes and a matching Muslim skullcap, Henyansyah trilled a sweet-voiced rendition of one of his songs for an appreciative crowd of court officers, local residents and reporters.

“Release me, forget me, release me from these shackles,” Henyansyah sang.

“Enough for now. You can get my album soon,” he said, as the applause and cheers for an encore turned to visible disappointment.

Henyansyah was arrested in July last year after bags containing the dismembered body parts of one of his alleged victims, Herry Santoso, were found on a Jakarta roadside.

Santoso’s body – stabbed, bludgeoned and cut into seven pieces – and Henyansyah’s confession led police to uncover a cluster of 10 graves in Henyansyah’s parents’ backyard in rural East Java.

Prosecutors have demanded Henyansyah face the firing squad over the alleged murders, and a verdict is expected in April.

But while he waits for a verdict, Henyansyah is working his charm. Suhardi, a fellow prisoner, was one of many taken in by his charisma.

“I read about him in the newspapers and I’m curious to see how he looks in person. He’s young, handsome and looks like a superstar. It’s hard to believe someone so harmless-looking could do something so evil,” he said.

Remorse for his crimes was the motivating force behind the album, which he recorded in prison, Henyansyah told AFP.

“I write the songs for people I love. Forgive Me Mother is for my mother. Another song, Sun, is about lovers missing each other because they are separated until they die,” Henyansyah said.

Henyansyah has never denied the crimes that could earn him the death penalty.

Indeed, his autobiography, The Untold Story of Ryan, includes maps to the graves in his parents’ backyard, as well as photographs that chart his progress from village boy to Koran recital teacher, to simpering, shirtless male model.

Henyansyah said he killed Santoso, whose body was found on the Jakarta roadside, after Santoso offered him money and a car to have sex with his boyfriend.

“I can’t explain how it happened. I was furious and jealous. I only realized he was dead after I saw cut-up pieces of his flesh on my lap… the blood, the bad smell,” Henyansyah said from his prison cell.

“Suddenly I was gripped with extraordinary fear. All I wanted to do was to get rid of him,” he said.

According to Henyansyah, it was often jealousy or the unwanted romantic overtures of others – and the accompanying offers of money or reward – that drove him to kill.

He said he killed one young woman after she attempted to seduce him, then killed her young daughter because she was a witness.

“Most of (the victims) were gay men like me. They made me feel cheap. I got angry, we fought and I accidentally killed them,” he said.

“Not all gay men are promiscuous. Love is very important to me. It makes me furious when people say there’s no such thing as loyalty in the gay world.

“It’s a stressful time for me now. I feel scared in prison. I often cry at night thinking about my life. I feel depressed. Writing, composing the songs and singing lifted my spirits somewhat,” he said.

Expressions of remorse aside, Henyansyah seems to be enjoying the limelight and even joked about photos on the internet purportedly showing him nude.

“If the body looks good, then it’s me,” he said. “If not, that’s my boyfriend.”

The authorities seem bemused by Henyansyah’s star status, and allow a steady stream of visitors to stop by his cell to have their photograph taken with him.

Nor have there been any objections to him profiting from his book and album.

“It is the right of the accused to write a book and make a music album. No problem,” said deputy attorney general Abdul Hakim Ritonga.

“The accused, like any other artist, also has the right to claim royalties from the sale of book or album. Indonesia does not prohibit that.”

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