Portrait of the Artist as a Killer

The Art of Murder or How to Take a Friend's Life Without Really Trying. Acclaimed artist Carl Wesley, a.k.a. Inmate 198369, wrote the book.

By the winter of 1997, Wesley says, it was "depression" that prevented him from getting his life together, that crippled his art and kept him from going after lucrative assignments. Once he had dropped his son off at day care, he would either get high or go back to bed. The house. The marriage. The kids. "I was coming up short," he explains. "That was hard for me to take. I had been successful, and now everything was getting away from me. I was in a cycle. I got high to medicate myself. Because I was high, I wasn't very productive and that led to my depression. The visual image I have is the guy at the carnival spinning plates. One plate is going, then the next. By the end, it was like my life was full of spinning plates.

"What puzzles me is that I allowed myself to get sucked into this crime. It was just timing. If it were the Friday before, I might've said, 'You're out of your fuckin' mind.' But it just happened when all these things were hounding me. I needed the money. If we robbed him, we'd have money. If we robbed him, we had to kill him. That's all I could see."

Ten days before taking the man's life, Wesley invited Gregg Gallup to an art crawl in Lowertown St. Paul, where he'd been renting studio space. (Over the last couple of years, when Carl did score a free-lance assignment, Barbara says a lion's share of the money went to pay for this space, along with art supplies.) The two men talked late into the evening, listening to CDs while Wesley showed off his art to his friend.

At 41, Gallup was settled into his rent-free living space in the back of the check-cashing shop, with spare time between customers to practice his electric guitar. Few things pleased him more than commiserating with another creative soul. Gregg's father, Lynn Gallup, a retired electrical engineer living in Edina, describes his son as "a very quiet guy who kept his own counsel. He never wanted to be part of the corporate culture. He was a '60s kid. He just wanted to be a musician, but not a structured musician. So he drifted from job to job until he finally landed this check-cashing thing."

As Wesley tells it, he and Gallup had known of each other for more than a year before the murder. Through Bobby Quinn, Wesley knew him by name. At one point late in 1996, Gregg even attended a party at Wesley's house to watch Mike Tyson fight on TV. Still, they were just casual acquaintances whose paths crossed on occasion--nothing more. That all changed, Wesley says, in May last year: "Out of the blue, Kenny says, 'I know who we can get.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I know where Gregg keeps the money. He doesn't keep it in the safe. He keeps it in a box.'

"He went through all this detail. There's no camera in the shop. Gregg's back there all alone. There's hardly anyone coming or going. He wanted the money, and he figured the only way to get it was to kill Gregg. I don't know if there was any blood lust. All I know is that when he brought it up, it troubled me. It was like he was buffing an apple in front of someone who's hungry.

"So I decided to stop in at the check-cashing shop in Brooklyn Park and see if Gregg was there. Over the summer of 1997, I visited him as many times as I had a check to cash; maybe a dozen times. I wanted to get to know him, because what Kenny had proposed to me was troubling. When I went to visit him, I often brought my son. There were times when I would've preferred to do my business and move on, but it just seemed Gregg wanted some companionship. So I would sit for a while. I would even offer to make a breakfast run through McDonald's. I'm very generous that way.

"But it was during the art crawl that I really got a feel for who Gregg was. He seemed really impressed with my work. It was like, 'Hey Gregg, I'm more than the guy who hangs around with Kenny and those other knuckleheads! This is what I do.' He may have understood that. He had some duality too. I think we would've been friends."

Wesley won't say exactly why he felt compelled to socialize with Gallup. When he wants compassion, he says there were fleeting thoughts of whispering a warning to his friend. When he's in a contemplative mood--on the "edge of accepting the consequences of his actions," as Mavis Karn puts it--he'll come close to admitting that he was sizing up his prey: the operational definition of premeditated murder. When playing the misunderstood martyr, he puts Gallup in the same category as the drug dealers in Spanish Harlem, the IRS, and Kenny Schendel.

"I know from spending time with him that he, too, was not an angel. There were things Gregg would say to certain customers that troubled me," he says. "Once, two young black boys had come into the store and they just wanted quarters for video games. And from where I was sitting, I could see a box of quarters under the counter. Gregg's reaction was like, 'Get the fuck out of here, I don't have any quarters.' It made me angry. I had been placed in situations like that as a child."

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