Karaoke Murders

A new book, Murderoke! by writer and karaoke host Terry O'Brien tells the story of a serial killer on the loose in Cape May, N.J. The victims in the book all loved to sing karaoke.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

In the laidback beach town of Cape May, New Jersey, a serial killer is on the loose. The victims have one thing in common. They all love to sing karaoke. That's the premise of the title story in "Murderoke!," a collection by writer and karaoke host Terry O'Brien. It's a work of fiction, but as Joel Rose reports, it's also based on fact.

JOEL ROSE: If you got on the Garden State Parkway heading south, you eventually wind up in Cape May. The further south you go, the more famous Terry O'Brien gets.

Mr. TERRY O'BRIEN (Author, "Murdeoke!"): South of exit four on the Garden State Parkway, Terry O'Brien is, you know, Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. You hit exit six, it's like, who is this guy? Never heard of him.

ROSE: With his stocky build and goatee, O'Brien looks more like Garth Brooks and Brad Pitt, but he's the undisputed karaoke king of Cape May. From May through the end of September, he hosts "Terryoke" five nights a week at local bars.

Mr. O'BRIEN: Sam(ph) gets to sing twice because he's amazingly, awesomely talented and I owe him money.

ROSE: On Monday nights, you can find him at Martini Beach on the second floor of an old Victorian house across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.

(Soundbite of karaoke bar)

Unidentified Women: (Singing)

ROSE: O'Brien started hosting karaoke four years ago after working for over a decade as an actor. The business took off quickly. Tonight, all the tables at Martini Beach are packed with singers patiently waiting for their turn.

Mr. O'BRIEN: I'd say a solid 70, 75 percent of my singers are average to really good. There's a thriving community theater down here in Cape May and a lot of those guys come out, they do their show, they have a drink, they come out, they sing some karaoke. That just completely raises the bar. But even the average guy off the street is generally - I mean, they wouldn't do it if they didn't think they were any good at it.

ROSE: Many of the regulars at Terryoke have also appeared in O'Brien's column for the local weekly paper, Exit Zero. Last year, O'Brien started writing a series of fictional short stories in which real-life karaoke singers mysteriously turn up dead.

Prof. SAL RIGGI(ph): He actually called me up one day and he says, would you mind if I kill you? And I told him I might take it personal, and then he explained to me it was in a story he was writing.

ROSE: Sal Riggi is a college professor and a regular at Terryoke.

Prof. RIGGI: You know, I joked with him. I said, well, there might be some people up North Jersey that may not like that. I said, but sure, go ahead. It's only a story.

ROSE: How did he kill you?

Prof. RIGGI: Somebody bashed my head in with a microphone after I sung "Runaround Sue."

(Soundbite of karaoke singing)

Prof. RIGGI: (Singing) Here's my story, its sad but true. About a girl that I once knew. She took my love then ran around with every single guy in town.

ROSE: Riggi isn't the only Terryoke regular who meets an untimely end in O'Brien's stories, which are now published in a book called "Murderoke!" Edward Cole, a hairdresser by trade, gets scalped after singing an Andrew Lloyd Webber tune. Cole says it's an honor to get killed in one of O'Brien's stories.

Mr. EDWARD COLE: People were coming up, telling him, put me in your book, murder me, kill me, you know.

ROSE: No one asks O'Brien to murder them tonight. At least, not in so many words.

(Soundbite of karaoke singing)

Unidentified Man #1: Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days...

ROSE: Randy Ridellecko(ph) and his wife Wendy have been coming to Terryoke for several years.

Ms. WENDY RIDELLECKO: I don't sing in Terryoke. My husband likes to and I kind of get embarrassed, but he does it anyway. I think what I admire about Terry - and I didn't know anything about him when we started coming - is that he has three children and of course he's married, and he's a hard worker.

ROSE: There are so many singers at Martini Beach that's it well after midnight before anyone gets a second turn.

Mr. O'BRIEN: It's unprecedented. I had 25 singers before I got to someone who did a second song, which is off the charts busy for me.

ROSE: You know, before, when you said that the quality of the singing is pretty good most of the time...

Mr. O'BRIEN: Yeah.

ROSE: I didn't believe you.

Mr. O'BRIEN: Few people do because they think karaoke - drunk guys come out to sing, you know, "Summer Wind." But a lot of these guys really - they love to sing and even if not great, they have the passion and sometimes that passion makes up for perhaps a lack of natural, God-given talent.

ROSE: Underline sometimes.

(Soundbite of karoke singing)

Unidentified Men and Women: (Singing) Sweet Caroline, oh-oh-oh, Good times never seem so good, So good, so good, so good.

ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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