When it comes to murder, not all killers are created equal. According to the dust jacket of Léon Bing’s true-crime tale Smoked, the really intriguing thing about Dave Adkins — teenage shotgun slayer of three high school girls in comfortable South Pasadena, Calif. — is that ”Dave’s the kind of kid everyone wishes their son could be.” Even Bing herself, whose 1991 book, Do or Die, chronicled gang life in South Central L.A., seems a bit taken with Adkins’ broad shoulders, muscular chest and ”face, with its rain-gray eyes and sullen, sensual mouth…framed by a thick tousle of dark blond hair.”
Soon enough, however, the reader learns that it’s all an illusion. By age 16, Dave Adkins was already a burglar, brawler, heavy drinker, and regular drug abuser. His looks and charm made him the perfect choice for pretty, rebellious booze- and drug-addled rich girls. Not so Dave’s constant companion, Vinnie Hebrock. ”Vinnie’s effect on girls was always the same: They wanted to get away from him as quickly as possible.” Thus Vinnie gets the blame from most of the kids after the ghastly, motiveless triple homicide the two committed. Bing herself, with her vivid documentary style — heavy on verbatim quotes and light on analysis — seems at times to buy into the Vinnie-made-him-do-it theory, even though the evidence would seem to indicate just the opposite.
But then, that’s the problem with Smoked from beginning to end. Apparently stonewalled by almost all of the adults affected by the crime, Bing sticks to the kids, a bunch of postliterate druggies who lack the cultural equipment to comprehend tragedy. ”I keep on wondering,” one kid tells her, ”if at the moment it happened, if killing another person was, like, the most incredible high. Like, whoa!” It’s, like, totally ironic, dudes. And it wears real thin. C+