A longtime racist skinhead says he’s a new man. In fact, he’s named a foundation after the homeless man he murdered.
David Nikos Pillatos, who for much of his life was a racist skinhead, is serving a 30-year sentence in a Washington state prison for the 2003 murder of a homeless man, Randall Townsend, in Tacoma, Wash. Pillatos was unrepentant at the time of his sentencing, sending a letter to the trial judge that said, “I killed him and I liked it.” Now 30, Pillatos told the Intelligence Report he wrote that because, at the time, he wanted the state to put him to death for what he’d done.
Pillatos describes a bleak and lonely childhood. He was completely estranged from his mother, who he says abandoned him at a young age, leaving him and his sister in the hands of an abusive father and stepmother. Early on, he took to the streets in a string of crimes that landed him in prison for most of his teens, starting with a robbery at age 13. At 19, he spent the four months prior to Townsend’s murder hanging around with three skinhead friends, including his then-pregnant girlfriend, Tristain Frye, and getting into street fights. On the night of the murder, Pillatos, Frye, Scotty Butters and Kurtis Monschke had been drinking heavily when they went to a Tacoma store and bought several baseball bats. Then they headed to an area of the city where street people congregated under a highway bridge.
They knew what they were looking for, as several of them told police later — a drug dealer, preferably a black one. Drug dealers were seen as evil by the racist skinhead group Volksfront, which Pillatos claims Monschke was a member of. But instead, they ran into Townsend, a homeless white man, and beat him to death.
Pillatos was originally sentenced to life in prison. But a court later reduced that sentence — Pillatos expects to be released in his late 40s — and since that time he says he has changed his life while serving time at the Monroe Corrections Center in Monroe, Wash. Now married and an avowed opponent of racism, Pillatos spoke to the Report about his life in the violent world of racist skinheads, how he came to be involved in Townsend’s murder, and why he changed his views.
How did you first get involved in the racist skinhead scene?
I was never racist until I got locked up. I didn’t even know Pillatos was a Greek name. I thought it was Spanish. I went to Green Hill juvenile facility [in Chehalis, Wash.] for robbery in the second degree when I was 15. It was actually black kids that were most racist there. They had a monopoly on bullying little white kids. They said, “If you want to be here, you’ve got to pay five bucks, otherwise we are going to beat you up.” One guy, Raymond Porter — who later killed three people, shot a cop and then shot himself — would beat on my door or on my wall and sing, “Honky, cracker, peckerwood, snow bunny, snow bunny.” It was scary.
And there was a guy there who was a skinhead. He went by Frost, and I thought if this is what black people are like, then I should be racist, too. So I sent Frost a letter [saying] that I wanted to be racist. I didn’t even know what a skinhead was. He gave me information on the White Aryan Resistance [a group run by neo-Nazi Tom Metzger], which he was a member of. That was 1999.
What was your family life like?
Nonexistent. My mother left me and my sister when I was 3 and she was 1. She admitted years later, when she got back into my life, that she just wasn’t ready to be a mom. My dad is a scumbag to this day. A crackhead, thief, just a worthless individual. He married a woman who beat me and my sister for roughly six years. We were in and out of foster care. It was pretty bad.
My sister actually ended up being very successful after a rough childhood. She spent quite a few years acting out. But my grandparents took her in when she was 15. She ended up doing really well. She got married to an El Salvadoran guy who owns an auto mechanic shop. She works full time. She’s a foster parent now herself and has two children of her own. She’s doing really well.
Let’s go back to your criminal past.
I was at Green Hill for a year, 15 to 16. That’s when I first got involved in [the racist skinhead movement]. I met a couple other skinheads there. There were only four of us on the entire campus. We’d get jumped and we’d go back to the hole for getting jumped. Then the next guy would get out. He would get jumped then he would come back in. So we formed a pretty tight bond, getting beat up regularly. Most of it was deserved. But none of us were racist until we got locked up.
Later, I bumped into some of those guys on the street. I was one of the original four members of what we called the Aryan brotherhood. Not like the Aryan Brotherhood in Texas or California [a reference to the nation’s largest racist prison gang], but we said that we were Aryans and we were a brotherhood of people that fought together. When they got released, they changed the name to Aryan Skins. But I quit right away. I was going to join the Aryan Nations [a once-leading neo-Nazi group based in Idaho].
I started running around with them on the street. We did a little bit of fighting, but nothing serious. I was only out 40 days or so. Then I assaulted my dad. I was high on methamphetamine. We didn’t know about the Straight Edge [a reference to skinheads who don’t drink or do drugs] stuff yet. We were all getting high.
I was arrested, tried to break my handcuffs and shackles, and the guards assaulted me. They charged me with three counts of assault. I turned a one-week sentence into two years and three months and went back to Green Hill. We had a good weight room there, so all I did was lift weights, wrestle and box. We would take strips of a blanket and fold them up and wrap our T-shirt around it and tie it around our wrist for gloves. I was the only skinhead at Green Hill for a whole year-long period. Eventually, people just quit fighting me.
So you finally got out when you were about 19?
I was more or less in juvenile prison from 13 to two months before my 19th birthday. When I got out, I bumped into Kurtis Monschke, who I knew from Maple Lane juvenile prison [in Centralia, Wash.]. He was the one really involved with Volksfront. Monschke was the mastermind for our group, the brains of the operation. He was the paid-your-dues, [the racist band] Skrewdriver-listening-to, fundamentalist skinhead. We hooked up outside just before my 19th birthday. I got released on August 30, 2002. We crossed paths in September and we were arrested for murder in March 2003.
What was your connection to organized racist groups?
Monschke was the only Volksfront member. [Editor’s note: Volksfront categorically denies that Monschke was ever associated with the group, including claims that he was its Washington state leader at the time of the Townsend murder.] I almost got involved. He had an application that he wanted me to fill out because he wanted me to teach hand-to-hand combat to his recruits. He told me that he was the probationary commanding officer for Washington state. He called [Volksfront founder and leader] Randy Krager all the time. He had him on speed dial. He even got his tattoos at Krager’s house [in Portland, Ore.].
What was your day-to-day life like at the time?
Me and Tristain were the only two with jobs. Kurtis did let me move into his apartment. He’s made a big deal of this. I moved into his house and I had a job. He quit his job and I paid the rent. Then Tristain moved in. There was only one bedroom in the apartment, and Monschke said you are the only ones paying rent, so you’ll get the bedroom. We packed up all of our stuff and moved in. We worked Monday through Friday. At night we’d listen to music, hang out, and get on the Internet to look up hate literature. On the weekends, we would go out and get in fights.
And what were you doing in the time leading up to the murder?
We started getting into tussles with black dudes on Tacoma Avenue. The night of the murder, they offered to sell us crack. Me and Butters got out of the car to fight them. Kurtis stayed in the car. So we tussled with them for a little bit and then they ran off. We got back in the car. Then about 20 of them showed up and the car died.
So they started trying to attack us. Then finally the car started. Monschke tried to run a couple of them over. We left. We needed baseball bats, because there were three of us and 20 of them. It didn’t happen. We got pulled over because we were drinking and driving.
And the night of the murder?
We were at the apartment, drinking and talking about going out. There was some mention of red shoelaces [which are sometimes earned in skinhead groups by attacking a minority], but Tristain wasn’t enthused. I stopped by Fred Myer [one of a chain of superstores] and bought two baseball bats. Then I stopped by a gas station and Tristain, who was 23, bought us a case of beer.
We were supposed to meet a skinhead girl at the Tacoma Dome to hook Kurtis up with because his girlfriend had left him. So we get to the Tacoma Dome and there’s police all over the place because of a rodeo that night. We went around the back where she was working, but the security guard turned us away. So we left. We went up Tacoma Avenue, where we were going to fight these dudes. We pulled over, because there was a cop following us from behind, into this little parking lot and started walking around under this underpass.
What happened then?
This is when Kurtis started talking about having “bum fights.” So we are walking around and Kurtis is hitting empty sleeping bags. We go down this underpass because we hear music coming from underneath this bridge and we bump into this black guy and his white girlfriend, who I happen to know — Ice and Cindy. They were two of the witnesses in the case. Kurtis wanted to beat them up because, well, they’re an interracial couple, they’re also homeless. That’s two strikes against them. But I talked him out of it.
I actually almost pushed Kurtis down the overpass to get him away from these people. I’d bumped into them before. They weren’t bad people; they had just fallen on hard times. So we go down to some train tracks. We were following them along and we bumped into a group of skateboarders spray-painting stuff. Kurtis is an artist, so he starts spray-painting. Me and Scotty leave.
We go back the other way. It was about five to 10 minutes to where we had left Tristain at the car. We get back and see Tristain talking to Randall Townsend. He had on a big yellow puffy jacket and was a white guy. Tristain had given him a beer. I found out later he had said that he was thirsty. I said, “Hey, Randy can you get me some drugs?” He said yeah, then he started talking about people controlling his mind. I turned to Tristain and started laughing because he was obviously either crazy or just drugged out of his mind.
How did the attack start?
Scotty hit Townsend in the head with a bat. He hit him so hard that the bat snapped in half. I don’t know why it happened, because there was no anger. There was nothing. I didn’t feel anything at all. So when Townsend fell down, we start kicking him. Me and Scotty are kicking him back and forth. Then as soon as he begins to bleed, I run and get Kurtis and say we need to get out of here. We just beat this dude up. So Kurtis comes back with me and he’s got the other baseball bat.
Randall Townsend was still breathing. He was still alive. Kurtis said, “We need to kill him. He’s going to identify us.” I keep saying, “No, he’s not. He’s fine. He just got beat up.” Kurtis is upset, we are all going to go prison, he keeps ranting.
So he starts trying to beat Townsend to death with a baseball bat. I’m standing about six feet back. He’s whaling on him, beating his head with this bat. He’s doing it for 10, 15, 20 seconds. Blood started flying off the end of the bat and hitting me in the face. Some of it got on my lips and inside my mouth. It snaps me back to reality and I rushed forward and stopped him. I say, “Man, he’s had enough. He’s had enough. He’s still breathing. He’s going to be a vegetable. He’s never going to be able to identify anybody.”
He was like, “No, we need to kill him.”
I said, “I’ll handle it. Just leave. Go to the car.”
What happened then?
I pick up this big rock, Kurtis looks over his shoulder, so I act like I’m going to slam it. So I raised it up and I started to bring it down and then as soon as Kurtis looks away, I pulled it up and just let it drop. Which, of course, never came out in my case. They just saw a big rock with blood on it. I still thought that he was going to live. I knew he was going to be hurt real bad, but he was still breathing when we left.
But Cindy and Ice circled around the long way and saw us leaving the place where Mr. Townsend was assaulted. They knew me and Tristain from when we had met up with them before. We get in the car and leave. They find Townsend.
We go over to Kurtis’ friend’s house. We drop Tristain off because she’s freaking out. She’s having a panic attack. Scotty doesn’t even care.
We get all of our stuff and wrap it up in a bag. Kurtis is bragging to everyone about it. I think he E-mailed Randy [Krager] or texted him something like, “Watch the news in the morning.” We were arrested a week later.
What happened with Tristain and your baby?
He was adopted by the same family that adopted me for a while when I was a child. They don’t let him talk to me.
Tristain was never a racist. She was literally nothing but a tagalong. She kind of did and said the same stuff that I did, but her best friend was black. She was bisexual. She liked smoking pot and listening to rap music. She wasn’t even a little bit racist.
So what do you think turned you around?
I think most of it started with the change in my life sentence. I had already put the skinhead stuff to the side. I realized that all of those people were a waste of life. Randy Krager stabbed Kurtis in the back by denouncing him. Kurtis stabbed me in the back. Scotty Butters was clueless.
There were articles by the Aryan Nations that the murder was a Jewish conspiracy and that we actually killed a black guy. Another said that the Jews had switched it around and said that we were killing white people. Just all sorts of weird, ridiculous stuff. But when I won my appeal and no longer had life, I thought I’m getting released someday. I’m not going to die in prison.
What happened when other racist inmates found out you changed your views?
I was attacked. My jaw was dislocated. I fought back and was sent to the hole. I was in the hole and heard that if I came back to the main population, skinheads were going to kill me. I just knew that I hated skinheads and I was ready to fight and ready to die. But I knew I was also going to get released some day.
I was like, all right, I’m just going to fight and let them know that I can do this, too. Then I attacked another group of skinheads who were eating breakfast. And back to the hole. After that, the guards would come up with a reason to keep me in the hole for my protection and their protection. Because they knew somebody was going to get hurt, period.
So I had to wait for four years and then put in for a transfer and I got transferred here in July 2011. I’ve been here ever since and no one has bothered me.
What has your life there been like?
I’ve educated myself. I’ve learned Arabic and Greek and I’ve read the Koran and the Bible.
I’m married, too. My wife is amazing. She’s the most wonderful woman that I have known in my life. She’s patient, loving, funny, the opposite of me in almost every way. She’s a very sweet Christian girl. We were baptized as Coptic [Egyptian] Orthodox in 2012. I was baptized by the same person she was.
I still talk to my mom, but we disagree on things like alcohol. And my sister is amazing.
Now that you know you’ll be free when you are in your late 40s, what do you want to do?
I have this longstanding dream of speaking in juvenile institutions or boys’ homes. Things like that. Talking to people about my life experiences. I don’t know if it’s possible because I’m a murderer. I also want to go out and help homeless people on the streets. My wife and I, we already have our nonprofit name approved, the Randall Townsend Foundation.
What would you say to other youngsters who get caught up in the hate world?
There’s just so much more people could do with their lives than involving themselves in meaningless hate groups. A lot of times people get these ideas that they’re going to save the white race and all they’re going to do is destroy it.
If people want to be proud of being white, study your culture. If you are Irish, learn how to river dance. If you are Greek, learn how to cook their great food. It’s white supremacist nonsense, shaving your head and running around in steel-toe boots.
Basically, don’t be stupid.
Interview conducted by Heidi Beirich.