Rusty Houser was part of a crackpot chorus that used to dominate radio talk shows, public forums and letters to the editor columns. He leaned on a last name that people recognized and a charm that impressed people until they heard his rants.
His unpredictable behavior offered hints of what Rusty was capable of doing, but no one could foresee the massacre that occurred Thursday night in a movie theater in Louisiana.
Yes, it was that Rusty Houser.
Local people recognized his picture on the national news before his name was released. They did not believe what they saw. They knew him from the neighborhood. They knew him from school. One woman on Facebook said she even had a few dates with him.
News outlets finally identified Rusty as the shooter who killed two moviegoers, wounded nine others and then turned the gun on himself. They said he was from Phenix City, that he was a drifter from Alabama.
We knew better. We know him as the son of a respected public official, a graduate of Columbus High School and Columbus State University and a golfer good enough to make the leaderboard of local tournaments.
He was a regular at the old Speakeasy when it was a neighborhood bar in Dinglewood, and at one time he owned the Peachtree Pub, a crowded club near CSU that showcased local musicians. People rolled their eyes at his outspoken antics but usually added what a nice mother, brother and wife he had.
Lawmen in Louisiana said he checked into a bargain-basement motel in Lafayette carrying wigs and other disguises. At home, we remember him as a gadfly who claimed to be an expert on city government, schools and public utilities.
Such shooters are often portrayed as quiet, but Houser never stopped talking. When I was the host of "Talk Line" on WRCG, he called every day. This was at the cusp of the Rush Limbaugh generation, and Rusty fit in well.
He followed in the footsteps of wacky callers such as Arthur Pue and Ronnie Goodwin. Each was educated. Each could take a nugget of fact and run with it. Pue, a retired sergeant, once ran for mayor of Columbus and introduced his poodle as his campaign manager. Goodwin ran for office on both sides of the river.
Like them, Rusty wanted to be relevant. His father's name gave him the only credibility he had, so like Rembert Houser Sr. he ran for tax commissioner. During the campaign he was arrested for stealing his opponent's signs. Later, his issues grew much more serious.
Rusty Houser dropped off our radar screens in recent years, but I never heard anyone say he was missed. Folks forgot him. Until Friday morning.
Most of his life he pined for respect and longed for relevancy. Now he will be remembered as one of those crazed killers who lived next door.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com