Owner, city officials at odds

By Raymond Castile

Warning: contains mature subject matter.

Zombies and crazed cannibals haunt the Mall of the Dead in Wentzville, but its homicidal lesbians are the ones scaring city leaders.

Owner Dean Kemper said Wentzville officials are violating his free speech rights, trying to close down his haunted house because they do not like two sexually suggestive scenes. Wentzville officials said they are merely enforcing city ordinances, while Kemper is trying to forge ahead without a obtaining a business license or passing safety inspections.

"We're bloody. We're violent. We're gory," Kemper said. "Our haunted house does not rely on animatronic dummies. It's live horror theater."

Jason Conrey, 18, plays a zombie.

"I love horror, zombies, killing, blood and guts, intestines, livers – it's all beautiful," said Conrey, his face covered in fake blood and splitting rubber skin.

The Mall of the Dead includes scenes of zombies devouring people, maniacs butchering victims, and killer clowns attacking the "tour guides" who lead visitors through the attraction, which fills 250,000 square feet in the mostly vacant Mall at Wentzville Crossing, south of Interstate 70 near Highway 40-61.

But the scene causing most of the fuss depicts two young women killing a man tied to a bed. One woman seduces the other into committing the deed, kissing her and touching her suggestively. The two women plunge knives into the man's crotch, which is covered by a blanket.

"There are some sexual situations, but there is no nudity. No one is having sex," Kemper said. "There is touching on the arms and legs, kissing on the shoulders. It's only because it is two girls that the chief doesn't like it."

Wentzville Police Lt. Kevin Pyatt said the problem is not the characters' sexual orientation, but the fact that they climax their seduction with an act of sexual mutilation.

"Cutting off a man's (organ) is sexually explicit material," Pyatt said. "City ordinances restrict any sexually explicit material without an adult business license."

"We're bloody. We're violent. We're gory," Kemper said. "Our haunted house does not rely on animatronic dummies. It's live horror theater."

City Administrator Andy McCown said there was no reason Kemper could not open an adult entertainment complex, so long as he obtained proper permits and did not hire children.

An adult license would create problems for Kemper's 100-member workforce, many of whom are 15-17 years old.

Pyatt said no one under the age of 18 is allowed to work in an adult-licensed business.

"He says no one under 17 is allowed in his haunted house, but then he has people 15 years old working for him," Pyatt said.

Kemper said employees must show identification before they can work. Anyone under 18 must have a signed parental permission slip.

Pyatt said the permission slips are ambiguous because there is no way to validate them.

"The majority of parents have been extremely supportive of us," Kemper said.

McCown said the city received many calls from parents whose children had auditioned for the Mall of the Dead.

"When the children told them the kind of skits they could be engaged in, the parents were outraged," McCown said.

The Mall of the Dead Web site states the attraction is not suitable for anyone under the age of 17, but adds that visitors under 15 can be admitted with a parent or guardian.

Jessica Potts, 17, plays the seducer in the lesbian scene.

"She is demented, twisted, and so very aggressive," said Potts, of O'Fallon. "It's fun. You have to put some passion into it or it doesn't come off as real at all."

Lauren Mueller, 18, portrays the submissive girl, seduced into killing her boyfriend.

"I'm more than comfortable with it," said Mueller, of St. Charles. "It's a pretty meaty role. I can see that this is just acting."

Chris Moore, 17, plays the male victim.

"If people can't come in here and understand this is a play, they shouldn't be here," said Moore, of St. Peters. "They don't have to watch it. They can step out."

The Mall of the Dead was scheduled to open Oct. 3, but missed its launch date when it failed a safety inspection. Kemper said it was "closed due to police action."

"We had two building inspectors, a fire marshal, three detectives and the police chief come out for a building inspection," Kemper said. "It was not about inspecting a building. It was about squashing free speech."

Bill Bensing, Wentzville director of public works, said the Mall did not comply with safety codes for commercial businesses.

"I don't even know which room has the girls kissing," Bensing said. "The codes don't go into the content of what is going on. The business was not in compliance with codes for proper exiting and lighting."

Kemper finally passed his building inspection on Friday. McCown said Kemper needed to obtain an occupancy permit and business license before city offices closed at 5 p.m. The Mall of the Dead was scheduled to open at 6:30 p.m.

"If he opens without a license, he will be advised to shut down," Pyatt said.

Kemper said he has secured free-speech attorneys and intends to sue Wentzville if the city shuts him down again.

"I would rather just open, make our money, scare people, and have everyone be happy, but the city won't stop harassing us," Kemper said.

McCown said attorneys for the city reached an agreement with Kemper's attorneys on Thursday that, "upon meeting building code requirements, they would be allowed to operate the facility as long as they did not operate it in such a way that it would be classified as adult entertainment."

But Kemper, appearing on a radio program Friday morning, said the sexual scenes would remain.

"If he opens without an adult license, and the scene is still in there, we will review that situation and discuss it with an attorney," Pyatt said. "He feels city ordinances and codes do not apply to him."

Kemper said, "It isn't about codes. It's about content. They don't like lesbians."

The Mall of the Dead reopened briefly before officials shut it down permanently. The controversy led Wentzville to draft new ordinances regulating adult entertainment.

Photos by Raymond Castile. The zombie is Mall of the Dead actor Jason Conrey.

This story was originally published in the Suburban Journals of St. Charles County, October 2003. Used with permission.