Skip to main content

Pondering the criminal mind


By now it's become a cliche -- a newspaper story we can almost write before it's been written.

Who? Leading off with the most recent, Ariel Castro, Jerry Sandusky, Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, Philip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, David Berkowitz, Lee Boyd Malvo, Andrew Cunanane, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Albert DeSalvo, John Wayne Gacy, Henry Lee Lucas, Dennis Rader, Richard Ramirez, Joseph Kallinger, Ted Kaczynski, Gary Ridgway, Joel Rifkin, Danny Rolling, Charles Manson.

And so many more...too many to count.

What? Murder, of course. Not always in the physical sense -- Castro's victims survived, as did Garrido's, Sandusky's and Mitchell's -- sometimes attempted murder of the soul. Notoriety. Outrage. The Stuff of Nightmares.

When? All throughout history, but particularly in the last 60 years. With the exception of Gein, all of the above attained their notoriety during my lifetime, i.e. the last 55 years. 

Where? All across this glorious, diverse country -- though, notably, the majority came out of the more sparsely populated suburbs or countryside. 

How? The details are horrific, but not especially important. 

Why? We don't really know. That's the detail that underlies our morbid fascination -- their only true legacy.

We hate them, but they're so, so pathetic. Bundy might be an exception -- he never had that hang-dog aura that so many of his peers seem to share. But Dahmer, Loughner, Holmes, even the defiant, wild-eyed Manson of the 1970s, represent the end product of a dysfunctional childhood, with few attempts to hide it, once they were brought to justice in front of the cameras.

Plenty of critics are quick to condemn any hint of sympathy. "Oh, sure...bleeding heart...feel sorry for them? What about their victims?" as though you had to choose one or the other.

Lanza, Loughner, Kaczynski and Holmes appear to have had undiagnosed or under-treated psychiatric conditions, so it is possible, if not desirable, to classify their outrageous behavior as a cry for help.

Dahmer, Sandusky and Bundy had relatively normal childhoods -- they appear not to have been abused or to have suffered undue chaos. Malvo was under the spell of John Allen Muhammad, a political religious fanatic.

Manson, Wuornos, Rolling and Ramirez had early exposure to brutality and abuse. They're what we've come to regard as "classic cases."

Is there a common denominator?

Impulsivity is one that comes to mind -- lack of planning. Yes, many of them meticulously planned the crimes ... but did any of them set out to be career criminals? I'm sure that somewhere along the way, once their names began to reside in the front-page headlines, they accepted their notoriety and decided that no matter the consequences, their activities had to continue as long as possible. Eluding law enforcement became part of the scheme. But what about way back in the beginning?

I think almost all of them probably envisioned happy futures, as they drifted along in childhood. But there was a disruption, or a series of them -- broken homes, the pathology of poverty, violence, life-changing illness, rejection -- and for this subset of humanity, the detour took them down a darker road, to a place from which there was to be no return.

Sometimes, but not always, there seems to be depression, or something that looks like it. Dahmer, Wuornos (also described as having manic episodes), Kaczynski, Ridgway ... were they predisposed to the disorder in any case, or was it a response to circumstances? Dahmer was a high school alcoholic, and he voiced a belief that his unhappy mental state had much to do with his parents' preoccupation with their failing marriage.

And here's where the continuing debate finds a center: We know this stuff. The "warning signs," the "red flags." And yet, we still stop short of taking action because for every Harris and Klebold, there's some harmless goofball nerd who finds him/herself on the receiving end of overzealous "zero tolerance" rules, imposed with the aim of preventing another Columbine or Sandy Hook. The problem of the would-be serial or mass killer is like mercury. You think you've got a way to prevent it, and then someone else slips through the net and the headlines blaze once more.


The Urban Blabbermouth said…
To kill people because you like it is hard to understand. How can you love anyone when you think you would better enjoy killing them? James Patterson's early works the best serial killer novels. Which do you like?
Vol-E said…
Personally, I never got much into Patterson. The movie adaptations of his books work better. "Along Came a Spider" is a good example. I think the whole definition of love is very different for a serial killer than it would be for you or me.

Popular posts from this blog

Memoir - The Year of Kent State

by The Urban Blabbermouth
I wanted to write a fictional memoir and it got away from me. 

I was born in the Year of Kent State. I didn't know. I was watching a cable channel specializing in historical programs, in this case, newsworthy events from the 1970s. The Ohio National Guard shot 13 unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War on the Kent State University campus. Four students died. By the time I was aware of a bigger world than my own, Kent State passed into history.

Im gonna git u Sukkah

by The Urban Blabbermouth [who may or may not be shown in the photo above... - v-E] ~ True story. I am walking to my car and I notice a couple of Jewish fellows, twenty somethings, with the bouquets of what looks like bamboo or palm. I know they are Jewish for they look Hasidic. They are wearing long black jackets, wide brim black fedora hats, and have curly sideburns. In truth, I classify all Jewish who dress like this as Hasidic although they may identify themselves differently. They are standing near the corner canvassing passersby.

Climbing to New Heights

by The Urban Blabbermouth
It started when I was ten.  I was riding shotgun with my father when a small plane crossed the highway in front of us.  The plane floated gently to its landing, like it had all the time in the world.  It was beautiful.  I knew then I wanted to be a pilot.  

I dreamed of soaring with the clouds and flying through them.  I could go anywhere the crow flies.  No stuck in traffic following a road as laid out by some anonymous engineer.  I could fly with the birds, although, I never thought myself a bird.  I loved the freedom.

But, I fear heights.  

It's not just any heights, it's low heights, the kind you get with stairs, balconies, bridges, and landing airplanes.  When I fly on airlines as a passenger, I look out the window at thirty thousand feet, no fear.  Somewhere between six feet, my height, and thirty thousand feet, airplane's height, lives my fear, a mysterious feeling that emerges from my stomach and rises up into my chest.  I can't…