Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

What Makes Serial Killers Tick?


When Do They Stop? When does a serial killer stop? Either when they are caught or killed. Very few have turned themselves in. Only Ed Kemper called the police to confess, and waited at a phone booth to be picked up. Recently, a Humboldt county truck driver walked into a police station with a female breast in his pocket as proof of his deeds. Some plea to be caught, yet coyly disappear before the cops arrive to arrest them. William Heirens wrote his memorable message ("For heavens sake catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself") in bizarre, red lipstick cursive on the wall, while his victim lay dead, shot and stabbed in the neck. If there are any serial killers who quit because they were satiated or bored, we cannot know because they are not in captivity.

Some claim that if they could they would have indulged in mass destruction. The "Vampire of Dusseldorf" Peter Kurten said "the more people the better. Yes if I had the means of doing so, I would have killed whole masses of people brought about catastrophes." When Carl Panzram wasn't fantasizing about poisoning towns with arsenic, he spent his time plotting a grand scheme to incite war between the British and the Americans. "I believe the whole human race should be exterminated, I'll do my best to do it every chance I get," he told a jury before their deliberation (they sentenced him to death in less than a minute.)

Are There Any "Reformed" Serial Killers?

Fortunately, our society is not willing to risk the opportunity to find out by releasing them. In fact, one of the most outspoken critics of "reform" is a serial killer himself, the unrepentant Carl Panzram: "I have no desire to reform myself. My only desire is to reform people who try to reform me. And I believe that the only way to reform people is to kill em. My Motto is, Rob em all, Rape em all and Kill em all."

Conclusion: "A person was a blank"

In the end, all we can conclude is that serial killers are human black holes. That they are so normal, so generic, so invisible, they terrify us because they mirror us. Henry Lee Lucas grimly proclaimed that "All across the country, there's people just like me, who set out to destroy human life." Many of them describe themselves as having a piece missing, something dead within, or as Bundy said, a void inside. Not only are the victims "a blank" to the killer, as Lucas put it, they are blank to themselves. "What I wanted to see was the death, and I wanted to see the triumph, the exultation over the death. ... In other words, I was winning over death. They were dead and I was alive. That was a victory in my case," mused Ed Kemper. In other words, "Get a life" becomes "Take a life."

Killing others is not an attempt to fill the void, but to spread the void. To make the other into a lifeless object mimics the killers own lifelessness. "It didn't mean nothing, it just didn't mean nothing." said DeSalvo. "It was so senseless that it makes sense, you know?"

The serial killer lives on the other side of our social boundaries. He is an embodiment of the darkness, desire, and power that we must repress within ourselves. He is not a creature of reason, but of excess and transgression and voracious appetites - selfish, carnal desire. He breaks the social rules that confine the rest of us- our outrage keeps the boundaries intact, while our curiosity can explore the dark recesses of our own repressed desires from a safe distance. He crosses the line into a world of mayhem and depravity. We recoil at their bloody antics, but remain transfixed.


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