Auteurs bloggen……Peter James
We can understand the motives of many murderers. A loved one killed in a fit of jealous rage. A ruthless armed robber who shoots out of greed. The terrorist who kills out of warped ideology. The professional hit man who kills for a fee. The husband who buries his wife beneath the kitchen floor because he’s fallen in love with someone else. But what about the serial killer?
It is the serial killer who intrigues and chills us all. The person who kills for sheer pleasure or satisfaction, the gratification derived from the act, driven by a mindset that is sometimes beyond comprehension, sometimes alien – and always repugnant to decent human beings.
As part of my research for You Are Dead, I studied a wide number of serial killers, both in the UK, in the US and in other countries, too, trying to establish what common denominators, if any, there were. One of the nastiest, who has long fascinated me, was Dennis Rader, self-styled BTK – Bind Torture Kill – who between 1974 and 2001 killed ten people, nine of them female, in and around Witchita Kansas. He liked to tie up his victims and torture them before eventually killing them. This was a seemingly ordinary family man, a church warden, scout leader and local government compliance officer. I saw police video tapes of the many hours of his interviews. In one, after he had confessed, the officer asked him why he did it? “It was erotic,” he replied, chillingly. “It turned me on to tie them up.” The officer asked him if he couldn’t simply have tied his wife up. “Oh sure, I used to that but it got boring,” he answered, totally matter-of-fact.
Ted Bundy is one of the true household-names among serial killers. Good looking, charming, highly intelligent and charismatic, he studied Chinese followed by law at university and worked for a period of time for the Republican party. Born in 1946 he was executed by electric chair in 1989, having confessed to murdering 39 young women, although the police believe his final tally was closer to 106. After a troubled middle-class upbringing he was dumped by his first love, a teenager with long brown hair and a centre parting. Some months later he saw a similar looking young woman hitch-hiking, gave her a lift, and a short while later raped and strangled her. “That made me feel good,” he told police, many years later after his arrest. He then went on a spree that was to last over a decade before his capture in 1975 and subsequent escape, and a further spree, before being recaptured in 1978. There were some days during that time when he raped and killed two different young women on the same day.
As with Rader, I saw tapes of the police interviews with Bundy. One of the most chilling moments, and which I have used elements of in You Are Dead, was Bundy explaining to the only police officer he would trust, an FBI agent with whom he bonded, what he liked to do to his victims: It included these chilling words: “I would put my lips over hers and suck out her very last breath. That way she would never leave me, and I would possess her for ever.”
Some while ago I was invited to spend a day at Broadmoor. The criteria for being admitted as an inmate there is to be violently, criminally insane. Few things I have done in my life have made a more vivid impression, nor remained with me so indelibly, than that day. There were a number of very scary moments, and much of the day filled with incredible darkness yet there were some surprising moments of light, too.
I was escorted around by the Chaplain and I asked him if he believed that evil existed. He replied that at that time, without exception, all of the inmates fitted into one or two categories – they were either schizophrenics or psychopaths. Schizophrenics he explained were born with a chemical imbalance in the brain, leading to a wide range of delusion, such as hearing voices. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper was there then and still is. His starting point was when he heard voices from God telling him to go and kill prostitutes. The chaplain told me that schizophrenia could be treated with medication, and that over fifty percent of the schizophrenic inmates could, in time go back into the community and live normal lives, provided they remained on their medication permanently. But psychopaths were very different.
Much research has been done on psychopathy – or sociopathy – as it is alternatively and less sinisterly called. Essentially, the chaplain told me that a psychopath is someone who is born hard-wired different to the majority of us – someone who has a lack of empathy. Evidence of this can present at a very early age – the young psychopath child is capable of stealing his or her best friend’s favourite toy, with no feeling of guilt or remorse. How that child develops is going to be in some considerable part, down to the parenting he or she receives. Brought up in a kind, loving, nurturing family that child can grow up to become a captain of industry, a top politician and often, as we have seen, leader of a nation.
Very many psychopaths are highly intelligent and personable people. In his book, Our Own Worst Enemy, psychologist Norman F Dixon wrote, ‘To be born a psychopath is the best possible qualification to get you to the top in life. Unfortunately it is the worst qualification to then keep you there.” Robert Maxwell, Richard Nixon, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, are few among the vast A-list of utterly ruthless people who used their cunning to get to the top, but then through their hubris, were unable to sustain it, and it was those same qualities that ultimately brought about their downfalls.
The psychopath child brought up in a dysfunctional family or by an abusive parent is a potentially dangerous person. One classic example of this is Adolph Hitler – a bullying father who would not allow him to pursue the career he craved, of becoming a painter, may well have been a trigger for the warped path his life then took. There is a long list of multiple or serial killers who have a dark childhood history, but equally there are many serial killers who just don’t fit this mould.
I’ve talked to many murderers during my research for my this book, and studied dozens of case histories. Among those I’ve interviewed was a woman who poisoned her mother-in-law, then her husband, to get their money; a man in Sussex who bludgeoned to death his father, stepfather and 10 year old brother, also for money – he wanted make it look like a burglary gone wrong, and an armed robber who shot a bank worker dead. None showed any remorse, other than regret at having been caught, and resentment at the length of their sentences.
In my research to create my central villain for this novel, I eventually singled out four names. These came from a catalogue, hundreds of pages long, of murderers who have taken three or more lives at different times – the actual definition of a serial killer. Ted Bundy. Dennis Rader. Harold Shipman. Dennis Nilsen. What fascinated me about these was how, outwardly they seemed very respectable men. Shipman was a well-loved family doctor. Nilsen was in the army, then a police officer, then Executive Officer for a Jobcentre. All four of these got away with their killings over many years. Each of them very nearly got away with it completely.
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