7 - قلب تاریکی

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7 - قلب تاریکی

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Chapter 7

The Heart of Darkness

The question logically arises, why would convicted felons cooperate with federal law enforcement agents? We wondered about that ourselves when we began the project. However, the overwhelming majority of those we’ve approached over the years do agree to talk to us, and they do so for a number of reasons.

Some of them are genuinely bothered by their crimes and feel that cooperating on a psychological study is a way to make some partial amends and also come to a better understanding of themselves. I think Ed Kemper fits into this category. Others, as I’ve indicated, are police and law enforcement buffs and just enjoy being near cops and FBI agents. Some think there might be some benefit in cooperating with the “authorities,” though we’ve never promised anything in return. Some feel ignored and forgotten and just want the attention and the relief from boredom that a visit from us represents. And some simply welcome the opportunity to relive their murderous fantasies in graphic detail.

We wanted to hear whatever these men had to tell us, but we were primarily interested in several basic questions, which we outlined in an article explaining the goals of the study in the September 1980 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.

  1. What leads a person to become a sexual offender and what are the early warning signals?

  2. What serves to encourage or to inhibit the commission of his offense?

  3. What types of response or coping strategies by an intended victim are successful with what type of sexual offender in avoiding victimization?

  4. What are the implications for his dangerousness, prognosis, disposition, and mode of treatment?

For this program to be valuable, we understood, we would have to be fully prepared and be instantly able to filter what each man told us. Because if you’re reasonably intelligent, as many of these guys are, you’re going to find a weakness in the system that you can use to your advantage. By their very nature, most serial offenders are good manipulators. If it’ll help your case to be mentally unstable, you can be mentally unstable. If it’ll help your case to be remorseful and contrite, you can be remorseful and contrite. But whatever seemed to them to be the best course of action to follow, I found that the people who agreed to talk to us were all similar. They had nothing else to think about, so they spent a lot of time thinking about themselves and what they’d done and could give it back to me in minute detail. Our task was to know enough about them and their crimes in advance to make sure they were telling us the truth, because they’d also had enough time to construct alternate scenarios that made them much more sympathetic or guiltless than the record would indicate.

In many of the early interviews, after hearing our convict’s story, I’d want to turn to Bob Ressler or whoever was with me and say, “Could he have been railroaded? He had a sensible answer to everything. I wonder if they really got the right guy.” So the first thing we’d do when we got back to Quantico was check the record and contact the local police jurisdiction for the case file to make sure there hadn’t been some horrible miscarriage of justice.

Growing up as a boy in Chicago, Bob Ressler had been terrified and intrigued by the murder of six-year-old Suzanne Degnan, who had been snatched from her house and killed. Her body was discovered cut up in pieces in the sewers of Evanston. A young man named William Heirens was eventually caught and confessed to the killing and the murders of two other women in an apartment building as part of some burglaries that escalated out of control. In one of them, the murder of Frances Brown, he had scrawled on the wall with her lipstick: For heAVens

SAke cAtch Me

BeFore I Kill More

I cannot control myselF

Heirens attributed the murders to a George Murman (probably short for “murder man”), who he claimed lived inside him. Bob has said that the Heirens case was probably one of his early motivations for pursuing a career in law enforcement.

Once the Criminal Personality Research Project was funded and under way, Bob and I went to interview Heirens at Statesville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. He had been incarcerated since his conviction in 1946 and had been a model prisoner for all that time, the first one in the state to complete his college degree. He then went on to graduate work.

By the time we interviewed him, Heirens was denying any connection to the crimes, saying he was railroaded. No matter what we asked him, he had an answer, insisted he had an alibi and wasn’t even close to any of the murder scenes. He was so convincing and I was so concerned there might have been a massive miscarriage of justice that when we got back to Quantico, I dug out all the case files. In addition to the confession and other compelling evidence, I found that his latent fingerprints had been lifted from the Degnan crime scene. Yet Heirens had spent so much time sitting in his cell and thinking and giving himself all the answers that if they polygraphed him at that point, he would probably have passed with no trouble.

Richard Speck, who was serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of eight student nurses in a South Chicago town house in 1966, made it clear he didn’t want to be lumped with the other killers we were studying. “I don’t want to be on that list with them,” he told me. “They’re crazy, these people. I’m not a serial killer.” He didn’t deny what he’d done, he just wanted us to know he wasn’t like them.

On one key level, Speck was correct. He wasn’t a serial killer, who kills repeatedly with some emotional cycling or cooling-off period between his crimes. He was what I characterized as a mass murderer, who kills more than twice as part of the same act. In Speck’s case, he went to the house with burglary as his motive, trying to get money to get out of town. When twenty-three-year-old Corazon Amurao answered the door, he forced his way in with a pistol and knife, saying he was only going to tie her and her five roommates up and rob them. He herded them all into a bedroom. Over the next hour, three more women came home from dates or studying at the library. Once he had them all in his power, Speck apparently changed his mind, engaging in a frenzy of rape, strangling, stabbing, and slashing. Only Amurao survived, huddling terrified in the corner. Speck had lost count.

After he left, she went out on the balcony and called down for help. She told police about the “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo on the attacker’s left forearm. When Richard Franklin Speck showed up in a local hospital a week later after a bungled suicide attempt, he was identified by the tattoo.

Because of the brazen brutality of his crime, Speck had been the subject of all kinds of speculation from the medical and psychological communities. Initially, it had been announced that Speck had a genetic imbalance, an additional male (Y) chromosome, which was thought to increase aggressive and antisocial behavior. These vogues come and go with some regularity. More than a hundred years ago, the behaviorists of the times used phrenology—the study of skull shape—to predict character and mental ability. More recently, it was thought that an electroencephalograph reading showing a repeating fourteen-and-six-spike pattern was evidence of severe personality disorder. The jury is still out on the XYY issue, but the indisputable fact is that many, many men have this genetic makeup and display no extraordinary aggressiveness or antisocial behavior. And to cap things off, when a detailed study was performed on Richard Speck, it was found that his genetic makeup was perfectly normal—he didn’t even have the extra Y.

Speck, who has since died in prison of a heart attack, didn’t want to talk to us. His was one of the unusual cases where we had contacted the warden, who’d agreed to allow us in, but he didn’t think it was a good idea to let Speck know in advance of our visit. When we arrived, we concurred. We could hear him screaming and cursing from a holding pen where he’d been taken so we could look at his cell. The other prisoners were going nuts in sympathy with him. The warden wanted to show us the kind of pornography Speck kept, but Speck was protesting furiously over this violation of his space. Prisoners hate anything resembling a shakedown. Their cells are the only semblance of privacy they’ve got left. As we walked down the three-tiered cellblock at Joliet, windows broken and birds flying up near the ceiling, the warden warned us to stay close to the center so that prisoners couldn’t reach us with urine or feces.

Realizing this wasn’t getting us anywhere, I whispered to the warden that we’d just keep walking down the corridor without stopping at Speck’s cell. With the subject-interview guidelines in effect today, we might not have been able to spring ourselves on him unannounced. In fact, the entire criminal-personality study would be much more difficult to put together now.

Unlike Kemper or Heirens, Speck wasn’t exactly a model prisoner. He had once built and hidden a crude miniature still in the back of a false drawer in the cellblock guard’s wooden desk. It produced hardly any alcohol, just enough to create a smell and make the guards go crazy when they couldn’t find it. Another time, he found an injured sparrow that had flown in through one of the broken windows and nursed it back to health. When it was healthy enough to stand, he tied a string around its leg and had it perch on his shoulder. At one point, a guard told him pets weren’t allowed.

“I can’t have it?” Speck challenged, then walked over to a spinning fan and threw the small bird in.

Horrified, the guard said, “I thought you liked that bird.”

“I did,” Speck replied. “But if I can’t have it, no one can.”

Bob Ressler and I met him in an interview room at Joliet, accompanied by his prison counselor, something akin to a guidance counselor in high school. Like Manson, Speck chose the head of the table, sitting on a credenza so he could be above us. I started out by telling Speck what we wanted to do, but he wouldn’t talk to us, only ranting about the “motherfucking FBI” who wanted to look in his cell.

When I look at these guys, when I sit across a table from them in a prison conference room, the first thing I try to do is visualize what they must have looked like and sounded like when they were doing the crimes. I’ve prepared myself with all of the case files so I know what each has done and what he’s capable of, and what I have to do is project this onto the individual sitting across from me.

Any police-type interrogation is a seduction; each party is trying to seduce the other into giving him what he wants. And you have to size up the individual interviewee before you can figure out how to approach him. Outrage or moral judgment won’t accomplish anything. (“What, you sadistic beast! You ate an arm?”) You have to decide what’s going to ring his bell. With some, like Kemper, you can be straightforward and matter-of-fact, so long as you make clear you know the facts and they can’t snow you. With the ones like Richard Speck, I learned to take a more offensive approach.

We’re sitting there in the conference room and Speck’s making a show of ignoring us, so I turn to the counselor. He was an open, gregarious man, experienced at diffusing hostility—some of the qualities we look for in hostage negotiators. I talk about Speck as if he weren’t even in the room.

“You know what he did, your guy? He killed eight pussies. And some of those pussies looked pretty good. He took eight good pieces of ass away from the rest of us. You think that’s fair?”

Bob is clearly uncomfortable with this. He doesn’t want to get down to the killer’s level, and he’s squeamish about mocking the dead. Of course, I agree, but in situations like this, I think you do what you have to.

The counselor answers me in kind and we go back and forth like that. We would have sounded like high school boys in the locker room if we weren’t actually talking about murder victims, which shifts the tone from immature to grotesque.

Speck listens for a while, shakes his head, chuckles, and says, “You fucking guys are crazy. It must be a fine line, separates you from me.”

With that opening I turn to him. “How in the hell did you fuck eight women at the same time? What do you eat for breakfast?”

He looks at us as if we’re a couple of gullible rubes. “I didn’t fuck all of them. That story got all out of proportion. I just fucked one of them.”

“The one on the couch?” I ask.


As crude and disgusting as this all sounds, it’s starting to tell me something. First of all, as hostile and aggressive as he is, he doesn’t have much of a macho self-image. He knows he can’t control all the women at once. He’s an opportunist—he’ll rape one for the hell of it. And from the crime-scene photos, we know that the one he chose was facedown on the couch. She was already a depersonalized body to him. He didn’t have to have any human contact with her. We can also tell he’s not a sophisticated or organized thinker. It doesn’t take much for what would have been a relatively simple and successful robbery to degenerate into this mass murder. He admits that he killed the women not in a sexual frenzy, but so that they couldn’t identify him. As the young nurses come home, he’s putting one in a bedroom, one in a closet, as if he’s corralling horses. He has no idea how to handle the situation.

Interestingly, he also claims that the wound that sent him to the hospital and ultimately to capture did not represent a suicide attempt but rather was the result of a bar fight. Without necessarily understanding the significance of what he’s saying, he’s telling us he wants us to think of him as the “born to raise hell” macho man rather than a pathetic loser whose only way out is to kill himself.

Now, as I’m listening, I’m starting to turn all of this information around in my mind. Not only is it telling me something about Speck, it’s telling me something about this type of crime. In other words, when I see similar scenarios in the future, I’m going to have more insight into the type of individual responsible. And that, of course, was the main purpose of the program.

As we processed the study’s data, I tried to get away from the academic, psychological jargon and buzzwords and more into clear-cut concepts that would be of use to law enforcement personnel. To tell a local detective that he’s looking for a paranoid schizophrenic may be intellectually interesting, but it doesn’t tell him much that’s useful in catching his UNSUB. One of the key distinctions we came up with was whether an offender was organized or disorganized or showed a mixed pattern. People like Speck were beginning to give us the pattern of the disorganized offender.

Speck told me he had a troubled early life. The only time I could tell we’d touched a nerve was when I asked him about his family. By the time he was twenty, he had chalked up nearly forty arrests and had married a fifteen-year-old girl, with whom he fathered a child. He left her five years later, angry and bitter, and told us he just never got around to killing her. He did kill several other women, though, including a waitress in a sleazy bar who’d spurned his advances. He also robbed and attacked a sixty-five-year-old woman a couple of months before he murdered the nurses. All things being equal, the brutal rape of an older woman suggests to us a young man, possibly even a teenager, without much experience or confidence or sophistication. Speck was twenty-six when the rape occurred. As the age of the offender goes up in the equation, his sophistication and self-confidence go down accordingly. That was certainly my impression of Richard Speck. Though in his mid-twenties, his behavior level, even for a criminal, was late adolescent.

The warden wanted to show me one more thing before we left. In Joliet, as well as in other prisons, a psychological experiment was under way to see if soft pastel colors would decrease aggressiveness. A good deal of academic theory was behind this. They’d even put police weight-lifting champs in rooms painted pink or yellow and found they couldn’t lift as much as they had before.

So the warden takes us to a room at the end of the cell block and says, “The rose-colored paint is supposed to take the aggression out of a violent offender. And if you put them in a room like this, they’re supposed to get really calm and passive. Take a look inside this room, Douglas, and tell me what you see.”

“I see there’s not much paint on the walls,” I observe.

He replies, “Yeah, that’s right. See, the guys don’t like these colors. They’re peeling the paint off the wall, and they’re eating it.”

Jerry Brudos was a shoe fetishist. If that were as far as it went, there would have been no problem. But due to a variety of circumstances, including his punitive, domineering mother and his own compulsions, it went a lot further—from mildly strange all the way to deadly.

Jerome Henry Brudos was born in South Dakota in 1939 and grew up in California. As a young boy five years old, he found a pair of shiny high heels at a local dump. When he brought them home and tried them on, his mother, furious, told him to get rid of them. But he kept them, hidden, until his mother found out, took them away, burned them, and punished him. By the time he was sixteen, now living in Oregon, he was regularly breaking into neighborhood homes and stealing women’s shoes and eventually underwear, which he would save and try on. The next year he was arrested for assaulting a girl he had lured into his car so he could get to see her naked. He was given several months of therapy at the state hospital in Salem, where he was not found to be dangerous. After high school, he did a brief stint in the Army before leaving on a psychological discharge. He was still breaking into houses, and stealing shoes and underwear—sometimes confronting the women he found there and choking them unconscious—when, out of a sense of obligation, he married the young woman with whom he had recently lost his virginity. He went to a vocational college and became an electronics technician.

Six years later, in 1968, now the father of two children and continuing his nighttime raids for souvenirs, Brudos answered the door to a nineteen-year-old named Linda Slawson, who had an appointment to sell encyclopedias and had come to the wrong house by mistake. Seizing this opportunity, he dragged her into the basement, and bludgeoned and strangled her. When she was dead, he undressed her and tried various of his collected outfits on the corpse. Before disposing of the body by sinking it in the Willamette River with a junked automobile transmission, he cut off the left foot, placed it in one of his prized high heels, and locked it in his freezer. He killed three more times over the next several months, cutting off breasts and making plastic molds of them. He was identified by various coeds he’d approached for dates using a similar story and was picked up when police staked out a supposed rendezvous site. He confessed and eventually pleaded guilty when it became clear an insanity defense wouldn’t work.

Bob Ressler and I interviewed him in his permanent home at the Oregon State Penitentiary at Salem. He was heavyset and round-faced, polite and cooperative. But when I asked him specifics about the crimes, he said he’d blacked out because of hypoglycemia and didn’t remember anything he might have done.

“You know, John, I get this attack of low blood sugar, and I could walk off the roof of a building and not know what I was doing.”

Interestingly enough, when Brudos confessed to police, he remembered well enough to give them graphic details of the crimes and where the bodies and evidence could be found. He also inadvertently incriminated himself. He’d hung the body of one of his victims from a hook in his garage, clothed her in his favorite attire and shoes, then placed a mirror on the floor beneath her to see up her dress. While taking a picture, he’d unknowingly captured his own image in the photograph.

Despite his claims of hypoglycemic blackouts, Brudos showed many of the traits of an organized offender. This was tied in to the fantasy element he displayed from an early age. When he was a young teen living on the family farm, he fantasized about capturing girls in a tunnel where he would force them to do what he wanted. Once, he managed to trick a girl into the barn, then ordered her to undress so he could take her picture. We saw this type of behavior carry over into his adult offenses, yet as a young teenager, he was too naive and unsophisticated to think of anything other than photographing his naked victims. After the session in the barn, he locked the girl in the corncrib, then came back sometime later, wearing different clothes and with his hair combed differently, pretending to be Ed, Jerry’s twin brother. He released the terrified girl, explaining that Jerry was undergoing intense therapy and begging her not to tell anyone lest he get in trouble and suffer another “setback.” What we see clearly in Jerome Brudos, along with this textbook escalation of activities, is a continual refinement of the fantasy. This is a much more significant finding than anything he could have told us directly. Even though a Kemper and a Brudos are so different in goals and modus operandi, we see in both—and so many of the others—an obsession with and “improvement” of the details from one crime to the next and one level of activity to the next. Kemper’s victims of choice were beautiful coeds tied in his mind to his mother. The less sophisticated and intelligent Brudos was more content with victims of opportunity. But the obsession with detail was the same and took over both men’s lives.

As an adult, Brudos made his wife, Darcie, dress in his fetishistic attire and submit to his photographic ritual, even though she was a straight, unadventuresome woman who was uncomfortable with this and scared of her husband. He had elaborate fantasies of constructing a torture suite but had to settle for his garage. In that garage was the freezer he kept locked so he could store his favorite body parts. When Darcie cooked meat for dinner, she had to tell Jerry what it was she wanted, and then he would bring it to her. She often complained to friends that it would be so much easier to look in the freezer herself and select a particular cut. Yet despite the inconvenience, she didn’t think it odd enough to report. Or if she did, she was too afraid to do so.

Brudos was a near classic example of an offender who begins with innocuous oddities and escalates progressively—from found shoes to his sister’s clothing to the possessions of other women. First he just steals from clotheslines, then he stalks women who are wearing high heels and breaks into empty houses, then gets bolder and is willing to confront the occupants. At first, merely putting on the clothing is enough, but eventually he wants more of a kick. Socially, he begins to ask girls to let him take pictures of them. Then, when one of them refuses to undress for him, he threatens her with a knife. He doesn’t kill until a victim of opportunity happens to ring his doorbell. But once he’s killed her and realizes the satisfaction, he’s moved to do it again and again, each time stepping up his mutilation of the corpse.

I’m not meaning to suggest that every man attracted to stiletto heels or turned on by the thought of black lace bras and panties is destined for a life of crime. If that were true, most of us would be in prison. But as we see in Jerry Brudos, this kind of paraphilia can be degenerative, and it is also “situational.” Let me give an example.

Some time ago, not far from where I lived, an elementary school principal reportedly had a thing for children’s feet. He would play a game with them to see how long he could tickle their feet or toes. If they held out for a certain time, he would give them money. It came to parental attention when some of the kids were spending money at the mall they couldn’t account for. When the principal was fired by the school district, many quarters of the community protested. He was a good-looking guy, he had a normal relationship with a steady girlfriend, and he was popular with children and parents alike. The teachers thought he was being railroaded. Even if he did have this thing for toes, it was essentially harmless. He’d never abused any of the children or tried to get them to undress. This is not the kind of person who’s going to go out and abduct a child to feed his perversion.

I agreed with that assessment. The community was in no danger from him in that regard. I had met him and he was friendly and personable. But let’s say during one of these games a little girl reacts badly, starts screaming or threatens to tell on him. In an instant of panic, he could end up killing the child simply because he doesn’t know what else to do to manage the situation. When the school superintendent contacted my unit for advice, I told him I thought he had taken the right action in firing the man.

Around the same time, I was called down to the University of Virginia, where college girls were getting pushed to the ground and their clog-type shoes stolen in the melee. Fortunately, none of the women were badly hurt, and the local and campus police were treating the cases as something of a joke. I met with them and with the university administration, told them about Brudos and others I’d had experience with, and by the time I left I’d succeeded in my mission of putting the fear of God into them. The official attitude changed considerably after that, and I’m pleased to say there were no further incidents.

When I look at Jerry Brudos’s criminal progression, I have to ask myself whether understanding and intervention at any of the earliest stages could have short-circuited the ultimate process.

In Ed Kemper, I felt I saw a serial killer manufactured by an emotionally harrowing childhood. I found Jerry Brudos’s case somewhat more complex. Clearly, his particular paraphilia was with him from a very early age. He was a small child when he became fascinated by the pair of high heels he found in the junkyard. But part of his fascination could have been never having seen anything like them before. They were nothing like what his mother wore. Then, when she reacted so vociferously, they became forbidden fruit to him. Not too long after, he stole shoes belonging to his teacher. Yet when she found out, he was surprised by her reaction. Rather than reproving him, she was curious to know why he’d done this. So he was already getting mixed messages from adult women about what he was doing, and a presumably inborn urge was gradually being transformed into something sinister and far more deadly.

What would have happened had the dangerousness of his progression been recognized, and some productive means been tried to deal with his feelings? By the time of the first kill, it’s way too late. But at any step along the way, could the process have been short-circuited? Through the study and my work since then, I’ve become very, very pessimistic about anything remotely akin to rehabilitation for most sexually motivated killers. If anything has a hope of working, it has to come at a much earlier stage, before they get to the point at which fantasy becomes reality.

When my sister, Arlene, was a teenager, my mom used to say she could tell a lot about the boys Arlene was going out with by asking them how they felt about their mothers. If the boy professed love and respect for his mother, that would probably reflect his relationships with other women in his life. If he thought of his mother as a bitch or whore or ball-buster, chances were pretty darn good he’d end up treating other women the same way.

From my experience, my mom’s observation was right on the money. Ed Kemper cut a trail of destruction through Santa Cruz, California, before he finally worked up the nerve to kill the one woman he truly hated. Monte Rissell, who raped and murdered five women as a teenager in Alexandria, Virginia, told us that if he had been allowed to go with his father instead of his mother when their seriously troubled marriage broke up, he thought he’d be a lawyer now rather than a lifer at the Richmond Penitentiary, where we interviewed him.

With Monte Ralph Rissell, we were able to start piecing together more parts of the puzzle. At seven, Monte was the youngest of three children at the time of the divorce, and his mother uprooted them and moved to California, where she remarried and spent much of the time alone with her new husband, leaving the kids with little adult supervision. Monte started getting into trouble early—writing obscene graffiti at school, then drugs, then shooting a cousin with a BB gun after an argument. He claimed that his stepfather had given him the rifle and, after the impulsive shooting, smashed it apart and hit Monte repeatedly with the barrel.

When Monte was twelve, this second marriage broke apart and the family moved back to Virginia. Monte told us he thought he and his sister were responsible. From then on, his crime career escalated: driving without a license, burglary, car theft, then rape.

His transition to murder was very instructive. Still in high school, on probation and receiving psychiatric counseling as a provision of the probation, he receives a letter from his girlfriend. She’s a year ahead of him in school and now away at college. The letter told Monte that their relationship was over. He promptly gets in his car and drives up to the college, where he spots the girl with a new boyfriend.

Rather than do anything overt or take his rage out on the person who caused it, he drives back home to Alexandria, fortifies himself with some beer and marijuana, and spends hours sitting in his car in the parking lot of his apartment complex ruminating.

Around two or three in the morning, he’s still there when another car appears, driven by a single woman. On the spur of the moment, Rissell decides to get back what he’s just lost. He goes up to the woman’s car, pulls a handgun on her, and forces her to go with him to a secluded area near the complex.

Rissell was calm, deliberate, and precise as he recounted his actions to Bob Ressler and me. I’d checked his IQ beforehand, and it was above 120. I can’t say I detected a lot of remorse or contrition—except for the rare offenders who turn themselves in or commit suicide, the remorse is primarily over getting caught and going to jail. But he didn’t try to minimize his crimes and I did feel he was giving us an accurate account. And the behavior he had just described, and was about to describe, contained several key insights.

First of all, this incident takes place after a triggering event or incident—what we came to call a stressor. And we would see this pattern over and over again. Anything can be a triggering stressor; different things bother each of us. But the two most common ones, not surprisingly, are losing your job and losing your wife or girlfriend. (I use the feminine here because, as I’ve noted, virtually all of these killers are men, for reasons I’ll speculate about later.) As a result of studying people like Monte Rissell, we came to realize that these stressors are so much a part of the serial murder dynamic that when we see certain circumstances at a crime scene, we feel comfortable predicting exactly what the stressor was in the particular case. In Jud Ray’s Alaskan murder case, which I mentioned in chapter 4, the timing and details of the triple homicide of a woman and her two young daughters led Jud to predict the killer had lost his girlfriend and his job. Both of these traumas had taken place. In fact, the girlfriend had dumped the subject for his boss, who had then fired him to get him out of the picture.

So on the night that he sees his girl with a college man, Monte Rissell commits his first murder. This is significant enough in itself. But exactly how and why it happens tells us even more.

It turns out by happenstance that Rissell’s victim is a prostitute, which means two things: she’s not going to have the same fear of sex with a stranger that someone outside the profession would; and though scared, she’ll probably have a pretty good survival instinct. So when he’s got her all alone and it’s clear he intends to rape her at gunpoint, she tries to diffuse the situation by hiking up her skirt and asking her attacker how he likes it and what position he wants her in.

“She asked which way I wanted it,” he told us.

But rather than making him gentler or more sensitive, this behavior on her part only enrages him. “It’s like this bitch is trying to control things.” She apparently faked two or three orgasms to placate him, but this made things worse. If she could “enjoy” this rape, it reinforced his feeling that women are whores. She became depersonalized, and it was easy to think about killing her.

Yet he did let another victim go when she told him she was caring for her father, who was suffering from cancer. Rissell’s brother had had cancer, so he identified with her. She had become personalized to him, just the opposite of this prostitute, or the young nurse Richard Speck had attacked as she lay bound and facedown on the couch.

But this does point out why it is so difficult to give general advice on what to do in a rape situation. Depending on the personality of the rapist and his motivation for the crime, either going along or trying to talk your way out of being assaulted may be the best course of action. Or it may make things worse. Resisting or struggling with the so-called “power reassurance rapist” might stop him in his tracks. Resisting the “anger excitation rapist,” unless the victim’s strong enough or quick enough to get away from him, could get a victim killed. Trying to make the act seem pleasurable because the rapist is sexually inadequate isn’t necessarily the best strategy. These are crimes of anger and hostility and the assertion of power. The sex is only incidental.

After the rape of the woman abducted from the parking lot, as angry as he is, Rissell hasn’t yet decided what to do with his victim. But at this point she does what many of us would perceive to be the logical thing: she tries to run away. This makes him feel even more that she’s controlling the situation, not him. As we quoted Rissell in an article on the study for the American Journal of Psychiatry: “She took off running down the ravine. That’s when I grabbed her. I had her in an armlock. She was bigger than me. I started choking her . . . she stumbled . . . we rolled down the hill and into the water. I banged her head against the side of a rock and held her head underwater.” What we were learning was that the behavior of the victim is equally as important in analyzing the crime as the behavior of the subject. Was this a high- or low-risk victim? What did she say or do, and did that egg the subject on or pull him back? What was their encounter all about?

Rissell’s victims of choice were merely close by—in and around his apartment complex. And once he had killed, that taboo was gone. He realized he could do it, enjoy it, and get away with it. If we’d been called into this case and were profiling an UNSUB, we would expect to see some experience in his background—some violent crime short of murder—which, in fact, there was. Quite frankly, what we probably would have gotten wrong, at least initially, was the age. At the time of this first kill, Rissell was barely nineteen. We would have expected a man in his mid- to late twenties.

But Rissell’s case demonstrates that age is a relative concept in our work. In 1989, Gregg McCrary from my unit was called into a baffling series of prostitute murders in Rochester, New York. Working closely with Capt. Lynde Johnson and a first-rate police force, Gregg developed a detailed profile and suggested a strategy that ultimately led to the arrest and successful prosecution of Arthur Shawcross. When we reviewed the profile afterward, we found that Gregg had nailed him almost precisely—race, personality, type of job, home life, car, hobbies, familiarity with the area, relationship to the police; virtually everything except the age. Gregg had predicted a man in his late twenties to about thirty with some already established comfort level for murder. In fact, Shawcross was forty-five. It turned out he’d been in prison for fifteen years for the murder of two young children (like prostitutes and the elderly, children are vulnerable targets), which had essentially put him on hold. Within months of his parole, he picked up where he’d left off.

Just as Arthur Shawcross was on parole at the time of his murders, so was Monte Rissell. And like Ed Kemper, he was able to convince a psychiatrist he was making excellent progress while he was actually killing human beings. This is kind of a sick version of the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a lightbulb—the answer being just one, but only if the lightbulb wants to change. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals are accustomed to using self-reporting on the part of the subject to track his progress, and this assumes the patient wants to get “well.” It has turned out to be incredibly easy to fool many psychiatrists, and most of the good ones will say that the only fairly reliable predictor of violence is a past history of violence. One of the things I hope we’ve accomplished with the criminal-personality study and our work since then is to make the mental health community aware of the limitations of self-reporting where criminal behavior is concerned. By his very nature, a serial killer or rapist is manipulative, narcissistic, and totally egocentric. He will tell a parole officer or prison psychiatrist whatever he or she wants to hear, whatever it will take to get out of prison or stay on the streets.

As Rissell described his subsequent kills to us, we saw a steady progression. He was annoyed by his second victim’s barraging him with questions: “She wanted to know why I wanted to do this; why I picked her; didn’t I have a girlfriend; what was my problem; what was I going to do.”

She was driving the car at gunpoint, and like the first, she tried to escape. At that point, he realized he had to kill her, stabbing her repeatedly in the chest.

By the time of the third kill, it was all pretty easy. He’d learned from his previous experience and wouldn’t let this victim talk to him; he had to keep her depersonalized. “I was thinking . . . I’ve killed two. I might as well kill this one, too.”

At this point in the progression he released the woman caring for her father with cancer. But by the final two murders, his intention was well established. He drowned one and stabbed the other—between fifty and a hundred times by his own estimate.

Like virtually all the others, Rissell showed us that the fantasy was in place long before the actual rapes or murders began. We asked him where he’d gotten his ideas. They came from a number of places as it turned out, but one of them, he said, was reading about David Berkowitz.

David Berkowitz, known first as the “.44-Caliber Killer” and then as the “Son of Sam” after he began writing to newspapers during his reign of terror in New York City, was more of an assassin personality than a typical serial killer. Over almost exactly a year—from July 1976 to July 1977—six young men and women were killed and more were wounded, all parked in lovers’ lanes, all shot in their cars with a powerful handgun.

Like a number of serial killers, Berkowitz was the product of an adopted family, which he didn’t know until about the time he was in the Army. He’d wanted to be sent to Vietnam, but ended up in Korea, where he had his first sexual encounter, with a prostitute, and contracted gonorrhea. When he got out of the service and went back to New York City, he began hunting for his biological mother, whom he found living with her daughter—his sister—in Long Beach, Long Island. Much to his surprise and dismay, they wanted nothing to do with him. He’d been shy, insecure, and angry, and now he blossomed into a potential killer. He’d learned how to shoot in the Army. He went to Texas and procured a Charter Arms Bulldog—a .44-caliber handgun—a large, powerful weapon that made him feel bigger and more powerful. He went out into the city dumps of New York and practiced with this weapon, hitting small targets until he was a good shot. And then this low-level postal employee by day went on the hunt by night.

We interviewed Berkowitz in Attica State Prison, where he was serving twenty-five years to life for each of six killings after pleading guilty, though he later came to deny his crimes. He had been the victim of a near-fatal attack in prison in 1979, when his throat had been slashed from behind. The wound had required fifty-six stitches and the attacker was never identified. So we came to him unannounced, not wanting to place him in further jeopardy. With the warden’s cooperation, we had filled out most of our written questionnaire in advance, so we were well prepped.

For this particular encounter, I brought along some visual aids. As I mentioned, my father had been a pressman in New York and head of the printers’ union in Long Island and had supplied me with tabloids proclaiming the Son of Sam’s exploits in large headlines.

I hold up the New York Daily News, then pass it across the table to him as I say, “David, a hundred years from now no one is going to remember Bob Ressler or John Douglas, but they will remember the Son of Sam. In fact, right now there’s a case in Wichita, Kansas, a guy who’s killed about half a dozen women and calling himself the BTK Strangler. That’s ‘bind, torture, kill.’ And you know, he’s writing letters and he’s talking about you in those letters. He talks about David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam. He wants to be like you because you have this power. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he writes you a letter in jail here.” Berkowitz is not what I would call a charismatic guy, and he was always searching for some bit of recognition or personal achievement. He had bright blues eyes that were always trying to pick out if someone was genuinely interested, or laughing at him. When he heard what I had to say, his eyes lit up.

“Now you never had a chance to testify in court,” I continue, “so all the public knows about you is that you’re one bad son of a bitch. But from doing these interviews, we know that there must be another side, a sensitive side, a side that was affected by your background. And we want you to have the opportunity to tell us about that.” He’s pretty emotionally undemonstrative, but he speaks to us with little hesitation. He admits having started more than two thousand fires in the Brooklyn-Queens area, which he documented in meticulous diary notes. That’s one way he resembles an assassin personality—a loner who indulges in this obsessive journal writing. Another is that he doesn’t want to have any physical contact with the victim. He’s not a rapist or fetishist. He’s not looking for souvenirs. Whatever sexual charge he’s getting is from the act of shooting itself.

The fires he set were mainly of the nuisance variety, such as in trash cans or abandoned buildings. Like a lot of arsonists, he would masturbate while watching the flames, then again when the fire department came to put them out. The fire-starting also fits in with the other two elements of the “homicidal triad”: bed-wetting and cruelty to animals.

I always thought of the prison interviews as like panning for gold. The vast majority of what you get is going to be worthless pebbles, but if you get one real nugget out of it, the effort has been well worth it. And that was certainly the case with David Berkowitz.

What’s very, very interesting to us is that as he’s stalking these lovers’ lane areas, rather than go to the driver’s side of the car—most frequently the male side—which would represent the greater threat, he shifts around to the passenger side. This tells us that, as he’s firing into that vehicle in a typical police stance, his hatred, his anger, is directed at the woman. The multiple shots, like multiple stab wounds, indicate the degree of that anger. The male is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s probably never any eye contact between attacker and victim. Everything is done from a distance. He could possess his fantasy woman without ever having to personalize her.

Equally interesting, another golden nugget that has become part of our general awareness of serial killers, is that Berkowitz told us he was on the hunt nightly. When he could not find a victim of opportunity, a victim who was going to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, he would go back to areas where he’d been successful in the past. He would go back to a crime-scene area (many of the others went back to body-disposal areas), and the grave sites, and symbolically roll in the dirt and relive that fantasy over and over again.

This is the same reason why other serial killers take photographs or make videotapes of their crimes. Once the victim is dead and the body has been disposed of, they want to be able to relive the thrill, continue acting out the fantasy, do it again and again. Berkowitz didn’t need the jewelry or the underwear or the body parts or any other souvenir. He told us that just going back was enough for him. He would then go back home, masturbate, and relive the fantasy.

We would use this insight to great effect. People in law enforcement had always speculated that killers returned to the scenes of their crimes, but couldn’t prove it or explain exactly why they did. From subjects like Berkowitz, we were starting to discover that the speculation was true, though not always for the reasons we might have suspected. Remorse can certainly be one of them. But as Berkowitz showed us, there can be others. Once you understand why a particular type of criminal might revisit the scene, you can begin planning strategies to deal with him.

The Son of Sam name came from a crudely written note addressed to police captain Joseph Borelli, who later went on to become NYPD chief of detectives. It was found near the car of victims Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani in the Bronx. Like the others, both were killed from point-blank range. The note read:

I am deeply hurt by your calling me a weman-hater. I am not. But i am a monster. I am the “son of Sam.” I am a little brat.

When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood.

“Go out and kill,” commands father Sam.

Behind our house some rest. Mostly young—raped and slaughtered—their blood drained—just bones now.

Pap Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can’t get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by.

I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else—programmed too kill.

However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first—shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die!

Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. “Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy.”

I miss my pretty princess most of all. She’s resting in our ladies house. But i’ll see her soon.

I am the “monster”—“Beelzebub”—the chubby behemouth.

I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game—tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are prettyist of all. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt—my life. Blood for papa.

Mr. Borelli, sir, I don’t want to kill any more. No sur, no more but I must, “honour thy father.”

I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don’t belong on earth. Return me to yahoos.

To the people of Queens, I love you. And i want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next. And for now I say goodbye and goodnight.

POLICE: Let me haunt you with these words:

I’ll be back!

I’ll be back!

To be interrpreted as—bang, bang, bang, bang—ugh!!

Yours in murder

Mr. Monster.

This insignificant nobody had become a national celebrity. More than a hundred detectives joined what came to be known as Task Force Omega. The wild, raving communications continued, including letters to newspapers and journalists such as columnist Jimmy Breslin. The city was in terror. At the post office, he told us, he got a real thrill overhearing people talking about the Son of Sam and not knowing they were in the same room with him.

The next attack took place in Bayside, Queens, but both the man and woman survived. Five days later, a couple in Brooklyn were not so lucky. Stacy Moskowitz was killed instantly. Robert Violante survived, but lost his sight from his wounds.

The Son of Sam was finally caught because he parked his Ford Galaxy too close to a fire hydrant the night of the final murder. A witness in the area remembered seeing an officer writing up a ticket, and when it was traced, it led to David Berkowitz. When confronted by police, he said simply, “Well, you got me.”

After his arrest, Berkowitz explained that “Sam” referred to his neighbor, Sam Carr, whose black Labrador retriever, Harvey, was apparently a three-thousand-year-old demon who commanded David to kill. At one point, he actually shot the dog with a .22 pistol, but it survived. He was instantly labeled a paranoid schizophrenic by much of the psychiatric community, with all sorts of interpretations being given to his various letters. The “pretty princess” of his first letter was apparently one of his victims, Donna Lauria, whose soul Sam had promised him after her death.

What was most significant to me about the letters, more than any of the content, is the way his handwriting changes. In the first letter, it is neat and orderly, then progressively degrades until it is almost illegible. The misspellings become more and more common. It is as if two different people had been writing the letters. I showed this to him. He hadn’t even realized it. If I were profiling him, as soon as I saw the degradation of the handwriting, I would know he was vulnerable, prime to slip up, to make some petty mistake, like parking in front of a fire hydrant, that would help police catch him. That vulnerable point would be the time to launch some sort of proactive strategy.

The reason Berkowitz opened up to us, I believe, was because of the extensive homework we’d done on the case. Early on in the interview, we came to the topic of this three-thousand-year-old dog that made him do it. The psychiatric community had accepted the story as gospel and thought it explained his motivation. But I knew that that story hadn’t actually emerged until after his arrest. It was his way out. So when he started spouting about this dog, I said simply, “Hey, David, knock off the bullshit. The dog had nothing to do with it.” He laughed and nodded and admitted I was right. We’d read several long psychological dissertations on the letters. One compared him to the character of Jerry in Edward Albee’s play The Zoo Story. Another tried to pick up his psychopathology by analyzing the writing word by word. But David was throwing them all a curve, which they swung at and missed.

The simple fact is that David Berkowitz was angry about how he had been treated by his mother and other women in his life and felt inadequate around them. His fantasy of possessing them blossomed into a deadly reality. The important things to us were the details.

With Bob Ressler’s skillful administration of the NIJ grant and Ann Burgess’s compilation of the interviews, by 1983 we had completed a detailed study of thirty-six individuals. We also collected data from 118 of their victims, primarily women.

Out of the study came a system to better understand and classify violent offenders. For the first time, we could really begin to link what was going on in a perpetrator’s mind to the evidence he left at a crime scene. That, in turn, helped us to hunt them more efficiently and catch and prosecute them more effectively. It began to address some of the age-old questions about insanity and “what type of person could do such a thing?” In 1988, we expanded our conclusions into a book, entitled Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, published by Lexington Books. At this writing, it is in its seventh printing. But regardless of how much we learned, as we admitted in our conclusion, “this study raises far more questions than it answers.”

The journey into the mind of the violent offender remains an ongoing quest of discovery. Serial killers are, by definition, “successful” killers, who learn from their experience. We’ve just got to make sure we keep learning faster than they do.

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