“Famous Serial Killers” Introduction: Why Did They Do It?

Why did they do it? Well, that’s really the question, isn’t it: why? Why do people commit heinous crimes against their fellow human beings, all the while knowing that the possibilities are quite good that they will be captured, convicted, and in some cases, even executed? Furthermore, what possible motive could exist for those who murder not one victim out of malice, or greed, or inflamed, perverted passion, but for those who murder a continual string of victims, anonymous personages, many of whom they have never before even met?

The term serial killings a relatively new one: before the term came into existence, the widely applied designation of such random acts of perverted violence was a “stranger killing.” Such individuals who perpetrated these crimes were believed to be transients, bums who wandered into a sleepy town, and caught the unsuspecting victim by surprise. Usually, these victims were dispatched in a quick act of brutal savagery, and then their earthly remains were deposited, unceremoniously, in an abandoned lot, the woods, a country field, or, as in the case of Jack the Ripper, in an alleyway in a major metropolitan area. The psychiatric aspect and rationale behind “stranger killers” eluded police experts; to a great degree, they still do.

It was once believed that such nefarious individuals were the product of genetics, a sort of “throw back” to an earlier form of man that was alternately cursed or blessed with a more primitive, brutal set of adaptive skills; in other words, his savagery was something that was bred into him by the fierceness of his conditions, by the need to hunt, survive, to “kill or be killed.” Phrenologists, those discredited quacks of long ago who maintained that the character and intelligence of an individual were, somehow, related to the shape and size of their skull, gave ample (if questionable) evidence concerning what they believed to be the genetic character of homicidal madness and perversion. Yet, their notions are seen today as discarded and outmoded nonsense.

Today, we take the psychiatric angle: abuse, poor parental relations, sexual dysfunction, and other psychological abnormalities are brought into play as the chief culprit behind the deranged actions of fiendish killers. In our more enlightened age, we have replaced demonic possession with schizophrenia, genetics with being born just plain “bad.” But are we really any closer to actually discovering the truth? Perhaps not. For, for every case of a mad killer that’s been spawned by an abusive, horrid childhood, there are myriads of other examples of mad killers that had “model childhoods” (Ted Bundy, for example). No, the answer must, we believe, lie in the strange, spiritual composition of every human heart. As writer Jim Goad once observed, in the pages of his horrid, graphic, controversial “murder zine” Answer Me!: “Great souls rarely spring from happy environments.” If this be true, than our measure of greatness must be proportionate to the amount of objective “good” an individual can perform for society; other souls may be “great” as well, but not in the same sense as a Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King.

Some would contend that Osama Bin Laden was a “great soul,” that Adolph Hitler shined like a star in the firmament of a dark, blood-streaked Wagnerian sky, that Jack the Ripper earned every single decade of his long infamy, and would , indeed, qualify as a “great soul,” if not a particularly conspicuous character. Indeed, there seems to be something rotten at the core of some of us, something that actively seeks our own destruction, to a greater or lesser degree, as well as the destruction of our environment and our fellow beings. The healthy individual subsumes these gross, barbaric, bestial feelings beneath layers of socialization, respecting the aura of “taboo” that makes indulging in murder and vice a step downward, toward the animalistic. The vast majority of men and women, while they may violate the social contract in some small way at some point in their lives, know instinctively that certain barriers can never be crossed without a concomitant loss of that essential something that comprises the makeup of our humanity. Some doors can never be closed; some nightmares last forever. Not so for the “great souls” of the biographies that comprise the body of this volume. Each, in their turn, were missing that same essential element that keeps the vast majority of their fellow men from engaging in Locke’s “War of All Against All.” Some were driven by madness, some by money, and some by sheer mischief; driven over the edge by the “Imp of the Perverse,” they sought destruction as an antidote to a life and a sense of self that seemed forever to be missing the essential ingredient that makes great and useful souls of us all. The 20th century stands as the most blood-soaked epoch in human existence: from the horrors of the trenches of WW1; to the nightmares of Nazism; the Holocaust; genocide; Hiroshima; Nagasaki; the “Cold War”; Vietnam; assassinations; terrorism; racial riots; lynching; famine; AIDS; crime; and serial killings, we spent the nineteen hundreds awash in a mighty ocean of blood, malevolence, paranoia, and suffering. At the dawn of the 21st century we find the situation to be much the same; in fact, in some ways, it has simply escalated forward another few steps. War rages in Iraq, Islamic militancy threatens lives worldwide, social upheavals have become as common as the twirling masses of tired propaganda printed on one, many yellowed pages, or filling up bytes of information on the Internet. Everywhere we turn, Jesus prophetic words ring: “And there will be wars, and rumors of wars.” And, as recent media events have shown, we aren’t shut of the serial killer as a social phenomenon just yet. Just recently, the notorious killer known for years only as “BTK” was apprehended by police, who realized in shock that the fellow they had so long been in pursuit of was little more than a common, humdrum little man who went to church, watered his lawn, and looked like everybody’s next door neighbor. Once again, the world had expected a gorgon of monstrosity, a “great soul” of killing, and instead had found that the individual from their worst nightmares wore the face of suburban placidity.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

This volume attempts to trace the history of murder and mayhem through its celebrity practitioners. The vast majority of individuals included in these pages could clearly be defined as “serial killers”; that is, they have each killed at least three people with a short “cooling down” period in between murders. Some however are included not because they can be clearly defined as serial killers, but because the sheer gruesomeness and barbarity of their acts sets them apart from the run-of-the-mill murderer whose passion is often directed toward murder for profit or out of a single, jealous burst of romantic passion. Although there are several killers profiled within that might qualify as being, at least partially, motivated by profit, by and large all of the histories I have written cover individuals whose names have become synonymous with bloodletting. They did it for many reasons, some true and some only partly true, but for the most part, the individuals who were deemed worthy of being included did it because they liked it. It’s just that simple. Even Lizzie Borden, who spent her homicidal passion in one morning of mad mutilation, could not be accused of acting out of any motive besides a deep-seated emotional need to rid herself of the pain inflicted upon her by those she had ceased to love. Having indulged this need, having enjoyed the aftermath, she disappeared into obscurity.

We have left out the notorious bootleggers, Mob hit men, and other Mafioso of Roaring Twenties fame, simply because there is nothing about them, especially, that suggests that they enjoyed murder. In fact, they seemed to use it, for the most part, as simply a means to an end, and not as the end in and of itself. In fact, it is often said that the code of the Italian Mafia was that they only killed their own, or, whoever had personally wronged their organization. They, nearly always, left the families of their respective victims alone. Let’s hope this honorable code still survives today.

Our roster includes only deviants, and while many of those deviants may, in fact, have offered one excuse or another for their behavior, or some practical motive, they all shared one common trait: they excelled at being bad people. Thus we begin our tour of the blood-soaked catacombs beneath the mainstream of conventional history, taking our tour through the gas-lighted streets and dripping alleys into the recesses of minds poorly developed, of souls suffering sin and seeking salvation in the solace of sex and violence, derangement and defilement; love and death. Rome led the way, with their packed coliseums of cheering, jeering countrymen, all glutted to the overflow of their sensory organs on the sights, smells, and sounds of struggle and death.

Let the games begin!

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