"According to Robert Ressler, cofounder of the FBI's psychological -profiling program…there were more than 170 killers in America in 1991. Thirty-five years earlier, there had been one" (p. ix).
In the years since 1991 it is reasonable to speculate that this trend has continued and that we have even more serial murderers today!
"No doubt, certain contemporary conditions---the breakdown of the family, the loss of religious faith, the frenetic mobility of our culture---are conducive to the sort of rootlessness, alienation, and emotional dysfunction that can lead to sociopathic violence" (p. ix). However, serial murderers have been around since the dawn of recorded history.
"To tongue-clucking moralists the contemporary taste for true-crime literature is another sign that our world is plunging into a new age of darkness…however…human beings have always possessed a keen appetite for real-life stories of gruesome crimes---and the bloodier the better. In preliterate times sensational killings were immortalized in 'murder ballads,' which transformed mayhem into folk poetry. The true-crime genre itself was born in the early 1700s…" (p. x).
Examples throughout history of serial murderers and other types of murderers are captured in the book: "Human Monsters: An illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Most Vicious Murderers" by David Everitt (Contemporary Books: Chicago, 1993). All quotes in this summary are drawn from his book.
Sawney Beane, who died in 1435, was the patriarch of the most murderous family in human history. They robbed, killed hundreds of victims, and often ate their victims. Beane and his wife, their fourteen children, and their thirty-two incest-spawned grandchildren were labeled by King James as beasts and as such were not deserving of a trial---they were, however, entitled to long and painful executions (p. 5).
Giles de Rais (1404-1440) was the original Bluebeard and he was the torturer, mutilator, and murderer of well over a hundred children. He was once France's greatest hero before he became its most despicable villain. He was Joan of Arc's most trusted lieutenant as he was at that time devoutly religious. "Rais was one of medieval Europe's great patrons of the arts, spending huge sums of money to sponsor the creation of music, literature, and plays, all with a religiously inspirational theme. At the same time, he was sending out servants to lure children to his castle" (p. 6).
Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) in search of eternal youth would have people killed so that she could bathe in their blood and killed as many as six hundred. Since she was royalty, all they did to her was place her under house arrest.
The point I am making from the above is that both men and women, both the rich and poor, both the uncouth and the cultured, both the barbarian and the believer have been known to commit horrific murderous crimes.
William Burke and William Hare (1829) worked as a team and their primary motive in murder was profit from the sale of the cadavers to science. They ran a boarding house and would kill the residents and then sell their bodies. In less than a year they killed 16 people before getting caught.
Jean-Baptiste Troppmann (1848-1870) also killed for profit. He killed an entire family of 8, one day at a time. He killed the husband who he worked with and then talked the wife into bringing money to her husband who she thought was still alive and then he killed her and worked his way through the family and almost got away with it before others stumbled upon the bodies. Society was indeed fortunate in having caught him early in his murderous career. At 22 he was most likely only starting on what could have been a long career of murder for profit.
In the 1800s Vincenz Verzeni was convicted and admitted his murderous ways at his trial and without contrition openly admitted to the sexual pleasure he had experienced while carrying out his attacks and murders. At the age of 24 he was sent to prison for life.
Jesse Pomeroy (1860-1932) as a boy of 11 he beat and tortured children. When they caught him and put him in reform school he was a model inmate. When he was released at age 14 he graduated to homicide. He was easy to catch in part due to his disfigured appearance---which probably played a part in his behavior as getting even with a cruel world can motivate a person to do many horrific acts. He spent 58 years in prison, most of them in solitary confinement, from the age of 14 to the age of 72.
So now we see that just as adults kill children, children sometimes kill adults. Some kill for profit, while others kill for pleasure. Some kill to get even for having been dealt a hard and painful life. Some kill for all three reasons at the same time.
Thomas Piper (1849-1876) was the sexton of the Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Boston. He was a respectable young Bostonian and he maintained the church property and took responsibility for ringing the church bell. And…..while no one noticed…..he drank whiskey and smoked opium and raped and killed young women.
One of the most famous of all killers was named Jack the Ripper….however, his name was not Jack, he just was called that during the two months in London during which he killed and mutilated five prostitutes. The killings stopped as quickly as they started. Did he get locked up for some other crime? Did he die or move to another area and change the type of murder he committed? Did he just get his bloody fill and quit? No one knows. The point here is that for every murder we convict, others are never found, never convicted, no matter how diligently we seek them out.
Lizzie Borden (1860-1927) is one of America's most famous murderers….according to folklore, she took her axe and gave daddy 20 whacks and then gave mommy 9 more. Mommy was really her stepmother. And instead of being convicted, she was found not guilty by the court, but not by public opinion, which decided she was indeed the murderer. All evidence does point to her guilt; however, the jury just couldn't see this nice young lady as being capable of two such dreadful murders. She was 32 when she killed her parents and lived on to age 67.
Lizzie Borden is an example of how important appearances are, often more important than facts or evidence. That is why the jury needs to see the accused dressed, shaved, looking as presentable as possible. That is why OJ was helped tremendously when he was allowed to try on the glove and address the court and jury stating his innocence without having to be cross examined---he knew how to play the role of OJ, the nice guy from the movies and commercials.
One of America's most interesting murderers, far more interesting though not as famous as Lizzie, was H.H. Holmes (1860-1896). Holmes was a medical doctor by education, but most of his energy went into swindles, bigamy, and murder for profit, murder for convenience, and murder for pleasure. H.H. Holmes was not the name he entered the world with---he was Herman Webster Mudgett. His father was a deeply religious man who believed in beating righteousness into his son. He was also the victim of bullies and had only one friend---who died from a fall (but who might very well have been pushed by Mudgett to his death). He earned his medical degree in Michigan where he realized that as a medical student he could get his hands on dead bodies, which then could be passed off as someone else in order to collect on insurance policies. This led to his successful sale of bogus medicines and other ventures that made him quite well off so that he was able to build a large home, which would become the site of his bizarre murders. He rented rooms to people during Chicago's World's Fair of 1893 and then killed some of them in order to sell their bodies and skeletons to local medical schools. (Obviously this sounds familiar as Burke and Hare did similar murders some 64 years earlier in Europe.) Eventually he confessed to 27 murders but most consider that he killed far more than that during his career. The only reason they caught him was one of his accomplices felt double-crossed by him and so reported him to the police.
Intelligent people like Mudgett can often be the most "successful" at their murderous endeavors! When you link that intelligence with being abused as a child you often create a very volatile mixture.
One of the earliest examples of how audaciously incompetent mental health workers can be is seen in the case of Joseph Vacher (1869-1898) who came to called the French Ripper. Fortunately, this ripper was caught, but not before killing at least 11 (that is the number he confessed to). At the age of 19 he had attempted to rape a boy and during his time in the army he both attempted suicide and threatened others. At the age of 24 his murderous career began when he shot a young woman three times after she had spurned him (she survived the attack, however, it was the beginning of his reign of terror). After shooting her he turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the head---unfortunately he lived, but the wound left him with one eye damaged. For this offense he was sent to an insane asylum where he was treated for "persecution mania" and released in less than a year as cured. Some cure! He quickly began roaming the countryside killing women and teenagers of both sexes and would sexually assault the corpses. It took them three years before they caught up with him and this time he was guillotined.
Like Jack the Ripper, other multiple murderers have not been caught. Bela Kiss who was born in 1872 started murdering people when he was over 40 years old and killed between 20 and 30 women before he disappeared. Belle Gunness who was born in 1859, over a 12 year period, killed husbands, her own children, suitors, and others before taking the considerable amount of money she had "earned" in this way and disappearing.
This list of murderers could go on and on as it does in the book HUMAN MONSTERS an Encyclopedia of murderers by David Everitt (Contemporary Books: Chicago, 1993). What is clear from the historical record is that people kill people for just about every imaginable reason you can concoct. Men and women, boys and girls can be killers. Well off people or poor people can be killers. Doctors and nurses who have taken oaths to save life and help others can be killers. Highly educated people can be very dangerous killers as well as poorly educated people. People who appear to be happy and successful can be killers. Yes, people who were abused as children can become killers; however, people who were never so abused can also become killers. Atheists and regular churchgoers can be murderers. People kill because they enjoy it, because it can be sexually and intellectually exciting, and because it can be just plain old profitable. Some people kill all by themselves and others engage partners in their efforts. Some are fortunately caught quickly while others elude the police for years and some are even never caught.
So what does all of this tell us? It tells us that who amongst us will be the next murderer is impossible to predict. It tells us that everyone should be a suspect. Yes, even you and me!
When you are trying to understand a crime, to either detect the murderer or begin to understand the mind of a murderer, you must first of all never assume that the murderer will a certain type of person---murderers are all types of persons!
However, a careful study of murderers also tells us that a logic is involved in every killing. There is no such thing as a "senseless" murder---they all make sense in some sad, horrific, demented way. To make sense of the murder is often the quickest route to finding out who committed the murder.