Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Serial Killers: Up Close and Personal

Yesterday, I had the chance to read an advance copy of criminologist Jack Levin's new book, Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers - Up Close and Personal. Levin has specialized in the study of murder over the past twenty-five years and in the introduction, shares the toll this line of work has taken on his life (I can relate!):

...I must confess, from the outset, that I have also paid a high personal price for my work in analyzing the most depraved of murderers. Over the years, I have received death threats from the fans of killers about whom I have written. I have gotten nasty letters and phone calls from strangers who judge me based only on a short quote (or misquote) in a newspaper article they've read. I have received letters from numerous prisoners who believe I might get them a new trial or a reduced sentence, mistakenly believing that I am am an attorney rather than a criminologist. Mobsters have visited my office. Psychotics have stalked me. . ...To this day, it remains difficult to get a good night's sleep.

Living with murder has not always been easy. Yet by analyzing and better understanding--not justifying--the thoughts and actions of serial killers and other murderers, we can hopefully develop strategies that will thwart them and therefore benefit society. To the extent that we are successful, my experiences with murder will have been totally worthwhile.

So if bloggers get bent out of shape over real or imagined threats over the internet, think how this guy must feel dealing with this type of potential risk on a fairly constant basis from face-to-face killers and their fans--although honestly, for the most part, the killers themselves are not terribly interested in experts, they have their own agenda when it comes to the type of victim they are looking for. But intimidation for them is often amusing.

Levin gives some background on serial killers, indicating that they are rare--less than 1% of murders constitute this type of killing in the US with about 200 victims per year spread among around 20 killers. Serial killers, as opposed to spree killers or mass murderers kill a number of people with a cooling off period in-between. He has had some real face-to-face time with many of these killers and their families and provides a good description of his interactions with them. There is an interesting chapter entitled, "Threatening to Kill" where Levin describes some of the threats he and others have received over the years. His experience leads him to this conclusion:

I realize now that some people make a career of threatening others. They usually do not follow through. Instead, they get tremendous satisfaction from causing pain and anxiety in the lives of the people they hate. Their threatening messages are in and of themselves a form of revenge.

I would rate the book as fair to pretty good, I didn't learn anything new here, but it was worth reading, although you will have to overlook the PC overtones--Levin seems to sympathize with gun control, yet mentions that serial killers only use a gun as a last resort, offers no indignation when mentioning that colleagues want to shoot people who are "biased" up with anti-psychotic drugs, and uses case examples that are politically correct for the most part without showing the other side. If you want more in-depth psychological analysis, I suggest Serial Killers by Joel Norris. Although it was written in 1988, Norris asks some great questions and has some terrific insight into what makes this type of killer tick.

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Blogger SGT Ted said...

I recently heard of Dr. Stanton Samenow on KSFO out of SF on his new book: The Myth of the Out of Character Crime. I haven't read it, but the author was fascinating to listen to.

It explodes the idea of the "quiet, meek guy" who suddenly kills with no outward warning. His descriptions were of high functioning narcissists and sociopaths.

9:35 AM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

Sgt Ted,

I have been an admirer of Dr. Samenow's work for some time now, especially his book, "Inside the Criminal Mind" that examines how criminals truly think. Thanks for pointing out his new book. I will have to check that out.

10:00 AM, January 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the concept of a serial killer "fan." How does a person end up as one of those, anyway?

12:08 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Believe it or not, there are websites and many people who are fans of killers. Think Charles Manson, he gets more fan mail than any other inmate. Even ordinary killers have fans. It is typically those who seem a bit unhinged themselves who get a fantasy going, perhaps that the person is innocent and they are going to be the one that sames the day. It is not just women, men get to be fans of the female killers also.

12:43 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Dean Esmay said...

Neil Gaiman once wrote an interesting story about a serial killer convention, publicly dubbed a "Cereal Convention" so the outside world wouldn't know that it was serial killers getting together at a hotel for a get-together. Gaiman had obviously studied the phenomenon pretty well, as one of the convention goers was posing as a serial killer, but really was not one, he was the editor of a fanzine about serial killers instead.

Serial killers do fascinate, for a variety of reasons, and if you posit that there's always a nutjob contingent on any issue, realizing that they have fans is not all that shocking. Although Charlie Manson is probably not a great example--not to be picky, but he probably doesn't qualify as a serial killer.

1:18 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Dean Esmay said...

(Oh by the way, don't mistake me, Charlie Manson is an evil psychotic. He just doesn't fit the serial killer profile that I can see.)

1:20 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger gs said...

Jack Levin's site is here.

It's highly doubtful that Levin's political conclusions are compatible with mine and I'm not qualified to assess his professional work, but his site has a conscientious look-and-feel. Apparently he has not shirked paying a personal price for pursuing his scholarship. IMO such people deserve respect whether one agrees with them or not. I endorse the tone of Helen's post.

2:31 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...

Dean Esmay,

No, he is not really a serial killer; he is just an example of a sensationalized killer I was using to point out that many killers have a fan base. He also did not commit the murders himself but sent his "family" to do his dirty work for him. I suppose he could be said to be a spree killer by proxy. Here is a good site to look at some of the differences between the term, serial killer, mass murderer, and spree killer:


It is a nice and informative site and there is much in Levin's work to admire.

2:39 PM, January 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't know Samenow had a new book. Have to take a look at it. The notion that out of character crimes really aren't seems in line with his earlier book.

I can understand (maybe) being a serial killer fan if there were a real-life Hannibal Lecter to admire. Most of the real serial killers I've read about, however, seem to be mundane little people aside from their unusual pastime.

3:10 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Sick people have sick preoccupations.


3:35 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Serial killers generally are mundane people--with fairly low or average IQs. People go on about how brilliant Ted Bundy was but he couldn't get ghrough law school and was not much more than high average in terms of IQ. We think because serial killers often allude the law that they are smart but they tend to move place to place and go to pretty large cities or places where they blend in--making them hard to catch. They also tend to kill and then wait years before killing again making their crimes hard to link.

4:03 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger jeff said...

That's interesting. I wonder if the police subconsciously assume the serial killer is smarter than he is and that effects the investigation. I know here, BTK was viewed as some sort of super criminal and everything he wrote was investigated on a higher level than it deserved. So much that his poor grammar and spelling was a ploy of his to throw off the cops, when the reality was he used poor grammar and poor spelling. When he essentially told them who he was and was arrested it turned out he was just not that bright, but really lucky.

8:15 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

The best I've read on the subject is Ressler's Whoever Fights Monsters.

When you mentioned that Levin said his work had taken a toll, I anticipated (wrongly) that he was speaking to the theme of Ressler's title, which is that one who hunts monsters may to some extent become one. Ressler spent a LOT of time talking to convicted serial killers. He was an FBI profiler, perhaps the first to have much succes, to hear him tell it. It's been some time since I read it, so memory may be serving faultily.

8:49 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

So the fans of a serial killer are typically of the other gender? That's interesting.

9:13 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Steelheader said...

The Pittsburgh PG had an interesting series recently about a class at Duquesne Univ who interviewed a SK.

I agree with Dr. H that they are mostly average Joes with an above avg propensity for murder.

11:26 PM, January 10, 2008  
Blogger Josh said...

It goes well beyond just being fans of a serial killer.

Ted Bundy used a female guard in Colorado to effect his escape. He established a relationship with her, and convinced her to toss away years of good work in her occupation to assist him in his escape. She ended up in prison for her efforts. He killed again thanks to her efforts.

That's going a little beyond a fan...

11:29 PM, January 10, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I need to read Levin's book. His website makes him sound a bit fluffy - like Dr. Phil for serial killers. His op-eds are all regurgitated common wisdom from slightly left of center. The covers at least make his books appear more like True Crime paperbacks than serious studies. Maybe he is the real deal, but for studying serial killers I think I'll start with some of the authors recommended by Dr. Helen and others.

10:24 AM, January 11, 2008  
Blogger Jasmine said...

i actually am a fan of H.H Holmes.

5:49 PM, January 31, 2008  
Blogger JC said...

Below is a "profile" of my 17 year old son. My husband has been denial for some time about our son, and refuses to read any of the books that I own...everything by Stanton Samenow; the former FBI profilers, and so on. Recently, husband has been admitting that maybe our son should see someone. However, from what I've read, this kind of person seems difficult to help. I'm afraid for my safety, even though son has not phsically harmed me. Husband and I have been married for 28 years. From what I present here, what would you advise us to do? Thanks for your time.

started a fire under our deck (had a younger boy with him) when he was 5 or 6. Had asked if he could make a "pretend fire"
often found with matches and lighters after being told to not have them. Still continues to do so (but as far as we know, he has not set anymore fires. He is fascinated with fire, however...likes to watch the flames in the fireplace and likes to have bonfire parties)

wet bed until he was 8 years old

cruelty to animals...
Hurt our dog by kicking him in the chest in our backyard
He was supposed to walk the dog after school but the dog started not wanting to go with him, he acted afraid of M. M never shows the dog affection.

Starting stealing from the homes of friends at about age 4 or 5. Made to give the items back but he continued to steal. Would take my jewelry and other items. Brought things home from school that did not belong to pens, watches, keychains, small toys.

Started getting into my underwear at age 10. Has not stopped yet at age 17. Found my dresses and underclothes in his room with semen on them.

Continues to break into our locked bedroom and office..using a plastic card to bypass the locks.

Found bottles of urine in his bedroom, repeatedly. Has been told not to.
Found a porn DVD in his bedroom.
Have found condoms (unused) in his room. Told to not buy them or possess them but continues to do so.

Likes playing with toy guns.

Collects knives.

Likes flashing lights and PA system on his car. Fascinated with fire/rescue personnel and looking the part, but does not put any effort into pursuing such as a career.

When confronted with what he's done, he lies. Makes excuses. Will only confess after we have proven that he's lying and we know it.

Never expresses remorse or apologizes for what he's done.
Is selfish, greedy, and seldom considers others

10:59 AM, October 22, 2008  
Blogger Glenn Adams said...

My name is Glenn Adams. I live in an area referred to by the 'Cherokees' as 'Wolfscratch Wilderness, Dawsonville, GA.
I have been backtracking Gary Michael Hilton since 01/06/08, which began as a search for the remains of Meredith Hope Emerson(Blood Mtn Hiker):
Gary M. Hilton: Evil, Demonic, Cannibal, Ritual, Serial Killer, had no victim profile, only a preference. Most of his rage was directed at females. Once the Truth Prevails, he will be categorized as the Hannibal Lecture of the 20th & 21st Century with a victim tally that goes back decades; 47 years acording to him...

GMH's Trail of Terror, was driven by Pornography, Drugs, and Bondage/Rituals

* Combined and perfected the Traits of many Serial killers, organized at times: He didn't want his primary den, or ritual grounds identified, but disorganized at others, continously trying to throw off LE by using different MOs, and diversions, such as jurisdicitional boundaries, creating squabbles among them and taking advantage of the lack of communication.

*GMH, was convicted of arson, and used this method and others to clean crime scenes and eliminate forensic evidence. GMH, not only used this method to clean crime scenes but used arson as on of his many weapons in his arsenal of death. GMH, torched his fiance's home in 1982, with her and her elderly parents inside. GMH, said, "If I can't have her, then nobody can!"

*GMH, had a distinct pattern of travel, which can be traced using the Appalacian Mountains as a guide, and ancient areas of FL. His victims were spaced out in one year intervals, and extended fron NY, to FL.

* GMH, utilized hunting schedules, posted lands(hunting clubs) State and Federal Parks & Forests & was very knowlegeable of police procedures, and forensics. strategies & procedures. His victims were stranger on stranger, which created statistical roadblocks for LE.

* Utilized Religion, Ancient Civilizations, & Native American history, and rituals. GMh collected Ancient Artifacts and marked one grave which contained many victims, with an artifact that characterized a demonic mask. GMH, also marked his burial grounds with glass canning jars, for relocating them in case of an extended absence.

* GMH, was very creative and used several ploys to lure and then capture his prey. His dog Dandy, was well trained and was utilized in many of his ploys.

On one occasion GMH,and two Associates, on a rapidly flowing river, created a scenario of a man and a dog flipping a canoe. His targeted victim was sunbathing on a sandbar with her dog. This occured in Madison Co., FL. The victims instincts activated an alarm and she would live to tell her story.

He would pull up behind the vehicle of potential victims, blink the lights, and once they pulled over, tell them that sparks were coming from their undercariage, then offer them a ride.

-One lady said that he would pretend to be blind and used the expandable baton to look like a blind person's cane, & Dandy as his seeing eye dog. She almost was tricked into believing him, but later saw him driving his van.

He carried himself as Traveling Preacher, Soldier on a perpetual mission, and was emulating Joshua; Of the Old Testament Bible: 'The Soldier's soldier', in his final days before capture. GMH, has over 15 identical traits of 'Joshua.'

* GMH, is self diagnosed with MS, & was taking large dosages of riddilin. I am confident that he is stricken with CJD, due to his cannibalism, as well as other residue in his dens and staging areas.

GMH, is demonic, which is due to the symptoms of the CJD: brain cells mutated creating a demonic personality. GMH, pulled his own teeth except for a couple, said it made him look more evil. He told his ex bosse's wife, "when I come off my meds, 'The Demons' , come out in me!".....

* GMH, was Military Trained; Special Forces, Very Intelligent(150+IQ) Cagey, Creative, Calculating, Opportunist, with no Human Emotions. He was obsessed with the power he possesed over his victims.


12:28 PM, March 09, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Adams said...

The following is a link with archived comments.
Dr Levin,
I am desperately searching for the 'Truth' concerning Gary M Hilton & Associates; Trail of Terror and answers that will reveal the many victims.
The information gathered in journey backtracking GMH, has come from conventional as well as unconventional sources.



12:00 PM, March 10, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Adams said...

(reply #90 - PIC is from the shed adjacent to the abandoned farmhouse where Meredith Hope emerson, frayed the rope, broke loose, and fought GMH, the 3rd time during her abduction. Note the Sears; stereo speaker, that GMH, used to prop up the shed to prevent it from collapsing.
This info was from the Dawson Co Det Ctr. jailers. GMH, bragged that she almost overcame him..


6:21 PM, March 10, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Adams said...

Robert Hansen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Crime Library - Robert Hansen; ^ ExploreNorth - Robert Hansen, A Serial Killer in Alaska; ^ Portraits of Serial Killers - Robert Hansen ...

WE TV; FBI Files, tonight was about Robert Hansen: The Alaskan Serial Killer, that I am confident the 1995 "Deadly Run" movie, by Samuel Rael; GMH's Attorney/Movie Producer,was based on. GMH, came up with the plot, helped to creatively write, handpicked the cast & crew, the film locations in North GA, & tutored the lead actor in the art of serial killing.
The documentary went into more detail than is available on the net, and involved actual investigators that worked the Hansen, case.
Snipet from John Douglas; FBI Profiler on the Hansen: Serial Killer case:
Hunting the Hunter
I began to get an idea of how Hansen operated, and it gave me a cold, sick feeling in my stomach. It seemed clear to me that he was definitely the killer, but he wasn't simply killing these women. I believed he was releasing them into the woods and then hunting them down like animals—and this proved to be the case....

We gave our assessment to the authorities, and they were able to get a search warrant. Hansen's rifle, which matched the bullets that killed the four women, was found at his home, along with some cheap jewelry, ID cards, and other items taken from them. There was also a sort of "journal," an aviation map marked with the locations of his victims' bodies.

Confronted with the evidence, Hansen confessed.
Agent John Douglas profiled Hansen to a tee. He had pegged him with a studder or lisp, as an independent business owner, with a family. Hansen owned a bake shop where LE frequented(pastries) and was a pillar of the community.
Although one of his victims escaped and went to police, Hansen was able to persuade them that the accusation was false. The Anchorage PD closed the case by order of the Chief. The Alaska State Patrol had an active Serial Killer investigation in progress at the time....
Link for Deadly Run Movie: Robert Christian Hansen, was convicted for the murder of only 4 women, which most were prostitutes, but admitted to over 33 victims in Alaska. He was originally from Iowa, and LE was confident that he had many victims, before moving to Alaska.
Hansen was an arsonist and mirrored many of GMH's personality traits.
Their were many, many parallels to GMH. In fact you could switch names in the documentary and it would have been virtually identical to GMH's trail of Terror, except GMH, had no victim profile. GMH, morphed over the years, changinging his MO and signature. He emulated or copycatted several SKs as well as creating new patterns and profiles.
Hansen, began killing prostitutes around 1980. After paying for their services, he would kidnap and rape them; he would then fly them out to his cabin in the Knik River Valley in his private plane and stalk and kill them with a hunting knife and a .223-caliber Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
Said he would toy with his prey for days once reaching the Wilderness and then hunt them. Although he would vary his methods of abduction, he would handcuff them as soon as he put them in the vehicle, then pull a pistol on them. Said that if they tried to alert help, that he would kill/shoot them and the rescuer.(sound familiar?)
Something interesting from the Behavioral Science Unit/FBI; the Trophys/souveneirs could be any personal item of the victims; clothing, jewelry, or even Dr. Licenses. They are kept to re-live the evil rituals of their victims, in the future.

9:18 AM, April 08, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Adams said...

Gary Michael Hilton: Serial Killer of Hannibal Lecture, magnitude, was very creative elluding LE for decades while his 'Trail of Terror' continued.
Very few of GMH & Associate's prey evaded capture. The folwing is one of the more fortunate ones, that saw through their rouse, escaping their wrath:

A Close Encounter With A Killer Mind By Tyrra B Meserve Greene Publishing, Inc. Madison Co., FL.
Since the beginning of time, within every culture, in every society, there have been those who are incapable of adapting and blending within the boundaries of their communal environment. Driven by a force that is incomprehensible to the peers upon which they prey, they feed on the terror and panic their crimes leave in the heart of the community. Unable to control their carnal desires for more than just brief moments, they reside in the dark recesses of the mind, opportunistically seizing victims to compensate for shortcomings they themselves are unable to overcome. Behind false smiles, it is truly then that the eyes become the window to the soul, or in some cases, the lack thereof.In most instances, the serial killer acts alone, extracting pleasure from the anonymity that he presents. However, in rare cases, these predators find in each other a kindred mind, linking up to work together, proving the old adage of water seeking its own level, even for heinous reasons. Whether the union is long-term, or short-lived, these serial killing partners present a unique problem for law enforcement officers trying to solve crimes.Recent developments have allowed Gary Michael Hilton to be charged with the murder of Meredith Emerson, and Cheryl Dunlap, however, questions still remain regarding Hilton’s involvement with other unsolved murders. It is currently under investigation as to whether Hilton is indeed a serial killer, and, if so, how many other victims did he claim, and, in what areas. In a recent interview with a Madison County resident, there has also now arisen the question as to if Hilton acted entirely alone.Debra Stephens, a Madison resident for many years, recalls a strange event that took place back in 2000. A local, who knew some of the more obscure river access points and sun-bathing spots, was taking advantage of a warm summer’s day and the company of her dogs. As she was lying on her towel, soaking up rays, Stephens was startled by her companions barking.“There’s canoers who go up and down the river all the time,” she said “so I didn’t think anything of it at first. Then I noticed there weren’t any other boats in the water and the dogs were focusing up the hill on the other bank.”Following their line of sight, Stephens noticed two men standing at the top of the hill, on the other side of the river, watching her.“I thought it was kind of odd when I noticed they were wearing blue jeans, sunglasses and boots. Not really boating clothes, if you know what I mean.”When the men stepped back into the shadows of the trees and did not reappear, Stephens said her apprehension abated a bit and she returned to sunbathing. Then, a few minutes later, the dogs started barking again and Stephens, now nervous, looked around once more. The dogs, trotting ahead of her, rounded a close bend and Stephens walked straight down to the waters edge to get a better view.“This older guy was paddling down in a canoe and it looked as though he was having a time of it. It was only he and his dog. At first, he asked if this was where they picked up the people for canoe rides. When I said no, this is private property, he kind of looked around, up the hill where the two guys had been.”It was at this point that Stephens said the older man looked like he accidentally flipped the canoe, trapping the dog underneath. As Stephens was debating whether or not she should jump in and help, she noticed the man glancing up, occasionally looking up towards where she had seen the other two men earlier.“He made it to the other bank and acted like he was going to lift the canoe,” Stephens remembered, “but then he just kept looking around and his dog was just laying there. His dog didn’t bark back at my dogs or anything. It was weird. It was almost like the dog had been through this before and he was trained.”When the man fell to the ground, he appeared to accidentally push his canoe back into the water where it started to float downstream. Deciding to lend a hand, Stevens started to get into the water on the opposite bank.“I looked up and there was one of the guys I had seen earlier, about halfway down the hill. I shouted up to him Hey, that man needs help, but he just looked at the older man, turned around and walked back up into the trees.”Stephens stopped the canoe from floating away, and then gave it a good shove back toward the old man on the bank. Deciding it was about time to head home, Stephens kept an eye on the man as she swam back to her side of the shore, gathered her things and got set to leave.“As I was walking back down the river bank to my truck, I glanced up the hill and there were those same two guys again. Well, one of them looked down at the older man and he looked back up at the guy and I thought they nodded at each other. When I passed by them on my side of the river, I remember thinking, now that’s weird; he doesn’t have anything in the canoe. Nothing, I mean, normally people have a life preserver, equipment, something. He didn’t. It was completely empty. Just him, his dog and a cane.”Stephens also found it disturbing that, as she passed the scene, both men that she had seen earlier had not only re-emerged, but they had picked up the canoe and were carrying it up the hill with the older man and his dog in tow.“I noticed that he wasn’t using his walking cane,” Stephens recalled. “He just followed them up the hill until they disappeared. That’s when I wondered how he had gotten the canoe down to the river by himself. There’s not a lot of places where we were at that you can drive up and drop a canoe, you have to hike it in and that didn’t seem like something he could have done by himself.“When I got home, I told a couple of people what had happened and they just told me I was nuts. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had gone over to their side of the river, I wouldn’t have made it back, but everyone I told laughed and said nobody was trying to get me, so I just pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to forget it.”Then, watching the news recently, Stephens got a jolt. A little thinner, a little older looking and worse for wear, Gary Michael Hilton looked like the man she had seen that day.“Naw,” Stephens said to herself. “I’m just spooked.”Letting it go once more, a week passed before on another airing of the local news, Stephens got a chance to hear Hilton speak.“I jumped out of my chair,” she said, “yelling, That’s Him! That’s the *!#* man from the river.”They were trying to get me,” Stephens stated with conviction “I know that now. I could feel that something wasn’t right. It was like they knew each other. It just felt wrong.”Sergeant Tim Baxter of the Leon County Sheriff’s Department was not able to give much information due to Hilton’s ongoing investigation; however, he is interested in connecting Stevens with the right authorities to take her statement.“The FBI is working with the different case investigators, developing a long term timeline for Hilton,” Baxter stated. “They are going back to before (Hilton) was born. So far, we believe he’s a loner, but we want to know where he’s been and whom he’s been seen with. We don’t want to rule out connections he may have to other cases.”As police still gather leads linking Hilton with other crimes, they are tracing his footsteps in the past. Only time will tell if police have caught all the right men.

CP By Wolfscratch

9:33 AM, April 08, 2009  
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