Serial killers are a unique kind of individual. Their behaviour has fascinated psychologists, criminologists, journalists and the general public for years. To that end there is a never-ending stream of news reports, information articles, television shows, films and books, all focusing on the curious but frightening serial murderer.
Where books are concerned there is no shortage of choice when it comes to the topic of serial killers. From books looking at them as a group, their motivations, modus operandi and signatures, to books on individual serial killers and their crimes, all are available for browsing.
People are fascinated by the criminal mind and especially behaviours which are so heinous we find them difficult to comprehend. While some delve into crime fiction, enjoying the tales of crime fighting and criminal monsters committing horrendous acts, others prefer the true crime genre. A genre where they can explore these individuals, their lives and their childhoods, their family histories and of course their crimes against others, often considered to be the most evil.
The psychology of serial killers has not escaped attention and it is not just criminologists and forensic psychologists who write in this field. Understanding the mind of a serial killer has been a hot topic from new authors to seasoned writers.
One such author is Deividas Serevicius, a true crime writer, human behavior and forensic psychology researcher, columnist and blogger, whose book “Clutches of Madness: The Real Faces of Serial Killers” has recently been released.
A book which I reviewed here on Crime Traveller (read the review here) and one which is proving popular with fans of true crime.
Q & A with Deividas Serevicius
Deividas kindly gave me some time to answer some questions about his book and his own interest in serial killers, their psychology and that mask they are most often able to put on, fooling those around them and hiding their true personalities.
Your book gives a great overview of multiple murderers, their crimes and their states of mind. What made you write a book on serial killers?
From the moment the public has been introduced to the term “serial killer,” these real-life monsters have taken center stage in the popular media, often making their way to the celebrity status.
Our society has been fascinated with serial killers without even thinking what is really hiding behind the charming facade of such individuals, as Ted Bundy, who was regarded as handsome and charismatic – the last person you would think is a serial killer. Even after he killed at least 30 young females, women were very attracted to him.
By focusing on the crimes and not the killers themselves, media has left people wondering what is really hiding behind the phenomenon of serial murder. By writing this book, my main goal was to introduce people to the reality of serial murder and present a different look into the minds and madness of serial killers, exploring what is hiding behind their mask of sanity.
We all probably know the popular saying “Write the book you want to read.” In my case, I think, there is no better explanation.
I found your chapter on criminal profiling especially interesting. How influential do you think these techniques have been for catching serial killers and where do you see them going in the future?
People tend to give too much credit to criminal profiling in the process of catching a serial killer. Criminal profiling doesn’t solve the crime itself, it‘s just an aid for the investigation. And although profiling is often used in criminal investigations, researchers agree that it‘s questionable whether it should be used at all, because there is no compelling evidence that predictions made by professional profilers are significantly more accurate than those made by non-profilers.
As I mention in my book, in most cases, criminal profiling may help to narrow down the suspect pool, but sometimes it can also prevent a case from being solved because the profiler gets the wrong message and pushes police on the wrong track. But without the talent and knowledge of profilers and investigators, we might still have people like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy living around us and pretending to be perfect neighbors.
Considering the fact that the general public knowledge about criminal profiling came from popular TV crime shows, such as Criminal Minds, people are and will be overestimating the role of profiling in the criminal investigations. Although it has its pros and cons, it‘s still a pseudoscience.
Are there any serial killer cases you have been particularly struck by?
I couldn‘t point out the particular cases, but as for everyone, the unsolved ones, such as the Zodiac Killer and Original Night Stalker, are the most compelling and fascinating. And it‘s pretty natural, I think, because they often raise more questions than answers.
Compared to say 20 years ago, there appears on the surface to be fewer serial killers being revealed and splashed all over the news. Do you think there are fewer of them in operation now or are they just better at not being caught?
Experts suggest that there may be from 50 to 300 serial killers on the loose at any point in time. Although there’s no solid evidence to support these numbers, serial killers haven’t disappeared, of course. They are simply not the sensation they used to be. In the 70s and 80s, the phenomenon of serial murder was fairly new to the public, and such individuals, as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy, captured the public imagination. Their crimes were discussed in public and blasted all over TV, what gave them a chance to stand in the spotlight.
According to the Radford University and Florida Gulf Coast University Serial Killer Database, there were 692 serial killers recorded in the US in 1980. Three decades later, in 2010, there were only 93 of them. Obviously, the numbers of serial murders are dwindling, along with public’s fascination with serial killers.
The press attention towards serial killers has been the source of some debate, often giving them nicknames and turning them into pop-culture figures. What are your thoughts on how the press can report on serial killer activity?
As I wrote in my article “Why Do Killers Speak Out?”, to capture the darker interests of their readers, newspapers often write as much as possible details about the crime and sear the killer in the public’s collective memory. In fact, becoming a pop-culture celebrity is an important part of serial killer’s motivation and can be a strong inspiration for the killer to continue his criminal career. When killers become no longer satisfied with obscurity, they may become compelled to prove that they deserve the superstar status and the nickname they’ve been awarded.
As I mentioned before, fortunately, the public’s fascination with serial killers is decreasing, and let’s hope that the number of “murder made me famous” media celebrities will decrease along with it.
There is an enormous competition in the world of the media and all the magazines, television shows, and the newspapers are forced to keep their audiences entertained all the time. These popular media celebrities is a part of their existence. It is exactly what keeps them alive. And at this point, we may never be able to shake it off.
There are so many different motivations and drives psychologically behind the brutal acts of these individuals. Do you feel there is a common thread amongst them?
In general, serial killers may share some common characteristics and traits, but their motives are generally placed into four categories: visionary, mission-oriented, hedonistic and power or control, with the possibility of considerable overlap among them. Probably the only common thread amongst them is the psychological gratification they get from their accomplishments.
You discuss the range of psychological motives of serial killers in your book. With regards to the debate over nature and nurture, how much do you think genetics and the innate biological make-up of an individual are involved?
Studies have shown that the majority of the most notorious serial killers were either psychopaths or sociopaths. While their creation is still a mystery, it is commonly agreed that psychopaths are products of nature, while sociopaths are products of nurture.
Why do you think cases such as the Zodiac Killer and the Long Island Killer have never been solved, and do you think we will ever identify these killers now?
Within time, such cases as of the Zodiac Killer become subjects of debates and speculations, muddling up the case and making it hard for people to separate facts from fiction. Now, after almost 50 years, with no conclusive evidence ever surfacing, people keep presenting even the most unthinkable theories for a moment of fame, often pointing to their own fathers, stepfathers to be the infamous Zodiac Killer, along with an amateur code-crackers claiming to have solved Zodiac’s ciphers. Considering the unsolved nature of the murders, it’s pretty natural. The idea of solving an old mystery tantalize a lot of people and capture their imaginations.
I believe that Zodiac’s identity will remain a mystery, leaving a huge bloodstain in California’s history.
The case of the Long Island serial killer is an exact opposite of the Zodiac. Although it is already considered a cold case, the killer is active and won’t stop killing until he’s apprehended. As professor of sociology and criminology Scott Bonn said, the Long Island serial killer may be dormant right now, lying in wait, or may have relocated and is currently targeting victims elsewhere. He believes that the killer may have left New York since his Gilgo Beach burial ground was discovered by authorities in 2010.
Since the Zodiac’s killings, forensic science made an enormous step forward. So, let’s hope that with the help modern technology and the FBI, who had officially joined the investigation on December 10, 2015, the killer will be apprehended before he strikes again.
How can readers keep in touch with you and follow your work?
You can stay in touch with my work by following me on Twitter at twitter.com/MisterDeividas or liking my personal Facebook page. You can also join my mailing list for free updates and early releases of my upcoming books. As a thank you, you’ll receive 3 first chapters of Clutches of Madness: The Real Faces of Serial Killers for free!
I would like to thank Deividas Serevicius for his time in answering my questions and wish him all the best for his forthcoming books.
Image credit: Joel Montes de Oca / flickr