Serial killer. Those two words send chills down our collective spines and yet many of us, including myself, are fascinated by them. We want to understand WHY they do what they do, if their actions are driven by base instinct or shaped by environment, or if there is some sort of genetic flaw that renders them incapable of caring.
In my opinion, all of the above are true. Most serial killers are shaped by some sort of trauma in their past, and most are sociopaths. And while many of these murderers are driven by similar issues and instinct, no two are the same.
Ted Bundy was a sociopath who murdered at least thirty young girls and women, yet he captivated a nation during his arrest and trial. His good looks and charm scored him hundreds of groupies.
The Zodiac Killer is believed to have killed dozens of people, but only seven have been formerly attributed to him. His crimes became national news after he began communicating to a California newspaper. He’s never been caught, and the case – and fascination with him – rolls on.
Richard Ramirez, known as The Nightstalker, killed at least 14 people and is currently on Death Row. Even before his 1988 trial, Ramirez received fan letters in prison. Freelance magazine editor Doreen Lioy wrote him over 70 letters, and in 1996, they were married in San Quentin State Prison. Lioy claims she will commit suicide when Ramirez is executed.
There are many more serial killers who’ve spawned national attention: BTK, The Green River Killer, John Wayne Gacy, Wayne Williams … the list goes on. Each and everyone has been the subject of massive media attention and study.
Serial killers show us the worst of humanity. And yet, we remain fascinated. Dexter is a perfect example of this. Is it the writing? Michael C. Hall’s amazing portrayal of the sociopath? Or is it something more?
What makes seemingly normal people want to get close with a killer the likes of Ramerez or Bundy?
I think it’s a combination of things. As humans, we are often fascinated with the dark things in life, things we can’t fathom. Part of it is the need to find something good in someone. And, in the case of Lioy and the Bundy groupies, there is likely a need to be noticed, to be admired, and to be close to someone they envisioned as all powerful.
I’m no psychologist. I can’t begin to understand the decision process of killers or the people who support them long after their crimes are proven. But the study makes for some incredible character analysis and is great research for a writer.
What do you think? Why are we so fascinated with serial killers?
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