"That night, behind the sliding glass door in that first-story apartment, a woman was terrorized, slaughtered, defiled, and then arranged in a pose more frightful than one ever conceived by those who created Hannibal Lecter or Freddy Krueger and it was real." --Robert D. Kepplel describing one of Ted Bundy's many horrific crime scenes in Signature Killers: Interpreting the Calling Cards of the Serial Murderer.
That pretty much explains my infatuation with serial killers (one that I've had since childhood). Freddy Krueger. Hannibal Lecter. Killers like Bundy, Dahmer, and others, closely resemble some of the villains from my favourite horror movies and books. According to Scott Bonn, criminologist and author of Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's most Savage Murderers, this is certainly one explanation.
Recently, while listening to one of my favourite true crime podcasts, I came across an interview with Bonn, where he discusses what serial killers represent in today's society and why they've become such icons. The origin of the word serial killer (coined by FBI agent and criminal profiler Robert Ressler) actually comes from serial fiction, and Bonn suggests that horror fiction villains and real-life serial killers are virtually indistinguishable. This is partly because we use words like "monster" and "devil" (inhuman terms) to describe such murderers. When Jeffrey Dahmer was caught, he was often referred to as "the real-life Hannibal Lecter." In this sense, the lines between fact and fiction are significantly blurred.
Another aspect that Bonn explores is our fascination with natural disasters and real-life predators. He suggests that serial killers are similar to earthquakes and great white sharks because they are rare, exotic and deadly. We simultaneously find them interesting and terrifying. I can definitely relate. Countless times have I watched specials during the Discovery Channel's popular "Shark Week," while partially turned away due to fear and disgust. I suppose this is similar to how I read about or watch documentaries on serial killers. Though, I have to admit my fear of sharks is somewhat stronger, likely due to my dread of what lurks below the ocean's surface. That said, what lurks below the surface of a murderer is probably more terrifying that what awaits in the ocean current. Luckily, I don't have to go into the ocean, but I most certainly do have to leave my house.
A third facet of our love affair with serial killers, according to Bonn, is entertainment and consumerism, which is undeniably linked to their branding. "Son of Sam" "The Night Stalker" "Jack the Ripper" "BTK" (Bind, Torture, Kill) and "The Boston Strangler" are like brand names. You can actually buy products--films, posters, t-shirts--with those labels attached. In a consumer culture, these sickos have become easily marketable. Bonn's correspondence with the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader, led him to this realization of serial killer brands. Interestingly, Rader often compared himself to natural predators, including a shark, and when signing letters from prison, would write the name Dennis in the shape of a shark, with teeth carved into the signature. In that sense, he had created his own logo.
Circling back to my first point, I have to say that, much like having a childhood favourite fictitious villain (Freddy Kruger) I quickly grew partial to a real-life villain--Ted Bundy. Now, that partiality does not stem from love, or even like, but rather it ties into Scott Bonn's discussion of fact and fiction. I liked scary stories; I enjoyed being frightened, and I still do. Bundy was (and is) my Krueger. The same way that Freddy terrorized teens in their dreams, Ted often crept into mine. He was a character. Charismatic and funny, much like Freddy, only much better looking. Scott Bonn insists that this is the very reason Bundy terrified us so much--he showed us that anybody could be a killer--your friendly next-door neighbour, your husband, your son.
Perhaps this helps to explain why hundreds of women became obsessed with Bundy as he awaited trial, while in court, and on death row. Could it be a combination of the meshing of fact and fiction and the seemingly harmless appearance of a killer like Bundy? Whatever the case, I find those women to be almost as disturbing as Bundy himself. Apparently, he received nude pictures from hundreds of women, and letters professing their love for him, even after he confessed to at least 36 murders. Honestly, any feeling of guilt I may experience during my time spent watching and listening to Ted and his story tend to fade away as I read about those women. At least I'm not one of them, right?
"We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow" --Ted Bundy
I've included this video of Ted on trial. I find the fact that he represented himself to be a fascinating aspect of his ego. The guy never finished law school, but was cocky enough to believe that he could convince the jury to let him walk, or at least dodge the death penalty. Fortunately for us, he really wasn't that good of a lawyer, or liar. That said, his psychopathic manipulation tactics are really something.
I'm finally doing it--pulling my insides out and splattering them around for all to see. Here we go!