Sunday, August 26, 2012

Our Fascination with Serial Killers

author Patricia Gligor
Today my guest is Patricia Gligor who has written an exciting mystery thriller about a serial killer.  I first met Pat when she asked me for some input on the synopsis she was preparing for the publisher of Mixed Messages.  I knew when I read it that she had a terrifyingly great book, one that readers would love.  Read what she has to say about her work.


Our Fascination with Serial Killers

The blurb on the back of my mystery novel, Mixed Messages, begins: “It is estimated there are at least twenty to thirty active serial killers in the United States at any given time. There’s one on the loose on the west side of Cincinnati.”Actually, according to many articles I’ve read on the subject, that’s an extremely conservative estimate but even the FBI can’t give us actual statistics. No one knows for sure.

So, why did I write a novel where a serial killer is attacking women in their homes? Because the subject intrigues me and, from the responses I get when I tell people what my novel is about, a lot of other people feel the same way. I say “serial killer” and their eyes light up. Why?

There are lots of theories offering answers to that question. Some say it’s a throwback to the legends of vampires, which existed since the dawn of time. Those legends were romanticized and offered nineteenth century writers a way to capture the interest of Victorian society. From Dracula to Jack the Ripper to Hannibal Lectern in Silence of the Lambs, serial killers offer exciting forays into dark worlds.

Others speculate that the intrigue lies solely in the fact that, most of the time, serial killers look just like our brothers, friends, neighbors. People have a difficult time believing that someone who is described by co-workers and neighbors as “a nice guy, a sweet, quiet, awkward bachelor who lived with his mother” could be responsible for such horrendous crimes as the notorious Joel Rifkin and many of the other infamous serial killers throughout history. The fact that a killer could live next door to them, although chilling, adds a little spice to their otherwise hum-drum lives.

But, surely, there are common characteristics of serial killers. A way to identify them, to separate them  from the rest of us. Yes and no. Mostly no. The majority of the research on the childhood backgrounds of these monsters reveals that many serial killers suffered either a severe psychological trauma and/or physical or sexual abuse. Also, many future serial killers are known to have tortured small animals but many SKs didn’t and, strangely enough, some people who exhibit that behavior as children, grow up to be “normal.”

Then, why do some people who endure psychological and/or physical abuse as children grow up to be relatively mentally healthy adults who contribute to society while others become serial killers? Many experts agree that serial killers lack adequate coping mechanisms. Think of it this way: while some people get the flu, others don’t because they have a strong resistance or tolerance. Serial killers, lacking this resistance, as they grow older, are unable to deal with the stress everyone has at some point in their life. They have defective emotional immune systems. 

Are you fascinated with serial killers? If so, why?

To order Mixed Messages

Link to book trailer for Mixed Messages
  
Link to Pat's blog
http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com/

52 comments:

  1. Lesley,
    Thanks for your kind words and for asking me to be your guest!

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  2. Of course. Everyone interested in mysteries probably is! They are humans who aren't quite human, I think. Something is missing in their brains. I've read tons of books on the subject and still don't understand.

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    1. Kaye,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I'm doing a series of five posts on the subject starting the last Sunday in September. I hope you'll stop by my blog then.

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  3. I think what Kaye said is the key. We are fascinated because they are like us and yet so different.

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    1. That does make sense, John. For me, the fascination is with the "Why." Why do they do what they do? As I mentioned to Kaye, I'll be exploring that question in about a month on my blog. Hope to see you there too!

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  4. Patricia, you mentioned that you tend to be fascinated with "why" serial killers are motivated to act as they do.

    That makes sense to me. Whenever I don't understand someone's behavior, I always start rooting around in my mind for alternate motivations--ones I'd never utilize myself, but that may resonate with that other person. From what I understand, the things that seem to motivate serial killers are pretty hard for the rest of us to relate to.

    Patricia, if it's not too presuming too much to ask, how do you get inside the mind of a serial killer so you can write about him? Does leaving your mind that open to alternate motives make you feel a little creeped out? I really wanted to understand serial killers at one time; I've tried it. It's a wild ride.

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    1. Pam,
      First, I did a lot of reading on the subject. As I mentioned, some of that will appear on my blog next month. I also watch movies and TV shows (be careful that the information you get from them is accurate) with serial killers and, finally, I THINK "serial killer." As with all my characters, I need to know as much about them as possible before I write.
      As to feeling "creeped out," sure, every once in a while, but I try not to let any fear (including the fear of serial killers) get in the way of living my life.

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  5. Okay, totally out of left field, but I'm exploring the profiling of a serial killer through the use of astrology in my next book, A Snitch In Time. While that concept takes a pretty good leap of imagination, WHAT IF there is something astrologically "wrong" with certain people? And, hasn't an argument made of DNA mess-ups, like a double chromosome or some such? Perhaps there's more at play here than psychology and/or childhood.

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    1. Sunny,
      Exactly! No one knows the answer as to "why" someone becomes a serial killer. All we have is opinions. Even the experts don't know!
      Your concept of profiling a serial killer using astrology is intriguing! I like it!

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  6. Hmm. Interesting premise. Your reader has to assume that there's something to astrology in the first place, regardless of the subject's serial killer status. Most people wouldn't go for that--unless you just want to throw it in as a possible but unexplainable supernatural monkey wrench.

    The Zodiac killer himself, on the other hand, might have been a very close follower of astrological events. Most of his killings occurred on a new or full moon directly following an eclipse. Interestingly, as I recall, the eclipses were not necessarily visible from his location, so he'd have had to do some astrological studying to line up these syzygies.

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    1. Ah, yes, the Zodiac Killer! Sunny, are you reading this?

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  7. Let me clarify that theory about the Zodiac. It seems to me that he sent his letters as close as possible to a new or full moon following an eclipse. If this suggests the use of astrology, he would have been attempting to make his first move (sending the letter) at a time which he controlled. This is critical to the effective use of astrology to plan an event. The timing of the following action, the murder, would have been subject to factors beyond his control--like when he would stumble upon a suitable victim. So although some murders took place several days following the new or full moon, the initial action of sending the letter may have been directly connected to these astrological triggers. Just a theory. . .

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    1. Anonymous,
      You certainly know a lot about the Zodiac Killer! I'm wondering if you're a mystery writer too.

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    2. Nah, I'm just fascinated by serial killers like everybody else.

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  8. Not only am I reading this, but "Anonymous" has contacted me with some excellent tips for Medieval astrology, which I will use in the 4th book, "Witches Wheel." That was an ancient name for the horoscope. I've also researched not what the Zodiac killer did, but from the movie, the cipher the reporter uncovered to figure out the messages. Pretty ancient stuff.

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    1. That's great! I'm glad to hear you're also planning a 4th book for your series.

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  9. Fascinating discussion. I think including a serial killer in a book leaves a lot of room for suspense, tension and fear, and I believe a lot of readers love the unexpected. With a serial killer, you generally don't know what's coming next. Even if you have an idea, the question would be where and when is the next crime. It certainly leaves a long trail for the protagonist to follow. Again, great discussion.

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    1. Marja,
      In my sequel, "Unfinished Business," I have some surprises in store for those who read "Mixed Messages." Let's just say that all my research on serial killers is being put to good use. :)

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  10. Wow, what a great discussion here. I'm so happy you'e my guest, Pat. You've stimulated a lot of thought and some theories about serial killers that are as interesting and probably as valid as those the professionals have generated.

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    1. I'm having a blast, Lesley. I love reading what others have to say about the subject.

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  11. I haven't read a SK book in a long time, but yours looks fascinating, Patricia! What horrifies me is the idea that I could be standing in line at the grocery store, and the man in front of me with the kindly expression who politely puts the separator on the checkout counter for me might have already killed twelve women and is on the hunt for number thirteen. Chilling.

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    1. Linda,
      Thank you!
      You're right - it is chilling! Every once in a while, I'll find myself looking at someone I pass on the street and wondering....

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  12. Patricia,
    I've no idea why serial killers fascinate us so. But then we all gape at car accidents as we slowly drive past. I think what's out of our moral and emotional realms enthrall and horrify us at the same time.
    We might ask ourselves why we write mysteries??

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    1. Good point, Marilyn! I guess the reason is a bit different for each of us. I'm fascinated with psychology. I always find myself asking why a person says or does what they say or do, whether it's a character in my novels, someone I know or a serial killer. Now, I have to ask myself "why" I do THAT!

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  13. As Linda S. said, you could be standing next to a serial killer. How about living next to a mass murderer? When 60 Minutes did this piece on a general high up in the Shah of Iran's army who closed a movie theatre and burned it to the ground, trapping students inside, I realized the apt. complex shown on TV was mine. Yep, it was my neighbor, the one who wanted me to date his son. He had scurried away in the night, ahead of the press.

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    1. Wow, Sunny! You sure dodged a bullet that time!

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  15. You've got a great discussion going here, Patricia. Are you going to have a serial killer in the new book?

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    1. Now, William, you know I can't answer that question. :) You'll just have to read "Unfinished Business" to find out. It's tentatively scheduled to be published in November.

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  16. I think anything we can't explain fascinates us. UFO's, The Lock Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and, yes, serial killers. I hope medical science can someday, by studying those in custody, find an answer. Till then, I read the only answer Ted Bundy ever gave to the question,"Why?" was "Because I could."

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    1. Earl,
      It's interesting that you mentioned Ted Bundy. He'll be the subject of one of my October posts.
      I hope that medical science does find the answer (or answers) by studying the serial killers they have in custody. Then, maybe they'll be able to stop them before they start.

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  17. hi patricia,
    I'm endlessly fascinated by Jack the Ripper. I've read novels featuring the Ripper and watched true crime analysis about him on TV. When I was in London last fall, I made sure I went on the Jack the Ripper walking tour. One of my favorite true crime TV programs dealt with the possibility of the Ripper continuing his killings in New York City.
    Okay, why my fascination? Because it's never been solved and the killings were so grisly.
    I also find the Lizzie Borden story interesting. (Does killing two people count as a serial killer?) Since it was never proven, it's another endlessly fascinating story.
    Sandy Gardner
    sgardner2@hvc.rr.com

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    1. Hi Sandy!
      I think the story of Lizzie Borden is fascinating too! But I wouldn't classify her as a serial killer.
      There are several definitions. Most agree that a serial killer is "someone who murders three or more people over an unspecified period of time."

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  19. It's been great having Pat here as a guest. I made her promise to return when her next book is out. Until then, let's keep the discussion going.

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    1. Lesley,
      I would love to come back as your guest! This has been so much fun!

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  20. I like what Sandy Gardner had to say. I think some of the fascination is because these cases have never been solved. It's kind of like watching a scary movie (or a train wreck); you don't want to watch and yet you can't look away. You want to know what's going to happen next. It's like a cliffhanger -- where and when is the next body going to show up?

    What a great subject!

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    1. Marja,
      After discussing this topic yesterday, guess what movie I watched last night. "Copycat" with Sigourney Weaver!

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  21. Wow, Pat, you sure did get people thinking and writing. My theory is there is something missing in the killer's brain--mental illness. We don't do a good job either diagnosing mental illness or taking care of it when it is diagnosed.

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    1. Marilyn,
      Thanks for joining in. I agree. I'd like to see more study of incarcerated serial killers. We need some answers!

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  22. Serial killers strike a nerve for so many reasons. They appear "normal", yet their deeds prove otherwise. Is it that we're fascinated because we believe we're so very different, or are we afraid that given certain circumstances we could be one of them? Just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine!

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    1. Anne,
      Good point! I think part of it is that we don't understand what makes them "different" from us. "There but for the grace of God go I"?

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  23. I KNOW I could never be a serial killer. (I don't know that I could never kill someone, given just the perfect circumstance.) But, as others have said, I don't know how to tell who is and who isn't. Detroit is years behind in their DNA lab and has just now id'ed 21 serial rapists operating there. They have only 1 conviction and 2 names suspects--the others are not known by name yet. That's scary! I used to live there. 21 serial rapists! This is from shelved DNA that was found in 2009 and is just now being processed. (Our crime labs need lots more funding!)

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    1. Kaye,
      DNA is one of the most important scientific breakthroughs. Let's hope it helps us catch and convict more serial killers.

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  24. I have no expertise on the subject, apart from the fact that I operate on empathy whenever logic fails me. And I have devoted some effort to empathizing with serial killers. This, I know, may sound disturbing, but how else can we understand them than by trying on their point of view?

    After reading a book that made a good case for the Black Dahlia killer being a serial killer, I spent some time creating a forensic model (head only) of his victim. It was an interesting experience. At the time, I felt close to his victim, but closer, actually, to the killer.

    Since then, I came across a statement that someone who sexualizes the act of murder is incapable of finding satisfiaction in the deep bonds most of us experience in love--and feels forced to find that bond in fear. The killer wants the victim to feel as afraid of him as he is of her; the ultimate act of life-giving is distorted into an act of life-taking.

    Empathizing with a serial killer isn't very productive. . . empathy is based on compassion, and the killer cannot reciprocate. He does not understand compassion, but he knows how to use it. In fact, he will use every inch the victim's compassion gives him to exercise his will to dominate. For a short time, the victim may comply with his domination in some effort to placate him, but this response to his coercion will not end well. He has no mercy. He is a black hole.

    If someone tries to abduct me at gunpoint, I'm going to run and take my chances he's a bad shot.

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    1. Pam,
      Serial killers - like all sociopaths - are adept at manipulation. They often "mimic" emotions that most "normal" people have to seem like one of us and to gain control over their potential victims.
      Learning about them and how they think might possibly save a person's life. And, as you mentioned, when all else fails, run!

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  25. Aileen Wuornos, the only female serial killer I know of, killed six men. Her motive seems to have been that all men in her life treated her badly. Also, her lesbianism conflicted with having to sell her body to men to make money. Although considered insane, she was executed in 2002. Hers is a fascinating, sad, and scary story.

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    1. Earl,
      Hers is an interesting story.
      The majority of serial killers suffered psychological and/or physical abuse growing up but so have many other people who grew up to be "upstanding" citizens.

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  26. The book by Gary Gilmore's brother was incredibly fascinating. It's called *Shot in the Heart* and Mikal Gilmore is the author. It details the abuse they suffered from their father growing up and Mikal tries to figure out, through writing it, why his brother grew up to be a killer. Mikal was not a murderer, but he suffered enormous damage also, even though he was viewed as a successful adult in his writing career.

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    1. Kaye,
      Wow! Two brothers, both suffering the same abuse as children; one grows up to be a serial killer and the other doesn't. Great example of what we've been discussing. Thanks!

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  27. This was a most interesting discussion and I understand, because it got so many responses, that Pat will be continuing the dialogue on her blog for the next several weeks. Go to http://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com

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    1. Lesley,
      Thanks again for inviting me. This has been so much fun!
      You're right; I will be writing a series of posts about serial killers on my blog starting September 23rd. I hope to see everyone there.

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