The Problem with Serial Killers in the Media

Not so long ago a friend of mine, Jeff Death (a nickname, but better than his original), passed away. He was an avid true crime reader and in his will I was bequeathed his vast collection of serial killer biographies. As a tribute to him I began writing a novel about a serial killer, called The Foot Doctor LettersA Serial Killer Speaks Out, in which the protagonist is the killer. It focuses on his development from childhood and eventual evolving into a full-fledged murderer. After reading all of the books, and some further research, I noticed that nearly all of the portrayals of serial killers in films and TV are wrong. Or at best a half truth.

Serial Killers are shown as vaguely defined weirdos who run amok, wearing masks and slashing people with knives, luring people into intricately made traps and ripped them apart for… for what reason? Oh, I guess they like killing. They really like it. Really, really, really like it. And they’re crazy. They got the crazy bug that makes them kill. That’s it.

We see it in Dexter. We see it in Joe Carrol from The Following. We see it in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. We see it in Hannibal Lecter. Boy do they like killing. But why? What does it do for them? That is never explained. Why not? Because, for the most part, a serial killer’s crime are sexual ones. Serial Killers usually don’t just murder, they rape and murder. We are okay with the killing, but not the rest. The primary focus for most serial killers is to reach a sexual climax and the media isn’t comfortable showing that, or usually even hinting at it.

Now you get a few oddballs where the motivation isn’t sex. They commit crimes due to mental illness, thrill killing, or attention seeking. Such as Herbert Mullin (voted most likely to succeed in High School) who, in 1973, killed 13 people as a sacrifice to prevent a re-occurrence of the 1906 earthquake which nearly destroyed San Francisco. The voices in his head told him to do this. The Zodiac Killer loved shooting and stabbing his victims, the women got always got the worst of it, but never sexually assaulted them. David Berkowitz, the notorious Son of Sam, shot his way across New York City during the summer of 77. He targeted mostly couples and did so at the behest of his neighbor’s black terrier.

But for the majority of serial murderers, and by far the most gruesome and famous of them, have had sexual motivations. 74% of them according to FBI reports. Ted Bundy raped and murdered across the Western Seaboard. Often only lightly burying his victims, so he could easily dig them up and rape their corpses over and over again. Jeffrey Dahmer left his victims lying around the house and stuffed up in his freezer, so he could have sex with his young male prey long after they were dead. Edward Kemper loved to strangle, decapitate, and rape hitchhikers, and had sex with his own mother’s severed head.

With these creatures the sexual instinct has been twisted to an extent that the person is sexually excited by torture, rape, and necrophilia. That is to have total power over a person, alive and dead. Too often in films the killing is shown as the only goal. In reality, the killing is simply a means to achieve the ultimate goal of sexual power and release. So in a more realistic setting every time Dexter plunges his knife into one of his victims, he should be vigorously masturbating right afterwards. , perhaps using one or two of the pieces of the chopped up cadaver as sex toys. I wonder how many seasons the show would’ve lasted if they had done that?

Imagine this. What if you were unable to rise to the occasion or climax without thoughts of torture and murder dancing through your brain. What would you do?  How would you react? Then what if the fantasy grew stale and couldn’t satisfy you anymore. What would you do? How important is the sexual release to your life?

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