Many researchers have studied the fascinating yet horrifying world of serial murderers. The discoveries made since the phrase “serial killers” was coined, have amazed society. Despite all the knowledge discovered related to this topic, much more still needs to be disclosed. One of the main points investigators have hoped to understand is how some of the perpetrators of these serial killings have integrated so well with the neighboring communities. In contrast with these “smart killers” there are those serial killers who are socially inept, who find it difficult to make friends or to communicate due to their low intelligence rate.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has categorized serial murderers in two subsets: organized and disorganized. The organized killers are viewed as the biggest threat to society because they are characterized as normal people capable of blending into the community. This attribute makes the public unable to identify them for what they truly are.
On the other hand, disorganized killers are careless and isolated from civilization, and people tend to treat them with extreme prejudice, making it easier for law enforcement to detect them among the population.
To sum up, organized killers are more hazardous to society than disorganized killers due to their personalities. Although serial killers are despicable creatures, Americans have always had an unnatural fascination with them and this attraction has been shown countless times in the media. Television, above all, has played a major role shaping the myths and truths we know about these murderous beings.
One of the most influential characters in film history is Dr.
Hannibal Lecter, who played the antagonist in “Silence of the Lambs” and its previews sequels. This brilliant forensic psychiatrist, who is also a cannibal and serial killer, falls into the organized killers’ category. Why does he belong to this group? Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a very sophisticated gentleman who has a meticulous appearance and is always certain of what he’s saying. He has the unique cleverness of an imminently intelligent man, a quality that aids him to gain first-level admittance into the FBI offices and to accordingly shape his killings in the movie “Red Dragon” (“Dr. Hannibal Lecter”). Another famous organized killer is fictional character Dexter Morgan, who according to Ashley M. Donnelly is the “New American Hero” (15). Dexter is a blood spatter analyst who works for the Miami Metro Homicide division and disguises himself as a “normal guy” while he executes the criminals that escape through the flaws of the legal system. Morgan is controlled by his adoptive father’s rules: “Harry’s code” as he calls it (“Dexter Morgan”).
The “code” helps him create a line amid what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable.” For him, child molestation and the murder of innocent people are “unacceptable” therefore he finds it “acceptable” to punish the offender (Donnelly 23). Dexter prefers to make his killings in sterile, almost surgical locations, usually clarifying to his targets the reason they are on his “table” before the moment of death. While Dexter does have an arid sense of humor, he normally handles himself in an almost unemotional manner, calculating situations as objectively as possible (“Dexter Morgan”).
The disorganized killers group has also had some zenith in the media and there is a wide range of personages who have performed as them. One of the most well-known characters is Buffalo Bill, also from “The Silence of the Lambs.” Jame Gumb (real name) assaults females in an effort to build a suit made of woman skin. Gumb has a psychotic illness that makes him believe he is transsexual; however when he wanted to change genders, doctors denied him a sexual readjustment surgery due to his mental instability (“Buffalo Bill”). Protected by the screen from the menaces that occur inside of it, people do not comprehend the risk it would pose to their lives a real serial killer. Two of the most disturbing and intriguing serial murderers in the past of the United States are Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Both assassins caused major suffering to more than thirty families and to the American people in general.
Theodore Robert Cowell was born on November 24, 1946. During his childhood, in Philadelphia, he was raised with the belief that his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister. When Ted turned five he moved with his biological mother to Washington, where she met and married Johnnie Bundy, changing Ted’s birth name to Theodore Robert Bundy. After his capture, Bundy stated that he had grown up in a lovely family, with two devoted parents. He averred that nothing he did was his parent’s responsibility (Ramsland 110). That’s part of the tragedy of this whole situation. I grew up in a wonderful home with two dedicated and loving parents, as one of five brothers and sisters. We regularly attended church. My parents did not drink or smoke or gamble. There was no physical abuse or fighting in my home (qtd. in Ramsland 124). Bundy was a model student who graduated with an A in Psychology from the University of Washington. While he was still in college, Bundy met and fell in love with Stephanie Brooks, but she ended the relationship because he was deceiving and lacking of direction. Several criminologists consider this as the cause of Bundy’s killings, given that many victims resembled Stephanie (Ramsland 110).
Despite the failed relationship, Bundy was an active political member, especially with the Republican Party and he also worked at the Seattle Crisis Clinic (Salem 89). Carlisle, one of the psychologists who evaluated him while on prison, said that most of his friend described him as an intelligent man “He was . . . high-achieved oriented, having the acumen necessary for a political career and loyal to a cause” (qtd. in Ramsland 113). Although it has never been proven when exactly Bundy committed his first murder, he attracted the police’s attention in 1974. Near Seattle, two women suddenly disappeared and a witness described to have seen both women with a man named Ted. When the corpses of the women were finally found it was too late, Bundy had already moved to a different state. As he passed through Idaho, Utah, and Colorado, more than a few bodies of missing young women appeared, but since there were not databases for communication among jurisdictions, no one realized the immensity of the case. When Bundy was detained on suspicion of robbery in 1975, he was recognized by DaRonch, a victim that had escaped him (Ramsland 109).
Before and after Ted’s sentence for aggravated kidnapping, he underwent extensive analysis and according to them, he was free of psychiatric disorders; but his nonexistent repentance caused several examiners to diagnose him as an antisocial type with personality disorder (Ramsland 110). In 1977 he was transported to Colorado to face the charges in the murder of Caryn Campbell. All the evidence was pointing at him and the prosecutor had a solid case; hence, he did the only thing he thought he could, he escaped. But he was rapidly caught because the cold in Aspen was atrocious that night and without the necessary resources he couldn’t survive (Ramsland 114). During his second escape attempt, he made numerous high-risk moves that eventually cost him two death sentences and three-ninety year sentences. He spent the last decade of his life on death row, using legal strategies to evade execution. Ted Bundy was finally put into the electric chair in January 1989 (Press 91). In the book Evil Wears a Smile, the author states that during trial Judge Edward Cowart demonstrated just how easy it was to fall into Bundy’s charm: It is ordered that you be put to death by a current of electricity, that current be passed through your body until you are dead. Take care of yourself, young man. I say that to you sincerely; take care of yourself. It’s a tragedy for this court to see such a total waste of humanity as I’ve experienced in this courtroom.
You’re a bright young man. You’d have made a good lawyer, and I’d have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went the wrong way, partner. Take care of yourself. I don’t have any animosity to you. I want you to know that. Take care of yourself (qtd. in Salem 90) Even though Ted Bundy was not the first American serial killer, he was one of the most fascinating because of his charisma and ability to manipulate his victims and the legal system. Bundy found pleasure in provoking the police and teasing the media. Scientists are still hesitant of the total of victims Bundy killed, due to the fact that he never completely confessed (Salem 91). Bundy used this as an excuse to be kept alive, alleging that he would reveal more of his crimes; he even claimed to be unique and tried to convince scientists that he should be saved from death row and studied (Ramsland 120). The day after his execution a tape was released to the media showing Bundy as a remorseful man. Some believed his apparent honesty, but Ann Rule, an old friend of Bundy, believed other way: “He lied most of the times and I think he lied at the end” (Ramsland 126).
Ted Bundy’s IQ was above average, between 120 and 125, as Dr. Carlisle came to find out after spending almost twenty hours administering him a psychological assessment. Among other observations, Carlisle decided Ted had a dependent personality disorder. The obsession Bundy had described with his former fiancée was what confirmed this theory. Another fault Dr. Carlisle had noticed was that Ted Bundy was not able to handle criticism. Both times Bundy lost his serenity were because of these flaws. During each interview he displayed a remarkable control over his emotions, leading Carlisle to assume Bundy could be charming and friendly while steaming inside (Ramsland 112).
Dr. Carlisle created a list of observations about Bundy; some of them are quoted below: He is a private person who won’t open up and reveal himself to others . . . Outwardly he looks very adequate. This masks strong feelings of inadequacy underneath . . . He views women as more competent than men. He demonstrates a strong dependency on women for emotional support . . . He said he resents dependency, and yet he seems to most resent his own dependency . . . There is a strong sense of futility about him. He is reluctant to accept help or support from anyone . . . It is extremely important for him to be in control of emotions . . . He has a very strong fear of being hurt and he puts up strong defenses against getting close (qtd. in Ramsland 113)
John Wayne Gacy Jr. was born on March 17, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois and grew up as a Roman Catholic (Salem 203). His mother, Marion Gacy described John‘s childhood to be filled with sleepwalking periods and also indicated to have been very close to him (Ramsland 132). His father, on the other hand, was physically and emotionally abusive. He conveyed disdain for his son illness: psychomotor epilepsy; and censured his wife for babying Gacy more than necessary. John Wayne Gacy Sr. expected his son to be “queer” and tormented John by calling him a “he-she.” After Gacy’s final arrest, he referred to his victims as “worthless little queers and punks” (Simon 25). As a teenager he left high school and went to Las Vegas, but when time passed he returned to Chicago and graduated from Business College. When Gacy was twenty two years old he wedded and moved to Iowa, where he became the manager of a restaurant belonging to his wife’s family (Salem 204).
Gacy was detained in 1968 for obliging a coworker into homosexual acts. He was sent to prison for ten years, but only served eighteen months before being released on parole. During imprisonment, Gacy’s wife abandoned him and took their children with her (Salem 204). Shortly after his first marriage fiasco and his arrestment, Gacy returned to Chicago, where he established his own business and worked as a building-construction freelancer (Salem 204). Now a respected citizen, John had to keep up appearances, so he joined the Jolly Joker Club and invented Pogo the Clown. He used to cheer up ill children from different hospitals dressed as Pogo because as Gacy once said: “A clown can get away with murder” (qtd. in Simon 23). Gacy came to the police’s attention as a serial offender, when he was arrested for a second time on February 12, 1971. He was suspected of attempted rape, but his accuser did not show in court and the charges were dismissed.
Given approximations made by Gacy, his first murder occurred in January, 1972; the victim was a young boy he had picked up at a bus shop (Salem 204). By December 1978, Gacy had become the primary suspect in the disappearance of Rob Piest. When Gacy noticed he was a suspect, he started acting erratically. There were times when he would threaten police officers following him, and there were times when he would invite them for a drink or dinner. One day, he summoned various policemen to his house; one of them recognized the odor of death invading his nostrils. Soon after, the same cop returned with a warrant to search the house. Practically at the same time, multiple officers found human corpses in different states of decomposition. “The missing persons [sic] case exploded into one of the most notorious tales of a serial killer—one who liked to keep the bodies close by” (Ramsland 129).
When arrested, Gacy alleged to have a personality disorder. “John Hanley,” (as he called his alter personality) was the one he blamed for all the killings. A group of specialists confirmed this statement when Gacy’s attorneys tried to offer a defense of insanity. Nonetheless, the prosecutor successively demonstrated that Gacy had planned several murders; and supported by a team of psychologists that upheld a person could not plan for an irresistible impulse, and it was unreasonable to believe Gacy had done this on thirty three separate occasions, the jury rejected the insanity defense and Gacy received a death penalty (Ramsland 130). John Wayne Gacy Jr. was executed by lethal injection in May, 1994 (Salem 205). Gacy’s infamous criminal career drew extensive attention from different types of entertainment, as himself said: “There’s [sic] been eleven hardback books on me, thirty-one paperbacks, two screenplays, one movie, one off-Broadway play, five songs, and over five thousand articles.” Award winner author, Stephen King, used Gacy as an exemplary character for his horror novel It published in 1986 (Press 205).
When Dr. Helen Morrison went to visit Gacy, he had been imprisoned for almost a year. He kept his cell completely immaculate and clean, but Morrison noticed that even though he was organized with the small things, he was not able to control what was going on inside his head. When she first saw him, he tried to be in charge of the situation, and although he was pleasant he was also fastidious. He was awfully talkative around her, but underneath every word she could hear what had made him a killer. The most apparent reasons were the resentment and hostility, especially towards his father (Ramsland 131). Although Gacy had told her otherwise, she immediately noted he did not exhibit the common symptoms of someone with personality disorder. But his constantly changing moods showed a lack of integration. Once they were engaged in the conversation, Morrison decided he was not a sociopath and she explained this reasoning by saying that “A psychopath can plot and carry out complex schemes . . . The psychopath has problems with the superego, where guilt and conscience reside . . . he’s not scattered the way a serial killer” (qtd. in Ramsland 131).
Ted Bundy and Wayne Gacy were exceptionally complex serial killers and a minority of their lives still lays a mystery. To some extent they both had similar characteristics, but there were also many things that put them apart. Ted Bundy grew up inside a caring family whereas Gacy developed in a hostile home. Different childhood environments and memories must have had divergent effects on each one. Even though Wayne Gacy got married (twice), and became a fruitful entrepreneur, he was not as successful as Bundy. Ted managed to get to very high places in government offices; he was also able to elude execution for at least ten years through numerous tactics. Bundy, was capable of deceiving his “friend” Ann Rule to believe he was not the man who had committed those crimes. Bundy was a monster but no one realized that, until it was too late and nothing could be done. Gacy, although deceptive as well, exhibited traits that occasionally made people suspicious; and that’s what got him arrested. I guess Gacy was wrong; clowns cannot get away with murder.
Cinema has taught us so much about the subject of serial murderers, so much so, that we consider ourselves experts on the topic. In reality, although the descriptions in the movies are relatively accurate, most people would not be able to recognize a true serial killer. We believe ourselves such specialists when we don’t have the minimum idea of what would be like to be fooled by these human beings. Organized killers, the most feared, would be able to infiltrate our families or our jobs, be our best friends, the love of our lives and we still wouldn’t be able to distinguish them for what they truly are. We feel comfortable with the knowledge we have, but when killers like John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy are the neighbors next door and we weren’t aware of it until it was too late. It is then we realize that all our pop culture knowledge wasn’t enough. Due to the atrocity of the acts committed by Ted Bundy and Wayne Gacy, we can only believe that they came out of one of our favorite horror movies, but they didn’t. According to Robert I. Simon there is a picture showing Ted Bundy absorbed in a domestic environment, drinking wine with his girlfriend. “At the moment the photo was taken, Bundy had already abducted and murdered twenty-four women and committed nightmarish necrophilic [sic] acts with their bodies” (23-24).