A Fascination With Murder

(originally posted 10/4/09)

For this month’s Naked Ghouls Reading, one of my selections was a letter written by the Zodiac Killer.   While many people are appalled with the subject matter of killing and torture, there are many who find it quite fascinating even if they can’t explain why.  My desire to learn everything grisly and gruesome began many years ago and quickly became a mild obsession.  Between methods of torture, murder, and disposal of victims…well…let’s just say I’m well versed.

The American public’s long-standing interest in murder is only growing stronger.  To better explain this phenomenon, I’d like to quote Harold Schechter and David Everitt from the book The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.

“For better or worse, human beings have always been intrigued by anything that is monstrous, aberrant, or criminal.  And grisly murder has been the subject of story and song, of art high and low, for centuries.  True crime books have been around since at least the 1600s, when John Reynolds’sGod’s Revenge Against Murder and Adultery was one of the most popular works in England.  During the late eighteenth century, the British public devoured the true crime accounts in The Newgate Calendar, while Victorian readers thrilled to the gory details of murders, mutilations, and torture dished out by The Illustrated Police News, the most popular periodical of its day.

In our own country, the media frenzy set off by the atrocities of Dr. H. H. Holmes, “America’s first serial killer,” was akin to the hysteria generated by the O.J. Simpson trial a century later.  In 1895, Chicagoans lined up around the block when an enterprising showman opened an H. H. Holmes “Murder Museum,” complete with gruesome mock-ups of his crimes.

In short, we don’t see America’s fascination with serial killers as an aberration but rather as a contemporary manifestation of an age-old human reality.  Moreover – insofar as telling stories or swapping jokes or watching movies about fearful things represents a method of coping – this fascination is not at all unhealthy.  If we are haunted to the point of obsession by the figure of the psychopathic killer, it is not because we revel in the sadistic and ghastly (though there is some of that, too, built into the archaic depths of the psyche) but rather because, like children who love to hear spooky stories at bedtime, reading or hearing about serial killers is a way of gaining a sense of control over our fears.

For all the genuine horror and revulsion they inspire in us, there’s no point in denying that serial killers exert a dark attraction.  They appeal  not just to our morbid interest but also to our need to comprehend an ultimate human mystery:  how people who seem so ordinary, so much like the rest of us, can possess the hearts and minds of monsters.”

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~ by ngrblogadmin on January 11, 2010.

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