Whenever we watch a film or movie or TV or we read a book, we constantly see detectives going to talk to serial killers to get a unique insight or a clue about the real killer. All of this is fiction and a gripping, entertaining lie that keeps readers and watchers focused on the drama unfolding in front of them. In this forensic psychology podcast episode, we’ll be exploring why serial killers don’t offer the police any unique insights at all and you’ll learn about the truth behind serial killers. If you enjoy criminal psychology, serial killers and crime then you’ll love today’s episode.
This episode has been sponsored by Criminal Profiling: A Forensic And Criminal Psychology Guide To FBI And Statistical Profiling. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Why Serial Killers Don’t Offer Police Unique Insights?
As a mystery writer myself, I really do understand why filmmakers and writers add in scenes about their detectives going to see serial killers. It is gripping, extremely entertaining and it is a lot of fun for the readers or watchers. However, in reality, whenever serial killers do actually talk about the crimes of other killers, they just spin wild ideas based on their own killings and experiences.
Therefore, instead of this conversation being useful to the police by enhancing their learning about the killer they’re hunting, they actually only learn more about the killer they have already caught.
For example, back in 1984, the Green River Killer investigation was launched and after reading a few reports the serial killer Ted Bundy lured detectives down to his prison cell so he could talk to them about the killings. Yet instead of telling them anything important he merely just spun ideas about the killings off his own predatory motive. Therefore, Detective Keppel used this opportunity to get Bundy to talk about his own experience so the detective could learn more about Bundy.
However, to even imply this conversation or visit actually led to the killer getting caught is pure fiction. Since the killer Gary Ridgway was only caught in 2001 because of DNA evidence.
Another good example can be found with the “Toolbox killer” Roy Norris when he completely failed to give the LAPD an effective way to catch the Freeway Killer who turned out to be Bill Bonin. Again, similar to Bundy, he had been reading about the Freeway killer through some news reports and he just told the police some random things, some of it turned out to be true but to say it is a unique insight is again, fiction. For example, Norris mentioned how the Freeway killer probably had a partner and travelled in a van with a sliding door. Both of these details were correct. Yet as Detective Souza pointed out, these were impressive but they added little because it was actually one of Bonin’s own accomplices that led the police to the killer.
A final example can be found when the serial killers Keith Jespersen and Joel Rifkin were invited to give their opinions on different unsolved murders by the people behind the TV show Dark Minds. Whilst there is some comment about the serial killers being important to the show and giving insights no one thought of, there are more comments in places like the New York Daily News that say the following:
“The main disappointment, though, is that (Joel Rifkin) doesn't seem to have insights that differ dramatically from those of other psychological profilers on other, similar TV programs.”
Overall, showing that if serial killers are bought in to offer insight there is very little evidence that they are helpful and not just talking about their own twisted experience. This experience tends to be very different from the real killer too.
Where Did The Idea of Killers Having Unique Insights Come From?
This idea based in fiction can be traced back to the 19th century because the French pathologist Alexandre Lascassagne wanted and encouraged offenders in prison to write “criminal autobiographies”. He wanted this because he hoped these books would reveal how they had become criminals and where they were born like this or they had developed it over time. Then each week, Alexandre would check on the criminal’s notebooks and he would correct them and guide them towards personal awareness. All whilst in the process of learning about the serial killers’ personal histories, including how the childhoods of violent offenders were filled with tension, criminality, abuse and disease.
And we have to give credit where credit is due because this “project” did turn out to be useful because it helped us to start understanding that criminal behaviour was a lot more complex than we previously believed.
Why Research Offers Unique Insights Into Serial Killers?
Furthermore, I want to point out that the entire point of this forensic psychology episode isn’t to argue that we have nothing to learn from serial killers, the point is that research can learn from serial killers and the serial killers have no unique insights that research cannot get using the empirical method.
For example, Dr Carlisle did a lot of good studies and assessments on a lot of serial killers like Arthur Bishop, Ted Bundy and many others. This research resulted in the doctor proposing a theory about the ability of serial killers to compartmentalise, and this was thought to help explain the psychological dynamics of these offenders who was for all intents and purposes socially functioning.
Yet what I think is one of the most important findings is that absolutely none of the interviews between Carlisle and the serial killers reveal that the serial killers were able or capable of being in a positive, helpful investigative partnership between them and the police.
In other words, serial killers are not capable of being helpful to the police.
Forensic Psychology Conclusion
As we wrap up this criminal psychology podcast episode, I have to admit that it is always fun to look at serial killers, because they are scary, they are fascinating and they are dangerous. I’ve spoken before Why Serial Killers Are Fascinating and I still stand by that episode.
However, in terms of serial killers actually offering anyone anything useful, this simply isn’t based in fact and this is a fictional device used by writers, like myself, to make a piece of entertainment gripping, engaging and captivating. Especially, as the more we learn about serial killers because of good research, the less we find that serial killers are able to offer anything too special or insightful.
Partly this is because the term “serial killer” isn’t a personality type, it isn’t a type of person and it isn’t a concrete definition of a person. It is simply a description of behaviour where some person has killed two people at two different times at least. Then as this is a description it has tons of room for variability in the actions and behaviours and methods and motives used by the serial killers.
Overall, as fascinating as I think the idea of to “catch a killer you need a killer”, it simply isn’t true and come on, even if a handful of serial killers were to give you good information. What are the actual chances they are the only people in the entire world, all 8 billion of us, to have the same insight?
I really hope you enjoyed today’s criminal psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Criminal Profiling: A Forensic And Criminal Psychology Guide To FBI And Statistical Profiling. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Forensic Psychology References
Artières, P. (2006). What criminals think about criminology. In Peter Becker and Richard F.
Wetzell, eds., Criminals and Their Scientists: The History of Criminology in International Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 363-375.
Carlisle, A. C. (2000). The dark side of the serial-killer personality. In Serial Killers, edited by Louis Gerdes. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
DeNevi, D. & Campbell, J. H. (2004). Into the minds of madmen: How the FBI Behavioral Science Unit revolutionized crime investigation. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.
Ramsland, K. (2012). The mind of a murderer. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
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