The Serial Killer Phase

I think most writers (especially those of horror) go through at least one major phase where they become complete and utterly fascinated by serial killers. Where it stems from can be debated. For some, we see something on TV. This usually occurs when we’re young (the True Crime network or Cold Case Files.) We’re horrified, fascinated, intrigued, disturbed. We have nightmares, doubts. We think, How is something like that possible? How can someone commit such violent acts? Normally the killer’s motives don’t matter. How gruesome their crimes or the psychology behind them aren’t necessarily considered. We, at such a young age, can only think: Why?

Eventually, evolution takes place. Old habits die hard. We almost always return to our roots. Though I grew up on True Crime TV and Cold Case Files, it wasn’t until after I watched the made-for-TV miniseries The Deliberate Stranger (which dramatizes in chilling detail the murders committed by Ted Bundy) that this surge of macabre fascination returned.

Some joke that ‘every writer has their serial killer.’

Mine was (and, up to this writing, still is) Jeffrey Dahmer.

I was inspired to write this post after concluding a condensed hour-and-a-half viewing of Dahmer’s trial. This montage — which contains the actual recording — isn’t glamorized, as many documentaries are privy toward. It’s edited, sure — mostly for length, as the trial went on for weeks — but goes into detail about the psychology behind Dahmer’s actions and history. Testimony by his victims (and I say ‘victims’ to include those he did not kill) is also included. This was perhaps the most disturbing information I’ve ever encountered upon researching Jeffrey Dahmer. His last victim (who thankfully escaped without severe injury) described in chilling detail the paradox of the man, the machine, and monster that was Jeffrey Dahmer — and how, like flashes in the dark, he would appear as one thing, then another.

I decided to forego including pictures in this post because of the nature surrounding Dahmer’s crimes. Primarily a necrophiliac, he is confirmed to have participated in sexual acts and to have consumed pieces of his victims. This information is documented — not only in text, but photograph. One of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen was a crime scene photo taken in Dahmer’s home the night he was arrested. This was found via a Google Image search under the man’s name. I do not, under any circumstance, recommend you search for it. Reading about it is bad enough, but actually seeing the photograph is haunting beyond comprehension. It was something I could never be prepared for, and something I will ever be able to remove from my mind.

This segues into my continued fascination. Morbid as it may be, my interest in Dahmer increased after I became aware of his psychiatric diagnoses. He was, by grand jury, considered of sound mind, but psychiatrists were in full agreement that he had much wrong with him — including not only sexual paraphilias and borderline personality disorder, but also GAD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

A condition I myself am diagnosed with and am in medical treatment for.

His ghost (and legacy) was only brought closer to home after discovering this fact. Dahmer’s struggle with his sexuality and then resounding coming-of-age is not unlike what a lot of young gay men experience, and is, in part, easy to relate to. I was fortunate enough to have been born on the cusp of the new millennium. But Dahmer? He was a child of the 60s. To see what he must have seen — to experience what he must have experienced — as the monster inside was festering? That is something too monstrous to imagine. Somehow, though, I am always drawn back to this — to this paradox of a person: of man, machine and monster.

I am always left to wonder: Why? When? How? Was illness his trumping demon? Did society play a role? Could something — anything have been done to prevent the seventeen deaths and the countless terror this man has wrought? Was it the result of genetics? A freak accident of the psyche? Something he saw? The psychology here is stupendous. It is the fodder of nightmares and the stuff writers can only dream of orchestrating.  In the end, this is what fascinates me the most — and what continues to draw me back to his story even when I am inclined to pull away.