Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Family That Slays Together...

Despite what movies and TV shows might suggest families killing together, as a unit, is fairly rare.  True there are many instances in which couples or two family members getting together to kill others but a whole family working to take others lives is not so common.  ...But it's not unheard of either.  There was at least one such case in the 1800s wherein, working together, the Bender family would rob and kill unsuspecting travelers who made the mistake of choosing to stay at the family's inn.  When their crimes were discovered they became known as "The Bloody Benders".

The Family

The Bender family consisted of John "Old Man Bender" Sr., Marli "Ma" Bender, John Jr, and Kate "Professor Miss Katie" Bender.  It seemed that, though the youngest in her early 20s, Kate Bender was not only the bait but something of the brains of the operation.  Despite the current legend of being a great red-headed seductress in truth Kate was something of a red-faced girl with manly features who would hold seances and claim to be a faith healer.  Not that the rest of the family appeared much better.  John Sr was 60, Marli was 42 with cold eyes and the appearance of a hag, and John Jr was described as a dim-witted hulk of a man.

The Crimes

Set upon a long, lonely, stretch of road in Labette County, Kansas and being just short of a nearby railway town it's not too surprising that the family would turn their home into a makeshift inn for other frontier folk looking for a hot meal and warm bed.  Though unlike H H Holmes' complex hotel  of horrors created in the same century (1893, Chicago's World Fair) the set-up of the Bender family's inn was rather simple, just like their murder tactics.  It was little more than a single large room divided in half by a canvas with one side being the family's living space and the other for their guests...assuming the family let them live.

It was Kate who, if she noted a traveler that appeared wealthy, would invite the person to come inside, enjoy a nice meal, a drink, and perhaps stay at the family's inn for the night.  Were they to accept they were brought inside where Kate would set them at the head of the table nearest the curtain that split the Bender household into two.  As she distracted them with conversation, and quite possibly a little flirting, either her father or brother would lie in wait on the other side of the curtain with a hammer.  When their prey would lean back against the curtain they would be struck with the hammer hard enough to crack the skull.  After that the victim would be dragged off to be stripped of their money and clothes before being dumped through a trapdoor to the basement where their throat would then be slit to ensure death.  Later on the body would then be taken out and buried in a pasture.

The Discovery

It wasn't until 1873 when Dr William York went missing on his travels (from Fort Scott to his home in Independence) that any kind of alarm was raised at all.  A posse lead by Dr York's brother began to search for the man and came upon the Bender home where they asked the Benders' about the missing physician.  The Bender family denied all knowledge the missing man...then fled the area completely a few days later.  It was only after this, after word got out that the family had vanished, that the search posse grew truly suspicious and returned to the Bender farm to conduct a more thorough search.  In the search the rather horrific discovery of several shallow graves containing the family's victims was made...one victim included an 18-month-old little girl who'd been traveling with her father and the family simply tossed in and buried alive with her murdered father.  It is believed that the family killed approximately 8-11 victims together before they disappeared and while there had been a number of different believed sightings in the 50 plus years that followed the Bender family was never officially considered found and/or brought to justice.

The Questions

Because the Bender family was never caught, never truly questioned, it's left a lot of questions unanswered.  Who in the family first thought of their wicked scheme to murder and rob?  Was the entire family in agreement on the murders or were some simply passive accomplices?  How, exactly, did the dynamics of the family work within what they did?  It's hard to say...but it's pretty clear that, if they had been brought to justice, it's deeply unlikely any would've been found innocent.  And that, for the Benders, the family that slayed together stayed together.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scary Truth About Satanists: Halloween Special!

The concept of those who worship Satan is hundreds and hundreds of years old and so is the fear associated with those who might be those people.  Often Satanism is connected to torture, murder (serial or otherwise), and child abuse all of which are scary prospects but what's just as frightening is the idea that, under the guise of this "religion" many are excused, and convicted, of crimes they never committed.  From the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 to the West Memphis Three of today there is an almost uncontrollable terror in the idea of possible satanism occurring and, more often than not, it leads to a hysteria that destroys innocent lives.

When In Doubt, Blame Satan

Many people know the general start of this case.  A few young girls in Salem begin to behave strangely and, because they can find no other reason, people in the town turn to the concept of witches casting spells in the name of Satan.  After that happens the concept of Satanists living and cursing among innocent citizens grows into a frenzy of terror that sends 19 people to hang at the gallows, one elderly man to be crushed to death, and numerous others to have their lives ruined.

The possibility of this happening is relatively understandable given the time that this occurred in.  During Puritanical times, times in which God was truly, deeply, believed as real and ever present it's not a surprise that his counter-point, The Devil, would be too.  And, if Satan is believed in, then he care be feared as having the potential to do great harm to others...like God he could, presumably, be worshiped and have followers to do his work.  Add to that the lack of real, scientific and forensic, knowledge then it's hardly surprise, short of any other obvious explanation, the work of The Devil and his followers causes a hysteria that ends up ending lives in towns during the 1600s.

Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare

Satanic Ritual Abuse, SRA for short, goes by a number of different names (ritual abuse, ritualistic abuse, organised abuse, sadistic ritual abuse, among others) is all boils down to the same idea.  From the 1980s-1990s, across the US, and eventually other parts of the world, people seemed panicked over the concept of horrifyingly strange abuses occurring in pre-schools and daycares.  Numerous caretakers were accused, charged, and even convicted, of sexual abuse of small children based on little more than panic and stories told by small children who were given leading interviews by parents and psychiatrists.

While it's understandable, when someone hears of a young child being abused somewhere they should be safe it strikes fears in the heart of every parent, looking back it's hard to believe many of the stories.  Children's stories included "magic rooms", secret tunnels, flying witches, hot-air balloon rides, and, in one case, even Chuck Norris was fingered by a child as the abuser.  Add to that, almost none of the children in these preschools and daycares came out saying they'd been abused on their own...it tended to be the parents (untrained in how to properly interview a child concerning these sorts of crimes and likely already convinced something terrible had happened to their child) who would ask the children about whether or not they were abused, frequently using leading questions or otherwise - no matter how unintentionally - manipulating them into saying they had been abused and then come forward.  ...Even in the relatively modern 1980s and 1990s it seemed that, even though the more devil-oriented aspects were a touch more in the background (the focus, of course, being more on the abuse of small children), Satanism was still feared and lives were still destroyed through the panic it caused.

The West Memphis Three

When cases of torture and murder are discovered frequently people must search for a reason behind it...they're almost desperate to understand why such a terrible thing was done.  This is never more true when the victims are three eight-year-old boys.  The trouble is, sometimes, the fear of some mad killer running around taking, mutilating, and murdering children can cause a reactionary move of arresting the wrong people.  ...This is exactly what happened in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993.

After the murdered boys were found in a creek in the woods the police seemed to immediately want to close the case - refusing the help of state professionals and others in favor for going after what they felt was the most likely suspect to them...a then 18-year-old young man by the name of Damien Echols.  Echols came from a troubled background and, in a conservative and Evangelical Christian-based city, he stuck out rather plainly in his dark clothes, love of "dark" music and fiction, and occasional run-ins with the law.  Within a month the local police arrested Echols and two others, Jessie Misskelley Jr. (then 17) and Jason Baldwin (then 16) claiming that the teens had killed the children as part of a Satanic ritual.

This case has been a disaster from the start with evidence being poorly treated, stored, and processed, testimony being clearly false or otherwise coerced (including the confession of Misskelley who not only immediately recanted his confession was a minor at the time he was interviewed and has an IQ of 72 making him borderline mentally disabled), and, seemingly, jury misconduct.  Yet these three young men are still in prison today - despite new evidence that clearly shows their innocence, despite some of the young victims' own family members now coming forward saying they believe the men to be innocent and would like the case reexamined to know who truly killed their children, and despite what seems like a great injustice.

Don't Be Afraid

...Sadly nothing can be done about the Salem Witch Trials except for us to learn from those mistakes.  More sadly, however, is that it doesn't seem that always happens as proven by the Satanic Ritual Abuse cases and the West Memphis Three.  It's natural to fear bad things happening to you and your loved ones, to search for any reason that a terrible thing might happen outside "just because", and to go after those you feel are evil in some way.  But it's unwise, and even dangerous, to fear the concept of Satanism (or anything else) to the point that you ignore facts and/or your own logic.

Author's Note: The West Memphis Three (and the families of those three eight-year-old boys) are still trying to find justice.  Please go to Free The West Memphis Three and read the whole story.  Understand how carelessness, presumptions, and fear can railroad others...can railroad the very concept of fairness and justice. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Back to School Safety Part 2: School Shootings

School's here folks! Time to learn new things and get a refresher course in the classics for those of every age. This also means that new and old safety concerns arise from a few different directions depending on the grade level you or your child is going into. In order to keep things rather simple I'm going to stick mainly to lists to cover each of these potential issues. Lists for books, school supplies, classes, and now safety. Second on this list is an issue that, for the most, is considered a "modern" issue exemplified by one word...Columbine.  Even the thought of a school shooting occurring is terrifying.  No one wants to think about it.  But they happen and, sometimes, it's better to be prepared, to know what to do to increase your (and others) chances of survival before and during, than to have it happen and be completely lost in the chaos.

Before I go on I have a major, key, rule of thumb:  If you hear someone talking about planning or wanting to plan a school shooting tell someone!  In the end, more than anything else, this will stop a school shooting before it ever happens.  So many times, after the fact, survivors have come forward with claims that the shooter had mentioned previously of his/her plans...Imagine if someone had acted beforehand?

Before (assuming you've gotten no "I'm gonna pull a Columbine" style warning beforehand):
  • Be aware of changes or oddities in your environment. We are talking about your classroom or school hallways here, so you should know what a safe and routine environment looks like. Anyone or anything that causes ripples or changes by his or her presence, etc., should cause your Spidey Senses to throb.
  • Evaluate and assess what you are seeing. If something kicks off your gut feelings by the way he or she moves, looks at you, etc., take it seriously.
  • Always have an action plan. Ask yourself what would I do if a student or an intruder barged into my classroom with a gun?
  • Be willing to and prepared to act when action is needed.
  • Trust your gut!  If something feels wrong, if that little voice in your head tells you to get the hell out of the area, then get the hell out of there!  Too often people second guess their instincts and regret it in the end.

Before - spotting a shooter (body language is key here!!):
  • If the gun is in his waistband on his hip he will favor that side as he walks.
  • He will short-step on the side where he is carrying the weapon when he goes up and down stairs (because the weapon is against his hip flexor).
  • He will subconsciously turn away toward the side where the weapon is secreted when a teacher or security walks directly toward him.
  • He will hold his jacket, shirt or coat closed as he walks.
  • Every moment or so, he may touch or pat the area where his weapon is secreted, subconsciously reassuring himself.
  • If the weapon is in his coat pocket, his collar may be unusually tight to his neck, and, if the weapon is heavy, the collar will also be twisted.
  • He will hold the pocket where the gun is secreted when he walks or runs to keep the pocket from flying away from his body.
  • He will also hold that side of his coat as he sits or rises.
  • He will favor heavy coats, even in hot weather, to help him better secrete the weapon.  (It's not a "Trench Coat Mafia" thing, it's a "trench coat helps hide my big gun" thing.)
  • He will often give himself away just before he liberates the weapon from its hiding place.  - By opening and/or pushing back his coat and/or grabbing the bottom of the pocket with his non-gun hand to stabilize the coat as he extracts the firearm.

During (how to survive):
  • Run!  A little obvious, yes, but there's more to it than that.  Don't just turn and bolt, run in zig-zags, take sharp corners when possible, and lower yourself a little if you can. Anything to make you a harder target.
  • Try and keep something - a chair, a desk, anything - between you and the gunman at all times.  He's either going to be shooting blindly or at the easiest targets and keeping yourself as blocked as possible will help prevent him from hitting you.
  • "Lock and Block".  As in if you're in a classroom and knows a shooters headed towards you lock that door and block it with whatever's handy.  Move desks, chairs, and whatever heavy furniture's available against the frame.  The idea is simple - don't make it easy for the guy (or gal)!!
  • Break the script.  Shooters have a script in their head.  Like serial killers shooting up the school has been something they've played over and over in their minds for a long while before they acted on it.  And, like with a serial killer, reacting in a way they don't expect is really going to disrupt their plans and whatever roll they might already been on.  So (assuming "Lock and Block" didn't work or isn't an option) don't huddle, hide, and pray like he wants...instead attack.  Throw books and whatever else is handy at him.  Scream at him and refuse to be afraid or controlled by the shooter.  Whatever upsets his delicate mental image of a perfect attack is good.
  • "Charge and Barge".  If possible, hold something in front of you like a shield and charge him with a phalanx of teachers, security, students.  Hell even if you don't have a shield if there's a group of you in a room charge!  Yes, somebody may get shot, but there's only one shooter and a large group of you so odds are high you all will be over to overpower him.  You will be wresting psychological and real control from the shooter and stopping things before they get far worse.  (This has, in fact, been done and worked successfully a few times, one of the most recent incidents included a pair of teachers who tackled a school shooter at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colorado on February 2010.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Suburban Safety

For years those towns and neighborhoods outside major cities have been considered safe and, for the most part, they generally are.  But that doesn't mean they're crime-proof or that those that live in the suburbs should assume they are.  Understandably things can be more relaxed - with nice backyards and friendly neighbors there's no harm in enjoying both all you can.  But other things, safety measures, should still be followed even in the suburbs...three things specifically should be kept in mind no matter where you live.  After all, it's better to be safe than sorry.


This one is a personal pet peeve of mine...the stubborn refusal of some to lock their doors because they live in the suburbs.  Now I've actually asked people why they don't lock their doors when they should and the answer I inevitably get is "This is [insert city/town name], we don't lock our doors here".  That is totally illogical to me as there is not a place in the world where crime cannot happen.  I'm not saying that doors must be locked and dead-bolted at all times - if you're out in the front or back yard and people are going in and out of the house having the door unlocked is understandable and easier - but at times when the occupants are away or at night they really should be.  These times are when you, your family, and your things are most vulnerable to start.  If you add to that a readily available way for anyone nearby to just walk on into your home it's a recipe for potential disaster.  Just because you don't live in a high-crime area doesn't mean you live in a crime free area so why not take the little bit of extra time and effort to ensure you're safe?


Elizabeth Smart was taken from her bedroom at knifepoint by Brian David Mitchell on June 4, 2002.  Mitchell's seeming point of entry and exit?  An open first floor window that he cut the screen of.  This is, of course, an extreme case, but it serves to illustrate a point.  Windows are a rather easy entry point for danger as well, even in the suburbs.  Again, like with doors, I'm not suggesting that all windows need to be locked at all times.  But at night, the windows that those outside might have easy access to - those on the basement or first floors or those near something that be can easily climbed (a tree, nearby ladder, or fire escape of some kind) - should be secured shut.  The average criminal (even the average serial killer) is looking for the easiest mark, in closing and locking your doors and windows at night you are announcing you are not that easiest mark.  In the end isn't that slight inconvenience of having to be sure your house is secured before you go to bed worth the peace of mind it brings?  ...And one other act of importance: If you have a security alarm in your home, use it!  You bought it, don't let it go to waste.

Just Outside Your Door

For the most part, no matter where you live, once you've settled in for the night that's it.  You're not going back out.  But what if someone comes to your door in seeming distress?  Their car's broken down or been in an accident...or maybe they've hit a small animal and worry it's someone's pet?  All they want is to come in and use your phone, theirs has died or been otherwise destroyed you see so if they could just use yours...  It's these circumstances that can get the naturally trusting, helpful, person thinking "nothing bad happens in my suburban neighborhood" it a lot of trouble and danger.  See, each of these little tales of woe from that person (male or female) on the other side of the door could be a ruse to get you to open your door and thus make yourself vulnerable.  Now, understandably, most don't want to be so rude as to tell the person to get lost so here's a rather clever, and safe, way of dealing with these situations...Tell the person to stay nearby, outside - in their car, on your stoop, wherever is most comfortable for you - while you call the authorities from within your home.  If the person really is in trouble, really does need your help, they'll stay.  If they say never mind or simply vanish into the night then, first, they probably never needed your help to start and, second, you've successfully avoided serious potential danger.

Author's Note: There's been a prevailing urban myth about rapists and killers using a voice recording of a baby crying outside women's doors to lure them out their homes at night.  This is a myth that has been debunked, it's never (to my knowledge or, seemingly, to anyone else's) actually been used.  This being said, it's rather clever and, considering it's popularity in circling "protect yourself" e-mails and the like, has potential for usage by some creep at some point.  And so, just in case, if you do happen to hear a baby crying outside in the night just call the police from the safety and comfort of your home and let them handle whatever is or is not found.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's Your Poison??

I've touched on poisoning some in Female of the Species but I'd like to take a different, slightly more in-depth, look at this method of killing by focusing on three common poisons that are used by murderers.  Now there are hundreds, if not more, of poisons that could be used but there tend to be three that are used more than others: Succinylcholine (aka "Sux"), antifreeze, and arsenic (most commonly in the form of rat poison).  It might cause someone to wonder...why these three?  Why are they used more than others?  Well there's a few reasons for each of the poisons popularity.

"Just Hit 'Em With a Little Sux"

Succinylcholine, aka Sux, is most often used as a muscle relaxant to order to help in the aid of intubation during emergencies and surgery.  It is intended to save lives, not end them.  And yet there have been a number cases in which this drug has been used to kill.  Now the question is...why this drug?  Well the first reason is that it's, generally, difficult to trace within the body after awhile...a far shorter period of time than certain other drugs.  There's also the benefit that, rarely, is this drug ever suspected in a death because it's rarely available to the average person.  Being a drug with a specific medical purpose it's generally only found in hospitals and, if someone outside the medical field were to go looking for it, not only would they probably be unable to get it but they'd likely raise a lot of red flags with those around them (never good when planning a murder.)   That being said it's rather easily available to those in the medical field, especially those who work in emergency, critical care, and surgical departments.  For those like Chaz Higgs, a critical care nurse convicted of murdering his politician wife, Kathy Augustine, it wouldn't only have been easy, it'd have been free!  (And a vial being taken from the hospital would mostly go unnoticed.)  The same holds true for Dr. William Sybers, Dr. Carl Coppolino, and surgerical technician Kim Hricko...all convicted of murdering their significant others via succinylcholine.  There was also one other killer, one far more widely known by the public, that used succinylcholine in her murders...Genene Jones, who killed between 11 and 50 young patients during her time as a pediatric nurse.

Don't Drink the Gatorade!

James Keown was convicted of the murder of his wife in July 2008.  How did he do it?  By poisoning, specifically he spiked her Gatorade with antifreeze over the course of months in 2004, culminating with a fatal dose on September 4, 2008.  Outside the rather obvious reason of using antifreeze because it's cheaply and easily accessible to just about anybody there are a few other reasons why Keown likely selected this liquid to spike his wife's drink.  Ethylene glycol, the key ingredient in antifreeze, is colorless, odorless, mostly non-volatile, and tastes sweet...someone who drank it would likely not even know it, especially if it's slipped into a drink that's already sweet.  There's also the fact that, once ingested, the immediate signs and symptoms of a poisoning resemble intoxication - dizziness, coordination issues, headaches, confusion, and sometimes nausea and vomiting...a person could be poisoned right out in the open with no one the wiser for the next 12 hours (or, depending on the dose and person, ever).  There's another reason why a killer would choose antifreeze; the possibility of having plausible deniability.  For the same reasons that a person could be poisoned with the liquid a murderer could claim that the victim ingested it accidently - outside it's taste, which is sweet, it's unidentifiable - or even intentionally as a form of suicide - it's easily available and, again, sweet.  For all these reasons it's likely why not only James Keown chose the poison, but also Stacey Castor (convicted of killing her second husband, David Castor, and suspected of killing her first, Michael Wallace), Mark Jensen (convicted of killing his wife, Julie Jensen), and Julia Lynn Taylor (convicted of murdering her husband, Maurice Glenn Taylor, and boyfriend, Randy Thompson).

Arsenic and Old Lace

The phrase is outlived only by the method of poisoning, arsenic.  The first and foremost reason it's used is because it's found in numerous household items therefore easily available and explained away by a killer - "Of course there's arsenic in my home, it's in my rat poison/pesticide/wood preservative/etc".  And, if the victim is a child, it can simply be claimed that the child got into the product all on their own.  Arsenic can be tested for in a victim but, the problem is, that the test is really only effective within a few days...a year at the most if there are high levels of arsenic in the body.  The other possible problem with the test is that it only shows that there are above-average levels of the toxin in the body and not how, or if, the levels will affect the person...this means that it's possible a defense attorney could claim that, even if it's proven the victim ingested arsenic, this wasn't the actual cause of death.  Many female serial killers of the past used this method, taking advantage of the plentiful arsenic available on their little farms...Nannie Doss (aka "Arsenic Annie" or "The Giggling Granny" who killed 11 family members), Mary Ann Cotton (who killed between 15-21 people using rat poison, which contains arsenic), and Velma Barfield (who is believed to use arsenic on about 5, killing them).

Author's Note: The quote "Just hit 'em with a little sux" came from the testimony of one of Chaz Higgs' coworkers during the man's murder trial.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It Takes Two to Kill

The phrase is French, "folie a deux", which is literally translated as "the folly of two" but is much better and widely known as "the madness of two".  In the field of psychology is it defined as "a rare psychiatric syndrome in which a symptom of psychosis (particularly a paranoid or delusional belief) is transmitted from one individual to another".  ...However, more often than not, this definition isn't quite what is meant when the term is used in criminal profiling.  With killers the term is used for two individuals who kill together when, if on their own, they likely never would have.  The reasons these pairings have for killing differ, but the result is always the same...murder.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. and Richard Albert Loeb were two bright, wealthy, young men from Chicago, Illinois.  They met at the University of Chicago while still in their teens - Leopold 14, Loeb 13 - and seemed to form an almost instant bond on the principles of shared age, intelligence, and a strong belief that they were superior to all those around them.  It was Loeb who preferred to commit crimes, Leopold simply agreed to it in exchange for a sexual relationship with his new friend.  That being said it seemed Leopold was the one who found the pairs "right" to do their misdeeds.  In his misunderstanding of the definition of Friedrich Nietzsche's Neitzchean superman...He believed, in his still childish and superficial understanding, that a Neitzchean superman had the moral freedom to violate the rules and laws that applied to ordinary people (and, of course, he considered himself and Loeb just these sorts of supermen).  To start the boys stuck with petty crimes vaguely common to troubled youths - petty theft, cheating at cards, and random acts of vandalism.  But, after four years and with Leopold about to move onto Harvard Law, the two decided to do something more dramatic to permanently solidify their bond...to commit the "perfect crime" in the form of the kidnapping and murder of a 14-year-old boy from their neighborhood named Bobby Franks.  A "perfect crime" to prove just how superior they were to those around them - one without mercy, without clues, and without either of them ever getting caught.

Mother Issues

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme of Christchurch, New Zealand, were best friends...BFFs as one would say these days.  They met how many teens meet, being classmates in high school, and bonded quickly over shared experiences of illness in their childhood (Parker had bone disorder known as osteomyelitis and Hulme had pneumonia), a love for writing, and their creativity in general.  Interestingly, like Leopold and Loeb, the girls also bonded over what appeared to be an above average intelligence and the shared belief that they better than everyone else around them.  The girls were inseparable and soon began to create their very own shared world, "Fourth World", which they spent more and more time working on and, seemingly, living in.  At first neither girls' parents had much of an issue with this, in fact Pauline's mother was thrilled since her daughter frequently had trouble making and keeping friends due to a sometimes explosive temper.  After two or three months though the girls' relationship with one another went from very close to super intense causing their parents to grow worried...and when Pauline's mother grew worried enough about their closeness to consider separating them, the two teens made a plan to ensure that would never happen.  They would kill Pauline Parker's mother.

The Wife Problem

Stephen Marsh had a little problem...he had a wife.  A wife was not exactly conducive to the things he wanted to do, like drink and sleep with other women.  Not that his wife seemed to stop him from flirting or, well, indulging in liquor anyway and, soon enough, it didn't stop him from having an affair with a married woman, Rebecca Harris, either.  Stephen and Rebecca's affair started where many others did, at the office.  It began with shared drinks and stories about their lives, their current marriages, and soon developed into a sexual relationship.  There was, however, something different than most in this aspect of their relationship...while it started out loving and sensitive under Stephen's direction and guidance it quickly turned darker and, eventually, into full on sadomasochism.  While Rebecca didn't ever seem to realize it this was the start of Stephen's testing her, seeing how far he could get her to go for him.  How many of his dark and violent desires would she fulfill to keep his love?  She'd let him abuse her, call her names, even cut her with knives and film it all to keep him satisfied.  Would she kill for him too?  Apparently, yes, she would.  With the promise that, if she killed his wife for him, Stephen eventually got the desperate-for-his-love Rebecca to agree to murder.

Different, Yet the Same...

Despite the differences in motive and seeming differences in relationship each of these cases have a fair number of similarities...similarities that make them each, in their own way, cases of folie a deux.  The first similarity is obvious - each of these pairs did, in fact, commit murder together.  Leopold and Loeb kidnapped and then stabbed young Bobby Franks to death.  Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme got together to beat Pauline's mother, Honora Parker, to death with a brick stuffed inside a stocking.  And Stephen Marsh set up his wife, Jaspal Marsh, to be brutally murdered by his lover, Rebecca Harris, with the same knife he'd used in the S&M sex games with Harris.  In each case there was one partner who had a slightly greater tendency towards violence - Loeb was the one who wanted the pair to commit crimes together, Pauline who had outbursts of anger, and Stephen had to press his lover into the acts of sexual violence he enjoyed so much.  Also true for all these killers is, without their partner in crime, they never would've killed in the first place.  Perhaps some already had violent tendencies but the ability to truly carry them out to their full potential was found in the partnering with their, well, other half.  Each of these individuals were, for lack of a better word, incomplete on their own - disoriented in their lives and, mostly, unable to function.  When they got together these people were completed but, sadly, this completion made them very dangerous to society...it made them murderers.

Thankfully though there is one other thing these cases all have in common.  They were all solved and the murderers brought to some kind of justice.  Leopold served 33 years (of a life + 99 years sentence) in prison before being paroled; he later died of a heart-attack at age 66.  Loeb died at 30 as the result of a knife attack by another inmate while serving the same sentence that his partner received.  Both Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were sentenced to five years each (due to their age) and told, after the trial, to never contact one another again which they obeyed after release.  Each girl got a new name and new life after their release and neither have been in trouble with the law since.  Stephen Marsh was sentenced to 18 years for, essentially, masterminding his wife's murder and Rebecca Harris got 12 years for the actual deed...they are both currently serving their sentences.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Some Tech Savvy Tips to Share

As children grow up and join the ever-expanding world of social networking sites parents, naturally and understandably, begin to worry about the potential for online predators.  Of course that's likely why there are about thousand different websites filled with tips on how to help limit the ways in which kids, teens, and even adults will become potential victims.  That being said I've found, in my opinion, that most of these sites overlook other certain things that should be brought to the attention of parents and kids alike...and then shared with those around them also enjoying the world of social networking.

Lost My Numbers, Can I Have Yours?

On Facebook there are about a hundred thousand of these phone number collection groups, many of which are titled "new phone, need numbers" or "phone died, help me recollect numbers" or something else along those lines.  While this is a great idea for the person who legitimately needs to fill in his or her phone book quickly with contacts from different parts of the country, or even world, it leaves those who choose to share their numbers through the group rather vulnerable.  The reason is simple...when you share your name and number on the group's page everyone in the group can see, and thus get, it too.  I'm sure you can see where the risks start to come in now, yes?  Sure the person who created and runs the group (presumably) knows everyone they've invited to this group but you do not so, in essence, you're allowing virtual strangers excess to your name and number.  From those two bits of information they could potentially find out a lot more about you - like where you live.  ...In fact, as of recently, there's been a iPhone application specifically for getting people's names and phone numbers off these Facebook groups even if you're not party to the group the information is placed in.

Too Cool for School

It's understandable that anyone would want to share where they went or are currently going to school, there are just so many reasons to proclaim your alma mater...school pride, keeping in touch with classmates or former teachers, and maybe even wanting to continue to be an active part of the school's community.  That being said there's a fair amount of information that someone can get based on where you went to school...and even more in combination with other information you might share.  Certain cities only have a few high schools, some towns only have one.  In some cases all predators would have to do is use the process of elimination to get an idea of what part of town you live in.  In other cases, like those with pre-teens and teens, a predator could, potentially, simply show up at the correct school to gain access.  ...Now I haven't heard of a case in which this has happened, more often than not an online predator convinces their prey to come to them, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility and it's important to remember that when deciding what to share with the public online.  (This idea holds true for local sports teams too.)

Here's My Schedule...

There is no reason that all your online pals need to know every single thing you'll be doing over the next year.  Now, on a private profile, this act is simply a little annoying but, on a public one, it's dangerous.  If  you leave your profile open to see for anyone, or add indiscriminately, then people you don't even really know will be abel to track you as you go about your day.  It's the same idea behind the suggestion law enforcement and such suggest people shake up their routines...it's harder for people to know exactly where and when you'll be alone and thus vulnerable.

Put It Together

All on their own most of these will leave you somewhat vulnerable but, generally, won't lead to anything terrible unless you have someone that's become fixated on you.  That being said, when you're sharing your name and number in groups and have an open profile complete with personal history (hometown, alma maters, birthday), a bunch of pictures, and a schedule you might as well give strangers a map to your house and then let them into your home when they arrive.

There's no reason to become paranoid, that only leads to more stress in your life, but it's important to be cautious and become more aware of what you reveal online.  Do you want a friend of friend to have your name and number?  Do you want someone who's passing by your page to know where you'll be and when for the next month or so?  Would you tell a total stranger everything you've put on your page? If the answer is no than you need to adjust the available privacy settings and, very likely, the information on your profile...

Quick Tips:

1) Never join the names/numbers groups.  Give your name and number to the group creator privately instead.

2) If you add your schools to your profile keep them hidden under privacy locks...or at least the most recent one.

3) Don't fill out the available schedule on a profile.  First, there's no reason to since it's what we have calendars, datebooks, and smart phone apps for.  Your schedule should be for you and you alone.  If you wish to meet friends and family just contact them using private methods (text, phone, e-mail).

4) It's fine to share your birthday month and day, but don't share the whole date or allow your age to be shown while the month and day show.  Why?  Because a date of birth is one of the cornerstones of most security questions and, if people know exactly when you'll be turning 18, 25, or 43, then with simple math they'll know the whole date.

5) You know those public invites you can accept? (Like concerts and comedy shows.)  Don't...especially if it's a specific event in a specific location at a specific time.  I don't mean don't go to things you wish to, but just don't tell everyone else you'll be there.  ...This really falls under the same principles as the public calendar you can fill out; just use your private calendar and tell those you really want to know about the event you're attending in private.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Philia Friday: Love For Every Age

The saying goes "Age ain't nothing but a number"...this is not exactly true, especially when it comes to one's sexual desires for another.  While some may simply cause raised eyebrows if discovered others, especially when acted upon, can get a person in very serious legal trouble and brand them as an outcast for life.  While to the larger public the specifics of which term is most appropriate for which sexual preference may be irrelevant it is rather important to mental health professionals and law enforcement...and, in some cases, it may be beneficial to, well, know your pervert in the end.


This is the one that virtually everyone knows; a term thrown out to just about every sex predator and pervert that seems attracted to any being under the age of consent (generally 16-18 in the US depending on the state).  The truth is though it's become more of a "go-to" pop-culture based word than a true term in the public these days...it's overused and incorrectly at that.  According to it's definition (as found in the suggested revisions for the upcoming DSM-V, the diagnostic book used by mental health professionals) pedophilia is the sexual attraction to those aged eleven years and younger.

Keeping this more specific and more accurate definition in mind we can see that certain groups of sex abusers do not, in fact, qualify as pedophiles...such as the vast majority of online predators that seek out kids in chatrooms and social networking sites (these types will be discussed next though).  It also becomes clear that other predators do qualify such as certain priests that find themselves in the news as part of the Catholic sex abuse scandals and the pediatrician from Delaware who made headlines after it was discovered he may have sexually assaulted more than a hundred of his patients - some as young as three months old (he also seems to have been a sadist, not true of all pedophiles).


The term is far less used, but far more accurate, when dealing with those whose sexual preferences come in under the age of consent laws.  For this reason alone it might be why the DSM-V will likely have it listed as a specific "type" of pedophila...the fact it's been gaining increased attention and usage over the years are also likely reasons.  Hebephilia, in its definition, is the sexual attraction to those aged eleven to fourteen.

Now, by the definition alone, most could see that many "pedophiles" are, in fact, hebephiles.  The fictional Humbert Humbert of Nabokov's Lolita would be one and so would R. Kelly, Michael Jackson (if his sexual preferences for young boys were as suggested and rumored), and a few of those female school teachers (such as Debra Lafave and Mary Kay Letourneau) who made splashes in the news for sleeping with their then 13 and 14-year-old male students.  Most of the online predators that chat up young tween and teen girls and boys, try to lure them into taking risque photos and meeting up somewhere far away from a guardian's careful eye, would also fall into the category of hebephile.


Ephebos means "one arrived at puberty" in Greek and ephebophilia is defined as the sexual attraction to those 15 to 16 years of age.  It is not currently nor is it to be in the revision of the DSM.  Now part of this could be due to the fact that, in certain states, 16 is the age of consent - it could be a touch confusing to label someone with a mental illness when what they're doing is perfectly legal.  Another part could be because it's a touch more socially acceptable to lust after them; frequently those in this age range are the ones jokingly (though sometimes accurately) being described as "jailbait".  In pop-culture they are the tempting cheerleader, babysitter, or jock that seem to already have a sex life of their own, even if it's just developing.  Naturally the parents of these teens would, in reality, rather adults (and other teens) stay far away from their 15 and 16 daughters and sons.

So who are the ephebophiles?  Hard to say, there really isn't as much data on these individuals as there are for the first two discussed (studies tend to focus on pedophiles and hebephiles more).  At a sweeping, completely research-baseless, guess I'd think it'd be some of those online predators again and some other teachers that have found themselves embroiled in sex scandals with their students.

Few More Age Philias:

There are a few other "philias" based on the age of the object of one's desires as well.  The next in the age continuum is teleiophilia meaning the sexual attraction to those 17 and older (teleios is Greek for "fully grown"); basically it covers pretty much everyone who's attracted to the normal age range for the average individual.  After that there's gerontophilia which, if broken down, is rather clearly the sexual attraction to the elderly...this one is considered very rare (perhaps Harold from the movie Harold & Maude had it though).  Some are also pushing for the use of the word infantophilia to describe those with a sexual attraction to those who are under the age of six (as of now it is not classified in the new DSM, though pedohebephilia - the sexual attraction to both those under 11 and 11-14 years of age - will be).

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sex and the Serial Killer Revisted

Author's Opening Note: When I first started this blog I wrote my first lengthy (and second ever) piece comparing an average male's desire for sex to a serial killer's desire to kill. Unlike other pieces this one did not go directly through additional editing and onto being turned in for an article for Serial Killer Magazine because it relied heavily on a fictional character for the serial killer aspects. But now, more than 6 months later, I've condensed, edited, and updated the piece for the magazine and so, since it's a rather different article altogether, I thought I'd share it again.  Enjoy!

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Serial killer Vincenz Verzeni confessed, “I had an unspeakable delight in strangling women, experiencing during the act erections and real sexual pleasure.” A disturbing thought, but a rather accurate statement as many other serial killers (male and female) have described gaining a sexual thrill in their kills. It seems, for a serial killer, it just might be the norm... their torture frequently comparing to our foreplay and their sex being that moment when they kill their victim, when they have all the power, and when they can believe they are God.

For the purposes of this larger piece sexual homicide will be broken down into stages that relate to the standard sexual interaction, using them to compare the average male to the male who commits sexual homicide (for simplicity's sake we'll stick with heterosexual males throughout the piece). There's the fantasy, the seduction, the foreplay, the act, and the aftermath.

The Fantasy:

Of course, the average person doesn't suddenly go from normal sexual appetites to macabre ones over night no matter what a serial killer might claim later. No demon enters their body, nor do they suddenly "snap" and go about getting their jollies killing others. Ever found yourself suddenly having sex with another person for no particular reason, having never thought about that person sexually before? Didn't think so. Serial killers and those committing sexual homicide fantasize beforehand just like everyone else. Fantasy is a key element to the killer throughout his life...both before, during, and after the kill and during his "cooling-off" phases.

~ In Development ~

Like a person developing a normal (i.e. not a killer's for the purposes of this piece) sexuality it's a slow, steady, process that leads up to their committing sexual homicides. That, however, is about where the similarities end. The average child, when very young, may play superhero with their action figures and, when they get a bit older, daydream about being a sports star. As they grow up and hit puberty, their attentions will likely turn to sex and the desire to be intimate with those they find most attractive.

For the serial killer the fantasy starts early and there is almost always a linkage of sex and violence and those two things forever represent the same thing to them...Power! Little boys who grow up to be killers frequently recall having early childhood thoughts about violent sex acts. They dream of dead people or force their siblings into playing death/murder games with them...something their siblings are highly unlikely to be all that excited to play. As the budding killer gets older his fantasies grow in scope, number, and specificity, as does the amount with which he is aroused by the fantasies. While the average teenage Johnny is masturbating to thoughts of Jane down the lane coming out of the pool dripping wet, serial-killer-to-be Tommy is masturbating to thoughts of Jane covered in blood weeping for the mercy he won't give her (because he has the power not to).

~ In Action ~

Now the average young man will probably spend a few days thinking and planning before asking a woman out. He'll debate how to approach her, what to say when he does, and try to figure out all the ways in which he can increase the likelihood of getting her to say yes. He'll imagine what will happen when he does ask her...Will she smile? Be flattered? Say yes, she'd love to, and really always liked him but was too shy to ask him out herself? Even for those men only aiming to sleep with a woman he met at a club the idea of fantasizing beforehand fits. The approach, what's said, ways to get her to agree, and her possible reaction are all played out in the guy's mind, there just might not be as prolonged a period between the fantasy and the seduction stages. The everyday guy will probably go through his fantasy scenario with the woman a fair amount of times, but never as much as a killer.

A serial killer is no different in thinking and planning for his kills. Bundy might’ve pictured himself walking up to his victims, maybe on a lovely day at the park, imagining what they'd be like…a trusting, young, co-ed from the nearby college, perhaps? He'd think of possible ways to lower any nerves she might have in going off alone with a stranger and consider every possible reaction she could give – the screaming, the crying – once she realized his true sadistic intentions. Will she call out for help, for her parents, or beg for her life? How long can he torture his female victims before she succumbs to blood loss and the life finally leaves her eyes? In most cases Bundy would’ve had to do some prep work as well and this would go into the fantasy stage – whether it were considering the tools he'd need for his rouse, where the best spot would be to take his victim, or how long he could torture a person before time ran out (he was spotted, the victim died, etc) – the details would need to be thought out ahead of time. Before he even steps out of his house Bundy, like other serial killers and those who commit sexual homicide, will have gone over every single detail in his mind probably thousands of times.

The Seduction:

Let's assume the average Joe has finally worked up the courage to ask out that special girl (and that she’ll say yes). For the purposes of comparison the interaction from then until the walk to the door that would normally be considered the end of a date all cover the seduction stage. The seduction starts, at its bare bones, with how the man appears. He'll be clean, well shaven, and dressed to impress, whether this is in a suit or something else depends on both the girl he's trying to attract and the circumstances of date. After appropriate appearance comes behavior and interaction. In wanting to make a good impression a man on a date may do a number of things...open doors, pay for meals, offer his coat, and walk her to her door after. ...Those more into "picking up" women than dating them may also use pick-up lines, special moves or ploys (like those involving a "wing-man"), or even wear certain clothes to vastly accentuate something they consider a good aspect of themselves and distract from more negative ones (a.k.a. "peacocking"). Whatever tactics are used the goal is ultimately the same, to get the young woman to feel comfortable, even enamored with him, enough to trust and get close to him.

With serial killers the goal of seduction stage is almost disturbingly similar, it's actually pretty much the same. A serial killer wants to lower a victim’s defenses enough so they can get close. Like the average gentleman it starts with their appearance. What they decide to look like depends greatly on what they think will work best to attract the type of victim they wish (assuming they have a preference) and their hunting grounds. A nice suit will work wonders in trolling for victims around an upscale neighborhood or in a business district where the killer can mix in with those going to and from work. Going into a lower socioeconomic part of society? Jeans and a tee shirt might just do the trick. And, if they want to get fancy, pretending to be disabled or putting on some kind of uniform (police officer, repairman, etc) can work wonders for a killer. Presuming they're not drooling, staring like a complete psycho, or making a big scene most have the correct behavior down just fine. After that there's the "pick-up" line, which can usually be any of a number of things including; "Need some help?", "Can you help me?", "Repairman!", and "Hey, wanna see my puppy?" Once the person falls for whichever ruse the killer has used and gets close enough they're frequently just a knock on the head or chloroform cloth over the mouth away from becoming a victim.

The Foreplay:

Ah, foreplay, the beginning of measurable pleasure that can last a few minutes or even hours if paced right. The main point in foreplay is, naturally, to build up the arousal between (presumably) two people...to get the juices flowing, so to speak. Which "juices" flow and why depend on if it's two lovers or a killer and his victim. In this section the average male foreplay will cover from the first kiss to sexual activity for the sole purpose of orgasm (as opposed to arousal). For the killer it'll cover the moment he reveals his "true self" to the victim and the violent activity done for the sole purpose of orgasm – which is typically the killing of the victim).

~ Average Joe ~

It starts, typically, with a kiss...that first kiss, accompanied by that first moan from his lover, is likely enough to get the heart to start pumping just a little faster than normal. Kisses, soft and sweet to start, quickly build into something more demanding from both lovers. Hearts start to pickup their pace and breathing begins to grow heavy with anticipation. Joe shrugs his jacket from his body as his female companion steps out of her shoes. By the time they reach the bed shirts have been lost and they fall back onto the mattress together, kissing and letting their hands explore one other’s bodies. His body heats next to hers and her reactions - the labored breathing, the moaning, that look of pleasure in her eyes - all work together to make Joe's blood pound through his body in excitement. As both parties shed more clothes and more access to one another's bodies is allowed Joe may begin to feel himself getting further aroused, his member swelling and hardening with desire. Noting his arousal, seeing it, feeling it, may cause his mate's own to increase to the point where she is sufficiently lubricated enough to allow him to enter her which, in turn, may increase Joe's and thus a cycle begins...a cycle that progresses with penetration and into the next stage, The Act.

Depending on the couple there may also be different methods used to arouse one another or simply to prolong the foreplay. Roleplaying (with or without costumes), sex toys (vibrators and such), changing pacing or position of the lovers, and even just starting up only to stop, cool down, and start up again during intercourse are all possibilities. And all these things that work to arouse the lovers fall under the umbrella of foreplay.

~ The Killer ~

It starts, typically, with the killer revealing his true intentions and that first reaction his victim gives when she realizes she's made a terrible mistake in trusting him and her fear begins to show. Like the first moan for the average guy the first gasp or sob from a victim can be intoxicating to the killer. The killer's heart begins to pump faster, his breathing can grow labored, and his urge to get more fearful and pained reactions grows. The victim's heart rate may also increase, her breathing may also labor, though obviously for very different reasons as she's progressing from scared, to terrified, to both terrified and in pain. If stabbed the victim may begin to scream, cry, and moan in pain, all of which, including her blood flowing and looking up at her attacker in fear, is likely to cause the killer to begin to feel himself start to swell and harden into a full-on erection. At this point, depending on the killer, he may rape the victim or simply to build up his own lust (and her terror) by torturing her with increasing cruelty and depravity. ...A word on rape: it’s really just a means to an end, another way to increase the killer's feeling of power over their victim and to hurt and scare the victim.

Depending on the killer certain techniques and implements might be used (rape, in sexual homicide, falls into this category). The Zodiac Killer used a number of different things to manipulate, terrorize, and gain control over his victims. He used a costume of sorts with his black executioner’s mask that likely served to immediately intimidate his victims (which conveniently also was used to avoid potential identification) at Lake Berryessa. There were at least two weapons he used, a gun and knife, both of which were used for a few purposes during his killer foreplay - increase the fear in his victims, gain control of his victims, and cause his victims pain. The Zodiac Killer also had his letters to the press and police, which were a way for him to exude power and control and get a rush at the expense of law enforcement and even the public at large.

The Act:

From the end of the foreplay stage to orgasm really isn't that long, just a moment or so. But that single moment is one of pure bliss, something that a person will want to experience again and again. Whether it's with the same person or not is a matter of preference. So is, exactly, what pushes the person over the edge and into orgasm. For the average male the act as a stage covers the end of foreplay up to, and including, orgasm; for the killer committing the actual murder or whatever specific act pre or post that which brings him to orgasm qualifies as the act stage. (For those that get their sexual gratification post crime, like David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, it'll be whatever part of the crime they're thinking about when sexual release occurs.)

~ Average Joe ~

Some men can orgasm through just intercourse with their partner; some simple adjustments in pace and force of thrusts and they're all good. Others, however, might require something extra or something more specific to push them over the edge. Frequently these are things that have started during foreplay and are then done with increased frequency (and/or pressure and/or speed depending on what they are) as orgasm gets closer. For some men it's a phrase or word or even just a sound from their partner and for others it's a certain "move" - stroking or pulling of the hair, soft kiss or bite of the neck, etc - they or their partner makes that sends them over the edge. Of course it could also just be the look of love, attraction, and arousal in their lover's eyes that causes the man to climax...feeling so good that they gave their partner so much pleasure. Whatever it is that pushes them to the moment of orgasm, when it occurs, it's an incredible release of pressure that'd been building since the first stage of the fantasy.

~ The Killer ~

Similar to the average male some killers are just fine getting off with the straight up act of killing by whichever method they might prefer (the preference can be part of the fantasy or simply because one method is easier than another for the killer). Most need a great deal more than that though, probably because they have a richer fantasy stage than any normal person would. Generally they need to act out a whole scenario, one that's started (in action) in the foreplay stage. However, like the average Joe, there can still be one thing that really sends them over into ecstasy. For some it's the look of utter terror in their victims and others it's the blood and/or tears they cause to seep, ooze, or pour out of their victims. Still others it's actually something that occurs after the murder itself - like the mutilation of the victim's body or a provocative pose they put the body in postmortem, for instance. No matter what it is that brings the killer to climax it's the power they feel over their victim that's at the core...it’s this feeling of power, of control over another human being, that is so arousing to these killers. And, like with the typical male, the moment of orgasm is an incredible release of pressure that'd been building since their fantasy phase started in their youth.

The Aftermath:

Everything that occurs after sexual release for the average male and the kill for those committing sexual homicide falls under the aftermath and, whether a typical guy or a serial killer, what's felt and done in the aftermath depends a great deal on how the act stage worked out. Did it live up to the fantasy? Or was it just a great big disappointment?? (Of course it also depends on logistics as well.)

~ Average Joe ~

Much of what is done during this stage could very well all depend on whether or not the sex was enjoyable for the typical man. Let's say that it was everything that was fantasized and more...in that case, if able, the man may decide to spend the rest of the night with his lover. He may engage in sex again later or simply remain content sleeping with his lover in his arms. Should he have to leave due to logistics he's likely to call and arrange another meeting (whether it be a date or "booty call") at another time. If sex was not enjoyable he may create an excuse to leave right after or catch a nap (if he's tired and the bed's there, why not?) and then leave. Rarely, if ever, is the average guy turned off from sex as a whole after a bad experience, instead they're simply turned off from the girl herself and so move on to pursue other women.

~ The Killer ~

Let me first say that no serial killer who commits sexual homicide is completely satisfied with the act stage. The act itself can never really live up to their elaborate fantasies and this is one of the reasons they kill again and again; they're trying to perfect a fantasy and, as most anyone can tell you, nothing is completely perfect. That being said they can be reasonably satisfied enough to feel mighty good about themselves after. However, unless the murder occurred somewhere the killer was ensured privacy and it's his preference, it is highly unlikely he'll just relax by the body afterwards. Instead he might have a whole lot of practical issues to deal with – clean-up (of both himself and the murder site), body disposal, and getting himself a believable alibi are all top priorities.

How killers celebrate their triumph over their victim in a sexual homicide varies; some take souvenirs from their victims, some take pictures of their victims, some return home to remember the crime and get off on it (either again or for the first time, with or without a partner), and some just go out for a nice meal. Let's focus on the souvenirs, which are usually taken for two reasons. The first is so the killer can look at them later and relive what he did to his victim in his head, just like the average Joe might buy a souvenir if he went on vacation with a loved one whether it was something for them to display in the house or for the woman to wear some other time. As an example, a normal man may go to the tropics, buy his beloved a nice necklace from the area, and then get a little rush of excitement remembering that night of love-making on the beach whenever she wears it; meanwhile the killer may kill a woman, take her necklace from the dead body to give to his wife/girlfriend to wear, and then get a little rush remembering the kill whenever she does. The second reason for souvenirs is to show off, in which case it’s called a trophy. If the average guy puts in a lot of effort and hard work he might get a trophy for a sports activity or a nice award from his job; the killer feels he puts in the effort to make a successful kill and does a good job he might just take a trophy for himself in the form of something belonging to the victim. Like average Joe placing his trophies on the mantel or hanging up an award the killer committing sexual homicide might just show off his trophy at his home, job (the one outside his killing, if he has it), or by having his significant other wear it…the killer may also get an added feeling of power and control in having his souvenirs, his trophies, hiding in plain sight, considering himself very clever for openly displaying evidence of his kills with no one the being the wiser about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vicious Valentines: The Barbie and Ken Killers

Love is said to make people do "the damnedest things"...and, in some cases, that means rape, torture, and murder.  It certainly did for Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo; a fairy tale couple in appearance who, in the end, became a living horror to those they victimized together.

Twisted At First Sight

In October 1987 the handsome Bernardo met the beautiful Homolka and the two were immediately smitten with one another.  The lucky Bernardo also found, unlike other girls he'd dated, that Homolka would allow and even encourage his dark sides.  She enjoyed his twisted, sadistic, sexual appetite and eagerly indulged his every whim in the bedroom.  And, when he confessed to her that he was the man the papers were calling "The Scarborough Rapist", she didn't flee at all.  She stayed and, by some reports, she even encouraged and participated with him in that.  (One rape victim said she remembered seeing a woman with what appeared to be a video camera - the police, however, discounted the memory, chalking it up to hysteria on the part of the victim.)

Christmas Kill

Homolka had planned to give her sister's virginity to her beloved fiancee as a Christmas gift, as well as a way to make up for not being a virgin herself when she'd met Bernardo.  (Paul had an almost obsessive desire for virgins.)  So, after a Christmas Eve dinner, Paul served 15-year-old Tammy Homolka tranquilizer-laced drinks which quickly caused the girl to pass out on the couch.  Paul then took his new video recorder out and videotaped as he instructed Karla to perform oral sex on her little sister, which the young woman did with giggles.  Then, still in control of the camera, Bernado began to rape the girl while Karla ensured Tammy would remain unconscious by keeping a halothane (an animal sedative) soaked cloth over her mouth.  Sadly the drug eventually caused Tammy to throw up and she choked to death on her vomit despite the devious duos attempts at reviving her.

The Wedding Gift

With Tammy dead, and thus no good to Paul anymore, Homolka began to grow desperate for a replacement.  She would do anything to keep her man and, if that included finding a new victim for him to rape, that's just what she'd do.  She found a girl, referenced only as Jane, who looked very much like the late Tammy Homolka, and decided to "give" her to Paul as an early wedding present.  Doing much the same as with Tammy young Jane was given drinks drugged with Halcion tablets and, once out cold, Karla kept her out with the same halothane-soaked-rag method as before.  Thankfully for Jane she neither died nor did she remember the ordeal of her rape and forced sodomy at the hands of Paul.

Shortly after Paul Bernado and Karla Homolka were married.

First Matrimonial Murder

Leslie Mahaffy was just fourteen when she had the grave misfortune of running into Paul Bernardo on June 14 1991.  A spirited and slightly defiant youth Leslie had found herself locked out of her house after breaking curfew when Bernardo, on the hunt for license plates (an accountant, he had a lucrative side business in the smuggling of cigarettes from the US to Canada which required frequent plate changes to his car), spotted her.  The man moved swiftly, putting a knife to the girl's throat and dragging her to his car to take home.

Karla was not in on this kidnapping to start but, after a fight over her new husband using their best champagne glasses to "entertain" his catch, she joined in.  Paul, who already had the camera rolling, gave his wife detailed instructions on what to do to the girl before taking over.  His brutality caused the girl to scream out and, as Bernardo finished by strangling her with an electrical cord, Homolka gave young Leslie a teddy bear to hold onto for comfort.

The Intentional Murder

Fifteen-year-old Kirsten French was lured into the couple's car by Homolka in a church parking lot on April 16, 1992.  Unlike with Tammy and, possible, Leslie (which seemed to be rough sex turned murder), Bernardo and Homolka knew they'd have to kill Kirsten in the end.  She'd be able to identify them and their home.  However, they didn't tell her this and Kirsten, thinking it was her best hope for survival, did not fight the couple as they degraded her.  The couple kept her as their own personal sex slave for the next day or two, humiliating her in numerous disgusting ways and recording it all before killing her off camera.

Wife Turns on Husband

Karla Homolka, upon the urging of her family, finally left dear Paul Bernardo in early January 1993 after he'd given her two black eyes among other injuries.  (She was fine with what he did to the other girls, but when his aggressions turned to her she was not.)  By February 1993 the police began to question her about Paul and, from the questions they asked, Karla realized three things:  the police had connected the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kirsten French to the Scarborough rapes, they believed Paul was the man who committed the crimes, and that the walls were closing in fast.  And so the woman did what any sociopath would, what she felt she had to.  She turned on Paul and turned him in all the while claiming she was innocent, that she was just another victim of her husband's sadistic tendencies.  Then she cut a deal of a lifetime.

In the End

In the end it wasn't until the trial that Homolka's parts in the murders were know, when the tapes of the husband and wife's various cruelties were played to the court and it was too late to really make her pay for her part in the rapes, tortures, and murders.  Because of the deal she was able to get out in July 2005, after just twelve years in prison...a fact that caused an outcry from the public to say the least.  Paul Bernardo, on the other hand, got life with the possibility for parole after twenty-five years (per Canadian law); though it's unlikely he'll ever be allowed it.  As Bernardo serves year after year, no doubt cursing the day he met his now ex-wife Karla, the woman has attempted to move on with her life.  She has never truly shown remorse of her victims or guilt over what she and Bernardo did.  It seemed to start as a fairy tale but, in the end, Prince Charming was an cruel and depraved man and his beloved princess was even worse...a vicious blonde wicked witch who virtually got away with it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Female of the Species Part 3: His Killer Half

We've covered the typical and not-so-typical female serial killer.  Now it's time to look at a female serial killer in a serial killer couple.  Because there are so many of these women who claim to simply be a victim it's hard to figure out which were, in fact, abused loves who were dragged along for the ride and which were active participants in the crimes them and their significant other committed.  There are, however, certain women who not only active participants but the actual killers of some of the couples' victims themselves - they were not women too scared to run, they were women too in love (with the kill) to run.  It will be one of those that we'll look at here.

"Lonely Hearts" Lady

Martha Beck was part of a killer duo that murdered at least 3 (and as many as 20 individuals if rumors held true) in 1949.  Her, along with her lover, Raymond Fernandez, would become known as "The Lonely Hearts Killers" for their tendency to prey upon women using the "Lonely Hearts" ads in newspapers.  On her own Martha was little more than a sad story of an unfortunate childhood that seemed to lead her to make unfortunate choices.  She was born Martha Jule Seabrook in 1920 in and, due to a glandular problem, was overweight and experienced puberty at a very young age which lead to her being a continual outcast and early promiscuity.

When she grew up Martha became a nurse though, to start, because of her looks, she had to take a job as an undertaker's assistant in her home state of Florida.  Eventually she grew unhappy with this and moved out to California in 1942 to be an army nurse.  (Unlike the Angels of Death we've covered in the past Marth was recorded as being a good nurse without any suspicious deaths of those in her care who took her job helping people seriously.)  Her promiscuity caught up with her when she became pregnant by a man who refused to marry her and, so upset over this, she returned to Florida.  In order to explain the illegitimate pregnancy she created a rather elaborate charade to explain the situation - she claimed that she was married to a naval officer (even bought herself a ring to wear) and, when the time came, she had a telegram sent to herself saying he'd died in action.  Not long after Martha became pregnant again, this time from bus driver Alfred Beck, who married her, although the two divorced six months after.

For the next two years Martha, unemployed and single mother of two, slipped into a rich fantasy life of romance novels and afternoon movies.  She dreamed of a Prince Charming to whisk her away into his loving arms.  In 1946 she got a job as a nurse once more and put out a "Lonely Hearts" ad in the paper...and it was through this ad that she met Ray Fernandez who answered it.  By the end of 1947 the two met face-to-face and, by 1948, Martha was abandoning her two children at the Salvation Army in order to keep Ray in her life permanently (she would not have contact with them again in in prison in 1951).  She had her Prince Charming; nothing would get between her and him now.

Now previous to their meeting neither Beck nor Fernandez were recorded as having killed anyone (though one of Fernandez's former lovers died under suspicious circumstances) and neither were shown to have any tendency towards violence.  That being said once they met things began to change rapidly for both of them.  Martha grew to have a wicked jealous streak which led to their first murder in January 1949 when, after seeing Fernandez in bed with their (they now pulled cons together, Beck playing his sister to add respectability and lower women's guards farther) latest mark, Janet Fay, Martha lost control.  She bludgeoned the woman with a ball-peen hammer and then, to finish the job, Fernandez strangled her using a scarf.  The couple then wrapped the body up and stuffed it into the closet before getting some sleep.  The next morning they got a large trunk, stuck the woman's body inside, and eventually buried it in a rented house.

From the murder in Long Island the killer couple quickly moved on to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they would meet their next two victims.  Again using the "Lonely Hearts" ads as a victim pool Fernandez began to correspond with a 41-year-old widow, Delphine Downing, who was the mother of a two-year-old daughter, Rainelle.  For some time things went relatively smoothly; though Beck's jealous rage began to creep up once more the woman seemed able to keep it in check.  But when Downing discovered that Fernandez was not the man he claimed to be (thanks to witnessing him without his customary toupee) things grew ugly quickly.  Downing refused to be charmed by Fernandez any farther and accused him of deception and fraud.  Hoping to calm the woman Beck convinced her to take some sleeping pills...but, while the pills did their job, Downing's little girl began to cry.  An already frustrated Beck snapped once more.  She grabbed the child and choked her into unconsciousness, leaving clear bruises on the tot's neck as she did.  When Fernandez saw what Beck has done they both panicked realizing, when Downing woke, she'd see the bruises her daughter.  So they did the only thing they could think of - using Downing's late husband's gun (and a towel as a form of silencer) Fernandez shot the woman pointblank in the head, killing her.  Over the next two days they made plans to skip town before realizing they also had to kill the little girl, Rainelle.  Filling a tub with water Martha drowned the small child and then buried the girl with her mother in the basement of the house.  Then, oddly, rather than leave town, they went to the movies.  When they returned to continue packing they were stopped by a knock at the door...neighbors, suspecting something, had called the cops and "The Lonely Hearts Killers" murders came to an end.

The two depraved lovebirds would not stand trial for the murders of Delphine and Rainelle Downing for one reason...they would stand trial for Janet Fay instead, thus opening up the possibility for the death penalty.  Both of them would end up being convicted of the murder and, in the end, both receive the punishment of death by electric chair.  Until the end they would both loudly, proudly, and continually proclaim love for one another.

...It's unlikely that, if they'd never met one another, neither Ray Fernandez nor (especially) Martha Beck would've ever committed multiple murders.  It's the most interesting and bizarre part of killer couples like them.  Alone they were both troubled individuals who simply would've continued on their own pathetic paths; but in getting together, in becoming a couple, they became a true danger to virtually anyone they preyed upon. Any morals they might've had were set aside for one another and killing became an acceptable act for both of them.  And, in this specific case, it was the woman who not only participated in the violence, but began them on the terrible road that ended in death row.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Female of the Species Part 2: The Aggressive Girls

As reviewed in the previous piece women serial killers tend to do things a little differently.  For the most part their methodology is subtler and less overtly violent - smothering, poison - and their victims are those they know, those others would expect them to care for - family, patients if they're a nurse.  But there are exceptions to every rule and, sometimes, female serial killers are just as openly aggressive and random in their kills as their male counterparts.  (For the purposes of this essay I'm leaving out those females involved in "killer couples" as there are a number of other dynamics going on that might be influencing their level of violence and choice of victim.)

The Blood Countess

Elizabeth Bathory was exceptional...exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally powerful, and exceptionally sexually sadistic.  It's the sexual sadism that sets her apart from her other female serial killing counterparts.  True that most other women serial killers got a sadistic pleasure from the deaths they caused (orgasming as they held their victims during the final death throes of a poisoning), but they were not sexual sadists.  Other women did not get a sexual release from the torturing and degradation of their victims like Countess Bathory did.  Documents found concerning her trial describe a number of shocking acts of violence that she performed on servant girls under her control - biting off pieces of their flesh, burning their genitals, and literally tearing their mouths open with her own bare hands - none of which would ever be considered the norm for a female serial killer.  Oddly though the one thing that was missing was what she's most frequently known for...bathing in blood.  In truth it would seem that the rumor started because Bathory was so aggressive and violent in her torture of her servants that their blood got all over her clothing and body giving the appearance that she'd bathed in it.

Sadly, because her crimes occurred so long ago, her trial was actually held in secret (the fact any documents were found was a miracle in and of itself), and for about one hundred years after her crimes the people of the country were virtually forbidden to mention her, there isn't as much information on her as one would like.  Most of what is believed is rumor - such as the bathing in blood - and other factors may have been overblown due to the sociopolitical influences in that time in history - she was a Protestant when Catholics were taking over the government.  That being said there were at least 50 confirmed murders based on testimony and, if she started her sadistic tortures in her adolescence as appearances would indicate, and continued until she was caught, that's 35 years of torture and murder she indulged in...more than enough to accomplish the 650 murders she's been credited with.

The "First" Female Serial Killer

Aileen Wuornos is wrongly, but frequently, proclaimed the first female serial killer.  There is a good reason that she earned this misnomer though, and it has to do with both her methodology and victimology, which sets her apart from other female serial killer just like Elizabeth Bathory was set apart.  It also likely has to do with the horrific type of childhood she shares with male serial killers.

Born in 1956 she seemed almost doomed from the start, her life a near constant experience of abuse and abandonment.  Her father (whom Aileen never actually met) spent much of his life in and out of prison before hanging himself after being charged with child molestation and her mother left her and her brother  with a babysitter when Aileen was just six months old and never returned.  Taken in by her grandparents Aileen was then kicked out at age 13 when she had a child of her own that, she claimed, was the result of a rape.  At 20 she married a 70-year-old man, but the marriage ended after a month with both of them claiming the other was abusive.  At age 22 Aileen shot herself in a suicide attempt and, while recovering, she then robbed a convenience store at gunpoint...she spent 13 months in prison for that one and, soon, other arrests for various crimes (check forgery, auto theft) followed.

Of course it's not surprising to find that many female serial killers had horrible childhoods as well - ones filled with violence, abandonment, and that caused them to be sociopaths incapable of such things as love, compassion, and trust.  It's clear though that Aileen tended towards open acts of aggression such as physical altercations and the use of weapons (in her case a .22 caliber handgun) in committing some of her crimes more in line with male antisocial behavior.  This more male-based way of interacting with others followed into her killings beginning with her first victim, Richard Mallory, on November 30, 1989.  Mallory, like the six others that followed, was murdered via multiple gunshot wounds.  Aileen also followed the more male-based act of killing those who were virtual strangers, using her profession as a prostitute to pick up and then seclude her victims before murdering them.

The Unanswerable Question

Why?  That's the one question that can't quite be answered for the women who kill "like a man".  By her adolescence Elizabeth Bathory already had a reputation for being excessively cruel in the discipline of her female servants, but there doesn't seem to be an indication as to where she'd have learned to be so over the top in her violence towards others.  Aileen Wuornos certainly seemed to reenact the aggression she experienced in her childhood on others, but it doesn't explain why she did while other female serial killers never took the same openly violent path.  It would seem, perhaps, that those killers like Bathory and Wuornos are, in fact, one of kind...an aberration even in the horrifyingly strange world of serial killers.

Side Note Trivia: There's been some debate as to whether or not Elizabeth Bathory was, in fact, related to Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes (aka Dracul, the man upon which the character Dracula was said to be based)...according to what I could find, yes, she was distantly related to him through marriage.  That being said the fact that they had similar murderous personalities is coincidence and doesn't have to do with their relation to each other.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Female of the Species

When people think of serial killers they think of men and that's hardly a surprise since a vast majority of serial killers are, in fact male.  But it would be a mistake to think that women, "the fairer sex" as it the old saying goes, aren't every bit as capable of multiple murders as their male counterparts.  They tend to go about their murders a little differently and select different kinds of victims to prey upon but they are no less guilty of their crimes and get no less of a sexual thrill in causing the death of other  And, of those chosen to be their victims, they are no less terrifyingly dangerous.

Cuddly Killers

Male serial killers are well known for being abhorrently violent towards their victims.  They stab, shoot, and bludgeon.  Their kills are unmistakably aggressive, there's no hiding a serial murder done by a man should the body be found.  This isn't the case with women killers.  They kill in much more quiet, far less detectable, methods but whether they are "gentler" methods is really a moot point:  Would you rather be shot in the head or smothered by a pillow?

Likely, more than even those that smother, female serial killers are known as poisoners.  It's hardly a surprise...poisons are easily accessible, difficult to detect (compared to a knife wound), and incredibly effective.  Nannie Doss, aka the "Giggling Granny", killed four husbands, two children, a grandchild, two sisters, and her mother  between the years of 1929-1953 by slipping rat poison in their whiskey, coffee, or stewed prunes.  Rat poison, by the way, generally includes the rather infamous ingredient of arsenic which is also found in wallpaper, paint, weed killer, pesticides, and tanning products.  So it's almost natural that women aiming to kill should end up using arsenic, it's likely already in their home or an easily excusable purchase ("Well of course I bought a large supply bug spray, I have a garden and whole backyard to tend to!")

I Love You To Death

Another major, and somewhat frightening, difference between male and female serial killers is their victim choice.  Male serial killers select victims they don't know and a great deal of their efforts go into trolling for victims that suit their needs (this is outside, of course, the few that sometimes start or end their killings with a relations such as Ed Kemper with his grandparents and mother).  For the most part, if able, they tend to gear their victimology towards their sexual preference; straight male killers go for women, gay male killers go for men, bisexual killers will attack either, and pedophile killers target children.  But, no matter what, they tend towards targeting strangers.  None of these circumstances are true with female serial killers.

Victims of women serial killers are close to them; they're related, dating, or otherwise under the care of the killer.  Because of the victims they select these killers have earned themselves rather catchy names such as Blackwidows for those women who marry, then kill, men over and over (frequently having the secondary motive of gaining life insurance money from them as with Mary Ann Cotton who killed 20-21 people, including 4 husbands) and Angels of Death for those nurses choosing to prey upon their helpless patients.  One most recent Angel of Death was Genene Jones of Texas who killed as many as 46 infants and toddlers from 1971-1984. Using injections of heparin and succinylcholine to induce medical crises in her patients she would then try to revive them in order to receive praise and attention...sadly most the little ones in her care never survived that first injection.

Same Difference

So, with all these keys differences in male and female serial killers it's only natural to wonder if there are any similarities?  Yes, there's one core similarity...They both get a sick, sadistic, sexual thrill out of their kills.  Jane Toppan played nurse as she killed 31 people via poison from 1885-1901 and, once caught, confessed that killing gave her a "voluptuous delight".  She went on to admit that her murders were motivated by "an irresistible sexual impulse" and that she would climb into the beds of her victims as they were in their death throes in order to achieve orgasm.  ...Man or woman it's clear that a serial killer will have that same underlying motive of getting off.  So why the differences in methodology and victimology?

It's somewhat related to the cliche of men having to "stick it wherever they can" and women needing to "settle down and nest".  Male sexuality is penetration-based, it's promiscuous and rather undiscriminating and, in the serial killer, that relates to weapons that enter or batter the body, killing as many individuals of their preference (male/female/child) as possible and making whatever strangers they can their prey.  Women serial killers, on the other hand, need to have a relationship with the victim before they kill.  Their pleasure comes not from violating some stranger's body with a penile substitute (such a knife or bullet) but from perverting the very concept of love into a gruesome show of tenderness and intimacy.

(End Note: There is one exception to the rules above: Aileen Wuornos.  But, since she's the exception and not the rule in female serial killers she'll be covered separately at another point in time.)