Probing the Mind of a Serial Killer
The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer
Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder
A Father's Story
Hunting Humans: The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers
True Crime, Vol. 2: Serial Killers & Mass Murderers
“The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”
“I’m in charge of entertainment.”
It was shortly after the New Year of 1976, in the affluent Detroit suburbs of Oakland County—Birmingham, Royal Oak, Franklin Village, Berkley—that the nude, violated corpses of abducted boys and girls began to be found, like nightmare artworks, by roadsides or in parking lots or snowy fields. The children, objects of intensive local searches, had been taken in daylight close by their homes or schools; they ranged in ages from ten to sixteen. By March 23, despite highly publicized police vigilance, there were to be at least seven victims. Most of the children had been sexually assaulted and then killed, by diverse means—shooting (handgun, shotgun), strangulation, suffocation, carbon monoxide poisoning, bludgeoning. What linked the murders and gave to them their particular signature was their mock-ritualistic nature; the killer had taken time to meticulously wash and scrub several of the children, either before or after their deaths; their bodies had been laid out for public discovery in funeral positions; in several cases, their freshly laundered clothes had been neatly folded and placed nearby. Because the murderer’s scrupulosity suggested a cruel parody of solicitude, local media baptized him “The Babysitter.”
To live in a narrowly bounded area in which a “serial killer” is operating, with seeming impunity, is an experience virtually impossible to explain, or to forget. If there is any personal connection with the victims, it alters permanently one’s sense of the world. In 1976, though the “hippie” Manson family had been execrated in the press, the very term “serial killer” was relatively unknown: yet to burst upon America’s consciousness, though already in rehearsal, were “Son of Sam” (first murder, July 1976), Ted Bundy (first national notoriety, late 1970s), Henry Lee Lucas (first national notoriety, early 1980s), “The Green River Killer” (first known killing, 1982). I was not acquainted with the families of any of the murdered children, but among my Birmingham, Michigan, friends were several who were and I remember the atmosphere of those days, and weeks: the talk, the emotion, the visceral dread; the horror and astonishment that such acts should happen there, in a suburban world so attractive, so affluent, so exclusive, so “policed.” Detroit, its inner core still bearing the war-zone look of the race-motivated riot of 1967, was the region of “senseless” violence, not its white suburbs.
I remember, en route to a luncheon at a friend’s house, driving out of my way into an adjoining residential neighborhood to pass the home of one of the murdered children—how typical the street of handsome, primarily colonial houses, how typical the house where tragedy had struck, motiveless as a shaft of lightning. If we are not safe here, then where? To live in an area in which a serial killer is stalking his victims is to feel oneself trapped within another’s mad, malevolent dream, for the serial killer behaves with the logic of dreams—his…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.