I Had No Other Thrill or Happiness’

Serial Killers

by Joel Norris
Anchor, 257 pp., $9.00 (paper)

Probing the Mind of a Serial Killer

by Jack A. Apsche
International Information Associates, 231 pp., $11.95 (paper)

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy

by Ann Rule
Signet, 498 pp., $5.99 (paper)

Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer

directed by Nick Broomfield
Strand Releasing

Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder

by Brian Masters
Random House, 324 pp., $24.00

A Father’s Story

by Lionel Dahmer
William Morrow, 240 pp., $20.00

Hunting Humans: The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

by Michael Newton
Avon, Vol. 2, 338 pp., $5.99 each (paper)

True Crime, Vol. 2: Serial Killers & Mass Murderers

by Valarie Jones, by Peggy Collier
Eclipse, 61 pp., $4.95 (paper)

The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.”

Pascal, Pensées

I’m in charge of entertainment.”

Ted Bundy

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 …

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Letters

Serial Killers June 9, 1994

Serial Killers June 9, 1994