“Every murderer is probably somebody’s old friend.” – Agatha Christie
I read these words, a quote he used, in a novel by Peter Swanson called “Her Every Fear” this past week, and it stuck in my head. I woke up thinking about it, and thus this is what you are reading.
When you stop to think about it, every murderer is not just somebody’s old friend. He/she is also someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister. Next door neighbor or friend.
You don’t know what goes on in the mind of the man down the street, who seems so nice and brings you tomatoes from his garden and leaves them on your front door step.
Or the man who typically can be found sitting on the bench in the park reading his newspaper and drinking coffee when you jog past him most mornings.
He smiles and you smile back. But you have no idea what he’s thinking. Or what he’s capable of.
Earlier in my life, during and after college, I freelanced for newspapers. And there were times that I wrote about murder.
Remember those? Newspapers? They were black and white and “read” all over, as the old childhood joke goes.
There was a middle-aged woman who was convicted of killing her husband, an oilman, who she claimed beat her black and blue. I interviewed her in prison.
There was the serial killer in prison in Wyoming that I wrote to for a year, trying to pry information out of him.
There was the woman in prison giving birth to a baby girl who was instantly whisked away because the woman would remain behind bars.
Then there were the stories concerning killers I never communicated with, but came at the story from the opposite side. The victim’s side.
I wrote an article about a young girl who was killed randomly by a man just driving around trying to find a victim to torture and kill. Twelve years old and full of promise, kidnapped in plain sight after a junior high football game.
Then there were the two teenage kids who had a baby girl, and accidentally (I hope) killed her. They called her “Charlie.” Poor child barely had a chance to start with, and even that was snatched from her.
These are all just people. And they are killers. Some involved premeditation. Some just happened due to circumstances of opportunity.
Like a lone woman at the car wash vacuuming her car at night, who can’t hear someone walking up behind her.
The man kneeling down to tie his shoe laces underneath a copse of trees in the park.
The person whose car broke down on the highway and has no phone.
They are victims of opportunity.
These people were not born to be killers.
“One of the oldest questions in criminology – and for that matter, philosophy, law, theology – is whether criminals are born or made. Are serial killers a product of nature (genetics) or nurture (environmental factors)?” – Peter Vronsky, author of “Sons Of Cain: A History Of Serial Killers From The Stone Age To The Present.”
He goes on to explain:
“The number one trait of a psychopath is a lack of empathy. Others are a tendency to lie, a need for thrills – psychopaths become bored very quickly – and narcissism. But the lack of empathy is the biggest thing.
“One common explanation is that psychopaths experience some kind of trauma in early childhood – perhaps as early as their infant state – and as a consequence suppress their emotional response.
“They never learn the appropriate responses to trauma, and never develop other emotions, which is why they find it difficult to empathize with others.
“They grow up not knowing how to “feel”, and learn instead how to manifest what they think are emotions or the correct appearances of emotion. They know the “mask” they should wear.
“In the case of serial killers, that’s why there are individuals who can raise a family, be what most people would consider a good spouse and parent, and at the same time have secret second lives where they go out and kill strangers. They can compartmentalize.”
There is the “organized killer” and the “disorganized killer.”
The organized killer scrupulously plans his crime. The disorganized killer kills randomly. Someone just happens to be in his/her path in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation says that a serial killer must fit the following criteria…
“The person in question must have murdered a minimum of three individuals (not simultaneously), there must be a period of time in between the murders (to prove that multiple victims were not killed during a single fit of rage), and the circumstances of each murder should indicate that the killer felt a sense of dominance over the people they have killed.
“The victims must also be vulnerable to the killer in some way, a characteristic which indicates that the killer has sought to achieve a feeling of superiority.”
It is baffling to most of us, those of us with empathy, that these people, these souls that are soulless, can kill without guilt.
It is hard for us to understand that there are people who have no conscience and thus no remorse. Because somehow, it just isn’t built into them.
It is just hard for most of us to believe.
But they are among us.
Every single one of them are somewhere in society at this very moment. They are someone’s neighbor, friend or relative. And you may think you know them, but you don’t.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.” – Ted Bundy