These essays on books I am reading or using as research should not be considered reviews. What I am doing is collecting information from the book and seeing what can be used for various books or stories that I have on the back burner or will be working on shortly.
The main purpose of these is to show the process of taking pertinent information and using it to make my own writing better. The more I read, the more I realize that the best books, in my opinion, are the ones that are meticulously plotted out and have tons of research thrown into them. That doesn’t mean that I detest “pantsers” or people who write things on the fly. I just have my own preferences when it comes to literature.
The reason I began reading Mindhunter by John E. Douglas was because of a serial killer book that I have been developing for the past few months slowly in my notebook. But the one thing that made me nervous about even starting a project like that was knowledge of the situation. I’m not a cop, nor am I an expert on things like procedure and analysis. What you do is gather that information, so that you can be better suited to tackle the subject. I mean, I guess you could just stop writing, but what would be the fun in that?
John Douglas seemed like a decent jumping-off point when it comes to serial crime. For those unaware, Douglas is one of the founders of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, which is now known as the Behavioral Analysis Unit. What he and his team were able to deduce from countless interviews with incarcerated serial killers was a pattern in which they could help law enforcement agencies possibly locate and detain criminals who were/are still at large. I liken it to being able to finish someone else’s jigsaw after studying them enough and how seeing how they are built and cut. Douglas tries to find out pieces to a project so that police can use them to get a clearer picture of what they are dealing with.
As I stated before, Douglas gathered this info by interviewing men who were already in the system. He would probe casually with some, moved forward bluntly with others, and all in all, focused on trying to find out what happened BEFORE the initial crime was committed. From what Douglas was able to gather quickly was that they all seemed to tell similar tales. Most felt wronged in some shape or fashion, they all were aware of the actions and consequences, and they all had been through some form of abuse in their formative years. Rather than look at these people as monsters, like the rest of the public had already, Douglas decided that it would be best to use this information to help future victims of serial crime from going through the horrors that other victims and families had gone through.
Criminal Profiling was created from these studies and interviews. Profiling has its detractors and it definitely isn’t as exact as the feds want us to believe, but it also can be useful in telling us what sort of individuals would decide it’s a nice day to go out and behead someone. The fact of the matter is that I’m not using this information to solve crimes, what I am attempting to do is paint a realistic picture of a killer. Therein lies the difference.
One thing to keep in mind is the patterns that you DO see when it comes to serial crime. You see similarities through a huge amount of the data that has already been collected on serial offenders. This does point to the fact that these kinds of individuals are created, not born, and with that knowledge, I would think that we could do something to curb these crimes.
Douglas conducted the vast majority of his research by talking with incarcerated killers and rapists. He discovered that compulsion, compartmentalization, and the environment plays a huge role in how killers think and act. Many, if not all, admitted to fantasizing heavily before actually committing their crimes. Even more frequent were people who experimented with objects previous to the acts themselves. I say objects because there is one example that sticks out of a young man who took photos of himself applying bondage to a doll and that was enough of a red flag for Douglas. I suppose it would take some time in your own head to discover that you are willing to attempt living out these fantasies with anything at all, and the experimentation, just like drug and alcohol use, gets more prevalent as time passes.
That’s where the compulsion kicks in. Not to try to humanize these people, but when you read about enough of them, it does come across like these guys were victims of circumstance. The compulsion that the upfront ones speak about does sound like addict behavior, and anyone even vaguely familiar with being in recovery recognizes that addiction can be viewed as a disease. The difference with me is that human life is at stake on a different level when it comes to serial crimes. They are essentially obtaining a living and breathing human to commit sick fantasies onto. But you try to balance that out with the understanding of the facts. These people are aware that what they are doing is wrong, and rarely, if ever, do they regret what they have done.
There are times when I think more people should be aware of information when it comes to killers and crime, but I do tend to agree that having True Crime as entertainment is a slippery slope. But man, there are tons of people I talk to about this subject and it’s amazing how many think that the “era of the serial killer” is over. Shows like CSI and Criminal Minds have convinced us that it’s impossible to evade police when it comes to shit like this, and that can’t be further from the truth. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me that post-COVID we will see a steep rise in crimes of this fashion. The environments that breed these monsters at an insane level stem from economic depressions and world events that shock us. One can just look at the seventies and early eighties to see how Vietnam shaped a vast amount of our outlook on life and the world at large.
We are living in a post-war society where we have endured vast economic inequality and huge, world-shaking events for the past few years. If I was a betting man and that sadistic, I would put the farm on there being a ton of angry, depressed young men who would want to act out the horrid shit they have concocted in their own heads. But rather than being hysterical over it, maybe we can use this info to do something about it?
What I gathered from this book is that the times make the people, but that doesn’t have to be. I imagine for every person who is behind bars, there is probably, hopefully, one who is on the outside thinking that they were able to get through a really dark place in their life and they are happy for it. Those are immensely brave people. But, for some, I don’t think that’s even possible. The sad fact is once people get past a certain point, they most likely are lost, and there is no rehabbing them.
The reason that True Crime does hold relevancy in today’s climate is that it can show you the impact of the victims’ families. No one should ever have to endure what these people have gone through, and I think if we focused on that aspect of these issues, it would drive the public more towards looking at crime differently altogether. I think that is what Douglas was trying to convey in this book. It’s worth reading just for the insight into what it takes for extremely sick people to be pushed past the point of no return.