If a murderer moved next door, would you know it just by looking at them? Could you tell from your interactions with a person, that they were capable of committing unspeakable acts against other human beings? Could someone you love and have regular contact with, be a serial killer without you suspecting a thing?
From the picture the media paints of murderers, and serial killer profiles, it would be hard to imagine that they could walk among you, could be your best friend, your brother, or your next-door neighbor. Surely you would notice the shifty-eyed misfit, the derelict drug addict, the raging maniac, the “animal” who could be capable of such an inhuman act. Wouldn’t you?
Not always. I knew a serial killer who was a sweet, caring young man. He was well liked by many in the little rural town where we lived. Children adored him, and he willingly babysat his younger siblings, as well as other children in the community. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he never failed to make everyone around him laugh. He sure didn’t fit the serial killer profile. Just by looking at him, and even by knowing him well, none would ever think that he could be a serial killer.
Yet he was, and he hid this horrific secret for many years. It was something that only he and his victims knew about. Even when he finally became a suspect after a fourth murder rocked this tiny town, it was hard to imagine that those gentle hands did those things. Even after he was arrested and confessed, it was hard to fathom how a man I knew so well, could be the same evil “monster” the media delivered to their readers on the front page of the local paper.
Nonetheless, there it was in black and white, along with each and every one of the sensationalized details of his grisly crimes. He was labeled by the law as a serial killer, and by the press as an inhuman creature, a freak, a fiend. The newspaper even printed a double-page spread of his confession, and the townsfolk ate it up. I can’t say I fault the newspaper for printing all the gory details. They were only doing what was expected of them-giving the public what they wanted.
But what bothered me most of all, during story after story about the crimes, was the conspicuous absence of details that would paint this serial killer as anything other than a monster. In other words, the paper didn’t tell the public a single detail that would make this murderer seem the least bit human. Heavens no! Those details didn’t fit the serial killer profile. And we wouldn’t want people thinking that a killer could walk among us and no one noticed. We wouldn’t want to see him as anything other than a creature with demonic eyes and a foreboding presence.
We certainly wouldn’t want to know that a serial killer had a loving mother and father who were wonderful parents to him. Or that he had been an honor roll student in high school who’d never been in any kind of trouble with the law. We certainly wouldn’t want to know that he had served in the military.
My point is that these readily available details were omitted, most likely because they just did not “fit” with the nature of his crimes. They didn’t come close to matching a serial killer profile. Writers often look for the elements that will add a colorful tint to the pictures they are attempting to paint. When they can’t dig up real dirt, some writers will even go so far as to twist and tweak innocuous details to make them more unseemly.
When was the last time you read a story about a serial killer who had an idyllic childhood and appeared “normal” to everyone who knew him? Probably not ever. The newspaper wouldn’t serve up this kind of story because they know people would be terrified to think that a serial killer could appear normal. A murderer commits inhuman acts and as such, no one wants to think of them as a human being. They don’t want to think of them as a person who had a mother, father, brothers and sisters, friends or even in some cases, a spouse.
There are not many people in the world who, after reading about a gruesome murder, will extend the killer or his family a shred of compassion. They don’t want to imagine that to a loved one, a serial killer might have been someone completely different from the fiend portrayed in the paper. They don’t want to think that a killer could actually be a human being.
I am not one of those people. I knew a man who was obviously deeply disturbed and mentally ill, but who was able to hide it from everyone who loved him. I knew a man who was the polar opposite of any serial killer profile. I knew a man I would have trusted with my own life, yet he confessed to taking the lives of four others. I knew a man who did unspeakable things to other human beings, but he will never be a “monster” to me.
And when I read a newspaper article about yet another murder, I put my paper down and do two things. First, I say a prayer for the murder victim, and for their family and friends. Many lives have just been shattered beyond belief and will never be the same. Then I say a prayer for the killer’s mother and father, brothers and sisters, and for anyone else who loves them. I feel empathy for them, because I know that their lives have also just been irrevocably altered.