I’m reading a book about a serial killer and my wife doesn’t like it. Not one bit.
“I don’t see how you do that,” she said to me, which was a surprise because I’ve been reading since elementary school.
“Read that stuff.”
Oh, she meant the subject matter. This isn’t the first book I’ve read that looks into the head of a serial killer; I’ve read plenty. The first being on David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer. This case has always bothered me because Berkowitz initially claimed the neighbor’s dog told him to commit those crimes and we all know a dog wouldn’t do that, especially if he’s a good boy. I would believe that of a cat, though. Cats are shady.
In the book, I also discovered Berkowitz and I have the same birthday. That’s not creepy at all, right?
Americans are fascinated by serial killers. From the 1800s Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes to 20th century cases such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, it seems like there’s no real end of our desire to know more about the evil that may, just may, live next door.
What does that say about us?
In the book “Why We Love Serial Killers” by criminologist Scott Bonn, the author claims the interest comes, not due to morbidity, but due to the desire to understand why killers kill.
“People are drawn to understanding the dark side,” Bonn told The Atlantic, “and the dark side is part of the human condition.”
James Hoare, editor of the magazine Real Crime, puts it more simply. Stories about serial killers are “fairy tales for grownups.”
“Everybody responds to the idea that there’s something nasty out there,” Hoare told the BBC. “There’s something in our psyche where we have this need to tell stories about being pursued by monsters.”
One such monster was Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal who, as the nickname implies, ate his victims. I kept a file of newspaper clippings on the Dahmer arrest and trial in 1991 to use as research for a horror story I’d planned to write (and never did). My girlfriend at the time found the file. She didn’t stay my girlfriend much longer.
It’s a shame, but not because of the girl. It’s a shame that in all those stories I’d collected not one included a recipe. Some reporter missed an obvious angle.
As far as being afraid of a serial killer, don’t. According to Scientific American, the FBI claims there is an average of 25 to 50 serial killers in the United States at any time. Serial killers account for less than 1 percent of deaths each year. Family members, however, account for 12.5 percent.
So, statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to be killed by a family member than a serial killer.
Think about that the next time you all sit down to play “Monopoly.”
Jason Offutt’s newest book, “Chasing American Monsters: 251 Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts,” is available at jasonoffutt.com.