Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hollow Men: Why Serial Murderers Must Kill To Feel

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Newport Beach, Calif., forensic psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz has shown that most mass murders (defined by the FBI as "a homicide involving four or more victims in one location and within one event") are committed by the depressed and the paranoid, who see themselves as agents, even heroes, of retribution, angrily lashing out at a world they fear and hate.

If they survive going postal (and few of them do), Dietz reports, mass killers are uniformly disappointed to discover the experience doesn't solve, but actually intensifies, their psychic pain. Moreover, for all the bloody drama, mass murder is a copycat crime. These killers take their inspiration from each other, all variations on an original theme by Charles Joseph Whitman, the University of Texas tower shooter who invented modern mass murder 33 years ago.

Not so the self-realizing ritualistic killer, who selects for cunning, psychopathology and hyper-narcissism. Above all, this killer savors his work, obsesses on it, keeps souvenirs and sometimes detailed records. He is not in pain; he causes it. His need exceeds sex and violence. It is a pathological desire for complete mastery; he wants to engulf and to annihilate a victim. As Bundy explicitly expressed it to me, the thrill in sexual homicide comes with "possessing" victims "physically as one would possess a potted plant, a painting or a Porsche. Owning, as it were, this individual."

Roy Hazelwood, a former FBI profiler and specialist in sexual criminals now retired from the bureau's Behavioral Science Unit, says it was Harvey Glatman, Los Angeles' so-called Lonely Hearts Killer of the 1950s, who first illustrated this truth to him.

Studying Glatman (who was executed in 1959), Hazelwood puzzled over his habit of first incapacitating his victims in their apartments, then binding them and transporting them out into the desert, where Glatman finally killed them. "He could have raped and killed these women in their apartments," says Hazelwood. "But Glatman kept them alive at increased risk to himself. I realized that the enjoyment he took made the risk worth it to him. I later understood that enjoyment, that sense of possession, is power to the ritualistic offender, and total possession is absolute power."

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