Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Culture

Fascination with Murder

H.H. Holmes
H.H. Holmes

Around the same time in Chicago, after the public learned about the "murder castle" that H. H. Holmes, a.k.a., Herman Mudgett, had built to house and murder young women, an enterprising police officer named Clark acquired the lease and sold entrance fees (fifteen cents).  But before he managed to get his new business off the ground the whole thing burned to the ground.

Belle Gunness
Belle Gunness

When the pig farm of Belle Gunness was investigated in 1908 after a devastating fire, numerous bodies were unearthed on the property, and some 15,000 curious tourists went through the grounds.  Shrewd entrepreneurs sold grizzly postcards alongside food for picnic lunches, and gawkers grabbed bricks and charred wood from the decimated house or dirt from the makeshift cemetery.

John Dillinger
John Dillinger

Even more intimate, during the 1930s, when the infamous bank robber John Dillinger was gunned down in front of Chicago's Biograph Theater, women actually dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood.  In The Serial Killer Files, Harold Schechter speculated that this may have been a form of superstitious behavior, using the blood of an evil man to ward off evil.  Perhaps so, but it's also possible that people who took such souvenirs (which now include the hair and fingernail clippings from serial killers) knew their value for party conversation.

With such grim and controversial trade, there will be outspoken advocates for each side, but few will note that such cultural fascinations with murder and mayhem are mirrors to a morbid undercurrent of collective desire, fear, and need.  So let's look at the various ways that "wound culture" manifests itself in our midst.

 

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