Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Culture

The Captivating Captors

Book cover: The Devil in the White City
Book cover: The Devil in the White City

On occasion, a book about a serial killer will climb to the top of the best-seller charts. Notable are Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City, about H. H. Holmes, and Rule's Green River Running Red, about Gary Ridgway. In addition, there are novels such as The Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, and The Alienist, which captured an enormous number of readers. When The Silence of the Lambs became a movie, it swept the major categories at the Academy Awards and Hannibal Lecter became a cultural icon.

Book cover: Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers
Book cover: Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers

And, of course, there are the many encyclopedias and books of analysis about serial killers. Bloat Books published Lustmord: The Writings and Artifacts of Murderers, which offers letters, journal entries, photographs, drawings, and poetry from the likes of William Bonin, Herbert Mullin, Harvey Glatman, Peter Sutcliff, and the as-yet-unidentified Zodiac. Michael Newton, Harold Schechter, and Brian Lane all offer lists of description of serial killers, and these books do quite well in the marketplace.

In Newsweek at the end of the twentieth century, Angie Cannon scanned the "crimes of the century" in an effort to understand the American fascination with murder. Among them were the St. Valentine's Day massacre and the series of murders by "Milwaukee Cannibal" Jeffrey Dahmer and "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz. She writes that "we are at once disgusted and fascinated by crime." We turn away but then scour sources for grisly details. "The tantalizing tidbits...make the unimaginable imaginable." She quotes crime British writer Colin Wilson to the effect that it's all about alleviating boredom. "We want anything that would take us out of the boredom of everyday life." Cannon also thinks the allure has something to do with the desire to convince ourselves that we're immune: by learning about these crimes, we feel safer.

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