Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Art, Therapy With a Profit Motive

Red Flags

Teachers are often warned to watch for budding antisocial behavior in the things that children draw. When assignments inspire bloody knives, beheadings, hangings, or dismemberment, there may be cause for concern. While they might be imitating what they have seen on television, they might also be offering the contents of their own daydreams. Such children are getting used to images of violence, and should they develop impulse control or anger management problems, they may then channel their conflicts into those behaviors with which they've become familiar—stabbing, bombing, violation, or strangulation. Other behaviors must also be evident to signal true pathology, but a child's raw expression can reveal those things that obsess him.

On February 11, 1987, in Fort Collins, Colorado, the body of 37-year-old Peggy Hettrick was found in a field. She had been stabbed once in the back and her vaginal area was badly mutilated. Tim Masters, 15, lived in a nearby trailer. While several knives were found in his bedroom, none could be linked to the murder. Yet more than fifteen notebooks full of his writing were discovered, along with sketches depicting decapitation, death and dismemberment. Tim clearly had a problem.

Dr. Reid Meloy
Dr. Reid Meloy

Nine years went by before Dr. Reid Meloy, an expert in the pathology of sexual homicide, was asked to evaluate the journals and drawings. He said that he'd never seen such a voluminous production by a suspect. It was enough to bring Masters to trial, despite a lack of physical evidence, and Meloy focused the jury's attention on two sketches in particular. The first depicted a figure being dragged across the ground—just as the victim had been. Masters had admitted to drawing the picture the day after Hettrick was killed. Meloy then moved to the second drawing, dated the month prior to the murder. Its details closely resembled the victim's sexual mutilation. Meloy said that it represented a rehearsal fantasy of the way in which Masters wanted to sexually mutilate someone. The similarities between this drawing and the attack on Hettrick were uncanny, so in 1999, the jury found Masters guilty of first-degree murder.

Jason Massey
Jason Massey

Jason Massey, too, filled journals — "The Slayer's Books of Death" — with writings and sketches about how he would fulfill his ambition to become the world's most prolific serial killer. Finally, in 1993, he consummated his fantasies in Texas with the double murder of two teenagers. The journal entries began in 1989 and ended in 1993, the month in which the kids were murdered. Inside, among other things, Massey described the episode in which he had killed the dog of a seventh-grade girl, smearing the blood on her car. He also stalked the girl and wrote threatening letters. More tellingly, Massey's recorded desires directly reflected the precise acts committed against the female murder victim. It was like the signature an artist leaves on his work.

Harvey Glatman actually made artistic expression part of his MO. Photography was his hobby, and in 1957, he used it to commit murder. Glatman posed as a photographer from a detective magazine, and once he had his "model" bound and gagged, he raped her. But he was a convicted felon already, so he decided he'd have to kill her. He strangled her with a cord and left her in the desert. Then he used a Lonely Hearts Club to find his next victim, Shirley Ann Bridgeford. He pretended to be a plumber as he arranged a date, and took her out to the desert. He persuaded her to pose for pictures, and then completed his deadly ritual, burying her there. The next victim he picked up from a nude modeling agency in 1958. He bound and raped her, and then took her "for a picnic" near where he had left his second victim. He raped her repeatedly, photographed her bound and gagged, and then killed her with a length of cord. Four months later, he was starting on his fourth victim, but she successfully escaped him and flagged down a motorist. The police arrested Glatman, and he confessed to the crimes and pointed out where he had buried two of the women. (Hitchhikers found the bones of his first victim.) In short order, Glatman was convicted and executed in 1959.

While the stereotype of a killer's mentality seems to preclude an artistic temperament, in fact, any human being can find some purpose in creative outlets. Let's examine how art may serve someone with murder in his soul.

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