Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Melvin Rees -- The Sex Beast

Cultural Xenophobia

Ed Gein
Ed Gein
In Wisconsin, Ed Gein was arrested in 1957 for killing two women and desecrating multiple female corpses in cemeteries in his pursuit of preserving skin and body parts to act out a transgendered homage to his deceased mother. A more grizzly ghoul could not be imagined by novelists or screenwriters. In Los Angeles two years later, Harvey Glatman showed police after his arrest how he had posed as a photographer to get potential models to allow themselves to be tied up. He then took photographs of them as they began to realize that he intended them harm. He apparently most enjoyed those moments just before he murdered them. He killed three before a fourth escaped and alerted the police. Not much was known then about multiple murderers, but the country was learning that they were out there, almost anywhere, preying on strangers.

Caril Fugate & Charles Starkweather
Caril Fugate & Charles Starkweather

Near the end of the decade, another criminal deviation occurred in the form of a killing couple who had absorbed the youth cultures appreciation for social alienation. The Beats were getting attention for their angry poetry readings and a movie star named James Dean epitomized the feeling of disenfranchised youth in a popular film, Rebel without a Cause. Charles Starkweather, 19, viewed Dean as his role model, and with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, he cut a murderous swath through Nebraska during two weeks in 1958, killing her family, his friends and several strangers before he was stopped. Their death toll was 11, and she went to prison while he was executed.

America was shaken by the images of demented neighbors and roving strangers killing people senselessly. The availability of cars and cheap new motels, along with better highways, made the population more mobile, but this erosion of a cohesive community life also made people feel more vulnerable. Killers were striking at good folks, even at families, as if to undermine the countys very foundation. Prosperity clearly had a shadow side, a rather dark one, and police in Virginia were still trying to learn what had happened to the Jackson family.

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