Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

George Russell


Of serial killers, subject expert Robert Keppel told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that many leave a signature: "They enjoy it. It's one of their favorite pastimes." And accordingly, their signature displays "what their hangup is...what their sexual enhancement is."

While other scholars, such as Northeastern University's noted Criminal Justice Professor James Fox, say that only rarely do serial killers leave specific calling cards, Keppel believes that many times the indications are indeed there, but overlooked by the investigators handling the cases. In the above-mentioned Post-Intelligencer article by staff reporter Scott Sunde, both men cite Ted Bundy to illustrate their respective points of view.

Fox sees Bundy's atrocities as cases of "basically rape and murder" with no definite signature to define a Bundy killing. Keppel answers by explaining that, while this is true, the very fact that Bundy went "over and beyond what's necessary to commit murder" is in itself a very significant signature.

Pertaining to George Russell, however, both luminaries would agree that he was no doubt a true representative of that strange class of murderers who leave a mark. As Sunde summarizes, "What the serial killer leaves behind may explain what gives him some perverse pleasure." Such was Russell.

A violent necrophile, Russell justified his killings by convincing himself that the three women he slew deserved to die. Pohlreich may have insulted him, Beethe could have taunted him, Levine perhaps rejected him with sarcasm. In his eyes, they were vile and misused their sexuality in the same vein as his mother and stepmother had done. His victims became surrogates to the women who had snubbed him as a boy.

Because they were what he told himself they were, they needed to suffer. Pleasure came when he was able to deliver it with the whacks of a baseball bat or an iron rod or whatever he used to smash their skulls. Even though they all had died almost instantly, the physical act of killing had sparked such a paroxysm of fury within him that he reached a form of sexual satisfaction releasable only through prolonged violence. That is why, although he knew they had succumbed, he continued hammering, punching, kicking and slashing them.

Of course, in his warped sense of justice, the murders wouldn't have been successes unless he could tell the world what sluts they were. Posing them into erotically kinetic shapes, then degrading them with something cheaply phallic, he left his overarching message.

Summoned by King County Prosecutor Rebecca Roe to testify at George Russell's trial, Keppel described the aspects of a signature killing and successfully tied them to the defendant's murders. The aspects, seven in all, comprise a standard pattern that fits George Russell's case:

  1. He left the victims in a place where they would be easily discovered in order to stun those who found them.
  2. He posed the victims in a sexually degrading and vulnerable manner.
  3. Reinforcing the concept of degradation, he placed in and on the victims sex toys and sexual propaganda (such as the More Joy of Sex manual that he put into Levine's hand after death).
  4. His crimes were committed within a small geographic area of which he was familiar.
  5. He showed a steadily increasing ability to kill swiftly, without pause. This was indicated by the defense wounds or lack thereof on the victims. Pohlreich had actually been given time to struggle before she died; Beethe had only enough time to try to ward off the killing blow; Levine was murdered while she slept, given no time for defense.
  6. He displayed a steadily increasing guile and confidence factor, spending more time with each victim as his killing spree progressed.
  7. His attacks indicated a steadily increasing ferocity unleashed upon each victim.

If Russell had not been apprehended, who knows how long he would have gone on killing and with such brute force decimating his mother and stepmother in proxy, over and over again.


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