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Wicked Nerdery

Where psychology, pop culture, and true crime collide

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Serial Killers

5 True Crime Novels For After You Binge Mindhunter

Netflix’s latest big, marathon-worthy, hit is Mindhunter.  It follows two FBI agents attempting to understand the inner workings of seemingly motiveless killers and develop a way to catch them before they kill again.  It’s a compelling show in no small part because it covers a fascinating topic – why certain people, like Ted Bundy and Ed Kemper, murder.  There have been countless true crime books written on the topic, but certain ones delve into the minds of the killers and share that uniquely personal connection between killer and investigator the show does.  Here are five must-reads from that group while you eagerly await season two…

Mindhunter

This is an obvious recommendation, I know, but it stands.  Not only is this book the basis for the show, but it’s also wonderfully written on whole.  At it’s most basic it is the autobiography of John Douglas, one of the founders of the FBI’s Criminal Profiling Program, explaining how he developed the science of profiling.  It is, however, more than that.  Fascinating and at times hilarious Douglas delves into the personal and professional lives of himself and those around him with surprising honesty.  He discusses his experiences with some of the most infamous criminals in US history and breaks down the in-depth, complicated, and impressive methods of catching them he helped create.

Whoever Fights The Monsters

Written by Robert K. Ressler, John Douglas’ fellow profiler and interviewer of criminals, it gives yet another view of the intriguing work.  Along with coining the phrase “serial killer” Ressler is a man who worked to categorize killers by their particular methods and patterns, advised Thomas Harris on The Silence of the Lambs (also with Douglas), and faced off against numerous variations of the criminal mind.  His writing is a textbook of information on those who murder and how they were caught without ever giving off that “textbook” feel.

In Cold Blood

One of Truman Capote’s most discussed novels and for good reason.  A story told with remarkable style and empathy for its investigative journalism roots, In Cold Blood is often considered one the original true crime books.  In covering the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, Capote (with the help of author-friend Harper Lee) researched the crime, the town, and the killers for over four years.  He went beyond just interviewing the police force and citizens of the town and into profiler territory by speaking with the killers numerous times…and even seemed to develop a bond of sorts with killer, Perry Smith.  While the veracity of certain events in the novel have come under fire over the years there is no question the book takes a deep dive into how a crime both comes together and tears everyone around it apart.

The Stranger Beside Me

Ann Rule had a friend, Ted, whom she worked with at a suicide prevention hotline.  They got on wonderfully and, to her, he was an amazing guy.  Remarkably handsome, always helpful, and very friendly.  What she didn’t realize was that her friend was also committing a series of disturbing murders in the area…the same murders she planned to write about.  Her friend was serial killer Ted Bundy.  From this bizarre twist of fate Rule was able to write a true crime novel unlike others – a mixed (hers and his) biography covering her friendship with a notorious killer during his years of murder and mayhem all the way up and through his execution.  The book explores the complexities not just of Bundy, but of Rule’s position as his friend.

Killing For Sport

Profiler Pat Brown founded The Sexual Homicide Exchange (SHE), a nonprofit criminal profiling agency that helps to solve cold case homicides and spent years training law enforcement to improve their profiling techniques.  Then she wrote a book to help the general public do the same.  Breaking down everything from victim to criminal to profiler into easily digestible pieces makes for an easy-to-follow book for anyone looking to peak behind the curtain of profiling.  Brown has no problem pointing out the cliches, explaining when and why they’re wrong, and what’s the truth instead.  It’s a highly entertaining read as she maintains a straightforward, to the point of almost amusingly blunt, approach with the audience.

mindhunter_ford_tench_profilers

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?  Have any other suggestions for the Mindhunter fans out there??

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Real Life American Horror Stories

It is well-known by now that the show, American Horror Story, uses true crime stories in each of their seasons either directly (with their own respective twists) or as inspiration.  Everyone from the Black Dahlia to John Wayne Gacy to the Zodiac killer have shown up in one way or another.  There have also been a few on each season that went unnoticed or overlooked.  Whether it be Richard Speck or those behind the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders every season of the series has had at least one real life horror story shown.

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The Family that Slays Together…

Despite what movies and TV shows might suggest families killing together, as a unit, is fairly rare.  There are many instances in which couples or two blood relations get together to kill others, but a whole family working to take lives?  Not so much…though it’s not unheard of either.  There was at least one such case in the 1800s wherein the Bender family worked together to rob and kill unsuspecting travelers who made the mistake of choosing to stay at their inn.  When their crimes were discovered they became known simply as “The Bloody Benders”.

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Killer Kiddies

When most hear of killer children they usually think of school shooters…those frequently of high school age and qualifying for the mass murder category (killers of multiple people in one central location at one time).  While sad and disturbing to hear about it’s not terribly shocking anymore; many schools now have metal detectors, bag checks, and other safety precautions just to prevent such things from occurring.  However, what really can’t be prepared for by a school (or anyone) and is still rare enough to shock others is the child serial killer.  Those pretty little girls and bright young boys who target, hunt, and kill those around them just as Dahmer, Bundy, and other adult serial killers would.

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Oh, the Places They Will (and Won’t) Go!

Ah geography, it can tell you so much; the history of a continent, the political and religious undertones of a country, social growth and expansion of a society…if there’s a serial criminal in your neighborhood.  One frequently used method in law enforcement is geographical profiling – basically studying the crimes as they relate to, well, geography – which can help to connect crimes and victims thus narrow down a suspect pool.

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Vicious Valentines: The Barbie and Ken Killers

Love is said to make people do “the damnedest things” and, in some cases, that means rape, torture, and murder.  It certainly did for Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo; a fairy tale couple in appearance who, in the end, were a living horror to those they victimized together.

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Female of the Species 3: His Killer Half

We’ve covered the typical and not-so-typical female serial killer; now it’s time to look at the female serial killer in a serial killer couple.  Nearly all of these women claim to be abused loves dragged along for the ride once the police come into the picture so it’s difficult to tell who are genuine victims and who were active participants in the murders.  However, there are certain women who not only actively participate, but are the actual killers.  They were not women too scared to run, they were women too in love (with the kill) to run.  It will be one of these women we’ll look at now…

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Female of the Species 2: Aggressive Girls

As reviewed in the previous piece female serial killers tend to do things a little differently from their male counterparts.  For the most part their methodology – smothering, poison – is subtler and less overtly violent and victims are those they know, those others would expect them to care for – family, patients if they’re a nurse.  Yet there are exceptions to every rule and sometimes female serial killers are just as openly aggressive and random in their kills as their male counterparts.  (For the purposes of this essay I’m leaving out those females involved in “killer couples” as there are a number of other dynamics going on that might be influencing their violence level and victim choice.)

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Female of the Species

When people think of serial killers they think of men.  Hardly a surprise since a vast majority of serial killers are, in fact, male.  However, it would be a mistake to think that women, “the fairer sex” as it the old saying goes, aren’t every bit as capable of multiple murders as their male counterparts.  They tend to go about their murders a little differently and select different kinds of victims to prey upon, but they are no less guilty of their crimes and get no less of a thrill in causing the death of others.  And to those chosen to be their victims they are no less terrifyingly dangerous.

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