Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder


Edited by: Ronald M. Holmes & Stephen T. Holmes

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    Serial murder is a most baffling crime. Although it captures the attention of most citizens, it also repels the sensibilities of those who are susceptible to the suffering and victimization of several hundred people yearly.

    The history of serial murder remains a mystery and an unknown quantity to those who are not interested in the study or investigation of serial murder. There are relatively few accurate academic treatises that deal with the subject matter of serial murder. Most writings are of the true-crime genre. These books deal with serial killers and their crimes and are often rife with errors and gross exaggerations. Some works of fiction, such as Thomas Harris's The Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, are often more realistic—and more accurate—than the true-crime books. Many academics decry the themes in Harris's two books, but these are the same academics who have neither spoken to nor interviewed a murderer, much less a serial killer.

    Serial murder became a major social concern only within the past 30 years. A new type of murderer emerged on the landscape of the United States and was first identified as a serial killer by Dr. Donald Lunde in his work, Murder and Madness. Since that time, knowledge, awareness, and a dedication to the eradication of the serial murder “problem” would become almost an addiction for those both inside and outside the criminal justice enterprise. The list of these early serial killers included such murderers as Jerry Brudos, David Berkowitz, Albert DeSalvo, and Edmund Kemper. Ted Bundy kept the mystique alive well into the late 1980s. New names have emerged since then as a litany of unholy saints: Robert Berdella, Westley Dodd, Douglas Clark, Donald Harvey, and many others. New names also become known in the academic study and investigation of the serial murderer. Names such as Eric Hickey, Steve Egger, Elliott Leyton, Jack Levin, Philip Jenkins, and others (please forgive us if we have failed to mention you) became the leading academics in the study of sequential homicide. Law enforcement professionals also made the news: Herb Swindler, Jerry Thompson, Mike Fisher, Don Patchen, Dr. Al C. Carlisle, and Ken Katsaris all became names connected with the Ted Bundy case. Other law enforcement professionals became attached to other cases, including killers such as John Gacy, Douglas Clark, Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, Wayne Williams, and many others. The study and the investigation of serial murder took on a life of its own, feeding the appetite of the interested public with both true stories and stories mixed with some facts and the ideas of true-crime authors such as Ann Rule, Darcy O'Brien, Stephen Michaud, and Hugh Aynesworth, among others. They estimated that almost one of four murders was the act of a serial killer! This was hardly the case, but it made some sense to the public, which had an appetite that was not easily satisfied.

    The examination of the serial murder problem typically has been centered around either the theoretical issues of serial murder, including etiology, basis characteristics, and so on, or the investigation of serial murder cases. Academic books such as Serial Murder by Holmes and DeBurger, Serial Killers and Their Victims by Hickey, Serial Murder: The Elusive Phenomenon by Egger, The Social Construction of Homicide by Jenkins, Leyton's Hunting Humans, as well as Levin and Fox's Mass Murder were important works that examined the mind and the crimes of the serial killer.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants us to rely upon their data, which are highly suspect. The FBI never made available their list of 36 serial killer subjects, nor did the Bureau permit social or behavioral scientists to examine the interviewing protocol. Society was so anxious to learn about the serial killer problem and the murderers themselves that we permitted their study to become the benchmark for all other research. Only recently has there been a movement to study serial killers by people other than federal law enforcement officials.

    Other academics, such as Drs. Ronald and Stephen Holmes, Kim Rossmo, and Robert Keppel, have published books and articles about the investigation of the serial murder problem. Holmes and Holmes, for example, have written several books and articles on serial murder investigation. Keppel also wrote a book for law enforcement agents on the perils and pitfalls in the investigation of a serial murder case. Rossmo has emerged as the nation's authority on the impact of geography and serial murder. “Geoforensic analysis” has become an important tool, as has criminal investigation assessment (once called psychological profiling). There are new tools used, but old problems still exist.

    As researchers in serial murder, we have kept abreast of the writings and advances in the understanding of serial murder. At the beginning of the 1980s, few articles existed concerning the serial murder problem. At mid-decade, however, articles were being published, and some became classics. For example, an article by Holmes and DeBurger in Federal Probation, titled “Profiles in Terror: The Serial Murderer,” became a focal point for discussion among the academics, practitioners, and students of serial murder. Other articles soon followed. Early on, Egger discussed the problems of linkage blindness in his article, “A Working Definition of Serial Murder and the Reduction of Linkage Blindness”; Jenkins's work, “Serial Murder in England 1940–1985,” made us aware of the fact that serial murder was not solely a North American problem. Serial killers existed in Europe—not to the same extent as in the United States, perhaps, but they did practice their deadly trade in England, Russia, Romania, Sweden, and other countries. Jenkins also made us consider the reality of African Americans being serial killers. Female serial killers were also examined by Hickey, Ronald and Stephen Holmes, and others.

    For the past 10 years, Ronald Holmes has been teaching a class on murder in the United States. Obviously, he has used a variety of texts, including Murder in America, Serial Murder, and Profiling Violent Crimes. He has also adopted Eric Hickey's book on several occasions because he knows that Hickey needs the money for his Rogaine treatments. Holmes has also prepared handouts and made mandatory readings for the students from his own readings in serial murder. What he has found is that there is no single repository for readings on serial murder. The student must spend valuable time finding and then reading the articles.

    Keeping this in mind, Steve and I decided that it was time for someone to prepare a reader for the serious students of serial murder. We have gathered selected readings; some are the classic articles on this emerging field of academic study, and the others have been deliberately written for this book. We thank the authors of both the new articles and those previously published.

    Steve and I also thank the students and other professionals, both academic and professional, who may read this book. We sincerely believe it will fill a void that presently exists on the market and in the classroom.

  • About the Editors

    Ronald M. Holmes is Professor of Justice Administration at the University of Louisville. He is the author of several books, including Sex Crimes, Profiling Violent Crimes, Murder in America, Serial Murder, and Criminology: Theory, Research, and Policy. Dr. Holmes is also the author of more than 50 articles in journals and periodicals. He is a psychological profiler and has profiled more than 375 murder and rape cases for police departments across the United States. He has lectured in the United States and Europe on sex crimes and homicide investigation. Dr. Holmes is also the vice president of the National Center for the Study of Unresolved Homicides, Inc., and of the American Institute of Criminal Justice. He received his doctorate from Indiana University.

    Stephen T. Holmes is an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida. Prior to this position, he was a social systems analyst for the National Institute of Justice in Washington, DC. He co-authored, with Ronald Holmes, Profiling Violent Crimes and Murder in America. Dr. Holmes received his PhD from the University of Cincinnati.

    About the Contributors

    Andrew Bolin is a research assistant at the University of Tampa. His interests lie in the creation and enforcement of the law and is criminal behavior. Mr. Bolin is a doctoral student in criminal justice.

    Al C. Carlisle was the psychologist for the Utah State Prison until he recently retired. He was at one time the psychologist for such inmates as Gary Gilmore, Ted Bundy, and Arthur Bishop. He has also interviewed serial killers such as Westly Dodd and others. Carlisle at the present time is devoting his time counseling violent juvenile offenders and writing.

    Joseph A. Davis is the Executive Director for the Center for Applied Forensic-Behavioral Sciences, and an adjunct professor of Forensic Studies and Crime Analysis at California State University at Fullerton and at San Diego State University. For the last decade, he has taught and specialized in investigative-forensic psychology and applied criminology. His professional and research interests focus on mental illness and violent crime, forensic-behavioral sciences, the criminal investigative analysis process (profiling), questionable/equivocal death investigation, stalking, sex crimes, serial, mass and spree homicide, and paraphilias.

    James E. DeBurger is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Louisville. While a professor of sociology at Louisville, DeBurger had a research interest in religion and family studies and published widely in sociological journals dealing with such topics. He retired five years ago, but he has still pursued his interest in religion and has visited multiple historical religious locations in his research.

    Robert Hale is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Southeastern Louisiana State University. He has published numerous articles dealing with violence and serial crimes in various journals including The American Journal of Criminal Justice, The Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice and Sociological Spectrum. He is also the author of a book on juveniles and the death penalty.

    Eric Hickey is probably best known as the author of Serial Killers and Their Victims. Dr. Hickey is well-known and well-respected as an expert on serial murder. He has conducted interviews with several serial killers in his research. He is published widely in this area. Because of his expertise, Dr. Hickey is widely sought after for his knowledge of serial crimes by the media including national and international television productions. He is presently an associate professor of criminal justice at California State University at Fresno. Prior to coming to his present teaching position, Dr. Hickey was in the criminology department at Ball State University.

    Philip Jenkins is the author of Using Homicide: The Social Construction of Murder. Dr. Jenkins is a professor at The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Jenkins has authored widely on homicide and serial murder and is widely respected as a scholar on criminal justice topics. His publications include A History of Wales 1536–1900 and Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Great Britain as well as numerous articles in historical and criminal justice/criminological journals.

    Thomas O'Reilly-Fleming is Professor of Sociology at the University of Windsor, Ontario. He is a widely pulished and recognized expert in serial murder, mass murder, and homicide theory.

    Sgt. David W. Rivers is the commanding officer of the Cold Case Unit for the Metro-Date (Florida) Sheriff's Office. A twenty-five year veteran of the police department, Sgt. Rivers has been a patrol officer and a homicide officer, and was instrumental in developing one of America's finest Cold Case Units. A consultant to various police departments across the United States and several foreign countries, he has lectured on homicide investigation throughout our country as well as Canada, England, and The Netherlands. He is also a consultant to MGM Studio on unresolved homicides, and he is also the President of the National Center for the Study of Unresolved Homicides, Inc.

    Kim Rossmo is a Detective Inspector in charge of the Vancouver Police Department's Geographic Profiling Unit. Almost a 20 year veteran, he has worked various assignments including patrol, emergency response, crime prevention, organized crime intelligence, and offender profiling. He holds a Ph.D. in criminology from Simon Friseur University where he teaches courses on profiling, serial murder, environment criminology, and problem-oriented policing. He is currently Executive Vice-President of the Canadian Police Association.

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