When we talk about serial killers, we talk about the killer and the victims. Rarely do we stop to think about the other victims; the killer’s family. It may seem impossible to us, but most families of serial killers really don’t know the monster that lurks inside.
I remember when they caught Dennis Radar (BTK). The news was buzzing with questions about how he managed to hide his dark secret from his wife and children for so long. I also remember sitting in a psychology classroom and listening to a guy spout off that the wife had to know and was probably part of it. She had lived with the man, how could she not be involved?
Honestly, I don’t believe she knew. I don’t believe most families know until it gets revealed to the world. The reality is that most sociopaths and psychopaths have different masks they wear. They may become agitated or annoyed with their families from time to time, but it rarely breaks down into full homicidal rage. Most serial killers appear normal. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve read things like he was a good guy. It has applied to so many serial killers over the years, that it has almost become cliche. Bundy, Gacy, and Fish were all good guys. Ridgway, Hansen, and Conahan were all good guys. Radar was a pillar of the community. Berdella and Collins were both described as a little strange, but also, good guys.
People don’t realize that a lot of serial killers have steady jobs. They pass psych evaluations. Their lives are very compartmentalized. Their emotions can be turned on and off. Plus, there’s the pesky problem of serial killers believing their victims are either sub-human or deserved their deaths. When one feels that way, it would be no different than a deer hunter getting his prize and then returning home to his family, only the serial killer doesn’t brag about the antler size. (this is not meant to offend hunters, it’s just an appropriate analogy; hunters do not feel guilty for killing deer and serial killers do not feel guilty for killing people)
It is very easy to believe they didn’t know. Expecting them to put together obscure clues and coming to the conclusion they are serial killers is a stretch (most of us when facing a spouse who is a little moody or occasionally distant is going to suspect cheating, not killing as the cause). Now, if your spouse is setting dogs on fire and laughing as the poor things run around in pain and terror, that’s a sign that they’re a serial killer or just a major asshole. Either way, it should be reported so that they can be brought up on animal cruelty charges.
Also, moodiness and distant behavior are signs of other problems, most of them neurological. If someone judged me on migraine day, I might be a serial killer. I hate everything. I’m prone to bouts of anger. I get distant. Everyone’s an asshole. I have trouble focusing. I have trouble staying interested in stuff. I really do have Jeckyll & Hyde migraine symptoms. I’m not out killing people, but a lot of the personality changes associated with serial killers, I have with migraines. So again I ask, why should be obvious that a loved one is out killing people?
Thankfully, the media doesn’t tend to crucify family members of serial killers. They do hound them wanting interviews and things. But I believe they should be left alone. They weren’t responsible for the killings, they were victimized too, and there’s a lot of stuff that comes to a person’s mind before “my brother is a serial killer.”
Then there’s the aftermath. The killer is locked away. The families of the victims have been on TV spouting about how much the killer took from them. And the killer’s families are hoping no one decides to throw molotov cocktails through their windows. Or that the kids at school aren’t going to figure out they are related to the killer and tease them. The families deal with shame, humiliation, and grief. Not only have they lost a loved one (it’s hard not to feel betrayed when you discover your family member is a serial killer, it’s even harder to forgive them, and see them), but they carry the burden that someone in their family murdered all those people. I imagine most of them grieve for the victims and the victims families.
Note: This post was written several months ago when the press again attempted to get Radar’s daughter to do an interview. I feel bad for her in a lot of ways and as I opened myself up to that emotion, I realized other families of serial killers must also deal with the same shit. It was then that I wrote Butchered Dreams with the ending it has and it is why Aislinn Cain continues to struggle with her own identity. However, until this month, I never could find a good time to post it. Most people do not see the serial killer’s family as victims, because they’re alive, but they were victimized all the same by the monster that they loved.