The Trifecta

While most of the Dreams & Reality books deal with serial killers, there are actually three types of killers that should our society ever devolve to match Cain’s will be a serious problem.  Serial killers, mass murderers, and spree killers would all cause significant population decreases if they existed in the sheer volume that they exist in the fictitious world of my creation.

  • Serial killer is defined as a person who kills three or more people over the course of a month or longer.  They must have “cooling off periods” between times of activity.
  • Mass murderer is defined as a person who kills four or more people with no inactivity between kills.   The activity is usually committed at a single location.  However, this definition is somewhat fluid in nature, as mass murder also includes genocide.  The difficulty arises because genocide must meet more criteria than mass murder, but we do consider genocidal maniacs mass murderers.
  • Spree killer is defined as a person who commits two or more murders, in two separate events with relatively no inactivity between kills.  This definition is also a little fluid, as spree killers are usually limited in how much time is considered “no inactivity” and there is no exact number placed on it.  However, the FBI likes to limit it to less than 30 days.  So, a spree killer might kill one person every five days for a month or he might kill three people on Friday, six on Saturday, one on Monday, and then take the rest of the week off before resuming activities on Friday.

As neat and tidy as these definitions would like to be, most multiple murderers fit more than one category.

  • Charles Whitman climbed the bell tower at the University of Texas on 1 August 1966.  He shot 49 people, 18 of whom died due to injuries.  However, the night before he climbed the tower, he drove to his mother’s apartment and stabbed her to death, then he picked up his wife from work, brought her home and stabbed her to death.  Meaning that while Whitman is most definitely a mass murderer, he could also qualify as a spree killer.
  • H H Holmes will forever be known as America’s First Serial Killer (even though it isn’t true).  However, what most people don’t realize is that Holmes had times when he was a bit of a mass murderer and a bit of a spree killer.  During the World’s Fair in Chicago, an event that lasted 6 months; Holmes used the Murder Castle as an efficient killing machine.  Estimates differ greatly on the number of victims that saw their last days inside the hotel Holmes had built.  The lowest is twelve, so he was murdering at least two people a month.  The highest I’ve ever heard was a 100.  If that number is anywhere close to being true, than Holmes would not have had much cooling off periods between murders.  He would have qualified as a spree killer as well as a serial killer.  Furthermore, there is a subset of mass murders that do take place over prolonged periods of time and are not involved in genocide.  Holmes would qualify for that as well, even if that number is greatly exaggerated.
  • Ed Gein is technically none of these things.  However, he is still lumped in with the rest of the serial killers because police suspected that he killed at least five people above and beyond the two he confessed to.  Aside from the three prostitutes in LaCrosse, Wisconsin whose disappearance might be linked to Gein, he was found in possession of two pubescent vulvas.  The medical examiners who looked through Gein’s treasure trove of body parts didn’t believe they came from dead teenaged girls.  They just couldn’t find the link to any missing teen girls and the vulvas; they don’t exactly have fingerprints or facial features.
  • Charles Starkweather is occasionally called a spree killer and occasionally called a serial killer.  It depends on who one asks.  The problem with classifying Starkweather is that his murders happened over a period of time, longer than a month, but only because there was one murder that was an outlier.  In the wee hours of the morning on 1 December 1957, Starkweather killed a gas station attendant.  However, the rest of his murders (all 10 of them) happened between 21 January and 28 January 1958.
  • Jim Jones is definitely a mass murderer.  However, he is suspected of killing followers who wanted to leave his commune before the mass death took place, making it possible that he was also a serial killer.  And unlike most people think, not all of the followers in Jonestown wanted to drink the punch… The few survivors of Jonestown tell a frightening tale of the last night, with Jones ordering the murders of those that didn’t want to drink poison, either by holding them down and forcing them to drink the punch or by shooting them, and goons chasing people who ran off.  The survivors are the ones that said unhappy Jonestown residents tended to disappear.

Most multiple murderers cross into grey areas.  It happens.  It’s also why classifying them can occasionally be difficult.

The Not-Quite-A-Serial-Killer That Probably Was

Poor Ed Gein… History has painted him with a very wide and severe brush.  He is the basis for many fictional monsters in movies and books.  He is one of the few serial killers that I would say got a bum deal.  By modern standards, Ed would be mentally challenged and probably taken away from his abusive, ultra-religious mother.  He might have grown up to be a nice, normal person, adopted by a family willing to take care of him or perhaps even foster care would have been better than where he did grow up.

Sadly, it was not to be and Ed Gein grew up with a woman who was a bitch.  Mrs. Gein firmly believed in discipline and her version was often brutal, even by the standards of the time.  She considered Ed lazy and stupid making him a frequent target of her wrath.  It got worse after his older brother was killed in a farming accident (and some suspect Ed had a hand in the accident).

However, around town, Ed was well liked.  Growing from an awkward teen into a shy, quiet adult didn’t lessen his popularity and many people hired Ed to work odd jobs on the farms to help supplement the income from the Gein family farm.  He even had drinking buddies that he liked to hang out with on Friday and Saturday nights.  Of course, his mother disapproved of this behavior and even as an adult is known to have beaten him on a few occasions for his lack of control when it came to drinking and God forbid he show interest in a woman.  That met with the strongest reproaches from Mrs. Gein, who is rumored to have forced Ed to take a bleach bath after she caught him flirting with one of the “whores” at the local tavern.

So, Ed might be worth a little pity, he never had a chance to be anything other than a socially awkward adult who couldn’t express normal, human urges.  In many ways, this does explain his grave robbing and necrophilia.

Gein’s case isn’t complicated by the sheer number of possible victims.  There were two; Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan.  He led police to nine graves he robbed and they even had to see for themselves that he had in fact stolen the corpses from them.  There was doubt that the slightly built Ed could dig the grave with a shovel, open the coffin, take out the corpse, close the coffin, and fill it all back in during a single night.  They asked for a demonstration and he managed to do all of it in very little time, which was surprising (maybe he should have been a gravedigger).

Therein lies the mystery of Ed Gein; did he kill anyone besides the two women he confessed to?  Most people think yes.  He had a lot of body parts lying around his house and the two murdered women plus nine robbed graves really didn’t account for all of them.  For example, he had a necklace made from human female nipples and in a box they found several vulvas, two of them from pubescent girls.   There were lampshades made from leathered human skin as well as some other furniture.  He even used the bones to make furniture (maybe he should have been a tanner or a taxidermist).  And he had dug up his mother and preserved her, turning her into a suit he could wear, which is probably a nicer fate than she deserved.

Now, it is possible that these extra body parts were robbed from graves and he just didn’t mention it.  It’s also possible that he killed a few more people, after all, he was sort of a suspect in the death of his brother.  Oddly, several people believed that it was a rumor started by his mother (not winning any Mother-of-the-Year Awards) and didn’t put much stock in the idea that Ed had assisted his brother having an accident.

To the outside world, Ed Gein was a monster of mythical portions and reviled for his sick appetites.  To those that knew him, Ed was more of a pitiful figure that had it rough.  As one can probably tell, I agree with the second evaluation.  I always picture a sort of Lennie-esque figure (from Of Mice and Men) when thinking of Ed Gein.  Abused and mentally challenged, he had no chance at leading a life that wouldn’t end tragically. Of course, I also believe Ed killed more than just 2 women and that he robbed more than 9 graves, which would technically make him a serial killer.

Ed Gein

My blog post topic for today was supposed to be Ed Gein.  He’s inspired more fictional serial killers than any other single person on the planet.  Norman Bates (Psycho), Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs), Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and dozens of others that were lesser known are all based on aspects of Gein’s life.

While I often think childhood is way overstated in the acts of serial killers, living Ed’s life would have been enough to damage anyone.  His father was an abusive alcoholic.  His mother was a religious zealot.  Ed was a little slow (using terminology from the 1940s and 1950s).  His brother was better treated than he was and after his brother’s death (whom some speculate might have been Ed’s first murder), it only got worse.

Ed was a not allowed to show any normal, adolescent behaviors.  His mother harshly punished him for having dirty fingernails, unkempt hair, and heaven forbid he express any type of sexuality.  When it came to girls, his mother referred to all of them as “dirty whores” who were “agents of Satan.”  In other words, their only reason for existing was to tempt good boys into becoming bad boys.

However, he was shy, kind, and likable.  And surprisingly, a few former classmates admitted to having a crush on the young man while they were in high school.  Once Gein’s father died, he began working outside of the house to help his mother make ends meet doing odd jobs.  Yet, even as an adult, if Ed went out for a beer with guys after work, his mother would punish him for straying onto the path to Hell.  When she had a stroke and became infirm, she insisted Ed spend all his non-working hours at her bedside… for two very long years.  After his mother died, he was all alone.  His entire family was dead and his domineering mother had made sure that he didn’t have a close group of friends to help him grieve.

None of this excuses Gein for his crimes.  He still killed a fair amount of people.  He also robbed graves and made himself a “woman’s suit” from real, dead, female bodies.  His preference for older ladies is hard to misinterpret… His mother had been his only companion for most of his life, so of course he preferred the flesh of older ladies to make his suit.  He really was recreating his mother to the best of his ability.  He didn’t stop with just a suit though.  He also tanned their hides for lampshades, cushion covers, and other items.  Their bones were used to make all sorts of things.  He may have cannibalized at least small parts of his victims.  And he might have also been a necrophiliac.

Ed was institutionalized instead of imprisoned.  He is the only serial killer that I have ever felt some kind of sympathy for.  He was mentally handicapped and then physically and emotionally abused (some sources say his mother not only abused him emotionally, but sexually as well). He forced to live a life of isolation with fire and brimstone hanging over his head.  As I said, none of these things excuse him from his crimes, but Ed probably would have turned out a lot different if his world hadn’t been so bad.  He is one of the few examples where nurture seems to have been entirely responsible for his killing instincts.  This is in direct contrast to most serial killers.  For example, Bundy had a terrible home life, but by age three, he was already showing early symptoms of psychopathic behavior (like surrounding his aunt with knives one night while she slept and killing the family cat a year later because the cat hissed at him).