In Cold Blood

As the Ipswich police, (helped by the nearest thing Scotland yard has to a celebrity detective these days : Commander Dave Johnston, head of Homicide and Serious Crime Command at the Met,) investigate the five female bodies which have been discovered in the surrounding countryside, I’ve been asking myself whether it is possible (or even healthy) to try to get into the mind of a serial killer.

The concept itself is a 1970s invention, although of course Gilles de Rais and others would recognise themselves from any description of the supposedly “typical” serial killer, who: commits three or more murders over an extended period of time with cooling-off periods (…)There is often a sexual element to the murders. All the murders must be completed/attempted in a similar fashion or the victims must have something in common, ex. occupation, race, sex, etc.

Other online sources (which to me anyway always seem to have a strange whiff of hero-worship about them) suggest that serial killers are sexually dysfunctional and have low self-esteem. Their killings are usually part of an elaborate fantasy which sometimes includes the keeping of trophy-like body parts and returning to crime scenes in order to fantasise and remember their exploits.

Gary Ridgeway, the so-called “Green River Killer” who terrorized NW USA for 20 years before being caught and giving taped confessions as part of a plea-bargain to avoid the death sentence, was straightforward in stating hatred of women as his reason for murder.

To me, women are something to have sex with — kill and take the money back, says Ridgeway, chillingly, on tape.

Detectives who interviewed Ridgeway were also very clear about his level of emotional involvement:

We learned within hours that he was not going to remember the faces. The faces of these little girls and these young women didn’t mean anything to him

The Ipswich victims had been working as prostitutes, it’s believed none had been sexually assaulted. Psychologists appear to think the killer may be leaving a trail of bodies surrounding the town to taunt the police. To those of us who remember the Yorkshire ripper there is an eerie familiarity to events tonight.

Can anything be done to stop such men, or even to make life safer for “sex workers?” If we find it to hard to get into the mind of a serial killer perhaps we can try harder to understand prostitutes and the men who use them?