Negative Capability

(If Mean People Suck) Nice People Burn

Negative Capability

(If Mean People Suck) Nice People Burn

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I’d Rather Be a Killer Than a Victim

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by serial killers. It wasn’t the nature of the crimes, or empathy with the victims or even a desire to understand how to spot one. The thing that always kept my interest was trying to discern how it was that people were able to rationally and methodically go about the task of killing strangers. I could always figure out the specific mechanisms used to make the kills, and often I felt I understood why people became killers. The thing I couldn’t figure out was how these people could continue to function normally while they were doing something that no one would ever call “normal.”

Obviously, many killers are not capable of behaving normally. There have also been lots of killers who were not serious about it, and certainly not smart about it. For every killer like Ted Bundy, who denied to himself that he had killed anyone, almost to the very end, there is a Richard Chase, the vampire of Sacramento, who, without premeditation or any rational thought process, would break into someone’s house, kill everyone there, and drink their blood. He also injected himself with blood and battery acid and spent odd hours killing animals and devouring their entrails. Mmm, entrails.

When I first got to college, I started reading more and more about serial killers because I wanted to understand how a person decides one day that they must kill people. Let me start by saying that I am referring to male killers because as far as I am concerned, the few women who fit the definition (Aileen Wuornos, Lizzie Borden, Veronica Compton, etc.) are formed in a different, less clear, way.

As a child, you are always surrounded by people that you know and that know you. Barring unusual circumstances, you wake up with your family, you take a bus to school with other kids, you spend your days in class with your peers and then you are returned to your family in the afternoon. The fact that you are surrounded by people who reinforce your belief that you are part of something (society) that extends beyond your person can be a comfort to many people. But there are also many people who feel painful isolation as a result of all those other people. Their thoughts are different from those of their peers, and when they share these thoughts, they are told over and over that their thoughts are different. So, in the normal course of a child’s development, the fact that other people tell you that you’re normal, or a part of things, helps steer your development in the right direction. But, if you’re isolated, in your thoughts and in your real life, your development can go in any direction.

Lots of lonely teenage boys find comfort in their imagination. After developing an internal world where they are part of something larger than themselves, they come to fear that others may judge that world harshly, so they try to insulate the internal world. Their personality develops in a unique way where they have an internal voice that most people think of as their own thoughts, or their conscience, and the external voice that is used to communicate in, and navigate through, the hostile outside world.

These two voices or identities don’t necessarily communicate with each other, because they don’t understand each other; they live in different worlds. After someone like this leaves school (for whatever reason) they are at a critical juncture. One of the worlds must be up front more often than the other. Here’s where the theory gets a little sticky. I am not saying every killer is like this, nor that everyone who is like this will become a killer. It’s extremely hard to saying anything that is both general and definitive when it comes to this phenomenon. In the case of Richard Chase, it is clear that his inner voice was that of a paranoid schizophrenic. But that is too simple an explanation, it doesn’t speak about what it was that made him cross the line and start killing. In his case the inner voice was, for some reason, convinced that his physical body was deteriorating. It also thought that his bones were moving, his blood was tainted and that he was constantly in pain as a result. So, this fragmented internal voice became convinced that the only way it could treat the various psychosomatic illnesses was with the consumption of blood from a healthy source. At first it was satisfied with rabbits and dogs, but after a fashion the voice (in its delusions) realized that they weren’t quelling the pain, because the pain did not actually exist. The voice in his head realized that it required human blood to heal the body, so it had no choice but to get that human blood. If you understand how this line of thinking is not only logical, but inevitable, you understand exactly why Richard Chase decided to kill other people and drink their blood.

A guy like John Wayne Gacy was operating under a similar, though slightly less psychotic, delusion. Gacy was a closeted homosexual, and due to the difficulties in not only being gay but being the kind of guy that others guys never find attractive, his external voice developed an intense hatred of gays. His internal voice (the one that he would have considered his own “thoughts”) still had an intense craving to have sex with other men. Unfortunately, his outer voice made the mistake of getting married, joining the Jaycees and trying to run a business. From time to time his inner voice would crave the touch of a man and it would act on those impulses. It would go and cruise places like the bus station, seeking young men to have sex with. He would bring them home, have sex with them, and then, at some point, the outer voice would return to being in control. He would be sickened and repulsed by his own homosexual behavior, and, realizing that the inner world had come out, he would transfer his own self-loathing to the people he was with. In effect, the outer voice would have an opportunity to control the inner voice, whose behavior it found so sickening, using the young man as a whipping boy. He would torture and then murder his victims, because, as I see it, his outer voice hated gays, because the world hates gays, and then, once they were dispatched, he would feel better about himself. Hiding the bodies became an afterthought in order to protect himself and his life from the world.

Unfortunately, due the duality of his mind, and his desire to insulate the inner world, he would try to protect the desires of the inner voice. He did this by burying the bodies in the crawlspace underneath his home. Once they were dispatched, he could return to normal. I am sure that he had these impulses more often than he actually killed but I think the reason there weren’t even more murders (they estimated his total at 33) is that the outer voice would seize control again before the inner voice had a chance to grab anyone. Once Gacy had been caught, I think it is not only possible but likely that his inner voice retreated in fear. In jail he was constantly surrounded by people, guards, lawyers and other convicts. As a result, there was no need for the inner world to come out. This, to me, explains why he kept saying he wasn’t gay, hadn’t killed anyone, and was totally innocent. His outer voice hated gays, so it would shock and surprise him to be accused of raping and killing gays, because his outer voice would want nothing to do with gays.
I hope this is clear. I am not saying I am the ultimate expert. I am saying that I have read literally hundreds of books (and most them really, really suck), seen all the movies and TV specials, and studied the subject for more than a decade. In addition, I am very smart and spend lots of time trying to figure things out.

I have an inner voice that feels victimized by others on a regular basis. I feel very abused and mistreated by the world. It pisses me off to no end that I’m not more successful because I feel that I’m amazingly talented, funny and smart. Yet the world seems to reward everyone but me, even though the rest of the world is mired in mediocrity. In my head, I have violent impulses, because my inner voice feels that I take too much shit. In order to defend itself from the world, my inner voice would feel totally justified if I shot cabbies, blinded people that honk their horns and dismembered everyone that works at Blockbuster Video. Luckily, my outer voice is so meticulously rational and orderly that it never gives in even for a second. The outer voice says, “You can talk a good game, but I am not getting a gun permit, you sick fuck.” My inner voice is the author of this zine because I haven’t spoken any of this stuff out loud. Because it’s coming straight out of my inner voice, to me it’s the purest thing on the market. The outer voice will be responsible for marketing, editing, production and all the pointless bullshit that is necessary for me, the inner voice speaking to you right now, to get this thing out. My inner voice and outer voice have banded together for a single purpose: to change my life for the better by doing this zine.

I know that I am not projecting my own problems onto serial killers, but if you think that, I am happy for you. That is a simple, direct conclusion that allows you to feel that you have in some way given what I am saying the slightest hint of analysis. I know you can do better. After analyzing hundreds of serial killers, I came to the conclusion that I have the capacity to do it without getting caught, which is why the whole phenomenon is so consistently interesting to me.

In order to segue into the fiction, let me tell you a few things. I saw a television special about serial killers on the Discovery Channel that was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Some years later I taped it when it was on again, and I think I have seen it a dozen times since then. There was an interview with a guy from the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit in Quantico, VA who was asked about a specific killer. He said, “He is one of the sweetest, nicest guys you could meet.” He was trying to explain how serial killers don’t look like freaks or monsters, they look like normal people. He also said, “He is one of the only killers that I would feel comfortable bringing home for dinner.” After that they cut to the killer in question, who explained in perfectly rational terms, why it was he felt compelled to kill people. I thought the guy was so obviously pained and tormented by his life that I felt a profound sense of empathy. I always wanted to try to tell a story that used the elements of his life, with the insight that I am capable of, and write what I consider the definitive serial killer story.

Many hacks have written fictional accounts of serial killings, but I think they almost always get the story wrong. They either focus on the minute details of the murders, used purely for shock value, or on the terror of victims, because the reader will get the kind of jolt they get from horror movies. After the story is over, I will tell you why I chose the things I did, who the actual killer is that the story is based on, and why you should care. I think it is easy to kill, but it is very hard to decide for yourself that killing is what you have to do.

If you want to read the story, “Sole Provider,” please click here.

Web Exclusive:

Netflix and David Fincher produced a series called Mindhunter based on the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit and it is great. They actually use Ed Kemper in the series and the guy who plays him won an Emmy for his performance. They only made two seasons but there are rumors that they want to do a third. Even if they never do, it's worth checking.

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