I’ve been reading some true crime lately, and, as a psychologist who does not usually encounter criminals, I find my interested piqued about what these guys might have had in common. It’s a huge subject, so by confining my comparison to 10, I hope to be better able to identify some key characteristics. I may be adding things, or people, from time to time, along with references to helpful resources. This list is not a ranking. All serial killers are monsters, and they’re all numero uno, just what they all wanted.
Because including all ten of these men would make for a very long post, only two at a time will be described, ending in a series of five posts.
1. Jack the Ripper (unsolved and still an open case)
This man was the first to gain worldwide notoriety for committing multiple, serial murders. Within a short period of time in 1888, he stabbed and mutilated five prostitutes in the Whitechapel district in London. The name came from a letter sent to a newspaper by someone claiming to be the perpetrator. When the name appeared in the news, it quickly stuck, setting a precedent for the colorful naming of serial murderers. The failure of the police to apprehend the killer also generated a legend, which, fed by genuine research, folk lore, and exploitation, continues to fascinate and grow even today. Several similar, though not identical, murders were committed in the district after 1888, but it was not possible to connect them to Jack the Ripper. Link to a list of all those suspected.
2. Albert DeSalvo, The Boston Strangler
Between June, 1962 and January, 1964, thirteen single women in the Boston area were strangled in their homes with pieces of clothing, most having first been sexually assaulted. At least eleven of the victims were popularly believed to have been killed by the Boston Strangler. While the police did not see all of these murders as the work of a single individual, the public did. All of the victims were respectable, and appeared to have willingly permitted the assailant to enter their apartments.
In 1961, before the reign of terror began, 29 year old Albert DeSalvo was arrested in Cambridge, caught in the act of breaking and entering. He confessed to being The Measuring Man, who was knocking on the doors of women and telling them he was a rep for a modeling agency. He was a smooth talker with a winning smile and ingratiating manner. If they were interested, he would take their measurements and forward them to the agency. DeSalvo was convicted and incarcerated, and released in April, 1962, two months before the strangler spree began.
In November, 1963, a young woman was gagged and tied to her bed by a knife-wielding intruder. Something must have spooked him, because he fled without seriously harming her. She provided a description of the man that yielded a drawing that was very like that of the Measuring Man, and DeSalvo was arrested again. He bragged about having committed over 400 break ins and 300 sexual assaults in a four state area, many of which had gone unreported. DeSalvo was went to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, where he confessed to being the Boston Strangler.
But was he? People who knew DeSalvo didn’t think so, but that’s generally the case. Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1931, Albert had a difficult upbringing, with an abusive, alcoholic father. His relationship with his mother appears to have been a good one, but Albert drifted into delinquency and was frequently in trouble. He joined the army, and was accused of fondling a young girl, but her mother declined to press charges. He married, and his wife complained that he demanded sex five or six times a day. Otherwise, DeSalvo took reasonably good care of his family, and held a steady job, but he soon fell into a life of crime. He was described as personable and gentle. His wife, however, claimed that he was obsessed with sex, and others characterized him as a loudmouth braggart who could not be believed. There is evidence that DeSalvo and another hospital inmate cooked up a plot whereby his friend would turn him in and they would split the money DeSalvo would earn by telling his story. He would also convince authorities he was insane, thereby avoiding execution. DeSalvo’s attorney, F. Lee Bailey, liked his client, but based on the graphic details he provided about the various murders, had no doubt that he was the Strangler.
Albert DeSalvo went to Walpole State Prison, where he was murdered in 1973 by an unknown assailant.“It wasn’t as dark and scary as it sounds. I had a lotta fun . . . Killing somebody’s a funny experience”.
Serial killer characteristics: chronic lying, married, gainfully employed, abusive father, age 25-35 when spree began, delinquency.