Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

“How True Crime Helped Me Deal With a Real-Life Monster”

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Rae Alexandra writes at KQED:

A few years ago, after 17 years of friendship, a man I adored and thought I knew very well was sentenced to three decades in prison for charges related to pedophilia. His case included acts on children so young, I hadn’t realized prior to his arrest that such crimes even existed.

Due to there being a mountain of video evidence (he had recorded himself), he admitted his guilt on the first day of his trial, and it was over almost before it had begun. Selfishly, I felt relieved that none of us would have to hear the minutiae of everything he’d done, but, reeling and in a state of shock, I decided to read the judge’s sentencing remarks online. I thought they might provide some catharsis. Instead, even the cursory details wound up making me physically sick. The vomiting went on for days until my parents finally summoned me home. I don’t recall any other point in my adult life where I needed to be next to my mother so badly.

In the days and weeks that followed, there were long phone conversations with friends, as everyone tried to process the hows and the whens and the whys. At one point, my sister, in another country and not privy to the same news coverage, called me, convinced that he had been set up and somehow tricked into pleading guilty. “What must they have done to him?” she asked, audibly distressed. It was a testament to how good he had been at pretending to be someone else.

After a while, you have to stop talking about it. The need to move on becomes palpable. You don’t want to keep loudly dissecting the details in case it prevents other people from healing. So about a month in, still unable to reconcile the person I knew with the person in prison, and tired of going around in mental circles, I made the decision to tell myself he was dead. Doing so allowed me to mourn the friend I had lost—the person I thought he was, the inside jokes we shared, the teenage history—and put the whole thing behind me.

Except it’s not really that easy. I was never actually convinced that the root cause of his criminality was a sexual attraction to children. He did not fit the classic profile of a pedophile at all. He was outgoing with other adults, had a lot of friends and a steady stream of age-appropriate girlfriends, and was fiercely protective of his nieces and nephews. Compounding matters was the fact that it was a high-profile case; now and again, new stories about him would emerge. One summer, at a wedding, a stranger made a joke about him, unaware that I had known him. To this day, when people find out where I’m from, some of them ask if I ever met him in a manner that suggests he’s halfway to becoming an urban myth.

The longer I tried to ignore it, the more my need to figure out why he did what he did increased. So I started researching in earnest. Books about psychopathy and psychology and mental illness. Checklists of various personality disorders to see which one made the most sense. I read papers written by criminal psychologists and, at one point, even consulted with one directly because she’d had a lot of experience treating pedophiles. There were breadcrumbs and clues, but a clear answer evaded me.

Then a colleague gave me a gift: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. Not only had Rule been good friends with Ted Bundy, she’d also been working in the police department during the manhunt to find him, so she wrote about it all in agonizing detail. Rule’s predicament was comfortingly familiar, and the way she described Bundy sounded a lot like my friend—charming, handsome, intelligent, vain, never lacking in female attention. The book was far and away the most helpful thing I had read so far. So I kept going.

Next, I chose Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper by Gordon Burn, because it focused not only on Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes but the relationships he had maintained with his family and friends too. Those closest to Sutcliffe suspected nothing at all, even as he murdered 13 women, right under their noses.

After that came Killing For Company about Dennis Nilsen, a mild-mannered civil servant who murdered, dissected and disposed of at least 12 men while living in the heart of London. I had a hard time putting Brian Masters’ book down and plowed through it in a matter of days. One of the final chapters offered me a real turning point. In it, Masters breaks down, in great detail, the personality traits of serial killers—and my friend had almost all of them, down to bizarrely specific details. I stayed up all night with a highlighter. Later on, someone quietly confessed that he believed our friend would have “definitely” killed someone if he hadn’t been caught when he was. When I agreed and told him about the details in Killing For Company, he looked relieved that someone else shared this theory.

In recent months, I have had three separate people ask me why the media I consume is so dark in subject matter. It didn’t use to be. Now, every other book I read is about serial killers (my current choice is Fatal Vision, about Dr. Jeffrey McDonald who was imprisoned in 1979 for slaughtering his wife and children). When I watch TV and movies, I am mostly focused on true crime documentaries or dramatizations. (Lifetime’s Monster in My Family is a current favorite, thanks to the series’ process of putting the families of criminals in the same room as those of victims, allowing connections to take place). When I run out of episodes to stream, I find myself listening to the Casefile podcast.

The only time I have any objection to consuming true crime anything these days is when lines of decency get crossed. Allowing extended interviews with killers to air, for example—as The Ted Bundy Tapes and The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All recently did—is, to me, both an affront to victims and a reward to killers. I don’t want . . .

Continue reading.

There are monsters in our midst.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 9:59 am

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