Disturbed

Criminal profiling and the deviant mind

Murder Is Not Entertainment

The pain of survivors.

Murder is not entertainment. Naturally you may disagree with me if you turn on almost any television network and find reenactments, real video, and actors portraying the most heinous crimes. Clearly for some people, murder is entertaining, yet it shouldn’t be. Murder is the destruction of life. A living breathing person who meant the world to someone else is taken by the hand of a predator. There is nothing glamorous or fun about it. Still TV news shows, television series, and movies twist themselves into pretzels to come up with the most gruesome stories in order to grab ratings.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been approached by TV producers and news media with offers of big money for my vault of crime scene photos and videos. Some have offered to make me famous if I just handed over my most horrible cases. I have been offered my own television series many times, and I have always come to the conclusion that such a thing would be wrong. The victims whose cases I have had the honor to work on are human beings, not bloody paintings for deviant voyeurs. They were daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, and spouses when they were cruelly taken. Yet they are not viewed that way. Their deaths are lusted after by an entire industry that descends like locusts when the death is particularly awful. Not only did the killers see these precious humans as objects, but much of the media and the entertainment industry look at them as nothing but dollar signs as well.

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The National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children has an annual day set aside to note that murder is not entertainment. They do so because of the way the deaths of victims are treated. Little time is spent focusing on those left behind once a murder takes place. The families are left without their loved ones, with giant holes left in their hearts. Every day they miss their loved ones and often long to join them. The misery is unbearable, and all those left behind can do is ask why it happened.

The aftermath of these crimes is unspeakable, but we must talk about it. It is not uncommon for parents to divorce after a child is killed. The strain and horror simply take their toll, wreaking havoc in all areas. It also is not uncommon for a parent to die within a few years of a child’s death, and this isn’t only due to suicide which does happen. I believe these people literally die of a broken heart. They succumb to overwhelming depression that drags them into an emotional abyss. No matter how much coaching they receive to get up, they become like the donkey with too many packs on its back. Once a donkey is overloaded, it will just lie down and refuse to get back up. For some, the packs of misery are too much to carry. Their physical health deteriorates and morphs once lively people into walking sticks of death. Their eyes are sunken. Their skin is pale. Some call them the walking dead. I know of several cases where a mother or father of a murdered child suffered a massive coronary within two years of the homicide. Their hearts literally couldn’t bear it.

Not surprisingly, their mental health deteriorates too. Deep, unending depression grips them. They take pills and go to therapists, yet nothing fixes their pain. Some turn to religion and spend lots of time volunteering at their churches. Others focus efforts on legal reforms so that someone else may be spared their misery. But at the end of the day, they are left alone with their pain, their lives utterly destroyed. No matter what anyone says, they will never be the same.

I have known several parents of murdered children who end up in mental hospitals because they break. Delusions can take over, and it is also common for parents of murdered children to experience dissociative states. Their coping mechanisms are taxed, and for many, the strain is simply too much. No matter what help they get, it just isn’t enough, and their lives circle the drain.

Veronica is a woman whose 17-year-old daughter was raped and murdered. She found her daughter’s body after coming home from work. The toll it took was beyond comprehension. Veronica found that life without her daughter was not worth living. She experienced vivid hallucinations of her daughter and the killer. She would go into fits where she screamed nonstop and ran from the house. She’d frantically pound on neighbors’ doors asking for her daughter. Did they know where she could find her little girl?

Her husband did his best to help, but he too was under duress. Neither of them could function. Veronica kept her daughter’s room just as it had been right before she was killed. Nothing was allowed to be touched, and when her son accidentally threw away a towel belonging to the victim, Veronica flew into a rage and attacked him. Then she accused him of being the one who killed her daughter. It was plain that she was losing touch with reality, so she quit her long term job as a substitute teacher.

All was too much for her to handle, and loved ones encouraged her to see a therapist. The first one was a psychiatrist who simply wanted to drug Veronica into a stupor which did little to help her. The second psychiatrist tried very hard to help Veronica, but she was so far gone and didn’t want help. Life as she knew it was over, and noting anyone could say or do would pull her out of it. Despite everyone’s best efforts, Veronica just kept slipping.

By this time Veronica’s husband had reached a breaking point as well. He lost his job because he could not concentrate. Then there was alcohol abuse. It wasn’t long before the family was facing foreclosure. Losing the house was too much, and Veronica couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the last place in which her daughter had lived. Professionals had to be called to physically remove her from the house. She was subsequently placed on a psychiatric hold and was not deemed fit for release after the initial observation period. This mother of a murdered child had given up.

In the hospital she spoke with her daughter constantly as if her girl were with her all the time. When challenged, she would pull large chunks of hair from her head, leaving a trail of blood rolling down her scalp. She had to be restrained, and even with medication, she slipped further and further from the real world. Within two years, her husband divorced her and stopped visiting. Not long after that she simply went catatonic and has not spoken since. She is not recognizable to her sisters who also stopped visiting because as they put it, seeing their sister was too upsetting for them.

Veronica’s story is extreme, yet those who lose loved ones to murder are ruined. They don’t simply pick up the pieces and live as they had hoped. Their dreams are dashed, and they are forced to cope with a largely unsympathetic criminal justice system and hordes of vultures. It is enough to drive someone mad. Even those who manage to get themselves together suffer further losses. They have trouble relating to other people and can withdraw accordingly. They may find themselves with a quick temper and lessened empathy because few things can compare with the murder of a loved one. Friends walk away or have difficulty facing what has happened. In essence, those left behind after a loved one is murdered face the challenge of changing their entire lives.

Then they have to deal with those who are looking to capitalize on their tragedies. Media will use them, and families find that after the bright lights have faded that they are once again left alone with their broken hearts and the feeling that someone preyed upon their hurt. This makes life even harder. No matter where they turn, they are always the mother, the father, the wife, the husband, the sister, the brother, the son, or the daughter of a murder victim. This haunts them in their never-ending quest for inner peace.

What sympathy they initially receive is replaced with hostility and abandonment once the initial shock wears off. Few are willing to stick around when the long term consequences set in, and the relatives of the murder victim find that those who they thought were friends really were not. Sadness surrounds them in a way that is totally surreal. From the time of the murder, they are set apart from others in society. One father told me that is was like he was a leper. People kept him at arm’s length after his son was killed.

Thus it becomes unbelievable for them when they see how their loved ones’ murders are used as nothing more than plots in TV shows or movies. The insensitivity is over the top as victims are seen as nothing more than props to puff up killers who are turned into celebrities. Almost every aspect of media as it relates to murder is focused on the perpetrators. Very little examines the aftermath of a homicide. Families are swept away as the next big case takes precedence which leaves them wondering what happened.

Too many times, the public knows about the villains. Few know about the victims and their families or the aftermath these horrible crimes create. Real life human beings were destroyed by a violent act, and the consequences are far reaching. Broken families, suicides, deaths, missed work, decreased production, and mental disorders are just of few of the impacts. Long term follow ups are rarely done except in high profile murders leaving so many to feel forgotten.

The survivors are living, breathing individuals who must face life without those they loved the most. Certainly they do not view murder as something to be exploited. If you read through this article, I am sure you will agree that murder is not entertaining. This is why I wanted to write about this topic. In 1993, the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children developed the MINE program, murder is not entertainment. The program seeks to put an end to the marketing of murder as entertainment. This is a great program which could use more attention. With the increase in murder entertainment, people have become desensitized to the crimes. More and more heinous murders are portrayed leaving people with normalization of homicide. This simply cannot stand. Murder victims are more than just useful parts of a television program. They were loved family members who were involved in school activities, church functions, and more. They brought something special to those around them and were the lights of their families’ lives. They had dreams and goals, just like you, and they are sadly missed. The next time you see a program about homicide, remember the victims and their families. They matter.

 

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and expert on serial crimes.

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