Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

Busting the Loner Myth: Dexter, Like Many Real Killers, is Married with Children

Unlike most criminals, loners are people who prefer to be alone

When I last discussed Dexter, I neglected to mention why he is relevant to Living Single readers. He's a serial killer, yet for much of the show, he is married with children! That defies the stereotype of killers and other scary criminals as unmarried loners, but as it turns out, it does not defy reality. At the end of this post, I'll share an excerpt from Singled Out in which I explained what I learned about the actual profile of killers from the criminologists who study them.

The best myth-busting book about loners is Anneli Rufus's Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto (also discussed here). Loners, Rufus explains, are people who prefer to be alone. Some criminals look like loners because they live alone, but they are not doing so by choice. Some are seething in rage about the lover who dumped them or the person who dissed them, until they head out and murder that person in revenge. That's not loner behavior.

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People who stick to themselves because others won't include them, or because of some pathology, or because they have something to hide, are not true loners. Actual loners like their time alone and often use it for creative (and not destructive) work. The profilers and forensic scientists Rufus interviewed shot down the myth that killers are predominantly people who live alone or with mom.

Dexter is an interesting case because he actually does like his time alone. Initially he headed into marriage and family life as a cover. He understood that other people believe that loners are suspect, and so it was that perception that he was trying to dodge.

Speaking of Dexter, the winners of the 3 Dexter books have now been announced. If you left a comment on this post, indicating that you wanted a copy of the book, check out the comments section to see if you won.

Here's what I wrote in Singled Out about the myth of the single man as scary criminal (from pp. 160-161):

Some serial killers take a very long time to catch. One such person was Dennis Rader, who was not arrested until thirty-one years after he had murdered the first of his ten victims. Rader christened himself the BTK killer, because he Bound, Tortured, and Killed his victims. Days after he was apprehended in February, 2005, Newsweek remarked that "Rader would seem an unlikely serial-killer suspect. Far from a shadowy loner, he is married with two grown children and was active in his church."

The Los Angeles Times noted that "BTK's habit of collecting souvenirs from his victims led some investigators to suspect he was single because they thought he would be unlikely to keep macabre trophies in a home where a wife or children could stumble across them."

On one side is a churchgoing married man with a house full of kids; on the other is a shadowy murderous loner whose doorstep is never darkened by any other human. The juxtaposition is an entrenched favorite among reporters and pundits. Three years earlier, television host Nancy Grace asked criminologist Jack Levin to speculate about the characteristics of the person or persons who were then terrifying the residents of the Washington, D.C. area with their apparently random shooting spree. Levin mentioned the possibility of a wife. Grace was flabbergasted. "How many serial killers actually go home to a wife and a family and a dog and a white picket fence?" she asked, incredulously. "You're stretching even my vivid imagination with the wife mention."

Levin reminded Grace of John Wayne Gacy, the married man who murdered thirty-three men and buried many of them in the crawl space under his home, while his wife remained clueless. He could have mentioned other high-profile married serial murderers as well, such as the Hillside Strangler, Kenneth Bianchi. Even more compellingly, Levin could have informed Grace and the television audience of a chapter he had co-authored several years before. It was called "Serial murderers: Popular myths and empirical realities." Myth #2 was: "Serial killers are unusual in appearance and lifestyle." The empirical reality was that many "hold full-time jobs, are married or involved in some other stable relationship, and are members of various local community groups."

 

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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