Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Strategy Games and Serial Killers

Some predators hone their mental skills with games of ruse and calculation.

I have played chess with a serial killer. It was interesting to watch how his moves mimicked how he'd hunted victims. When he had the advantage, he gloated, and when he captured one of my pieces, he was “taking blood.” He liked to suggest strategies and he focused on winning, which sometimes undermined him. (That's also how he got caught.)

This got me to thinking about other serial killers who were known to engage in games that honed their mental strategies. Reportedly, Ted Bundy was a good chess teacher, or so a girl who'd once dated him recalled. He was patient, she said, but he insisted that she think carefully before touching a piece, because the game could be won or lost by a single careless move. (He should know.)

Dennis "BTK" Rader plays several chess games at once in his solitary cell and hopes to become a master.

Quite interesting is the “Bitsevsky Maniac,” a chess playing serial killer in Moscow. Arrested in 2006, Alexander Pichushkin, 32, was reportedly close to his goal of committing a murder for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard. He was convicted of 49, which enraged him, because he claimed 62 and he’d wanted to beat the record of another Russian serial killer.

Pichushkin often targeted the elderly. Often he’d dump them into a sewer pit. In an interview, he described his killing career as a “perpetual orgasm.”

Pedophile and killer Michel Fourniret was tried in France after confessing to the murder of nine women and girls over fourteen years (and suspected in as many more). One reporter described him as "... a man who likes to play mind games with investigators" and as a "keen chess player."

Fourniret, a member of a chess club, has taught several people to play, including two young girls who lived near him. One news story stated that he was allowed to have a "chess computer" in his cell when he was incarcerated in Belgium.

Then there was the feature in Vanity Fair back in 1990 about four Death Row inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California who played a regular game of Bridge. They used cards they’d made themselves. Mark MacNamara wrote the piece.

Bridge is a partnership game requiring four players on two teams, and is reputedly difficult to master. The object is to win tricks for your side.

The Bridge players were: “Scorecard Killer” Randy Kraft, who was convicted of killing 16 men (but suspected of many more); William Bonin, the “Freeway Killer,” who was convicted of killing 14 young men (but confessed to 21); Doug Clark, one-half of the “Sunset Strip Killers” team, who was convicted of 6 murders of prostitutes and hitchhikers; and Lawrence “pliers” Bittaker, the torture-killer of 5 (yes, torture with pliers). They met daily to sit around a metal card table for about four hours. Collectively, their suspected murders totaled over 100.

They didn’t much like one another, but they did like the game.

Bonin, MacNamara stated, was the least skilled and became the butt of jokes, especially from the nasty-tempered Clark. He took his cues from watching the others. Kraft, a former computer engineer, was the most accomplished. He focused on the cards and hated distraction. He’d been an avid player before going to prison and his reputation had preceded him. Supposedly, Bonin was awaiting him, to invite him into the game.

Amusingly, these men all had issues with control. It couldn't have been easy for any of them to rely on a partner – especially Clark, whose killing partner, Carol Bundy, had betrayed him.

Bonin has since been executed. I haven't heard if the game continues with someone new.

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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