What is going on with the sudden emergence of weird killers this week? Have all these images of flesh-eating zombies that are floating around our cultural playground inspired copycats, or is a more serious social pathology beginning to erupt?
First, we get this naked man in Miami, Rudy Eugene, stripping another man before trying to eat his face. The toxicology results are not yet in, but police suspect that Eugene was possibly on drugs.
Then in Maryland, Alexander Kinyua, a Morgan State University student, admitted to murdering his roommate Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie with a knife. During his confession, he added a disgusting detail: not only did he dismember the victim but he also ate his heart and parts of his brain.
Also this week in Canada, strange packages surfaced that contained recently dismembered body parts. A note attached to a severed foot warned that the killer would strike again. It was mailed to the headquarters of a political party. A severed hand was meant for another political party, but that package was intercepted. The torso was found in a suitcase dumped in the garbage. The rest of the parts might still be enroute.
Also enroute is Luka Rocco Magnotta, 29, the suspected killer. The police have launched an international manhunt for the missing man. The news stations are all abuzz about an 11-minute video posted online, allegedly by Magnotta, that shows the murder and dismemberment. Supposedly, it also contains some cannibalism.
The video, by some reports, features a man tied to a bed frame. He is stabbed to death with an ice pick, then slashed across the throat, beheaded, and cut into pieces. The video was shot inside a shadowy apartment that resembles the unit in Montreal that holds evidence of a bloody homicide. The killer makes lewd gestures with severed limbs before performing necrophilic acts.
Magnotta, who offers bizarre, rambling statements on his website, along with self-promoting PR, makes it quite clear that he wants to be famous. He’s tried to become a renowned gay model, the supposed boyfriend of a notorious female killer, and an animal killer who videotapes the acts. He has certainly gained attention, but it’s not clear that anything he says (or shows) about himself is true. The only thing that’s obvious is that he seeks worldwide attention and he’s angry that nothing has worked.
In a closet in the abandoned, bloodstained apartment is a note: “If you don’t like the reflection don’t look in the mirror.” Among other things, Magnotta appears to be making a social statement: What I did is what we’re all doing.
It's arrogant, to be sure, but it might also be worth considering. If we examine this cluster of bizarre acts, we might see more than just the crimes themselves.
Our monsters grow out of covert social values that we abhor but still accept for certain contexts – especially expedient values that arise during social instability. When we have numerous unrelated murders with similarities within a tight time period, we have the possibility of a social contagion. They could be rooted in something larger that we don't clearly see. Some people with low impulse control and poor coping skills may internalize social stress and play it out in aggression.
In medieval France, when the witch-finders hunted down “werewolves” as Satan’s spawn, the excitement of this form of the forbidden affected many unstable people. There were thousands of arrests of suspected werewolves and several sensational trials. Some "shapeshifters" admitted to tearing apart their victims with their teeth.
Between the two world wars, as Germany’s resources declined and imperial Nazis took power, there were several murderous cannibals. These killers were like leaks in a damn of collective pathology that was moving toward payback. The total domination expressed in their style of cannibalism metaphorically mirrored their political leaders.
It's difficult to say, except in retrospect, whether a spate of crimes is a social phenomenon. If they're especially heinous, we just don't want to see what they might be showing us.
But if we dare to make ourselves look, we can start watching for patterns. Are these recent incidents just a copycat reflection of our zombie art, or do these violent individuals sense, the way animals detect an approaching storm, the first hints of social upheaval soon to devour us?
It’s food for thought.