I mentioned in the first part of this blog (found here) that when I was writing Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, I noticed that several offenders had described feeling possessed by some force that seemed outside their control. Each expressed it in a different way, but there are similar overtones.
The following list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good sample of others, like Bundy, who sensed the “dark stranger” hovering near. A few were just malingering but others gave seemingly sincere descriptions. In fact, there might be a neurological explanation.
Before he was identified as the “BTK Killer,” Dennis Rader called a reporter at the Wichita Eagle and instructed him to go to the public library and look inside Applied Engineering Mechanics. There would be a letter detailing his slaughter of a family of four.
Also in this note, the offender said he’d studied the habits of other sexual criminals and had a “monster” in his brain that compelled him to kill: “The pressure is great and somt-times he run the game to his liking.” BTK indicated that this monster had “already chosen his next victim.” In another letter in which he aligned himself with elite serial killers, including Bundy, he referred to this force as Factor X.
John Wayne Gacy, who killed thirty-three young men, attempted to attribute the murders to “Jack Hanley,” an alter personality. After he confessed and drew a map of the crawl space beneath his home where he’d placed more than two-dozen of his victims, he “tranced out” and pretended that Hanley had actually drawn the map. However, his attempt to get an insanity defense did not work.
In Britain, a six-year investigation of the murders attributed to the Yorkshire Ripper ended in 1981 with the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe. All had been bludgeoned and slashed. In some cases, the killer had mutilated the victims’ genitals, and while the initial victims were prostitutes, the pool soon included ordinary working girls and college students. The Ripper also switched to a screwdriver.
Upon his arrest, Sutcliffe, a former mortuary worker, eventually confessed to 20 mutilation assaults and 15 murders. He claimed that God’s voice issuing from a grave he’d been digging one day had ordered him to attack.
Israel Keyes, a fan of Ted Bundy’s, said he’d felt something similar to Bundy’s “entity” as he carried out a cross-country series of murders over a decade before committing suicide in prison. Like Bundy, Keyes also drank a lot before killing.
As a teen, Sean Sellers brought vials of blood to school and drank them in front of other students. He also carried the Satanic Bible. He’d spent hours performing rituals in his bedroom, using his own blood to write notes to Satan. Eventually he decided to prove he could exercise the ultimate power over someone.
On September 8, 1985, Sellers entered a convenience store and fatally shot the clerk. Not long afterward, he dressed in black underwear before entering the bedroom where his mother and stepfather slept to shoot them in the head.
After he was arrested and charged with the murders, he said that dreams about blood had influenced him. “Demons were the beings that would do things I wanted done,” he wrote in his confession. “They were the keys to the power Satanism promised.”
Sellers said that when his courage nearly failed him, he reverted to a “cold, determined, heartless and evil” personality. “When I was that person, that murderer, I felt superior.”
“Gainesville Ripper” Danny Rolling tried this ploy for murders he committed in Florida during the summer of 1990. The first crime involved two freshmen at the University of Florida who’d been repeatedly stabbed, mutilated and posed for shocking effect. Then investigators found a missing 18-year-old in her bedroom; her head was propped on a bookshelf. Two days later, a male and female student were found dead in their apartment.
Rolling was arrested. He blamed an alter ego, Gemini. Investigators figured out that he'd been influenced by a movie, Exorcist III. In this 1990 film, a demon that had possessed the child Reagan had migrated into a wandering lunatic, who was locked up. Fifteen years later, murders begin with the same MO and the police are confronted with the sadistic Gemini Killer. Gemini inhabits the man’s body to use it to kill and mutilate.
Rolling did not get a pass on this lame attempt at a multiple personality defense. He was convicted.
Gary Gimore’s mother, Bessie, claimed to actually see the entity that influenced Gary. Bessie had a deep-rooted superstition that went back to her own childhood. She believed that, as a girl playing with a Ouija board, she had conjured up a demonic ghost that had attached itself to her family.
She eventually married and learned that her mother-in-law, Fay, was a medium who claimed she could get spirits to materialize. One night while Bessie and her sons were staying with Fay, there was to be a “special” séance to contact the spirit of a suspected killer. Bessie stayed away.
When she returned, she found Fay in a state of fear and exhaustion. That night Bessie woke up to the feel of being touched, and when she turned over, she later reported, she was looking into the face of a leering creature. Bessie ran to Gary’s room and saw the same figure leaning over her son, staring into his eyes. She grabbed the kids and left.
Soon young Gary began to have shuddering nightmares that he was being beheaded. He was certain something was in the room with him, trying to get him. These nightmares haunted him the rest of his life. He never blamed a demon for his short-lived murder spree, but his mother believed this thing had taken over his soul. Gary’s life thereafter had been filled with angry, malevolent energy bent on self-destruction.
There are other examples, but it's time to get some perspective.
In my Bundy blog, Rosemary Ellen Guiley discussed her research on the Djinn. However, I’ve also come across accounts in scientific literature that offer natural explanations.
In September 2009, scientists reported the case of a 37-year-old woman with no history of mental illness who began to have seizures. She went to a German epilepsy center for help. Since the initial seizure, they learned, she’d had frequent déjà vu, nausea, sudden fear… and oh, there was this other thing.
Sometimes she emerged from a seizure perceiving herself as a man. Her arms were transformed into hairy male arms and her voice sounded lower in pitch. In fact, not only did she see herself as a man, but she saw other women in the room as men, too. A benign tumor in her brain near the amygdala, affecting the right temporal lobe, was thought to be the cause. Anti-convulsive drugs relieved her symptoms.
But more interesting was this case: In 2006, an article was published in Nature about how Swiss neuroscientists had stimulated an area of a patient’s brain prior to surgery for epilepsy. The subject, 22, had no history of psychiatric disorders or delusions.
When they stimulated the left junction of her temporo-parietal lobe, she reported an impression of someone standing behind her. She described him as young, silent, and posing in a way to mirror her position. But no one was there.
The doctors urged her to sit up and they stimulated her brain once again. This time she said he'd wrapped his arms around her, just like the way she had her arms around her knees.
For another test, she held a card in her right hand, and after stimulation, she again reported the shadow person, but this time she had an impression of what he wanted. "He wants to take the card,” she said. “He doesn't want me to read.”
When some of these offenders are in a highly aroused state, it seems possible that some wiring in their brain sparks a similar experience of a shadow person or entity close at hand. This wouldn’t explain what Bessie Gilmore supposedly saw, but it could be implicated in Factor X, Bundy's entity, and the other “dark passenger” descriptions that killers have offered ...that is, when they're not just malingering.
I think it's worth consideration.