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I Wanna Be a Serial Killer #3

Some people who aspire to infamy look to negative role models.

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

This month, we heard about a fan of serial killer John Wayne Gacy who killed his mother, put her corpse into a barrel, and buried it under the porch of her house. Alabama resident Nathaniel Sebastian, 32, had posted his admiration for Gacy on his Facebook page. His mother had been missing for several months and he'd blocked attempts to locate her. The fact that Gacy had placed more than two-dozen of his 33 victims in a crawlspace beneath his house helped get a warrant that focused the search under the missing woman's porch. When told where it would begin, Sebastian said, “Y’all got me.”

I’ve written before about people who aspire to become infamous killers, here and here, as well as about killers who were inspired by the Dexter TV show, here. Inevitably, they have a specific violent role model – sometimes a real person, sometimes fictional. The model provides the method, as well as the errors to try to avoid. Let's look at more cases from recent news.

This month, Amy Caroline Brown, 24, pleaded guilty to attempted murder in Washington State. She had set up a blind date to meet the victim that would launch her career as a serial killer. Using an ad with the title, “Let’s go Zombie Hunting,” she arranged for the respondent to meet her at a bar on January 29. To prepare, she spent the day watching episodes of Hannibal, a TV show about a serial killing cannibal. She worried a little that her date might himself be a serial killer.

After meeting at the bar, they walked around, got some money, and proceeded to a motel, where Brown took out a knife and stabbed the man in the chest. He managed to escape and call the police.

Under arrest, Brown told an officer that she’d been thinking about killing people since she was in middle school. Her life plan was to kill for fifty years and then turn herself in so the prison system could take care of her in her old age. Regarding her failed attempt, Brown said that she'd intended to cut out the victim's heart and eat it. She’d even prepared a note that stated this, in case those who discovered the body wondered where the heart was. In Brown’s home, detectives found a journal in which she'd described this plan, illustrated with a “murder shack.”

As she was about to go to trial, she decided to plead guilty. The self-described “psychopath” showed no remorse. Yet, she has a history of mental instability, including depression and suicidal thinking. Just before the assault, she’d stopped taking her medications. She will be sentenced in October.

Such dark aspirations are not limited to the U.S. In Spain, police shot and killed Pierre Danilo Larancuent after he fatally stabbed an officer who was investigating reports of blood and odd activity in a specific apartment. Not only did Larancuent have a prior victim, he was apparently acting out scenes from a novel he’d co-written with an inmate he'd met in prison who'd committed a triple homicide.

Titled With Death as a Shadow, the novel features a serial killer who stabs his female victims with a large knife. Larancuent, 36, had stabbed his male partner through the heart in their apartment before cutting up the body in the bathtub and placing the parts into a large suitcase. He hauled the suitcase to various trash pick-ups to distribute them. Reports from neighbors and the bloodstained suitcase led two officers to the apartment, whereupon Larancuent killed one of them. His own death terminated his budding career as a killer.

In England, Casey Scott, 29, engaged the services of a prostitute in order to kill her as a wannabe Jack the Ripper. He strangled and stabbed her before he used a pen to write “Jack” on her abdomen. Then he took a photo as a “morbid trophy.” The Internet had supplied him with details of the infamous Victorian serial killer. Unlike the Ripper, Scott was caught before he could kill again.

People who follow violent role models so obsessively that they seek to emulate them generally lack imagination. They want to be famous or they want to lash out in some damaging way, but they cannot form an original plan. (Even the novelist needed an actual killer to create it with him.) Their aggression gets channeled through what they learn from their hero's acts. Some have a mental illness that makes them vulnerable to pervasive cultural images of serial murder, but others actively seek out ways to cause harm.

As they study people like Gacy, Hannibal, or Jack the Ripper, they not only adopt those patterns as their own (including the identities) but they also feel as if they gain permission from the person who succeeded at what they want to do. The role model defines the essence of what it means to be a serial killer, creates the blueprint, and provides implicit affirmation. Some also show mistakes made that got them caught. In addition, by becoming a killer, there’s potential for fame and a dark legacy. Like the offender they watch or read about, the wannabes believe they will gain a name rather than be lost in obscurity.

More from Katherine Ramsland Ph.D.
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