Sunday, October 21, 2007

When the Devil Comes to Visit - Ted Schwarz

First published 1995; cover shown is the 1995 Arrow Books (UK) paperback edition. 297p.

Why is fact still so much more unbelievable than fiction? It seems that even after centuries of killers such as Countess Bathory, Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, fiction is always a few steps behind - perhaps because truth is too repellent for the average fiction reader to stomach.

Ted Schwarz's When the Devil Comes to Visit is now a bit outdated in some respects (the scope of Internet crime was only just being realised, and it would seem by Schwarz's descriptions that the Internet itself was only just coming into being), but the indepth analysis of why serial killers do what they do remains rivetting reading.

Focusing on the crimes of Dahmer, Harvey Glatman, Ken Bianchi, Leonard Lake and Richard Ramirez - as well as using examples from the criminal careers of Bundy, Manson, Gacy, Jack Henry Abbott, Coral Eugene Watts and Donald Chapman - Schwarz looks for possible explanations in the killers' childhoods, as well as detailing the reasons behind the crimes themselves.

Coral Eugene Watts, for example, probably killed more than a hundred women in the US from 1969 through to the 1980s. Watt's reasoning behind each of the killings was that the woman in question "had evil in her eyes". Watt was a unique serial killer. First of all, he was black (the average serial killer is white). He killed the young and old, using a wide variety of techniques. And he got away with murder dozens of time - at times in broad daylight - because he was supremely confident and calm when confronted by passers-by. Watts died in prison of prostate cancer just last month, aged 53.

One of the most interesting sections of the book deals with the countless women who find male serial killers fascinating. Disregarding all evidence, they believe firmly in the killer's innocence (or believe that the convicted killer would never hurt them). They spend their lives writing letters, making prison visits - occasionally even marrying the killer in prison. Bundy was a prime example of this; he even conceived a child with his new wife in a prison visiting room.

Schwarz also discusses how the crazy world we live in treats serial killers as celebrities. Guns N' Roses recorded a Charles Manson penned song, from which Manson earned royalties. Lead singer Axl Rose even became a pen friend of Manson. Ned Kelly here is Australia is a prime example. Hanged in 1880, he is now a folk hero and thought of as some kind of Robin Hood. However, while not a serial killer, Kelly was a thug and a murderer.

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