A note from M. F. Sullivan: This was originally written as a comment for for reddit.com/r/serialkillers, but I thought we’d get some mileage out of it here. Introducing our first ever guest post with our on-staff serial killer expert, the artist Richard Vasko.
I have no real explanation as to what brings me here, my situation being what it is, and all, but I do have books to discuss with you all. Apparently it’s good to ‘get out’ and ‘interact’ and so this is what we’re doing here. And what better way to interact than violently? Here’s a list of my favorite serial killer non-fiction.
My interest is mainly in texts that are, (even if sometimes taken from context) as direct from the horse’s mouth as I can get. The products of killers are of highest importance in the pursuit of learning ‘why’.
- The Gates of Janus, by Ian Brady. Two hundred and fifty pages of masturbatory self-justification and gratification, full of utterly perverted interpretation of philosophy and reeking of utter genius in its own hideous, solipsistic way. It is superb, and I would recommend it for anyone interested in further understanding the mind of a serial killer, because in it he does not just profile other killers, but in doing so, builds an unparalleled self-portrait with brush strokes so well-hidden you would never realize it. http://www.amazon.com/The-Gates-Janus-Killing-Analysis/dp/0922915733/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1408762290&sr=8-1
- Face to Face With Evil by Dr. Chris Crowley has been skewered in the Amazon reviews for some reason, but I thought it was quite interesting. Not necessarily new information, but there were some good Brady conversations in there, and it offers a fine counterpoint to Gates. http://www.amazon.com/Face-Evil-Conversations-Ian-Brady/dp/184454981X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408764445&sr=1-2&keywords=face+to+face+with+evil
- Apocalypse Culture, Books I and II, though particularly II, which has a very compelling story about the cannibal Issei Sagawa, (who, incidentally, is now a free man and food critic in Japan). Beware, however, that the books are highly subversive and some of the articles may curdle your stomach–though, much like reading de Sade, sometimes it’s worth it to come out the other side, yourself still clean. http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Culture-II-Adam-Parfrey/dp/0922915571/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408764639&sr=1-2&keywords=Apocalypse+Culture
- Killing for Company by Brian Masters, about poor, lonely Dennis Nilsen. Dennis, who the British government is preventing from publishing his autobiography, History of a Drowning Boy (http://dennisnilsen.blogspot.com/ contains fragments). This is a terrible shame. Isn’t his story just as important? Shouldn’t we seek to learn from it, and understand why these things happened? But, nonetheless, Killing for Company is a fine and fascinating book, which shares its title with one of my favorite songs. http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Company-Case-Dennis-Nilsen/dp/0099552612/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1408764106&sr=1-2
- The Sexual Criminal: A Psychoanalytical Study is not only fascinating, but full of fantastic photographs. http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Criminal-Psychoanalytical-Study/dp/0965032426/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408764526&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Sexual+Criminal
- Carl Panzram: A Journal of Murder is another one I cannot recommend it enough. I find him to be a quite sympathetic figure, all told. The story is compelling as anything you’d see in a film, and horrible, because it is (at least, mostly) truth. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=carl%20panzram&sprefix=carl+pan%2Caps
- One of Your Own by Carol Ann Lee is the story of Myra Hindley, who is no more sympathetic by the end of the book. If anything, I found I disliked her further, and while I by no means like Ian Brady, I find what little he has to say on his crimes more sympathetic and believable than Hindley’s stories. But, nonetheless, her story is important, and interesting in its own right, and it is important we should know both Brady and Hindley in our pursuit of understanding them. http://www.amazon.com/One-Your-Own-Death-Hindley/dp/1845967011
- Ted Bundy: Conversations With A Killer by Michoud & Aynesworth seems to be unfairly dismissed in the Amazon reviews, but I enjoyed it more than Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me, which, as with most of her work, seems somewhat sensationalist. It’s just a conversation, a series of them, straightforward as much as a conversation can be with Bundy. Certainly worth the read, as his death row interview is similarly worth the watch1. http://www.amazon.com/Ted-Bundy-Conversations-Hugh-Aynesworth/dp/1928704174/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408843296&sr=1-1&keywords=Conversations+with+a+killer
- My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf, whom you may recognize from his work in the comic strips of your local, weekly, alternative newspaper. He went to high school with Dahmer (in my home state of Ohio, for those of you who know him as a primarily Wisconsin serial murderer) and offers a very illuminating perspective on a man we’ve come to know through news articles and documentaries. http://www.amazon.com/My-Friend-Dahmer-Derf-Backderf/dp/1419702173
- The Loathsome Couple, by Edward Gorey, which holds a special, warm place in my heart. Had I a child, I’d tuck her in at night while reading her this. If you know Gorey, you may know it, or at least know what to expect–the book is unpopular because it makes a picture book of the Moors Murderers, but it is one of my most treasured serial killer-related books simply for the charm factor, and the true-to-life tragedy of it. http://www.amazon.com/The-loathsome-couple-Edward-Gorey/dp/0396073794/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408859454&sr=8-1&keywords=the+loathsome+couple
- Serial Murderers and Their Victims, by Eric W. Hickey, is intended as a college textbook, but it is not unapproachable by the layman. On the contrary, it’s an easy, almost breezy read, and utterly absorbing. My edition is the 2009 issue, but, if another one does not come within the next year or so, I may simply order the 2012 revision I link here. If anyone versed in the subject has it or has read it and has found it particularly updated or illuminating, I would love to hear about it so I could get a copy. http://www.amazon.com/Serial-Murderers-their-Victims-Hickey/dp/1133049702/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408859597&sr=1-1&keywords=serial+murderers+and+their+victims
Those are just the good ones. Maybe if I’m forced to write another article you’ll get my list of the shit ones. But, either way, be sure to read Delilah, My Woman, coming November 2nd. Because if these are as enlightening and informative as they are despite being however many steps removed from their true source, well–just think of all you’ll learn when you and I have had a chance to talk. Because it’s my hope that we won’t have another one between now and November 2nd–wait, what’s that? You say they released an Expanded Edition of The Gates of Janus just a few months ago?
Oh…very well. Be sure to look out for my expanded review of the new edition of Gates of Janus just as soon as I’ve had a chance to read it.
1. While there are various DVD copies of Bundy’s final interview, it is available online. Those of you who have watched American Psycho may wonder, as I did, whether or not Christian Bale watched it in preparation. Then you remember he cited Tom Cruise as his inspiration, and that really makes you wonder.