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Dr. John Bodkin ADAMS
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Dr. Richard Gladwell McGOWN
MOBSTERS, HITMEN AND MORE
KILLERS FROM MOVIES, BOOKS, GAMES, COMICS AND MORE
MOVIES AND MURDER
THE MANY TYPES OF MURDER
UNNATURAL LOVE AND IT'S CONNECTIONS TO SERIAL KILLING
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FROM THE MOUTH OF KILLERS
ARTHUR SHAWCROSS INTERVIEW
AN EVER GROWING COLLECTION OF HORROR MOVIE REVIEWS
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A SIGNATURE SERIAL KILLER IN THE MAKING
AILEEN WUORNOS TRIVIA
DEFINING SERIAL MURDER
ARTICLE "THE ICEMAN" RICHARD LEONARD KUKLINSKI
ARTICLE ON JOHN HAIGH JR
KENNETH BIANCHI MEDICAL REPORT
KILLER'S LAST MEALS
KILLERS WHO SURRENDER
PSYCHOLOGY & DEVELOPMENT
POEMS ABOUT KILLERS
PROFILING A KILLER
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SERIAL KILLERS WHO SURRENDER
It's commonly believed that serial killers cannot stop, because their compulsion is so strong that they're literally addicted to murder. In addition, they feel no remorse so they have no reason to refrain from indulging their hunger for blood - or else they're just plain psychotic. In fact, to assist in the defense of Wayne Adam Ford, a psychiatrist stated that no serial killer had ever before turned himself in.
On that point, he was wrong. Both before and after Ford surrendered in 1998, there have been cases of men who have stopped themselves from killing again by going to the police to confess. Some actually express remorse, and might indicate that they'd been on drugs or were in some other state of diminished mental capacity during their crimes. They might also have come to the realization that, try as they might, they cannot stop themselves.
The most famous example of this is William Heirens in 1945. While he did not actually turn himself in, he did leave a message on the mirror of one of his second of three victims, written in lipstick: "For heaven's sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.' In other words, he appeared to be horrified by what he was doing when he shot and stabbed Frances Brown, leaving her body draped over a bathtub. However, he then went on to strangle and dismember a 6-year-old child, dumping her remains in such a way that it would be difficult to pin the crime on him. Soon a police officer chased Heirens down after a burglary and he did stop; he was put behind bars, where he is today. While he did not surrender voluntarily, he made it clear with his message that he wished to be free of his terrible compulsion to kill.
In a study of 300 serial killers, it was found that 2.3% had turned themselves in, one way or another. That did not account for those who might have made mistakes as a subconscious way to reveal themselves, but only those who initiated police awareness of them. Interpretations differ as to their intent, and even as to their actual guilt, but it's nevertheless an error to say they never do it. We'll look at the diverse cases below. Since we've mention Ford, let's go right to him.
It was early in November 1998. The police were surprised in Humboldt County, California, when Wayne Adam Ford walked in. Carlton Smith writes that he told them that God had directed him to confess to a series of murders they were investigating. By some accounts, in his pocket in a plastic bag he carried proof: a severed female breast (other accounts indicate that he turned this over later). Ford insisted he had to be stopped before he killed again, and he was specifically concerned about his former wife, with whom he had a son, only three. He was angry at her over their divorce and his limited visitation rights.
As the story unfolded, it seems that Ford's brother, Rod, had convinced him to turn himself in, although he did not actually realize what Ford had done. It was Ford's idea to come clean once he got there. Ford had been drinking that day and had called Rod to confess to tell him about something "bad" that he'd done. Yet he would only admit that he'd "hurt" some people. Since his emotional turmoil suggested something more serious, Rod feared he might have done something much worse. He urged Wayne to go to the police and tell them. It was there that Rod learned that his brother was a cold-blooded serial killer.
Under arrest, Ford went on to offer startling details. As a long-haul trucker, he traveled state to state to deliver lumber. It was easy to exploit his occupation as a way to find women for aggressive sex, and then to kill them and dispose of their bodies. Glenn Puit for the Las Vegas Review-Journal carries on the story, because one of Ford's victims was from Vegas. Tina Gibbs, 26, had been a prostitute, an easy mark for someone like Ford.
On June 2, 1998, a fisherman found Gibbs' nude body, with ligature marks around her neck, floating in an aqueduct off a state highway in Kern County. Apparently, Ford had picked her up and had bondage-type "rough sex" with her for money. At least, that's what he said. She supposedly died during this activity, so he'd kept her in his truck for several days before dumping her from a bridge. Despite Ford's claim during his confession that he was now a different man, investigators found him nonchalant about the murders.
Nevertheless, he did help police identify the mutilated body of Patricia Anne Tamez, 29, from California, who was missing a breast. She, too, had been found floating in an aqueduct. Ford also described stabbing and dismembering a woman in 1997, and he told police where he had distributed the parts, keeping some in his freezer for a period of time. A forth female, Lanette White, was linked to Ford as well. Apparently he had a breast fetish and was attracted to these women for their large breasts. Ford blamed a failed marriage and alcohol abuse for his behavior, and claimed he wanted to stop hurting people.
His trial was delayed for various reasons, but finally it occurred during the spring of 2006, growing controversial in the media over an unexpected element: a breast-enhancement model began to visit Ford in prison and they developed a relationship. She told media sources that he was full of remorse over what he had done, and she hoped to make a documentary about this serial killer "with a heart."
Part of Ford's defense involved the fact that he had turned himself in, interpreted as a clear indication of remorse. A defense psychiatrist even stated that this kind of behavior was unheard of for a serial killer. In June, the jury ignored this appeal to their mercy and convicted Ford on four counts of murder, recommending death. Several critics write commentaries on how this might affect the chance of other serial killers turning themselves in. If they couldn't get a deal, why bother? But some of them in fact do wish to be executed.
Another well known example of a killer turning himself in is that of the Co-ed Killer of Santa Cruz.
The Genius Giant
When he was 15, Edmund Kemper III murdered his paternal grandparents. His grandmother had made him angry, he later said, so he'd shot and stabbed her to "see what it felt like" and then eliminated his grandfather to "spare" him from discovering the body. This occurred in 1964, and when Kemper called his mother to tell her, she urged him to turn himself in. He was placed into the California juvenile system, but released five years later with a clean record. Soon the six-foot-nine giant with a genius IQ decided to kill again.
In 1972 and 1973, the socially inept Kemper noticed young females out hitchhiking around Santa Cruz and realized how vulnerable they were. He envisioned violent things he could do to them and then began playing a game. He'd pick them up, sometimes two at a time, allowing some to go free while he selected others to be shot, stabbed, or strangled. "I'm picking up young women," Kemper explained to the police in a later confession, "and I'm going a little bit farther each time. It's a daring kind of thing ... We go to a vulnerable place, where there aren't people watching, where I could act out and I say, 'No, I can't.' ... And this craving, this awful raging eating feeling inside, this fantastic passion. It was overwhelming me. It was like drugs. It was like alcohol. A little isn't enough."
His first murder involved two girls on May 7, 1972. Mary A. Pesce and Anita Luchessa, both 18, were stabbed, decapitated and dissected. Kemper secretly enjoyed the news coverage as the parts were found. Then he picked up 15-year-old dance student, Aiko Koo, on September 14. After strangling her, he removed her head and limbs. Another five months passed, but between January and April, Kemper murdered three more young women.
All this time, he lived with his mother, who he claims constantly berated him; it's likely she also feared him, because throughout his childhood, she made him live in the basement of their home. Shortly after the sixth co-ed murder, Kemper and his mother engaged in a fight and he decided that she should die as well. On April 20, 1973, he bludgeoned, decapitated and dismembered her, removing her larynx to shove down the garbage disposal. For good measure, he invited his mother's friend, Sara Hallett, over and killed and beheaded her as well. He fled to Colorado, but apparently had second thoughts. From a phone booth, he called the police in Santa Cruz - men he'd often hung out with - and turned himself in. At first they did not believe him, thinking he was joking, but after he sent them to his mother's home he was soon under arrest. Then he began to talk, describing how angry he had been with his mother over the years and how each murder had been an expression of that.
Dr. Donald Lunde, a psychiatrist who interviewed Kemper at the time, thought he exhibited complete awareness and had relished the perversions to which he had admitted, including cannibalism and necrophilia. He later wrote that Kemper's sexual aggression stemmed from a combination of childhood anger and the development during his juvenile incarceration of violent sexual fantasies.
On November 8, 1973, Kemper, 24, was found guilty of eight counts of first-degree murder. Although he hoped to receive the death penalty (with torture), he was convicted during a time when the U.S. Supreme Court had placed a moratorium on capital punishment, so instead he received life in prison.
Whether he actually felt remorse, Kemper did believe that if he was ever allowed out, he would continue to be a danger. Apparently, the next killer viewed himself in the same manner.
"I Have a Guilt Complex"
On March 5, 1970, the parents of three girls who lived in Sylmar, California, just outside Los Angeles, found the girls missing. They search everywhere, calling friends and their school, but no one knew where they were. From all appearances, someone had broken into the home, perhaps to burglarize it, and seemed to have taken the girls.
Two escaped that day, returning home to report that two men had kidnapped them, but the third child remained missing. Before the police were able to work up an investigation, however, a man entered the LAPD station and went to the front desk. He gave the police a loaded revolver and announced that his name was Mack Ray Edwards. He reportedly said, "I have a guilt complex," as recorded by writer Michael Newton. He admitted to the kidnapping, turning in his accomplice, and gave police directions to where the still-missing girl could be found in the Angeles National Forest. As officers went to get her (she was unharmed), Edwards admitted that he had other matters to discuss with them as well.
The girl turned out to be remarkably lucky, as these "other matters" involved a series of sex murders. Since 1953, Edwards claimed, he'd been killing children. His first victim had been an 8-year-old girl, Stella Nolan, whom he'd kidnapped. This murder was followed three years later by two in one day: Don Baker, 13, and Brenda Howell, 11. Apparently, Edwards was bothered by his offenses and over the next few years had tried to control himself.
Yet compulsion will have its way. In 1968, across a period of three weeks, Edwards killed two 16-year-old boys, shooting one of them in the boy's home. The following year, Edwards grabbed and slaughtered a 13-year-old. Now, he said, he'd intended death for this girl that he'd spared. He offered to show officers the others' graves but warned that some would be difficult to find.
First, they located Stella's skeletal remains, buried in a surprisingly deep grave, but they refused to break up the highway asphalt under which Edwards said another victim was buried. In fact, several of the missing victims might have been thus erased, because Edwards had worked for the highway department and knew where new roads were going to be laid. It was a simple thing for him to dig a shallow grave the night before.
While investigators had initially had difficulty believing Edwards when he'd come in with his announcement, they were soon doubtful in the opposite way: they did not believe that he'd stopped himself as he claimed for over a decade, but he was adamant that he'd confessed to all the murders. It was also apparently true that he was somewhat conscience-stricken because before his trial he attempted to kill himself twice in his cell. He also told the jury he wanted to be executed. He got his death sentence, but the appeals process was too slow for him, so he finally succeeded in taking his life on October 30, 1970, by hanging himself with an electrical cord.
Another killer turned himself in only after he'd been suspected in several incidents, and apparently he wanted to clarify his agenda. Or, he wanted to use a confession as a way to prove his innocence.
On June 12, 1960, a pair of shoes and a lot of blood were found in a car that had crashed into a lamppost in Baslow, England, but the driver was nowhere to be found. Later that same day, the body of a shoeless man was found on an isolated moor, his head clearly battered. He was identified as William Elliott, age 60, who lived alone. Investigators believed that he'd been the victim of an accident, wandering from the car until he dropped over and died. But then the autopsy indicated that his wounds had come from a boot, not from hitting his head on some part of the car.
After a witness report about a man chasing Elliott and beating him up, the police questioned a number of people, including Michael Copeland, a 20-year-old soldier on leave from the British army stationed in Germany. He had a criminal record, but there was no evidence against him, so he was let go.
Later that year, a 16-year-old male, Gunther Helmbrecht, was stabbed to death in near Verden, Germany, where Copeland was stationed. He became a suspect after he came into his barracks that same evening suffering from a knife wound. Under interrogation, he claimed that two civilians had attacked him, and when no evidence linked him to Helmbrecht, he was released.
Copeland returned to Chesterfield, England, and soon another male corpse turned up in the spring of 1961. The body had been dumped in a location near where Elliott had been killed and the victim's similar type of head injury linked him tentatively with Elliott. Since Copeland was back in the area, he was again questioned, but this murder went unsolved.
Two years passed, and in 1963 Copeland suddenly called to confess, but his reasoning became rather convoluted. It seems that one of the police officers had developed an association with him, keeping him under surveillance, and this is the man he told about his part in the murders. They had been hate crimes, Copeland admitted, because he'd believed the men to be homosexuals, but he did have some regret over the fatal incident in Germany.
However, Copeland refused to make a formal statement and then he recanted his confession. Still, Copeland's case went to trial, as he himself said he hoped it would, because he wanted to use the courtroom to prove his innocence. Once he did that, he said, the police would stop watching him. However, the circumstantial facts, along with his original confession, did him in. Copeland was convicted and sentenced to be executed. His sentence was later commuted to life.
Another type of anger drove the next killer, who not only turned himself in, but had planned to do so even before he began to kill.
When Pakistani police dismissed a criminal complaint filed by Javed Iqbal against two servant boys whom he claimed had beaten him, Iqbal decided to get his own brand of revenge. He was angry at both the street boys and the police. Since he was wealthy, with time and resources, Iqbal set to work to acquire the supplies and accomplices that he needed. He'd grown to hate the world with a vengeance, and it fueled his plan for quite some time. He proposed to murder exactly one hundred children.
In 1999, over a period of six months, the 37-year-old merchant enticed street children to his apartment in Lahore with the promise of a meal and a place to sleep. Akin to the witch who imprisoned Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale, Iqbal knew all along that these children were not going to be leaving. For pay, three accomplices assisted him. Once a targeted child was vulnerable, Iqbal would asphyxiate him with cyanide. Then he would dissolve the body in a vat of acid and dump the liquid paste into a local sewer. He kept a detailed journal of each "project," including its cost. He also took photographs of each victim and saved his clothing and personal effects, so he could prove what he had done. He knew each of the names and ages of the dead adolescents, and he would regularly count up his tally. Then he reached one hundred.
At this point, Iqbal turned himself in to the Pakistani authorities. In a letter, he explained, "I wanted one hundred mothers to cry for their children." He later said that he could easily have killed five hundred without anyone being the wiser, but he had made a pact with himself as to exactly how many he would kill. The police lost no time in arresting this dangerous and demented predator.
On March 16, 2000, the court in Lahore, Pakistan, sentenced Iqbal to be strangled in front of the families of his victims and cut into 100 pieces for the 100 victims, which would be dissolved in acid - an eye for an eye. His accomplices received sentences from 42 years in prison to execution. Iqbal appealed his death sentence, and the highest Islamic court had agreed to hear it, but four days later, on October 25, 2001, Iqbal used poison to commit suicide in his cell.
In another case, it was the accomplice - also a participant - who called the police to confess.
In Houston, Texas on August 8, 1973, a tearful Elmer Wayne Henley, 17, alerted law enforcement to his part in the schemes of a murdering predator. Jack Olson documented the case in The Man with the Candy. During this call, Henley told officials he had just killed Dean Corll, 33, known locally as the "Candy Man." He claimed that he, Corll and another accomplice, David Brooks, had been luring boys into Corll's home for sex and torture. Indeed, the police found that Corll had been shot six times, and Henley said it had happened because he anticipated that Corll was about to kill him. Corll had threatened him with a gun, but Henley had managed to get the gun away and he then used the opportunity to shoot the man. Rather than bury the body, as he'd done with over two-dozen victims, he had turned himself in.
As Henley showed the police one buried boy after another, he described Corll's diabolical schemes. Corll had paid Brooks and Henley to bring young boys to him for drugs and then his brand of aggressive sex. After handcuffing his victims to a board and torturing them with large implements, he eventually turned to murder. Sometimes, Henley added, Corll even chewed off their genitals or castrated them. A few times he killed two together, and the youngest victim was only nine. But for at least two years, Henley and Brooks had not tried to stop him. That made them just as culpable.
Seventeen bodies of white males were found stuffed under a boathouse, along with containers of genitalia. At two other sites, ten more bodies were exhumed. By the time all was said and done, there were twenty-seven victims, the largest serial murder toll at the time in U.S. history. Brooks and Henley both received life sentences for their parts in this string of vicious murders.
Henley has since been featured in a documentary, Collectors, about serial killers who sell their artwork. Supposedly, he enjoys painting sunsets. When some of his paintings went into a Texas art gallery in 1998, protesters showed up with signs reading, "Hang Henley, not his art." Some sources report that he's remorseful.
Sometimes killers who stop themselves are not nearly as articulate as he was; in fact, their state of mind comes into question.
There are different types of false confessions, and sometimes people just confess spontaneously to something they did not do. In 1932, when Charles Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped and killed, over two hundred people took credit. A decade later, more than thirty people confessed to the murder of Elizabeth Short, " the Black Dahlia," a case still unsolved. Voluntary confessions are usually made in response to a high profile case where fame is a possibility, but they might also be given to protect someone or to exacerbate a personal sense of guilt over something else. Sometimes a mentally ill person has seen the news and somehow mingles the information with his own delusions, erroneously believing he did something. That makes solving such cases difficult.
In the early 1970s, young boys were being attacked and murdered in Manhattan's Harlem area. It appeared to be some type of fetish or torture crime, because when their bodies were found, the penises had been mutilated or removed. Clearly, this perpetrator was a sexual deviant and experts speculated that he hated his own manhood.
On March 9, 1972, Douglas Owens, only eight years old, was found on a rooftop, viciously stabbed 38 times. His penis was sliced open as well. The police received an anonymous phone call identifying an area resident named Erno Soto as the killer, but the lead apparently was not checked out. Six weeks later on April 20, another boy was stabbed and his penis was removed and taken away. Miraculously, he survived, but the next victim, Wendell Hubbard, did not. On October 23, the 9-year-old was found stabbed 17 times, and his penis had been sliced off and carried away. In another five months, another 9-year-old boy encountered a similar fate, stabbed 38 times. He was found in the cellar of a building in East Harlem.
Then Steve Cropper was killed on August 17, 1973. He was eight, but instead of being stabbed, he'd been attacked with a razor. His penis remained intact, so there was speculation that, despite his age and the color of his skin, he should not be included in the series of murders attributed to "Charlie Chop-off."
The police were alerted to Erno Soto once again in May 1974, as he accosted a nine-year-old Hispanic boy. He immediately confessed to killing Steve Cropper and detectives believed they'd closed this case, especially after they learned more about Soto's history. A Puerto Rican, he had separated from his wife and then reconciled. But he'd had to live with the fact that she'd had a child with a black man during their separation. Soto had apparently decided to accept the situation, but as the child grew older, Soto's behavior became erratic. He entered a psychiatric institution in 1969, spending about a year there, but it apparently did not cure his compulsion to stalk young boys with dark skin.
With the information, the police believed that Soto was good for the other cases as well, but then they faced a setback: the surviving victim could not identify Soto as his attacker. Officials at the psychiatric hospital also indicated that he'd been confined at the time of the murder to which he'd confessed, although they admitted that he sometimes left the building without permission.
Given Soto's mental instability and the lack of physical evidence linking any murder to him, the crimes could not be officially solved. Soto's confession might have been nothing more than a delusion. Nevertheless, he was committed to a forensic psychiatric hospital, and once he was locked away more securely the attacks on local boys ceased. While that's not a definitive argument that Soto was the perpetrator, it provides a bit of circumstantial evidence to support his confession.
Another man who killed during altered states decided he had to stop. He's the most recent case of a serial killer who surrendered.
Drugs Made Me Do It
On November 8, 2005, in Rochester, New York, Robert Bruce Spahalski turned himself in to the police, claiming he'd committed four murders. They charged him initially in two while they investigated the other two. Eventually Spahalski was indicted for all four. Three had happened in 1990 and 1991, reports Gary Craig, while the fourth had occurred fifteen years later. Three victims were female and one was male; he had known them all and one was a friend whom he had supposedly killed unintentionally while hallucinating on cocaine. After he admitted to three, Spahalski was apparently reluctant to confess to the fourth one, because he thought it would label him as a serial killer. Finally, to help the family gain closure, he confessed, saying, "I choked her out."
Apparently, he'd had different motives for each. One was a dispute over money for sex, while another had been triggered by a hallucinations, a third occurred during an argument and subsequent robbery, and the fourth happened when he "snapped" during a sexual encounter. He had strangled two of the victims and bludgeoned two. The latest murder had taken place three days prior to turning himself in.
Spahalski had operated a male escort service and worked as a hustler; he'd served time in prison for several burglary offenses and claimed to have a mental disorder - post traumatic stress from being in prison, as well as hearing voices. When he went to confess, according to the police statements, he said that he'd seen a demon, which had made him react violently. He also indicated that he had prayed daily for the male victim from years earlier and was confessing to clear his conscience. In fact, he was feeling suicidal over his actions. His usual strategy was to try to forget the things he had done to others, but he believed he had a fatal illness now and he wanted to set his affairs in order.
Once a skilled gymnast, Spahalski's life had gone slowly downhill after his parents had divorced when he was twelve. He had a twin brother, Stephen, who had also committed a murder and was already serving a life sentence. Both had a history of criminal offenses.
Spahalski's trial for all four murders late in 2006 lasted two weeks. His attorney, Joe Damelio, wanted to throw out the confession, protesting that throughout the twelve-hour interrogation, Spahalski had been unable to take the medication he needed four times a day for his mental condition. In addition, the defense offered that Spahalski was high on crack cocaine on each fatal occasion and was suffering from extreme emotional disturbance; thus, he could not have formed the intent to kill. "The demon's here," he said as he placed two bags of cocaine in front of the jury, "and it's affected his mind."
However, prosecutor Ken Hyland pressed home the fact that beating someone with a hammer is quite personal and brutally violent. The strangulations had been quite intentionally done with ropes and wires. There was nothing spontaneous about them and in any case, voluntary intoxication is not a defense.
On November 13, the jury took less than three hours to find Spahalski guilty on several counts: intentional second degree murder in the strangling death of Vivian Irizarry, two counts of Murder II in the beating of Charles Grande (one count was for the robbery), and two counts of intentional second-degree murder in the strangling deaths of both Moraine Armstrong and Adrian Berger. In other words, the jury believed that Spahalski was aware of what he was doing when he killed these four people, and that it was wrong. Whether or not he felt remorse was not germane to their findings.
Speaking of strange confessions, in the next case, a serial killer found himself trumped by a grandmother.
Too Many Cooks
Unwilling to turn himself but coming close to it by leaving messages in men's bathrooms in several states, cross-country trucker Keith Jesperson stated in a letter to the press, "I feel bad, but I will not turn myself in. I am not stupid." Yet he seemed to be rankled by the fact that someone else had taken credit for his first murder in January 1990.
After battering and killing Taunja Bennet, Jesperson pushed her down into a ravine in Columbia Gorge. He was certain it would be a long time before anyone discovered her remains, but in fact she was found that same day. Within a month, the police had a confession, but not from the killer.
Laverne Pavlinac, 57 and a grandmother with no criminal history, reported her boyfriend, John Sosnovske, 43, to the police as the killer. After hours of interrogation, he denied being involved, but Pavlinac insisted he had boasted about the murder, so he was arrested and detained. (This incident is immortalized in a film, The Happy Face Killer.)
A few weeks later, Pavlinac had a second story: she'd been involved in the killing as well: Sosnovske had forced her to help him dump the body. She even showed the police precisely where the body had been dumped. Since she came within five feet of its position, detectives believed her. But then she changed her story again. She said that she and Sosnovske were arguing and they had the girl in the car. The girl died as they had sex with her, and Pavlinac claimed to feel remorse over the incident. She was tearful as she told the tale and the police put her in jail as an accomplice.
Pavlinac prepared to accept a plea offer for a ten-year sentence, but suddenly claimed that she'd been lying all along. Her "confession" had been a ploy to have Sosnovske jailed to get him out of her life, but the whole thing had escalated beyond her control. However, the case was now going to trial and a jury gave Pavlinac 10 years. Upon hearing that, Sosnovske pleaded no contest in exchange for a life sentence.
Jesperson heard about all of this and decided (as he claims in the autobiography he later penned with Jack Olson) that he wanted credit for his murders. When he read about the two people in custody for his crime, he left messages in truck stop restrooms claiming that he was the real killer and signing them with smiley faces. Finally, he sent an anonymous letter to the newspaper in Portland, Oregon. In these various communications, Jesperson provided proof, but he always stopped short of revealing his identity.
Finally identified in 1995 for being seen with a victim, he readily confessed to six murders, including that of the young woman for whom Pavlinac and Sosnovske were serving time, so they were released. Jesperson went on to admit to more than 160 murders, but then he recanted. Yet when he accepted responsibility for crime he could not have done, the authorities settled on an official victim count of eight for the Happy Face Killer. Jesperson did not willing surrender, but he did voluntarily leave evidence that would support a conviction once the police found him.
Another man who confessed appeared to do so as bait.
In August 2000, Donald Blom claimed he was innocent as he was driven from a Virginia, Minnesota, courthouse to go serve a life sentence. He was referring to the 1999 abduction and murder of Katie Poirier for which he'd been convicted. "I have never killed anyone," he insisted.
However, the 51-year-old Blom had actually confessed to this very crime. He had said that he had abducted Poirier, strangling her and burning her body in a fire pit on his vacation property nearby. He later recanted, claiming he made a false confession because of the stress of solitary confinement and from medications he was taking. Poirier's body has never been found, although human bone fragments were removed from Blom's fire pit. DNA tests were inconclusive.
In addition, during the summer of 2006, Blom appeared to be offering more. He had told investigators that he was about to change his story. In a letter, he said, "It is time to talk," and Bloomington Police Sergeant Mark Stehlik said Blom had supposedly been willing to answer questions about some local homicides. They had suspected that Blom not only had killed someone but also that he was a serial killer. They believed that when he contacted them, he was trying to clear his conscience.
Apparently Blom wanted to deal. He hoped that in exchange for information he'd be moved to a prison that would place him closer to his relatives. Investigators agreed to the deal and arranged for the transfer. Then they went to see him in the hope of closing cases from as long ago as thirty years.
During his days as a criminal, Blom often changed his looks, his name, and his general presentation, so he was a slick con artist. For example, he was once a registered sex offender living under the name of Donald Pince. That made him a suspect in the sexual assault and murder of a nineteen-year-old student, whose corpse was left in the woods near where Blom lived. In another murder in 1983, Blom had already admitted being at the scene, and he also said he might have killed a man whose body was never found.
However, when the police arrived with the transfer letter, the expected confession never materialized. Instead, Blom talked about other matters. He did this for three days, effectively canceling the deal as well as dashing hopes for case resolutions. But he has advocates who agree that he's innocent. It's often difficult to know in such cases when a killer is lying or telling the truth.
Sometimes people don't confess until caught for something else; they might even be labeled as serial killers, but the authorities have no idea how many they actually killed, and for some reason, they decide to open up.
Robert Charles Browne made headlines in July 2006 when he claimed he'd murdered forty-nine people, becoming America's most prolific known serial killer. But when he beat by one the record set by "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway (who also offered more than authorities realized), his confession triggered skepticism.
In 1995, Browne had pleaded guilty to the 1991 murder in Colorado of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church. Five years later, he sent cryptic notes to Texas prosecutors that suggested more victims: "The score is you 1, the other team, 48." Eventually he admitted he'd been killing since 1970, in nine different states. Yet he provided specific information in less than half of the cases.
It defies reason to confess to something you did not do, especially murder, but some ambitions override reason: notoriety, for example, gamesmanship, and even masturbatory self-aggrandizing.
H. H. Holmes was convicted in Philadelphia in 1896 for a fatal insurance fraud. He insisted he was innocent but for $10,000 proclaimed himself the world's most notorious killer, claming 100 victims before reducing that number to 27. "The newspaper wanted a sensation," he whined, and before stepping into the noose, he admitted to only two. The truth was probably much worse.
After the police arrested Glen Rogers in 1995, wanted in connection with five murders, he took credit for seventy, including Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Then he said he was only joking. He was convicted in two.
The most infamous confessor was Henry Lee Lucas, arrested in 1983. He estimated he'd killed 100 people, but eventually raised that number to over 350 in twenty-seven different states. Lawmen came to Texas to close their open cases, providing Lucas with outings and meals, but suddenly he recanted. Then he insisted he'd been forced to recant, confusing everyone. "I set out to break and corrupt any law enforcement officer I could get," Lucas said. "I think I did a pretty good job." When he died in 2001, the truth went with him.
Since so many serial killers are also psychopaths, lying is often a way of life with them. Some have also developed a need to outdo others, so they can be the "world's worst serial killer," or so they can strut safely around their prison. Some enjoy putting on the media.
It's not easy to know when to trust someone who has already exploited trust as a route to torture, rape and murder. Psychopathic killers view their victims as objects, useful only as pawns in their game, and they thus have this advantage: they feel no remorse. When they choose to communicate, they have their own agendas, formed in self-interest and calculation. What investigators might accept as a "confession," they may view as bait.
Even as they confess, they might conceal murders. Typically, their early efforts were botched and they might not want anyone to know abut their bungling. So even their voluntary confessions might be only part of the story.
So far we've addressed only male serial killers. What about the females?
The Feminine Mistake
It's interesting to note that among those who have turned themselves in, we find no lone females. The only females who have voluntarily confessed were typically part of a team, and their motives ranged from self-preservation to delivering their partner to benefit themselves. Typically this occurs when they believe the police have already drawn close to identifying them.
Carol Bundy called the police on several occasions to turn in her partner, Douglas Clark; together they were responsible for "the Sunset Strip Slayings" in Hollywood in the early 1980s. On Thursday, June 12, 1980, the bodies of two girls were found along the Ventura Freeway embankments. After they were identified, a call came into the station from a woman who did not give her name but who implicated her boyfriend in the killings. But she did not say how to find him. She could have been just a crank caller, but she was correct about how the murders had been done, adding details not released to the media. Her report that she and her boyfriend had recently washed the car, inside and out, was consistent with the way a killer would act who wished to remove evidence. But the switchboard cut her off and she did not call back.
Bundy would entice girls into the car so that Clark could force them into sexual acts, during which he would shoot them in the head. He would then have sex with the corpses. Bundy eventually told a co-worker about it and that person called the police. When arrested, Bundy and Clark were charged with six counts of murder - five females and one male (a friend of Carol's who had suspected Doug in the string of slayings, whom she herself had murdered.) Clark was sentenced to die while Bundy, who testified against him, got two consecutive life terms.
Karla Homolka, too, went to the police to inform on her husband, Paul Bernardo. She said she was a battered wife and had protected him only because she feared for her own life. Then she described the torture-murder of two girls from the Toronto area. What she concealed, however, was her own involvement in a third homicide, the killing of her sister, Tammy, in 1990 in a botched (and unconscionable) attempt to deliver an unconscious virgin to Paul as a Christmas gift. When videotapes were discovered, it was clear that Homolka had been more a participant than the compliant accomplice she had described. As the police closed in, she'd seen a chance to save herself, so she lied to get a short prison term in exchange for details about what Paul had done to the girls. He went to prison for life, while she cut a deal to receive only two twelve-year terms, to be served concurrently. She left prison in 2006.
Since so few serial killers have voluntarily stopped themselves by going to the police, we know little enough about their psychology. Remorse is generally part of it, but our current state of ignorance on this small corner of serial killer behavior does not allow much room to speculate as to why males might do this while females who kill on their own have not.
In any event, it's clear that not all serial killers view their murders as a game. Some - albeit very few - do appear to be remorseful and wish that they could undo what they'd done.
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