Serial Killers

May 11, 2009

Author Charles Pero asks us: “What does it mean that we know about Ted Bundy but not the women he killed? I thought about it and I’ve concluded that we are more interested in the killer than his victim.” Pero sees how Americans are fascinated by American outlaws and anti-heroes. The real life stories of Bonnie and Clyde, and Jesse James are known world wide. Indiana Jones is a beloved character in American cinema. But in reality, he’s a reckless tomb raider; in one of Raiders of the Lost Ark’s most memorable scenes, he faced down a massive swordsman in the middle of a crowed plaza. His solution: shoot him. It made for a great scene, but think about it. He fired his pistol in a plaza surrounded by crowds of people. He could have missed and shot some bystander, but we don’t think about that. We say “how awesome!” It’s not just the Indiana Jones and Robin Hoods that America is interested in; it is also the much darker side of humanity. Americans didn’t go see The Dark Knight 3 times to watch Batman save innocent civilians; they went to see the amazing performance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. But think about it: the Joker killed hundreds of people; he was a mass murderer; he was a serial killer. Unfortunately, this fascination with serial killers isn’t just on the big screen; we know their names like rock stars: Bundy, Dahmer, Manson, but do we know the names of their victims? The problem simply is that American culture is too much in love with serial killers. Their acts are graphic, and television and movies glorify their acts and eventually, they become American icons. And loving them can ultimately lead to emulating them. This is the real threat that our love affair with serial killers presents, and if America is going to shed its violent nature, if America is going to achieve a higher standard of civility, we must end this love affair.
What comes to mind when we hear Jonestown? Most everyone remembers its scary leader: Jim Jones. Maybe you know the saying, “Don’t drink the kool-aid.” But what about the name Leo Ryan? We know and research Jim Jones, the leader of Jones town. We know him as the cult leader that led hundreds of followers to the isolated Jonestown commune in Guyana. If a follower didn’t do everything Jim Jones instructed, Jones would put the follower into the “box,” a 6 by 4 foot underground enclosure. In addition, “Misbehaving Children were dangled head-first into the well late at night.” Jim Jones brain washed these people. Loudspeakers would broadcast Jones’ voice at all hours. This man did the unthinkable. But who is Leo Ryan? Ryan was a U.S representative, a member of congress, who tried to rescue a group of people, was ambushed by a group from Jonestown who shot and killed him and members of his staff. He gave his life to save people he didn’t even know. But Jim Jones is the name we all know. Jones had conducted drills for a mass suicide, but when the gunmen who had killed Congressman Ryan came back from the airstrip he cried, “The Congressman has been murdered. . . . It’s all over,” and that “the time has come for us to meet in another place,” beginning the mass suicide. Jones told them he loved them, and that they needed to kill their children to save the children from their enemies. Jones ordered the children to die first, so the parents would lose hope and willingly kill themselves. He had the pavilion surrounded by armed guards, so there would be no escaping. Most adults drank the poisoned cool-aid willingly, but some resisted. For them, poison was either squirted down their throats (especially for the younger victims), and dozens of the adults were forcibly injected. November 18, 1978, brought the end of Jonestown. More than 900 of his followers, 270 who were children, were dead. We know that Jones killed Congressman Ryan. We have the footage. A dying NBC cameraman, Bob Brown, shot it at the airstrip during the attack that also killed NBC correspondent Don Harris, several escaping cult members and other delegation members... But no one knows their names, just the film that Bob Brown shot. Why doesn’t anyone know his name? The media fascinates us with the dark side of Jim Jones. Bob Brown is the victim here. We should be looking at him and Congressmen Leo Ryan as brave, heroic, daring individuals, who died trying to save a small group of people.
Janice Ott, Denise Naslund, Melissa Smith, Laura Aime, 12-year old Kimberly Leach. What do all these women all have in common? They were all young, attractive, with long, dark hair, parted in the middle. And they were victims of Ted Bundy. Bundy beat, raped, killed and sodomized approximately 35 women, only he knows the real number since he took that with him to the grave. Because we don’t know these names TV shows and reports instead focus on Ted Bundy, and why he committed the things he did. He is usually described as an educated, handsome and charming young man, despite the brutality of his crimes. Janice Ott was approached by Bundy in Lake Samamish State Park in Washington State. He asked for some help because he was having difficulty loading his boat onto his car because his arm was in a cast. She agreed to help and then went missing. On the same day, July 14th, Bundy also approached Denise Naslund, who was spending the afternoon at the park with her boyfriend; he asked her for some help with his boat, again, because of his broken arm—an act of kindness that cost her life. She also was never seen again until the police found the remains of her body and Janice Ott’s a year later about a mile from where they vanished. Bundy escaped from Colorado authorities twice while awaiting trial in both Utah and Colorado. During his Florida trial, he acted as his own attorney. He behaved like a celebrity. Many of the women in the court room would giggle if he looked at them. His murders initiated the biggest and most publicized trials of the decade. American was mesmerized by Bundy’s charm. Bundy became a media sensation after his first arrest in 1976. Even now The Biography Channel repeats a special program on Ted Bundy, looking at his motives for killing and torturing. Bundy supposedly killed because he felt rejected by his mother. Just like her, every woman he killed had long brown hair parted in the middle. His final killing was 12 year old Kimberly Leach. Bundy was convicted, sentenced to death, and electrocuted by the State of Florida on January 24, 1989 for Leach's murder. At his execution, there were over 500 people outside with signs, saying “Burn, Bundy, Burn” and You’re dead Ted.” There were also over 300 reporters trying to get the last story of Ted Bundy. Americans have given him too much attention and his victims’ too little attention.
Jones and Bundy are dead, but there is also a very unbelievable man who is still alive: Charles Manson. In The History Channel just broadcast an interview with him on December 20th, 2008. Manson committed many murders, or forced others to commit murder for him. His followers, formally known as “The Manson Family” took 8 lives because Charles Manson told them to kill. Sharon Tate, Steven Parent, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Baby Paul Richard Polanski, Leno Labianca, and Rosemary Labianca lost their lives because of this Manson. We all know Manson, but do we know the family members he controlled: Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwindel, Susan Atkins, and Tex Watson were all convicted of the murders. What do we know of the victims of the Tate/LaBianca murders? To this day, Manson will not take responsibility to what he did. Manson is still alive because he was never at any of the murder scenes; the rest of the family is still alive because the death penalty was abolished. The Media emphasizes that Manson controlled his followers. Six months before the Sharon Tate case went to court; there were 2 movies in the making exploiting the crimes.
The media we watch explains why they may have killed but they also make these killers celebrities, and American icons, These shows are not about what we can do to protect society from such criminals. The shows legitimize their violence. Obviously these men have some serious problems, whether it’s from their childhoods or mental illness however taking another life is not justified. These shows explain why they may have killed making the focus on the killer and devaluing the victims; they become supporting details, not victims. People just want to know how many were killed, how they murdered, and other gruesome details. These killers are become celebrities. This starts a vicious cycle.
We as part of the American society can help stop this perpetuating cycle. We need to ensure that these monsters are incarcerated and remain in prison for life. Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims’ We need to stop taking them out for publicity. The Media also needs to be responsible about the content of the programs. They need to put programs on that are beneficial, and that teach us things about the victims, and how to stay away from these monsters. The media is looking for the ratings, and that’s where we come in. We need to change the channel when the TV is telling us that childhood mistreatment justifies criminal behavior. WE can join an advocacy group and help the families who have been hurt. One such organization seeding volunteers is Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims. Check it out at We need to be helping the victims and honoring their memory rather than honoring their killers. When we reject the media, focus on victims, and support organizations such as Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims’ we can work for justice. We need to end our love affair with the anti-hero. As the organization Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims’ says, “Justice isn’t served until crime victims are.”

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