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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Theory

posted by on April 17 at 10:45 AM

The serial killer has been replaced by the mass murderer. The serial killer works in time, whereas the mass murderer works in space. The reason for this transition? New DNA technology and increased surveillance (or infoscape systems) have made it more difficult to kill many over time. Without DNA technology Ridgeway would still be a free man; and as for Pickton—who is alleged to have killed over 20 women in a wide area of time—because he erased the visible traces of his victims (they were eaten by his pigs), the case against him is largely built on DNA evidence. But corresponding with significant improvements in DNA technology, there has been significant improvements in weapon technology (the rate of rounds, the power and speed of bullets, and so on). From the advancements made in both technologies results the shift from killing in time to killing in space. All of this is a matter of adaptation for the killer.

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thank you, charles. this is the most-sensible post you've written to date.

Posted by frederick r | April 17, 2007 10:49 AM

We used to play this game in high school: "Serial killer or mass murderer?" We'd name someone and decide if they'd be the type to just explode one day and shoot up a McDonalds or if they would quietly go about abducting and murdering people for years.

So, for example, when you met someone new, you'd say, "Hey, I met this cool guy last night ... serial killer."

Posted by Josh Feit | April 17, 2007 10:58 AM

i'm guessing that it's a typo or that i'm wrong, but i thought that Pickton had killed over 200(!) women.

Posted by Preston | April 17, 2007 11:00 AM

Of course if you are Proustian there's no difference between a serial killer or mass murderer. The only difference is phenomenological: for the serial killer the acts are brought together by the strange proximities that structure subjective time, while for the mass murder it is the simple active of passive sythesis that happens in perceptive retention/protention that binds them together.

Posted by kinaidos | April 17, 2007 11:06 AM

Nuh-uh. The serial killer and the spree killer are different species entirely. One seeks nothing if not appreciation of his work, while the other finds it to be its own reward.

Posted by tsm | April 17, 2007 11:09 AM

You think too much.

Posted by Brendan | April 17, 2007 11:14 AM

@2- I'm glad you were never my friend.

Posted by bonehead's girlfriend | April 17, 2007 11:18 AM

Agree with tsm.

In addition, high capacity magazines were available in the time of the serial killers you mention.

While bullets have grown a little in speed and some in power, when viewed in perspective, these advances are incremental, and likely had absolutely nothing to do with the motivations of murderers methods...

Posted by K X One | April 17, 2007 11:22 AM

Sorry Charles, tsm @5 is right. People who kill follow impulses within, and massacres doesn't satisfy the needs of a serial killer, nor does serial killing fulfill the needs of the mass murderer. Also, I don't think there are more mass murders now than before DNA evidence was viable, nor are there less serial killers.

Posted by Andy | April 17, 2007 12:23 PM

There's nothing about recent mass killings that couldn't be accomplished with world war II era firearms. After all, the previous record (prior to the Virgina Tech massacre) was set in 1966.

Meanwhile, serial killers are still operating; they're just more careful. These were obsessive, methodical people to being with but all the publicity around the past generation of serial killers, not to mention the popularization of forensic technology on shows like CSI, just means they know more about how to avoid getting caught. They may still be caught when their death count is lower than it would have been in the past, but that prospect doesn't turn them into mass murderers instead.

Posted by Joe | April 17, 2007 12:35 PM

There's always been those who like an orgy of violence and bloodshed, and those who like to take it slow and make it intimate. It's just that the serial killers face additional hurdles. But they're still there, and always will be.

Posted by him | April 17, 2007 12:57 PM
Posted by Carrie | April 17, 2007 1:30 PM

While I strongly disagree, and throw my hat in with tsm and that viewpoint, I must say I appreciate the post, as it's one of the more thoughtful and interesting reflections I've seen yet, and I've seen plenty so far in less than a day thanks to the fucking 24-hour vulture news network cycle.

Posted by Juris | April 17, 2007 2:17 PM

Holy crap, I actually agree with you for once. I was just having a conversation with a co-worker about how there are no serial killers anymore. They HAVE been replaced by mass murderers.

Posted by Baxter | April 17, 2007 2:54 PM

I agree in a hybrid between kinaidos and tsm. The serial killer's main thrill is from the hunt itself-- the act of killing is only secondary to the pursuit itself. That is why they must keep "mementos"-- to remind them of the process. Mass murderers only want impact and release. They want total oblivion in the act. That is why most mass-murderers kill themselves in the aftermath, whereas serial-killers only seek another hunt. This is why serial-killers are considered psychotic and mass-murders, sociopathic. It is a thin line between the two, but the former is the only species that actually derives great pleasure from the killing. The suicide-bomber/ gunman does not enjoy the act-- he only enjoys the oblivion of completing his urge for non-existense. He kills himself, because he finds in the death of his victims that urge of social communion that has escaped him his whole life. He dies WITH his victims. It is the only way he sees to transcend the alienation he suffers. The psychotic serial killer, however, only seeks the pleasure derived from the pursuit and kill, the pursuit and kill, the pursuit and kill-- like any drug addict.
My question is-- what is this rift in American society that engenders and enables these tragic trajectories? Were there always these people? And if we, as individuals, seek to live compassionately-- how do we relate to these "monsters"?
I believe it was most likely the deficit of love that led to these people reaching the tipping point. Sure, there will always be the true psychopath whose DNA is hard-wired toward mayhem. But, I can't help but think, if that V-Tech killer had some honest friend, who sat down with him and talked, and accepted him despite neurosis-- he would have broke down into tears instead of into killing.

Finally, Charles, you are the best writer The Stranger has.

Posted by Ryan Smilac | April 19, 2007 12:11 AM

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