The Mysterious Hype Surrounding Serial Killers

Binge-watching shows on Netflix is a skill I acquired way before the government-imposed lockdown I now find myself in. But a little before the world was struck by this deadly virus, I was halfway down a rabbit hole of doom.

A little over a year ago, a slightly younger Funky Poet got pulled into an extremely interesting docu-series focusing solely on certain serial killers. Now the human psyche is extremely complicated, but also simple in more ways than one. One of the many things most of us take simple pleasures in is the uncertain.

A still from Psycho (1960)

Who doesn’t enjoy watching a movie/tv series that has them on the edge of their seat? I know I do! Most thriller/murder mysteries often make good bedside reads. But apart from just fiction, some of these happen to be based on real-life situations often surrounding a semi well known serial killer. And it is undeniable that they have crept their way into our lives because if we don’t hear about them through movies enough, we have TV shows or docu-series talking about them. 

But what exactly is it about these very serial killers that makes us want so much more? Let’s talk about it!

Here’s to the Past

The term serial murder or serial killing indicates that at least two or more homicides have been committed by the same individual. But even though it’s quite a popular term right now, it wasn’t as common until the 1970s. For it was around this time that an investigator with the Behavioral Science Unit of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Robert Ressler popularized it.

The criteria set by the FBI back then state homicide to take place in four different locations and a cooling period in between. Only then will it be considered a serial murder, but the criteria have changed in modern times. While the term is widely known, this crime hasn’t been recognized by any legal code.  

Now, I know there are 195 countries in the world. But when I decided to drift into this serial killer rabbit hole, I mostly came across popular serial killers from the United States of America. So I will start with Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H.Holmes. The tag of America’s first serial killer got the best of curiosity, and I just couldn’t click away.

H.H.Holmes

Why? Because this man is responsible for somewhere between 20 to 200 deaths. He initially claimed he killed 27, but later retracted that statement bringing the number down to a mere 2. How did he even carry this out? He happened to purchase the property where he then constructed what came to be known as the ‘Murder Hotel’. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I soon came across serial killers like Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Jack The Ripper, The Zodiac Killer, and more. The list is endless, I shit you not, my search history right now could be defined as ‘alarming’. Now, I’m not qualified to get down to ‘why did they do it?’, so I won’t. But what I do want to talk about is how we still talk about most of them, decades after they’ve perished.

Whenever You Remember

Somewhere along this never-ending journey, I came across Ted Bundy. Now, Ted Bundy has been on the more popular spectrum for one simple reason. He was a conventionally good looking guy who confessed to nearly 30 homicides he committed back in the 70s.  

The first-ever trial to be televised nationally in the United States, the Florida trial was covered by 250 reporters from five continents. Why does this trial stand out to most? Bundy represented himself in court, women dressed up like various of his victims and came to watch the trial in court, and the most ridiculous of them all, he asked a woman named Carol Ann Boone to marry him.

Ted Bundy

Even back then, the trial of this deadly serial killer had people on the edge of their seat. Many even found it hard to believe that someone who looked like Bundy was capable of committing the crimes, yet even I couldn’t resist how peculiar his trials sounded. And somehow, this has been the most talked-about scenario that resulted in a docu-series called Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes which released in 2019 on Netflix. I remember watching this as soon as it came out solely because this was as ‘genuine’ as it could get. There was also a movie called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins which released that same year. And what I found interesting is that the title of the movie is a phrase the judge used to describe Bundy’s crimes before sentencing him to death.  

But why did the newspapers talk about serial killers as much as they did? 

Serial killers like Jack the Ripper, or even the Zodiac killer were notoriously known for communicating with the police and the papers through notes. To possibly mock the police, or even create a sense of fear or discomfort. 

Letters from Jack the Ripper (left) and the Zodiac Killer (right)

But the papers have always covered anything that would have then been considered big news. And unlike Jack the ripper, it is the papers who have been responsible for most serial killers getting a catchy name. That has also given them a little credibility. But the readers or even us right now love researching them or reading about them because it’s thrilling to read a ‘story’ or incident that seems like it came right out of a movie. 

Apart from the papers, mainstream media has also helped keep their name alive. Long after they’ve gone, we still talk about movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, Hannibal, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and so much more. 

Twisty the Homicidal Clown

TV Shows like ‘The American Horror Story’ are quite notorious for portraying a few serial killers under different names or as themselves. The most terrifyingly popular character would have to be Twisty the homicidal clown on Season 4: Freak Show. This ominous character drew inspiration from the infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, otherwise known as ‘The Killer Clown’, who would often dress as ‘Pogo the Clown’ for children’s parties.  

The Halloween episode of Season 5: Hotel featured a few real-life killers attending a small gathering hosted by James Patrick March in Hotel Cortez, a character loosely based on H.H.Holmes and his murder hotel. The real-life killers included the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez (better known as the Night Stalker), Gordon Northcott of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, and the Zodiac. 

While movies and TV shows take inspiration from their lives, various videos on YouTube entirely discuss it instead. From conspiracy theories, unsolved cases, to even talking about what they requested for their last meals. Some of which I’ve been guilty of watching excessively too.

Am I Getting Through?

I had the weirdest argument in my head when I decided to write this piece. But having already committed to the idea, I started asking my friends and acquaintances ‘what draws us to serial killers?’. And the answer has been quite unanimous. The thrill. The uncertainty of what or why it happened. 

And the only way to feed this uncertainty and need for thrill was by going through the papers, watching a movie, TV series, or a Youtube video. Which then brings me to my second question. Why do they keep churning out content revolving around serial killers? Because clearly, the demand for this particular content is high. And they would be foolish to not keep banking on it. 

I hope everyone is keeping safe and staying indoors due to our current situation, but that just gives you more time to put your feet up and relax. Have you watched any movies/shows based on a real-life serial killer? 

If you enjoy content like this, then you can check out more of my work here.

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