Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The brilliant disguises of serial killers

One thing I've always found interesting about Dennis "BTK" Rader is just how well he managed to blend into his community while hiding his murderous impulses. He isn't the first figure in criminal history to have a double life, but Rader never even got arrested before his crimes as BTK were linked to him, unlike another vaunted pillar of the community, John Wayne Gacy, who spent time in prison on a child molestation charge before he began burying the bodies of his teenage victims in his crawlspace. Some experts have credited Rader's ability to carry on his double life to an ability to compartmentalize his environment. One forensic psychiatrist who spent time with Rader believes that he was capable of genuine affection for his wife and children, who by all accounts he never mistreated, but anyone else, those who would become his victims or "projects," was not seen as human, but an object for him to achieve his goals of murderous fantasies. Rader's cold tone during his court confession shocked the members of his community, who had previously known him as a friend, church council member and Boy Scout troop leader.
Still, even Rader's facade started to crack before he was linked to the BTK murders. While working as a community "compliance officer," patrolling the community to make sure everyone's pets were on leashes and enforcing other community policies, he made several enemies with his lust for power and arrogance. Most often, as with BTK, the victims of Rader's arbitrary flexing of power were women. One woman says that Rader filed a report that her dog was off her leash, then had the dog put to sleep, just because the woman wouldn't get rid of her boyfriend, which Rader had told her would solve the problem. While Rader was working as a compliance officer, the BTK murders stopped. The forensic psychiatrist believes that since Rader was able to exercise his need for power and control as a compliance officer, he didn't feel the need to exercise control over life and death. A non-entity like Rader, who a former classmate said was remarkable in how unremarkable he was, with a need for power simmering under the surface had to make a name for himself in some way, to show the dominance he felt he had. Like many other serial killers, Rader was undone by his arrogance. After eluding capture for almost 30 years, a book written about the murders named someone other than Rader as the prime suspect, something that Rader clearly could not stand. He wrote a letter to a local TV station on a computer in his church. When forensic investigators linked the letter to the computer, and surveillance cameras placed Rader at that computer at the time the letter was written, BTK was captured.
Herb Baumeister was another midwestern serial killer who expertly kept his murders a secret from his wife and children. When his wife Julie thought Herb was out of town on business, he was trolling Indianapolis' gay bars, searching for victims. But Herb made the fatal mistake of leaving a surviving victim, who helped police identify the man responsible for the murders of several gay men around Indianapolis. After Julie found bones in their backyard, Herb gave a convincing, though false, explanation that they were animal bones one of the children had found. When police actively searched for Herb after finding human remains on his property, Herb fled, and eventually committed suicide. With the killer himself dead, the families of the victims, still desperate to blame someone, turned their rage on Julie, claiming she must have known what was happening in her house. But in an interview, Julie indicates that she was just as ignorant of Herb's true nature as their friends and community. And she probably was. Dennis Rader's wife didn't know her husband was BTK before the rest of the world found out. But because Dennis Rader was taken alive, his wife didn't face the accusations that Julie Baumeister did. The families and surviving victims of BTK could face the man who had terrorized them, but Herb Baumeister killed himself before the police could capture him, so the grieving families had to turn their need for revenge on the one who was closest to the killer, his wife, who must have known something living in the same house as the now dead killer. If Herb Baumeister was as convincing a liar as Dennis Rader or any other Jekyll and Hyde serial killer, Julie probably didn't know anything about her husband's true nature until the police told her, and was left with the knowledge that a man she trusted and built a life with was responsible for the deaths of innocents.
A similar situation happened when Wayne Henley, the accomplice of Houston serial killer Dean Corll, shot Dean to protect his friends. With Corll, the Svengali, dead, Henley and David Brooks, Corll's other accomplice, were left to answer for the crimes. Both Henley and Brooks received multiple life sentences for their roles in the murders, but, as one investigator noted, if Corll had been alive, he would have taken the brunt of the punishment, and Brooks and Henley would have only been tried as accomplices. But with their ringleader already dead, and questions arising as to how strong Henley's role was in the murders, Henley and Brooks were tried as the killers, with only their stories about Corll to defend them, although they both confessed readily to their roles in finding victims for Corll. An investigator in the case said that shooting Corll was either a smart move in self-defense, or the stupidest thing Wayne Henley could have done.

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