As my longtime readers will undoubtedly know, I love Hannibal Lecter. Not in the “I want to marry him” kind of way, but just in the “you are who you are and don’t apologize” sort of adoration. Yes, I am 100% aware he is not a human worth emulating in any regard other than that. Someone who eats other people is not a good role model. Let me just put that out there.
However, since I adore Hannibal, I find myself wondering about the people Hannibal is based on. Thomas Harris created an exceptional serial killer, several in truth, so where did he get those ideas? In doing research about Harris, I came across Robert Ressler. Not a well-known name outside of certain circles, truthfully, but vitally important to the field of research regarding ‘serial killers’. In fact, he is the one who coined the phrase, serial killer. Before that, they were called stranger murders because they didn’t fit the profile common to murder back then which was that a person was generally killed by someone they knew who would be caught fairly quickly.
Fast forward a bit and a dear friend, Isabella Darkwood, walked into our writing group and handed me a book, “Whoever Fights Monsters” by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman. I am ashamed to say I did not start reading right there at the table. In fact, I wouldn’t touch it for months, almost a year. It sat on my bookshelf and stared at me, then I moved to another apartment where it sat on another bookshelf and stared at me. Finally, I picked it up and read it through in three days because I was reading every spare second I was able.
For those of you whose primary understanding of the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit comes from Criminal Minds, you might be a bit disappointed. Ressler makes a point of saying BSU agents are not field agents and they are not usually involved in catching the bad guy beyond doing a profile. However, his discussions of profiling from an infant art into what might possibly be considered a science are fascinating. Learning about the interior workings of the FBI is enlightening, including how the unit went from being two men with an apprentice to the creation of VICAP. A lot can happen in 20 years.
Serial killers, according to Ressler, fit into three categories presented along a sliding scale: Organized, Disorganized, and Mixed. The distinctions, though not as stark as some would like, are markable and this gets me to why I find this important.
A couple years ago, I wrote a novel “Hush” which includes a serial killer stalking a psychic. I based my villain on what I knew of serial killers at the time, which includes a lot of pop culture depictions. I have not published “Hush” because I simply haven’t gone through and made sure I enjoy it enough to send to other people. However, having read Ressler’s book, now I want to go back and profile my own killer and see if I can make him more interesting and more realistic. Is this necessary? No, not at all. However, it will make me happy and that is enough. Perhaps it will even make others happy. That would be even more than I could hope for.