Why are we so fascinated with murderers?
Maybe it’s because we all have that one annoying person we fantasize about killing, even though we know we’ll never actually do it. Or maybe it’s the opposite: we literally can’t imagine doing something so morally and ethically depraved, so reading about someone who can imagine it, and actually does it, provides the kind of shock value we can’t find in our everyday lives. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: we love reading about killers. And thankfully, there are authors out there who love writing about them!
We recently asked two of our authors who write about crime to have a conversation about killers. is the author of , a thriller set in Queensland Australia whose heroes have both been accused of terrible crimes. is the author of , a science fiction tale of a woman correcting the social order on a generation ship—one murder at a time. So of course, we asked them to discuss some of the most intriguing types of killers: serial killers and spree killers!
Candice Fox: I’m going to put it out there: I think it’s harder to be a serial killer than a spree killer. Think about it. These guys (and yes, we’re primarily talking about guys with both spree and serial killers) are attempting the inconceivable—they want to accommodate their sadistic fantasies within their normal, everyday lives.
Emily Devenport: The serial killer can think circles around the spree killer.
Granted, this may be mostly hype. In fiction, serial killers are guys like Hannibal Lector—super smart, fearless, able to wage both psychological and physical war. Those fictional monsters are practically demigods. In real life, there have been some very smart serial killers, but few of them rise to the level of Francis Dolarhyde (from Red Dragon). I suspect most serial killers are successful because they’re so focused and single minded in their killing, while the rest of us are just trying to live our lives. They see opportunities to kill where we see opportunities to mow the lawn, visit the laundromat, or pick up a gallon of milk. They tend to watch for opportunities and plan carefully. And that’s what makes them so dangerous.
Candice Fox: But someone like Dennis Rader (BTK) managed, for seventeen years, to terrorize a city with his killing games while at the same time maintaining the appearance of a (relatively) normal family. How do you do that? You pretend. You develop incredible skills of deception. You learn how to hide your trophies in your picture-perfect, suburban home, and you smile for photos when your mind is filled with evil. Rader knocked off a whole family one morning while they were sitting down to breakfast and wasn’t even late for work. That’s gotta be tough, and it’s why sometimes serial killers do stupid things to get themselves caught. It’s probably because they’re exhausted.
Emily Devenport: Spree killers are people who have come unraveled. They tend to be young people with a poor grasp of consequences, and they also tend to be couples. Their spree generally begins because of some triggering event, and then they’re killing her parents and stealing the family car, killing his uncle for the cash, killing the gas station attendant because the uncle didn’t have enough cash, robbing the till, then driving to Vegas because they think they’re going to win a million dollars playing blackjack. They can end up hurting a lot of people, because they may not seem dangerous until they’re waving the gun in your face. But I think they’re easier to get away from, because they haven’t planned everything out. If you can think fast, you may be able to get out of their way.
Candice Fox: Most spree killers plans for an ending—either in a shootout with police, or by taking their own lives, and they’re usually successful in that. They only have to keep their secret as long as they plan for the act.
Emily Devenport: If a serial killer targets you, you’re in big trouble. That guy might be somewhat disorganized, someone who goes after a victim because of opportunity, but even under those circumstances he probably has good reason to feel confident you can’t get away, because he’s got the handcuffs, and the chloroform, and/or the secret, reinforced cellar he’s excavated for just this occasion. If I was going to be targeted by one or the other, I’d have to say I’d prefer the spree killer. They’re less likely to have a hypo full of etorphine handy.
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