The Serial Killer ; An Anti-hero for the fin de siècle
version of a talk given at the colloquium on 'Word and Identity' at the University of Besançon, 1996.
(Université de Paris 8)
In this paper, I intend :
1. to consider the accuracy of the image of the serial killer as it has been forged in popular consciousness. In order to do this, I will examine the general profile of the serial killer put forward by someone who is recognized both institutionally and in the public sphere as an expert on the question. I hope to demonstrate that this profile is inaccurate and misleading.
2. to look at the reasons why certain key institutions within the field of Criminal Justice - the police and the FBI - have found it in their interest to promulgate an image which is so demonstrably partial. This will involve a sketch of the problems with which these institutions were faced in the late 70s and early 80s.
3. to ask how popular culture has treated the images offered to it by the formal institutions. Specifically, I will examine how far the novel "The Silence of the Lambs", written by Thomas Harris (Harris, 1988), which on a superficial reading may seem to be a piece of propaganda for the FBI, actually does reproduce the image that we have examined. I will suggest that 'Silence' is fundamentally a work of literature, however minor, and that it obeys the laws of literature rather than the dictates of the Behavioral Science Unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Popular culture is not simply subservient to powerful interest groups, but actively transforms the images and icons that it is offered.
4. to conclude with a rapid glance at why it might be that popular opinion in the United States has taken to its heart the image of the serial killer put forward by the FBI.
I take off from the position of so-called Radical Criminology, and in particular from a concern with what, in the literature, is referred to as the 'Moral Panic' (Cohen, 1987, Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994). This approach, which takes Durkheim's consideration of crime as its starting point (Durkheim, 1967, Taylor, Walton & Young, 1973, Sumner, 1994), implies the welding together of sociology and cultural and literary criticism with particular reference to media studies and popular culture.
First, let's look at some words. The first of these is identity itself. It is a word with much appeal to policemen ; it motivates the first questions that an officer asks a citizen upon stopping him, and the ultimate task of the detective is to identify the criminal - or, bearing in mind cases such as that of Randall Adams or the Guildford affair, to ensure that someone is so identified to the satisfaction of the Criminal Justice system.
It is a Janus word. On the one hand, it indicates individuality - this one, and not another. On the other hand, it indicates resemblance - as in 'identical twins'. This is fitting in so far as my subject is concerned - the serial killer or serial murderer is conceived to be both a monster, a freak, a one-off shot, and at the same time is a category, an assembly of freaks, each of which reflects the others. Moreover, the serial killer is understood as condemned to repetition - each killing is a replica of the original sin, and in the traces that the killer leaves upon the corpse and upon the crime-scene is to be read his signature - inimitable and ever the same.
The next word we may consider is 'serial'. According to the OED, it entered the English language in the mid-19th century to refer to the habit of publishing stories in installments. It carries with it, then, the idea of regularity, of an event that repeats itself at predictable intervals. It connotes also the idea of publication and of a story to be told. The serial killer is a story-teller, but the tale he tells is always the same and there is only one proper dénouement. Bobby Joe Long appears to have understood this when he released his penultimate victim in the full knowledge, he later claimed, that she would go to the police and would lead them to him. He allowed his identity to be revealed (Norris, 1988, p. 189).
The third term I will look at is the 'profile'. The primary meaning refers, of course, to a silhouette, and in particular to a silhouette of the human face. It is perhaps serendipitous that a key moment in the trial of Theodore Bundy, one of the most notorious of American serial killers, was when one of the witnesses was asked whether she recognized the man she had seen in court. She replied that she would need to see him in profile as she had on the night of the murder; the judge ordered all men in the courtroom to stand and turn to one side. Nita Jane Neary pointed at Bundy (Rule, 1994, p. 355).
A profile, then, permits identification. Today, as we all know, the term profile refers to a process by which the detective, reading from the signs left at a crime-scene, draws up a character study of the perpetrator. This process is presented as both scientific and mystical - there are those in the criminal justice community who refer to profilers as 'voodoo detectives' (Jenkins, 1994, p. 741).
Their skill is based upon careful classification, upon some knowledge of psychopathology and also on experiential knowledge. It is this latter which is regarded as spiritually dangerous; the profiler is someone who has bearded the lion in his den, who has spent hours interviewing multiple murderers in their cells, and who, we are lead to believe, has had to struggle manfully against the terrors and the pressures of these interviews. Amongst the terrors is that of slipping into the killer's skin and taking on his identity - whoever hunts monsters, FBI agent Robert Ressler reminds us in his autobiography (Ressler & Schachtman, 1992), must gaze into the abyss, and the abyss will gaze back into him. But from the hours spent in the monster's den the profiler derives an insight which gives him as much the status of a seer as of a scientist.
Behind each individual profile there lies a generic profile, one which more or less fits every serial murderer2. To get an idea of what this generic profile is, we may look at the following document (Rule, 1994, p. 445/6). On March 13, 1986, Ann Rule, author and advisor to the team that set up VICAP, (the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) wrote a letter to Theodore Bundy who was then on Death Row in Raiford prison, Florida.
Bundy was at the time appealing against the death sentences handed down to him for the Chi Omega murders and for the murder of a 12 year old girl. He was suspected of having committed at least 30 other murders, and some of the officers who had been involved in his case believed that he had perhaps killed more than three hundred women over a period of some sixteen years (Rule, 1994, pp. 312/3, 485/6, Keppel, 1995, passim). Bundy was trying to save his life through his expertise in serial murder - he had volunteered to help Robert Keppel, (chief criminal investigator with the Washington State Attorney General's office, and one of the detectives who had investigated Bundy's own murders), elucidate the case of the Green River killer, claiming to be the only 'Ph. D. in serial murder'.
Ann Rule, an ex-police-woman who had become a True-crime writer for magazines such as Detective, had achieved national fame after writing a book on Bundy, whom she had known personally when they both worked for a Suicide Hot-line in Seattle. She has continued writing True-crime books, but has also contributed as an expert witness to Congressional Committees on such questions as Criminal Violence and Missing Children. In her letter to the condemned man, Rule said that the serial killer was -
*More likely to be Caucasian than black, and very rarely Indian or Oriental.
*Brilliant, charming, and charismatic.
*Hands-on killers who used their hands as a weapon: to bludgeon, choke, strangle, or knife victims.
*Killers who seldom used a gun (with the exception of David Berkowitz and Randy Woodfield).
*Travelers - men who moved constantly either around the city where they lived, or around the country, trolling for victims, putting many times the mileage on their vehicles than ordinary men did.
*Men who were full of rage, who killed to take the edge off that rage, and who employed sex in their murder scenario principally to demean their victims.
*Men addicted to murder - as an addict is addicted to drugs or liquor.
*Men who are fascinated by police work - who either spend time hanging around the police station, or who actually work as reserve officers or commissioned policemen.
*Men who seek a particular type of victim: women, children, vagrants, the elderly, homosexuals. Vulnerable victims.
*Men who employed a ruse or a device to lure victims away from help.
*Men who had suffered from some kind of child abuse under the age of five. I believed serial killers were very bright, sensitive children who were abused, abandoned, humiliated, rejected during the time when their consciences should have been developing.
Let us examine these characteristics a little more closely.
1. Rule claims that serial killers are predominantly male. Between 10 & 15% of known serial killers are women. This means that women, who tend to account for between 1/7th and 1/4 of all crimes, are almost as heavily represented amongst serial killers as they are in any other field of crime. (Jenkins, 1994, p. 151)
2. Most commentators agree that serial killers are mostly white. In fact, between 13% and 16% of cases of serial murder are accounted for by Afro-American killers. Whilst this means that they do not attain the proportions that are current for run-of-the-mill homicides, they are present in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Killers of Asian extraction are also present in numbers equivalent to their population base (Jenkins, 1994, p. 169).
Although Rule does not mention this in her list of characteristics, the popular public image of the serial killer has it that he does not cross race boundaries. This is by no means always the case; Carlton Gary, an African American, is believed to have murdered at least 7 white women over a period of 16 years (Norris, 1988, pp. 176-85). The Green River killer, whose identity remains unknown, killed both white and black women (Keppel, 1994 passim3), and Bobby Joe Long, who also preyed on prostitutes and what the police tastelessly refer to as 'barflies', began his career as a killer by murdering an Asian woman (Norris, 1988).
3. Are serial killers 'brilliant'? According to Stéphane Bourgouin, the French criminologist, the average IQ of serial killers is 110 - bright, perhaps, but not brilliant. His figures are based on those furnished him by the FBI (Bourgouin, 1993, p. 224). Bundy himself, who is often depicted as unusually intelligent, had a measured IQ of 120 (Rule, 1994). Most university students would score higher.
4. These criminals are depicted as attractive and personable. Whilst Bundy himself was apparently attractive to women and charmed his victims into following him to his car, Ed Gein looked like something out of a movie by Roger Corman. Rule is here trying to establish that the serial killer is simply not someone you would expect him to be, and so is all the more dangerous.
5 & 6. It does seem true that many of these killers do use close-up killing methods, but Berkowitz and Woodfield are by no means the only ones to use guns. The Una-bomber, as his name indicates, used bombs, which he sent through the post. Women serial killers and medical killers in general use poisons. This form of serial murder probably accounts for more victims than any other (Jenkins, 1994, p. 151).
7. Although some serial killers do move around, this is far from being always the case. According to Philip Jenkins, 'the majority of killers tend to operate within one city or even one neighbourhood, often preying on a particular victim population, much in the way that the original Jack the Ripper carried out his attacks in a small area of East London in the 1880s (Jenkins, 1994, p. 45).'
Recently, the idea of the serial killer as nomad has undergone a certain redefinition; now it is posited that, during what is referred to as the 'trolling phase', they get in their cars and drive around looking for victims, with little care for where they may find themselves (Norris, 1988, p. 44/8, Keppel, 1995, p. 445).
8. Serial killers, says Rule, are men filled with hate, who use sex to demean their victims. Whilst this may be true of a number of serial killers, it is not always the case. Both Nilsen and Dahmer would appear to have committed their killings out of a warped sense of affection for their guests - they wanted to make sure that they would stay with them. Medical killers rarely commit sexual assault. For this kind of murderer, it would appear that the expression of their own power is more important than the humiliation of the victim.
9. Killing is a drug for these people, says Rule. This is a rather sneaky sleight-of-hand. The idea that murder might be a drug, and that drugs are a once and for all hook is popular psychology, but it is difficult to know whether it is or is not borne out by the reality of serial killing.
Some serial killers certainly conceive of themselves as unable to stop - Bobby Joe Long believed that the only way he could give it up was to get caught. Joel Norris suggests that a balanced diet and institutionalization can calm the serial murderer (Norris, pp 254/5); certainly Denis Nilsen has eschewed any form of violence since his imprisonment.
What does appear to be true is that many serial killers are themselves substance abusers; Bundy reported that he was usually very drunk when he killed, while Henry Lee Lucas had been a habitual drug user since childhood. Denis Nilsen was drunk on each occasion when he killed (Masters, 1986, passim). Jeffrey Dahmer started drinking heavily at the age of fourteen (Masters, 1993, p. 44).
10. They are interested in how policemen do their job. It does appear to be the case that some serial killers do take an interest in police work - but this may simply be that it is the activity of the police that forms the kernel of their public identity rather than a fascination with police-work as such. Once again, it is not clear that this is generally true. Dahmer appears to have taken very little interest in anything (Masters, 1993, passim), and Nilsen, although he had himself been a policeman for a short time, does not seem to have been unduly interested in police methods (Masters, 1986, passim).
11. They focus on a limited range of victims. Whilst this is the case with a number of killers - Bundy himself picked women who all conformed very closely to his idea of feminine beauty - others appear to be extremely open in their choice of targets. Dennis Nilsen regularly killed young men who might be considered to be at the height of their physical powers - Rule's characterization of homosexuals as 'vulnerable victims' begs discussion.
12. They use ruses. This may well be the case in many instances, but hardly seems worth elaborating on.
14. They have been victims of abuse in their early childhood. Neither Dennis Nilsen nor Jeffrey Dahmer seems to have been the victim of a great deal of heavy abuse in his infancy - although Dahmer's childhood was certainly unusual (Masters, 1993, pp 24 - 73). In the case of Bobby Joe Long, Norris, who is very keen on this hypothesis, is reduced to claiming that his mother abused him psychologically because she shared a bed with him until he was about ten years old (Norris, 1988, pp 191/2).
As some psychiatrists have pointed out, what passes as child abuse is often ambiguous - Ed Kemper was regularly punished by his mother, but, as one of the psychiatrists who specializes in serial murder suggested, this may have been because he was an extremely difficult child (Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, cited inBourgouin, p. 227/8).
Rule's profile of the serial killer, then, is quite misleading. This in itself should not surprise us. Although some of the profiles produced by the Behavioural Science Unit of the FBI have proven 'uncannily accurate', as the newspapers are fond of putting it, others have been so wrong as to be laughable. Thus, prior to the capture of Wayne Williams by the Atlanta police who put their hands upon him by using the classic police technique of the 'stake-out', the FBI had produced a profile in which they stated that the killer was most probably a white racist.
Keppel is particularly scathing about this episode (Keppel, p. 115), and indeed, comes close to dismissing profiling altogether - he believes 'the profile to be a major distraction for the investigators because ... it forced police to focus on tweaking the profile to the killer instead of investigating the known facts of the case (Keppel, p. 179)'.
He argues that the FBI behavioural scientists have never succeeded in 'detecting the identity of an unnamed serial killer', and finally dismisses the BSU for having 'consistently avoided any academic scrutiny of their research into serial killers, while exploiting those of us who have so faithfully given cases to them for examination over the years.'
Keppel was, according to his version of the story, one of the leading lights in the early stages of the implementation of VICAP, but found himself, along with other independently minded police officers, squeezed out when it was taken over by the FBI. He felt that this was the worst thing that could happen, as the whole idea behind VICAP was that information should flow freely between the different police forces of the country. This would not occur if the organization was in the hands of the FBI, for the Bureau had built up such a backlog of antagonism amongst the local police forces that the latter would simply refuse to share information with them.
We should bear in mind this hostility to the Bureau on the part of state policemen when we look at the development of what Jenkins has referred to as a 'Moral Panic'. A moral panic is now the consecrated term in the social sciences to refer to the process by which the agencies of information dissemination, in concourse with a number of interested parties, blow a rather minor social phenomena up into a major issue, mobilizing public opinion in such a way that it can be claimed that there is a general demand that 'something should be done'. Whether the term panic is accurate or not - and I feel that it is not - the process itself can certainly be seen to occur - the Witch Hunts of the early modern period are one striking example. Does the model apply to the serial killer?
At first sight, this might not seem to be the case; early in the 1980s, the FBI announced that serial murderers might be guilty of something like 4 or 5 thousand murders a year in the USA. This would account for between a fifth and a quarter of all murders (Norris, p. 33. The figures are still being repeated in some quarters. See Radford, 1992, p. 11 for an example). However, it has been shown that this remarkably high estimate was based upon what must have been a wilful misreading of the statistics, and by the end of the decade, such claims were no longer made by responsible police officers or by the FBI (Jenkins, pp. 28, 69).
Why had law-enforcement agencies tolerated this inflation in the statistics? In the first place, police agencies in many Western countries have found themselves under a high degree of public scrutiny over the last couple of decades, and much of this scrutiny has been hostile. The police are viewed as being bigoted, reactionary and inefficient. Trends in crime have not helped; most states have found themselves paying for more policemen without seeing the amount of officially recorded crime go down.
Further, police clear-up rates have actually tended to fall quite considerably. Whilst there are many legitimate reasons why the police have found it increasingly difficult to solve the large numbers of petty crimes, they have been able to pride themselves, at least until recently, on being fairly efficient in solving major breaches of the law such as grievous bodily harm, manslaughter and murder. (For a discussion of problems posed by crime statistics, see my essay 'Reading the Crime Rates').
However, recent rises in the murder rate have gone hand in hand with a loss in police effectiveness in this domain; clear-up rates for crimes of violence have traditionally been high. This is, of course, in part because the police take such crimes very seriously and are willing to invest many hours in solving them - but it is mainly because the typical murder or assault is an affair between members of one family or between people who know each other well (On 'ordinary' homicide, see Daly & Wilson, 1988, passim). In cases of murder, it is very often the assassin himself who reports the crime and who immediately admits to it. In the case of violent assault, the victim usually knows her aggressor and can immediately give his name to the police. But over the last fifteen years or so, the proportion of murders in which the perpetrator is unknown to the victim has increased considerably, and the police have found it increasingly difficult to solve crimes of violence.
The serial killer as depicted in Rule's letter goes some way to solving the image problem with which the police are confronted; he is an unusual criminal and is especially difficult to catch. A white, middle class, young man, good-looking, intelligent and superficially charming, he slips from zone to zone, from state to state, continually eluding pursuit. Moreover, his deep interest in crime and in police procedure enables him to remain always one step ahead.
It was this kind of consideration that lead Pierce Brookes of the Los Angeles Police Department to call for the setting up of VICAP. Robert Keppel was called in to advise on the program at an early stage, in large part, he suggests, because of his knowledge of the Ted Bundy case and of Bundy himself.
Bundy is indeed the archetypal serial killer - Rule had expected him to see his mirror image in the letter she sent him, and states that VICAP was set up with Bundy firmly in mind (Rule, p. 445). And Bundy, along with Ed Kemper, another bright white middle class boy gone wrong, was to serve as a model for the serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Keppel himself quickly became disillusioned with VICAP, as we have seen, largely because it was taken over by the FBI.
Why should the FBI have been so eager to take on this responsibility? Why was it that they threw such resources, both in money and in time, into setting up the program and into funneling information to the media, whether through journalists or through writers of fiction and film directors?
The answer would seem to be that, on the one hand, the FBI needed an issue which would refurbish their somewhat tarnished image, (put to the test by the wake of revelations about the private life and political practices of J. Edgar Hoover5, and by the hostile feelings awakened in many quarters by its reaction to dissent over the the Vietnam War), while on the other, it was finding it increasingly difficult to persuade local police forces to cooperate. The Bureau, which has always understood the importance of good public relations both among the wheelers and dealers in Washington and amongst the ordinary citizens of the United States, saw that the Serial Killers issue was just what they needed.
What of popular culture? The FBI encouraged the diffusion of an image of the serial-killer which emphasized the need for new techniques and a higher degree of centralization. Writers such as Thomas Harris were encouraged to come to them for background material. Harris, after the publication of Red Dragon (Harris, 1990), a particularly successful treatment of the serial killer theme, in which the Bureau, and in particular the BSU, figured strongly, was given much encouragement when he decided to elaborate on the character of Hannibal Lecter, who had played a key role in the first book. However, agents have always been ambivalent about Harris's work and their ambivalence continued even after the huge success of the Hollywood version of Silence, which, at least at first reading, appears so positive in its portrayal of America's national 'monster hunters'.
I will argue here that their instincts in this matter are probably correct, and that Harris's books, and in particular The Silence of the Lambs, whilst superficially laudatory in their presentation of the FBI, are, on a closer reading, far less positive. (Note : this paper was written prior to the publication of 'Hannibal, a book which sees an FBI agent going over to the dark side with, it seems, the full approval of the narrating voice. As we shall see in what follows, this development is fully in line with the reading of Silence that I present here).
This is in part because Harris does not allow himself to be fully taken in by the party line; thus the Senator whose daughter has been kidnapped by 'Buffalo Bill' expresses some scepticism as to the the capacities of the BSU to find her daughter, pointing out that they have been unable to solve the case after six murders. Lecter himself has much fun with the Mickey Mouse psychology upon which the Bureau's profiles are based.
Moreover, in neither of the books is the murderer stopped by a fully paid up member of the FBI; in Red Dragon, it is the wife of a retired policeman who guns him down in order to defend herself and her son, whilst in Silence, it is a woman trainee who has not as yet been definitively inducted into the Bureau. Moreover, Harris allows his villains to be polyvalent in their style of killing and in their tastes in victims.
But it also because Harris is a writer; he takes his time over his books - Red Dragon was published in 1981, Silence in 1988, and his fourth book, which is believed to be a follow-up to Silence, has not yet appeared on the bookstalls. Harris situates himself within the western literary tradition - the title of Red Dragon is taken from William Blake, whose work appears as a frontispiece to the book. Silence is full of allusions to, amongst others, John Donne, T. S. Eliot and Dante.
The writing itself is, on the whole, highly efficient. Occasionally, and this most often when the novelist takes us into Buffalo Bill's den, it achieves a kind of sickening power that leaves the reader in some anguish - one of Anthony Hopkins' friends, advising him not to take the role of Hannibal Lecter, said that reading the book definitely did not make him a better person. And although Harris lacks the formidable way with dialogue of Elmore Leonard or George V. Higgins, the conversations between Clarice and Lecter are compelling. To my mind, it is not impossible that The Silence of the Lambs will still be read in a century's time, much as we still read Lewis's The Monk today.
So although the Lecter character is certainly founded on Bundy and Kemper in a number of ways - not least in his becoming an unofficial consultant to the FBI - he also achieves an identity, a unicity that places him firmly within the realm of literature. This identity is constructed largely through his dialogues with Clarice - the insights that are offered by other sites in the text are indicative but not particularly enlightening; thus, on sending Starling off to interview him for the first time, Crawford says that no-one knows what he is, other than a monster, while Dr. Chilton simply characterizes him as a 'pure sociopath', a diagnosis which, as Roger Dufour-Gompers remarks :
'est un outil trop vague ... peu cernable et n'ajoutant pas grand chose à la compréhension d'un individu qui à déjà donné clairement dans la réalité les preuves de son caractère asocial multiforme et de sa relation perturbée à autrui.' (Dufor-Gompers, 1992, p. 289).
It has been claimed that the fairy-tale 'Beauty and the Beast' underlies the relationship between the two main protagonists of Silence. This may well be so; however, I feel that reference to other myths may get us rather further. Clarice harrows hell, braving the horrors of the nether regions in order to save the maiden, Catherine Martin, from the monster, Jame Gumb. That Lecter is to be found at the very centre of the inner circle of hell is made quite clear in the text. What is less clear is the measure of the price that Clarice pays for her success. I will argue that a reading is not simply possible, but well-substantiated by the text, which takes us closer to Faust than to Beauty and the Beast.
From the beginning Clarice is offered a contract by Lecter, who recognizes the high ambitions that she harbours :
"I'll give you what you love the most, Clarice Starling."
"What's that, Dr Lecter?"
"Advancement of course ... "
With that, he offers her his love - a Valentine, as he calls it, a piece of information that will set her on the trail to Buffalo Bill. By the terms of the Faustian contract, she owes him her soul, and this she gives him, on the installment plan. At each of their subsequent meetings, Lecter puts her through a perverse form of psychoanalysis, in which her account of her childhood traumatisms, rather than leading to the cure of the patient, brings relief to the physician. Of course, according to the tenets of what Lecter refers to as the 'dead religion of psychoanalysis', it is in these early pains that the human psyche, or soul, is formed - Clarice, then, hands her soul to Lecter in return for the fulfillment of her ambitions.
But perhaps Clarice slithers out of his clutches. After all, as she slips deeper into the investigation, her motives shift from the realization of her own personal desires to a crusade for all the lost women who have fallen prey to creatures such as Jame Gumb. This is, of course, very exactly the source of Faust's downfall, and I would suggest that there are strong indications that Clarice does not escape.
At one point in the book, she takes a chrysalis to the Smithsonian Institute to have it identified. In a sequence which is at the same time a metaphor for and a critique of the profile-building methods of the BSU specialists, two young scholars trace the chrysalis to the Black Witch Moth. One of the young men makes a striking impression on Clarice - he has a 'long friendly face, but his black eyes were a little witchy and too close together'. Witchy indeed.
At the end of the book, Noble Pilcher6, the witchy young man, invites Clarice to his house on the Chesapeake, which he shares with his sister. This mansion has many rooms in it - as many rooms as anybody might need; we may think, then, that she is being invited to heaven. This might indeed be the case - a heaven presided over by a witchy eyed young man and his sister.
However, the house is also full of very large dogs - and indeed, the dogs are used in lieu of blankets. When we last see Clarice, she is lying upon a large bed surrounded by these animals. She could well be consorting with the hounds of hell.
Clarice Starling may, then, have lost her soul and gone to hell. But what might her status be there? She does not seem to be amongst the tortured souls. She may have married the prince of hell - Pilcher, unlike Lecter, is not yet a doctor, but he aspires to become one, and does not refuse to accept the title when it is offered to him.
But I would suggest that there is a final clue to be found in the word that gives Clarice her name - Starling. The starling is, according to the O.E.D., a common, gregarious little bird of lustrous plumage - both Chilton and Jame Gumb notice her glorious hair - but it is also a kind of pigeon. Towards the end of the book, Clarice questions the father of one of the victims. Mr Bimmel keeps pigeons, and while Clarice is searching through his daughter's belongings, he slaughters one or two of them.
Bimmel came out into the sun. The front of his trousers was flecked with blood and he carried some pink and gray lumps in a plastic food bag.
'Squab,' he said, when he saw Starling looking. 'Ever eat squab?'
'No,' Starling said, turning back to the water, 'I've eaten doves.'
Clarice is indeed a worthy bride for Hannibal the Cannibal.
Thomas Harris, then, does not altogether play the FBI's game. The Bureau may have saved the day, in so far as one of their trainees manages to stumble upon the hiding-hole where Buffalo Bill has sequestered Catherine Martin. But Hannibal Lecter is on the loose again, and this may be attributed to an error of judgement on Jack Crawford's part - he commits a similar error in Red Dragon, which leads to the killer's descending upon his own agent and almost murdering him.
In the end, it may seem that Harris, as Philip Jenkins suggests, simply offers us a simplistic, right-wing picture of the basic incorrigible nature of evil. Does not Lecter himself suggest that the only explanation for his behaviour is to be found in the fundamental distinction between good and bad, rather than in the theories of academic psychology, and does not the narrating voice itself appear to finally acquiesce in this judgement, when it tells us that the two scholarly journals which sought to explain Jame Gumb's behaviour did not use the terms crazy or evil?
However, I would maintain that, whatever the writer's own programme might be, the text itself is sufficiently ambiguous - that is to say, sufficiently literary - to resist any purely ideological reading. The narrating voice is, after all, very close to Clarice's own at this point, and the intervention occurs after the heroine has accepted her elevation to the throne of Hades.
Nevertheless, it may seem that Harris and others are addressing themselves to an American public opinion that is no longer interested in hearing explanations of the anti-social conduct of the criminal, whether he is a petty thief, a rapist or a serial killer. The desire for security comes well ahead of any wish to reform or cure - and this is understandable, particularly in the light of the personal histories of a number of multiple killers.
Ted Bundy escaped from prison twice and was on the run when he killed three times in Florida and left three other young women damaged for life.
Carlton Gary had also disappeared from prison when he committed the string of murders that lead to his final conviction and sentence of death.
Ed Kemper, whose story lies behind that of Jame Gumb in Silence, had been institutionalized for murdering his grand-parents but had to be released when he attained his majority, going on to kill a number of young women whom he had picked up while they were hitch-hiking before finally killing his mother and one of her friends.
American citizens, on this kind of evidence, may be forgiven for believing that their criminal justice system does not protect them - and for feeling that at least while the killers are on death row they are not out in the streets murdering people. The precautions taken to prevent Hannibal Lecter from turning on his captors are, of course, largely an invention, but an invention with some resonance for ordinary Americans, as is his ultimate escape
The identity of the serial killer places him at the centre of a number of fundamental American concerns - the tensions between the Federal government and the states, and the tensions between an enquiring and liberal attitude to social phenomena and a desire for peace and security being foremost among them. But perhaps the deepest function of the serial killer is to bring crime out into the suburbs and the small towns. The white middle classes have left the inner cities in order to flee the disorder and crime that they felt to characterize them. And out there in suburbs and on the campuses where they send their children, they find Ted Bundy.
John Gerassi has said that, due to America's lack of history, the United States has always needed crime or a fear of crime as a basic method of social control. Whether this is in fact peculiar to America, I do not know, although Durkheim would certainly suggest that it is not the case. Certainly much of the discourse that surrounds serial murder appears to be aimed at curtailing the liberties of the middle-class young and particularly of young women. One of the nastier aspects of Silence is that Catherine Martin, the victim, leaves pornographic photographs of herself and her lover, and a set of LSD imbibed Plutos in her room. She was a bad girl. The final identity of the serial killer is, indeed, the bogeyman. He will come to get you if you're not good.
1. Jenkins (p. 74) points out that terms such as 'voodoo' and 'sorcerers' that have been critically applied to the BSU profilers by a number of their colleagues, such as ex-FBI agent Paul Lindsay, have been taken up by the press as expressions of admiration.
2. In fact, there are numerous 'generic profiles', each expert developing his or her own, and each of them ready to defend 'one best model' of the serial killer. However, there does appear to be an 'ideal type' that the various practical authorities - policemen, journalists, prosecutors and criminalists - implicitly refer to, and, at the time of her letter, Anne Rule gives shape to this underlying model.
3. According to Keppel, Bundy was fascinated by this aspect of the Green River case, calling the perpetrator an 'equal opportunity killer' (Keppel, 1995, p. 246). However, there is nothing particularly unusual about this pattern, which is found in a number of those who prey on prostitutes.
4. Bourguoin nevertheless holds on to the idea that serial killers are highly intelligent, arguing from their criminal behaviour, which, he claims, involves a high degree of planning. Keppel is less easily convinced, and writes 'In spite of the fact that the media portray serial killers as clever, intelligent, and careful, the glaring truth is that they really do not cover their tracks very well.' (Keppel, op. cit., p. 404). Bundy grabbed two victims from a crowded public park, after having approached several others to whom he gave his real first name. These women were, of course, able to give the police a good description of the murderer, and the police began searching for a good-looking fellow named Ted, who drove a brown Volkswagen ; (see both Rule, op. cit. and Keppel on this). This behaviour on Bundy's part does not seem particularly bright.
5. Hoover's hypocrisy over sexual matters, his illegally maintained personal files on people of political prominence, and his running of the FBI as a separate régime within the Republic have been widely documented. See Theoharis and Cox, 1988, passim.
6. A pilch is 'an outer garment made of skin dressed with hair'. Jame Gumb, of course, is engaged in sewing for himself outer garments made of skin. Catherine Martin, just before Gumb captures her, notices that 'his chamois shirt still had hairs on it' (Harris, 1988, pp. 105/6). So the young scientist is the killer's double. (For detailed annotations of both 'Silence' and 'Hannibal', see the excellent 'Dissecting Hannibal' web-site).