Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Inside the Minds of the World’s Most Notorious Murderers

by Helen Morrison with Harold Goldberg

Pub Date: May 4th, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-052407-3
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A forensic psychiatrist takes well-turned clinical forays into the heads of multiple murderers, with additional long-distance thoughts on their peers in foreign countries and in the past.

Aided by veteran journalist Goldberg, Morrison shapes her experiences as a memoir and lets her prose express both analytical detachment and utter fascination. Nonetheless, she states, “I still could feel sickened about the nature of their crimes, no matter how detached I tried to be.” And these crimes are particularly dreadful. Morrison has spent 25 years trying to uncover some pattern to serial-killer behavior, a painstaking process of trying to understand why they do what they do by interviewing as many serial killers as she can get access to. Slowly the material accrues. John Wayne Gacy, she found, had the emotional makeup of an infant and “felt he was drowning when subjected to emotional complexity.” Robert Berdella displayed a total lack of empathy; he “couldn’t picture what the meaning of torture or even death is.” Serial killers typically show no social or psychological attachments, yet the author finds a terrible chemistry that suggests “serial murder at first sight exists and thrives much like love at first sight.” Killers had a “sudden urgency to get a victim. It wasn’t just a need; it was a drive, a compulsion”—an addiction of sorts. These discoveries pointed Morrison toward a genetic explanation of serial killing: something, she believes, causes an imbalance of the neurochemicals that trigger emotions and lead to actions. “I am firmly convinced there is something in the genes that leads a person to become a serial killer,” she asserts. “In other words, he is a killer before he is born.” Morrison has not been able to prove this theory conclusively, since her attempts to run tests on serial killers have, understandably, run into issues of free will.

A scary piece of work, with even scarier implications.