Into A Serial Killer’s Writing

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Do you ever wonder what a serial killer thinks? As someone who watches shows like Mindhunter and Crime Scene Investigation, I love learning about the forensic science portion. When I started this paper I began to ask myself: How exactly does a serial killer’s mind affect the way they write? Talking to a professor who has a background in forensics and analyzing a variety of textual samples from infamous serial killers allowed me to understand that a serial killer’s writing isn’t just one way, it depends on their personality, educational background, and emotions.

Literature Review

Many medical examiners use Forensic Science in order to solve a case. One of the many branches of Forensic Science is Forensic Linguistics. Forensic Linguistics, also known as language and law, “is the application of linguistic knowledge, methods or insights to the forensic context of law, language, crime investigation, trial, and judicial procedure” (Webster’s Dictionary). The human mind is a very complex organ and can tell a lot about an individual. Using linguistics can solve many cases, especially serial killers. Serial killers tend to think totally different from a common person. Forensic Linguistics can tell where a person comes from, their personality, and what kind of person they are which eventually leads to who exactly is the person who committed the crime.

Roger Shuy, a linguistic analyst, analyzed a pieces of writing, such as manifestos by Ted Kacynski and noticed that he used complex grammar and vocabulary. However, the FBI indicated that although he used those specific languages, the Unabomber was still uneducated. The manifesto revealed many terminologies that talked about the concepts of religion. In his search, Shuy noted that Kaczynski “...has a religious upbringing, possibly Catholic” (Shuy 5). When Kaczynski was finally apprehended in April 1996, it was confirmed that Shuy's analysis had been accurate for the profiling of the suspect. (CITE)

This is an important finding for my research because what a serial killer’s writes depends on a number of things: where he came from, what is interests are, his academic level, and his religious background. Serial Killers don’t have a certain mindset of writing, it varies between person to person. Tomas Guillen, an author, reinforces that claim that a serial killer’s writing depends on their background history and their personality.

For example, in the case of the Zodiac Killer he states, “sometimes the killer displayed a morbid sense of humor” FIX (Guillen 57). In the letter the Zodiac Killer sent a greeting card stating “This is the Zodiac speaking, I thought you would need a good laugh before you hear the bad news… PS could you print this new cipher in your front page? I get awfully lonely when I am ignored, So lonely I could do my thing!!!!!!!!” (Zodiac...FIX

The media also uncoded a message of the serial killer saying, “I like killing people because it is so much fun…” FIX(Graysmith 1986). Thus, it is clear from this research that serial killers write a variety of ways, there isn’t one particular way that distincts a serial killer from the rest of the normal world.

Methods

For my research into the topic of how a serial killer’s psychological mind affects their writing I conducted my own interview and I looked at various samples of writing from different serial killers. For my interview I asked George Megelsh, a professor at the University of Memphis’s Lambuth Campus, a series of open ended questions. The questions included: Do all serial killers have the same style of writing? What are some of the similarities that the serial killer’s writing share? Do the serial killers have educated or poor writing skills? Are their writings more aggressive or is it more gentle? By interviewing professor Megelsh from the school’s Criminal Justice Department it provides my paper with academic data from a person who is actually very familiar with serial killers and how their minds operate.

I also analyzed different writing samples from various infamous serial killers to see the similarities and differences between them. I looked at samples from David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam, The Zodiac Killer, and Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. I examined these variety of writings because I wanted to see for myself how they wrote and what they wrote about. In effect, examining the writing of the criminals also gives me an idea of how they communicated with other people.

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My Findings

Interview

I decided to interview George Megelsh because I noticed that he had history in the forensic science department. When I asked Professor Megelsh if all serial killer’s had a similar writing style he stated, “No, just like every human being has their own identity, everyone has their own way of writing also.” I also asked him what are some of the similarities between serial killers in their writing because I wanted to know if they at least had a common theme. Professor Megelsh responded that almost all serial killers think that the world centers around themselves and tends to write about it in their letters or any form of communication. Serial killers focus entirely on themselves and the power they are able to assert on others. When asked the question of do the serial killers have educated or poor writing skills Megelsh answered “Their writing skills depend on their educational background.” If someone is very knowledgeable in the field of literacy than their writing capabilities tend to be stronger than someone who had very little experience in the field. Finally, I also wanted to find out if a serial killer’s writing is more on the aggressive or gentle side. Professor Megelsh stated, “A serial killer’s emotional state depends on their mood at that period of time, it can be humorous, romantic, cheerful, dark, and pessimistic.

Textual Analysis

I looked at several serial killer’s writing samples and came across a variety of things. David Berkowitz wrote a letter to the police department implying that there would be another killing and he knows that the detectives wouldn’t be able to stop him. The letter reads as follows: “Not knowing what the future holds I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job. Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? (Berkowitz 1977) By observing this specific sample of the unabomber it is clear that he loves being in control and he doesn’t like not having the upper hand on the situation.

I also analyzed a writing sample of the Zodiac Killer and it came across as a very dark mood. On August 1, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, and Vallejo Times-Herald each received an identical handwritten letter in an envelope without a return address. The beginning of the letter stated, “Dear Editor: I am the killer of the two teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman,” the letters contained details from the Zodiac Killer’s murders that only the killer could have known about. The letter went on to threaten further attacks if the letters weren’t printed on the front page of the papers. Just like the Unabomber, both killers demand to be the center of attention and if their demands aren’t met then there would be a major consequence. Another letter by the Zodiac Killer sent to San Francisco Examiner read, “Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking, I like killing people because it is so much more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.” The Zodiac killer loved taunting the media outlets. He also sent another letter to the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac Killer discussing how that he would shoot out the tire of a school bus and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK killer, murdered the Otero family on January 15, 1974 in a community called Wichita. A month later Rader sent a letter to the Wichita Eagle detailing exactly how he murdered the Oteros. “Those three dudes you have in custody are just talking to get publicity for the Otero murders… they know nothing at all. I did it by myself and with no ones help. There has been no talk either. Let’s put this straight.” Rader went on to provide graphic details that only someone at the crime scene would know. In the wordly, often grammatically and misspelled incorrect, letter, Rader grappled with his urges, calling his murderous alter ego “the monster.”

“I’m sorry this happen to the society...Its hard to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.’ Where this little monster enter my brain I will never know. But, its here to stay. How does one cure himself? If you ask for help, that you have killed four people, they will laugh or hit the panic button and call the cops… I can’t stop it, so the monster goes on, and hurt me as well as society. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t. Good luck hunting,” Rader said ominously.

In the letter, Rader seeks out for help because he can’t control his alter ego, the monster, and his urges to kill.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my research shows that based on forensic linguistics serial killers don’t have a set way that they write. Serial Killers think, talk, and write numerous ways, every serial killer has their own way or writing. For example, the Unabomber wrote about his orders being met. In the Zodiac Killer’s letters he taunts the police department and media outlets because he knew that they couldn’t and wouldn’t catch him. The BTK killer’s letter was more on the desperate and seeking help side, he wanted to let go of his alter ego and control his urges to kill.

Nevertheless, The serial killers did share a similarity between them and their writings. They all think that the world revolves around them and they love and demand attention from others. For example, the Unabomber and Zodiac Killer both demanded that their letters be posted in the paper so that the world can see and if their requests wasn’t met then they would initiate fear among the population. My interview and textual analysis proves that every serial killer and their writing isn’t the same. Overall, I think that my work only furthers expands on what other researchers have already acknowledged. In conclusion, a serial killer’s writing is very unique and it depends on the personality and mood of the writer.

Works Cited

  1. Megelsh, George. Personal interview. November 1, 2019.
  2. Dawson, Daniel. “Using Forensic Linguistics to Solve Mysteries and Fight Crime.” Language Trainers USA Blog, 5 Sept. 2018, https://www.languagetrainers.com/blog/2018/09/03/using-forensic-linguistics-fighting-crime-unabomber/.
  3. Rosewood, Jack. “An Expert Reveals the 12 Key Traits Common in Serial Killers, and Some of Them Might Surprise You.” Insider, Insider, 20 Sept. 2018, https://www.insider.com/common-traits-of-serial-killers-2018-5.
  4. “Zodiac Killer.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 10 Oct. 2019 https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/zodiac-killer
  5. 'FBI Profiler Says Linguistic Work Was Pivotal In Capture Of Unabomber.' Fresh Air, 22 Aug. 2017. Literature Resource Center, https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.memphis.edu/apps/doc/A503681918/LitRC?u=tel_a_uofmem&sid=LitRC&xid=7d0f5b0f.
  6. Tkacukova, Tatiana. “Forensic Linguistics and Language and the Law.” An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2019, pp. 190–204., doi:10.4324/9780429424465-11.
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Into A Serial Killer’s Writing. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/into-a-serial-killers-writing/
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