The Impacts Of Serial Killers Of The 1970’s On Society

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Table of contents

  1. The Decade of Fear
  2. David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam
  3. Ted Bundy: The Charming Psychopath
  4. The Enigma of the Zodiac Killer
  5. John Wayne Gacy: The Killer Clown
  6. Psychological Insights into Serial Killers
  7. The Evolution of Serial Killings: From the 1970s to Today

The Decade of Fear

There are many characteristics that define a decade. The 50’s were known for poodle skirts and Elvis Presley, the 60’s helped spread the message of peace and love and then there was the 70’s. While the 70’s was a decade of social change and free will, it also was the decade that introduced the world to some of the most notorious killers we have seen in U.S. history. The world was introduced to Ted Bundy, The Zodiac Killer, David Berkowitz, aka The Son of Sam, and John Wayne Gacy. Serial murders are one of the most perplexing crimes and is defined as the killing of three or more people over a period of more than 30 days, with a significant cooling-off period (Lassieur,10). These four individuals had a huge impact in the seventies and left the world with fear and shock. Serial killers of the 1970’s had a huge impact on the safety of the community and causing people to be in fear everywhere they went.

David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam

From 1976-1977 David Berkowitz, also referred to as Son of Sam, terrorized the streets of New York City. He was born David Falco in June, 1953. He was convicted of killing six people and wounded seven others, with a .44 Bulldog revolver. He put the city of New York into a state of shock and panic (Newton,17). Berkowitz had a history for being a difficult and violent child (Newton,17). His behaviors as a child began after the death of his adoptive mother (Newton,17). It was when his adoptive father remarried in 1971 and moved to Florida without him, when his behaviors intensified (Newton,18). At the age of 18, he joined the army and was considered an excellent marksman before ending his service in 1974. Research indicates that Berkowitz’s left behind a diary with information regarding his life. It indicates that he set off approximately 1,500 fires in New York City in the mid-1970’s (Newton,18).

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In Berkowitz’s case, he proclaimed to be driven by demons. During his killing spree, he would send letters to the New York newspapers regarding the murders. He would sign them as “Son of Sam”, a reference to a demon he believed lived inside a black Labrador retriever owned by his neighbor, Sam Carr (Newton,18). He first attempted to murder a woman in December of 1975, but she survived several stab wounds (Newton,18). He then successfully murdered a woman in July, 1976. From there, he would claim the lives of five more victims’. Unlike Bundy and other serial killers, Berkowitz was arrested on August 10, 1977, just 11 days after killing his last victim (Newton,18). The police worked diligently to capture him and had to sort through a maze of letters and suspicious persons. Ultimately, he was identified as the suspect of the killings and his car was found to have a parking ticket near the scene of one of the shootings which helped the police make the connection to Berkowitz. In May of 1978, Berkowitz confessed and pleaded guilty. He was given a series of three separate mental health exams and was found competent to stand trial. He was sentenced six consecutive life sentences for his crimes, and for each person he killed. David Berkowitz remains in prison today and has been denied parole. He is currently 65 years old. Berkowitz now calls himself the “Son of Hope.” (Newton,19). He has proclaimed to be redeemed from his crimes. He often helps inmates who are psychically and/or mentally challenged. Regardless of what he thinks, David Berkowitz will remain behind bars for the remainder of his life.

Ted Bundy: The Charming Psychopath

Ted Bundy, serial killer, rapist, and necrophiliac, was and still is today one of the most well known serial killers in the 70s. Ted Bundy‘s early years of life we’re very normal, his parents, also known as his grandparents treated him like their own. However, Bundy did not live in a wealthy household, because of this he felt insecure and began to start stealing in highschool to get the things he thought he deserved (Lassieur,73).Throughout his childhood he was known for his odd behaviors, uncontrollable rages, and always feeling out of place. “In the spring of 1972 Bundy graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Washington”(Lassieur,75). Afterwards he was accepted into law school, but suddenly began to fail all his classes. It was at that time where Bundy killed his first victim. In 1973 began what would be known as one of the most notorious killing sprees in U.S history. Ted Bundy had killed 30 women in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Florida (conversations with a killer). Bundy was a very handsome young man who seemed very smart and confident. He would Luehr in his women by pretending to be injured, asked for help, or would pretend to have a fake identity. After he did this he would bring them to his car, tie them up or force them to stay by pulling out a weapon. After killing a couple of women in Washington and Colorado, Bundy was arrested in Utah for possession of burglary items (Lassieur,80). Police believed that Ted had something to do with the murders in the previous states. So they lined him and he was identified by one of the victims. He was then arrested on March 1st, 1976 for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Carol DeRonch (Lassieur,80). After a couple of the months the police were able to piece together murders and came to the conclusion that Bundy had murdered Caryn Campbell and would go to trial (Lassieur, 80). However, before trial Bundy had jumped from a two story building out the window and took off. He fled to the mountains where the police caught him several days later (Lassieur, 81). After being back in jail, Bundy had come up with a plan to escape prison for the second time. Bundy escaped by not eating food for a couple of weeks to lose weight so he was able to crawl through the roof of his jail cell and leave the building (Lassieur, 82). “Bundy took a bus to Denver, then flew on to Chicago, where he stole another car. Then Bundy set out to Florida” (Lassieur, 82). When Bundy arrived to Tallahassee Florida he took the identity of a former Florida State student Chris Hagan (Lassieur, 82). In January 1978 Bundy entered the Chi Omega sorority house. Bundy had beaten to girls, One with a fractured skull and a broken jaw (Lassieur, 82). He had also strangled, violently bitten, and sexually assaulted Lisa Leavy (Lassieur, 83). “Margaret Bowman who was also in the sorority house had been strangled and hit on the head with such force that her skull had been crushed” (Lassieur, 83). After attacking the Chi Omega house he broke into Cheryl Thomas’s aparentemente and attacked her (Lassieur, 83). He had killed two more people after this. Bundy was pulled over and arrested. In trial Bundy got caught because of the bite marks he left on his victims (Lassieur, 84). “Bundy was found guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair” (Lassieur, 84). While Bundy was in jail he was interviewed by many investigators. He never took responsibility for the murders, instead he would discuss them as if he might have done them (conversations with a killer). After nine years Bundy was executed by the electric chair on January 24, 1989 (conversations with a killer). On this day people hold up signs outside of the person that read “Fry-day” and “Burn Bundy Burn”. (Conversations with a killer). Ted Bundy is still noon today for the wicked crimes he committed and the sick killer he was.

The Enigma of the Zodiac Killer

The self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer was directly linked to at least five definite murders, and possibly five more in Northern California from 1969-1974 (Newton). There is no biographical information to reference like there is for other serial killers, since the Zodiac Killer was never linked to a specific person. Despite intensive investigations, no one was ever arrested for any of these murders and some cases still remain open. The Zodiac Killer could be responsible for several killings, since he continued to make threats to local law enforcement agencies and local newspapers. The notes were cryptic in nature and kept the local police department investigating every possible lead. In 1974, all communication abruptly stopped, and no one was ever directly linked to the murders. There were several speculations, but nothing would stick. The letters to the local police department started by confessing that he was the killer of two teenagers. The police indicated that his letters were so detailed about the murders that only a killer could have known this information (Newton). His letters also indicated that there would be further attacks if his letters were not printed in the front page of the newspapers. Each of his letters consisted of symbols. There were 13 symbols that were supposed to be his name, encoded. However, to this date, no one has been able to crack this code. Mostly a circle with a cross through it, which would be known as the Zodiac Killer’s symbol. The Zodiac killer claims that his letters were a three-part cipher that contained his identity (Newton). Soon after the first attack a second letter was sent to the San Francisco Examiner, that stated “Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking,” it described the murders in detail and made fun of the police for not being able to crack his code or catch him (Newton ). Three days after the 4th killing, the San Francisco Chronical received another letter from the Zodiac Killer, claiming the crime. The pattern was consistent with the previous letters, but this time he indicated that he would plan to shoot out the tires of a school bus full of children and shoot each child as they came out of the bus. This incident put the police department into a state of panic, however the crime was nothing more than a threat. This pattern continued for a long time until 1974, when the letters and murders stopped abruptly. To date, four separate attacks have been linked to the Zodiac Killer, 5 killed and one seriously wounded (Newton). During one attempt, there was evidence that included fingerprints, leads, and tips but despite this the police were unable to track him down (Newton). Much remains a mystery with the Zodiac case. Some have argued that the crimes continued late into the 1980’s but law enforcement had no proof or connection to support that theory. Investigations continued late into the 1990’s and some have claimed to identify the Zodiac Killer, but again nothing ever materialized. One suspect was Arthur Leigh Allen, a school teacher from California who had been institutionalized in 1975 for child molestation charges, however his identification as the Zodiac Killer never sustained (Newton). Police were able to generate a sketch of him, based on descriptions given to him from some of the victims who survived. Numerous books and movies have been made about the Zodiac Killer, however no conclusive evidence has been found regarding his identity (Newton).

John Wayne Gacy: The Killer Clown

In the town of Chicago John Wayne Gacy was a very respected person in the community, he was a successful contractor, and was always in an upbeat mood (Lassieur, 59). However, Gacy had these urges, these urges controlled him and he took it out on teenage boys. Gacy was born in 1942 in a middle-class family. His father was a alcoholic and his mom was a homemaker (Lassieur,59). He grew up in an abusive home and was always beaten in physically and mentally by his father (Lassieur, 59). At the age of 20 Gacy graduated from business college and married his coworker Marylynn (Lassieur, 60). The two of them had two children, a boy and a girl. Nobody knew The second life Gacy had. “When he was not home being a father he would spend evenings picking up teenage male prostitute or runaways for sex” (Lassieur, 61). He was arrested in the spring of 1968 for the kidnapping of a young teenage boy. He tied him up and raped him. (Lassieur, 61) “Gacy was found to be mentally competent after the psychiatric evaluation”. After 18 months in prison Gacy was granted parole and released from jail (Lassieur, 62). Gacy would find young boys to have sex with him in exchange for money (Lassieur, 63). “Over the years Gacy had perfected his routine. Pick up a boy, take him home, give him a drink or some food, tie him up or handcuffed him, rape him, kill him, then dispose the body in the crawlspace under the house” (Lassieur, 64). One downfall to his routine was the large number of corpses underneath his house. The terrible smell began to make hits friends and neighbors complain. Casey had described his victims as “lowlifes”or just boys who were in the wrong place at the wrong time (Lassieur, 65). Gacy’s choice of the victims were all very similar, slender, muscular, short, between 5’2-5’9, weighed under 150 pounds, light colored hair, and between 14 to 20 years old (Lassieur, 66). After committing his last crime, officers had received a search warrant for Gacy's house. They found very strange items but it wasn’t enough to arrest him. Instead they had him follow 24 hours a day and 7 days a week (Lassieur, 67). This caused Gacy to go insane and confess to his best friend. “Gacy drew out a detailed map of where each body laid underneath his house for the officers.” (Lassieur, 69). He was immediately arrested for the 29 bodies that were found underneath his house, he also threw four of the bodies in the Des plaines river making it a total of 33 killings (Lassieur, 69). Sadly nine of the bodies were not identified. “On March 12, 1980 John Wayne Gacy was found sane and guilty of murder” (Lassieur, 71). After 14 years on death row, he was executed by lethal injection in May of 1994 (Lassieur, 72).

Psychological Insights into Serial Killers

Throughout the years, we have struggled to understand a serial killer's mindset and what goes through their head. Jack levin who is an educator and specializes in murders, has interviewed serval serial killers face to face for the past twenty five years. “One lesson I’ve learned is that power and control are much more important motivations for the worse kinds of criminal violence than many people realize” (Levin, 23). In his novel he begins to talk about the psychology behind serial killers and their motives for killing. Levin states that some killers kill for money or economic advantage, some have a deadly versions of a temper tantrum and when frustrated they lose control and kill. “Some simply kill to experience a rush of power and control or to gain a sense of their own superiority” (Levin, 23). After interviewing killers he learns that killing one person and feeling that power isn’t enough. This causes them to keep killing and killing. He also believes that killers who have had a poor childhood and were abused, kill to convince others of their strength and their importance (Levin, 24). A perfect example of this would be John Wayne Gacy. Many serial killers lack control, meaning they can’t stop after killing one person. This leads them to be a Sociopath, having no empathy for what they just did (Levin, 25). How do we know if someone is a sociopath? Sadism. “This means the pleasure derives from inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation” (Levin, 27). This is a very common word to describe serial killers. Some serial killers like David Berkowitz, didn’t kill as many people as other serial killers did. “However, when he wasn’t killing people, he would send letters to columnist Jimmy Breslin at the New York Daily News, which contain cryptic clues as to his identity” (Levin, 30). The Zodiac Killer did the same. Even though they aren’t killing, they feel in control and powerful. This is the feeling that that they thrive for. However, we don’t see Ted Bundy fall into these categories. He wasn’t abused as a child, was a pretty normal kid actually. Not every serial killer grew up in a abused home so there are different psychological reasons why each killer kills. Even today we are still learning about the psychology of these killers. Jack Levins reasonings aren’t the only reasons why serial killers kill.

The Evolution of Serial Killings: From the 1970s to Today

Serial killers aren’t the sensation they use to be like in the 1970’s. Of course, that does not mean that they have disappeared. In 2011, New York Police found the bodies of four women dumped near a beach in Long Island, and in Philadelphia, they attributed murders of three women in the Kensington’s neighborhood to a possible “Kensington stranger” (Levin). The number of murders since the 1970’s has decreased over time. James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University and co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, keeps a data base of confirmed serial murders since the 1900’s (Levin). According to his data, there were only a dozen serial killers before the 1960’s in the U.S. It was in the 1970’s that the number increased to 119, then growing even more in the 1980’s to 200 (Levin). By the 2000’s the number has dropped considerably to 61 serial murders. There is really no explanation as to why there were so many serial killings in the 1970’s, just theories. However, there are several reasons and explanations for the decline in murders. During the 1970’s, law enforcement did not have a very sophisticated method of investigating these types of crimes. They did not have the ability to access and link cases together, nor did they have the organization and man power to investigate the increase in crimes and murders. There also became a growing obsession in the media, that gave some of these psychopath’s notoriety and a very short path to celebrity which added another problematic layer the police had to work through. Some attribute the decrease in numbers to better policing, DNA technology advancements, GPS location technology and better investigating techniques, which allows the police to catch a potential serial killer after their first crime (Levin). The technology and social media aspects available today make it much easier to document events as they happen. We also have not seen the medial memorialize some of these incidents and become obsessed as they did with Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy. In the 1990’s media began covering more acts of domestic terrorism which shifted our obsession with the serial killer. While we may not see as many serial killings as we did in the past, some have indicated that mass shootings have begun to draw the same kind of attention from the media. So, while we may never see another Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Son of Sam, or Zodiac Killer, violence and murder are still very much part of our society today as it was in the 1970’s.

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