Even though the true crime genre is arguably more popular than ever, there are some things that still surprise me. For instance: The idea that all criminals of a certain type are essentially cut of the same cloth. That, just because they committed roughly the same category of crime, they are equivalent in their makeup.
However, to me, that’s like saying, “Tequila, wine, beer…they’re all the same because they get you drunk, right?” Obviously the answer to that is while they all may end in intoxication, serving a shot of tequila to a diner who ordered a glass of Pinot Noir probably wouldn’t go over well. Additionally, a connoisseur of fine wines may not know a thing about hard liquor and vice versa. So, while the end result is the same, the journey of getting there is very distinct.
This is how I view criminals.
A murderer is an individual who has killed, but that’s where his similarity to another murderer may end. Their childhoods, emotional maturity, current psychological composition, and motivations may diverge wildly. In short, if I was profiling or interviewing each of them, I might approach them completely differently. It is because they are different people.
This may sound intuitive and like a very easy concept to grasp. Yet, think of this grouping: Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrew Cunanan, and Harvey Glatman. They’re all serial killers according to media sources. They’re lumped into the same books, documentaries, and dramatizations as though they’re somehow interchangeable due to the murderous actions that came to define them. However, in truth, the three men couldn’t be more disparate.
Jeffrey Dahmer was a man who was desperately searching for a romantic partner: a “love slave” that he could do with as he wished – one who “wouldn’t move during sex” and who also wouldn’t leave. He kept the bodies (and their parts) in his apartment, variously consuming and going back to look at them. He was driven by confusion, loneliness, madness, and fear. His diagnoses included Borderline Personality Disorder, Necrophilia, and Psychotic Disorder.
Andrew Cunanan was a man who was desperately searching for success at the highest levels. He went through a string of high-powered men looking for the one who would finally be his ticket to “having it all.” He craved the attention and deference that the rich took for granted, eventually becoming ever more crazed with his inability to achieve the status in life that he felt he deserved. He was driven by entitlement, greed, narcissism, and a very real terror of being mediocre/forgotten. He eventually killed himself, but it’s possible that he would’ve qualified for diagnoses of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Delusional Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder.
Harvey Glatman was a man who was constantly seeking out sex and sexual thrills. From a very young age, he began choking himself for gratification. Eventually, his fascination extended to choking women as well…to death. He was driven by power, lust, sadism, and psychopathy. He felt no fear, empathy, or much emotion at all, for anyone.
In sum, the three men (Dahmer, Cunanan, and Glatman) were driven by very different motivations, came from different backgrounds, and possessed different reasons about why murder became ‘the answer’ for them. Thus, the outcome (of death) was the same for each, but the driving force behind it couldn’t have been more individual.
So – the next time you watch or listen to a broadcast about true crime, think to yourself about the category the perpetrator is placed in. Does one-size-fits-all really apply, or does it go much deeper than that?
And – perhaps even more chilling – if we keep lumping those with similar crimes into the same broad category, is it truly possible to stop or anticipate the next attack?