Is this a new kind of serial killer?
[OCT. 21, 2002] The
D.C. sniper remains at large in and around Washington, D.C.,
apparently striking his 13th known victim Saturday just outside a
Ponderosa restaurant in Manassas, Va. Police and law enforcement to
date have not been able to mount much of an investigation.
Investigations rely on clues and information, which seem to be in
short supply — bullet casings, descriptions of white utility-type
vehicles, a fragment of a tarot card with a cryptic message, and on
Saturday, a message with a phone number found near the Ponderosa
restaurant. Investigations normally progress to the point where they
can name a suspect, determine if he or she has motive, and then make
an arrest. In this case they can’t even begin to make a guess.
This killer has the entire metro D.C.
area and the suburbs spooked. Outdoor activities have been
curtailed. Retail sales are down, and gas stations have now begun
erecting security cameras and even, in some cases, barriers to keep
the killer from targeting their clients. And from the looks of it,
this killer has the police spooked. He seems to be a different kind
of serial killer.
What makes him different? His MO (mode
of operating) seems to be that he picks ordinary, random human
targets that are standing still and shoots them with one bullet from
a long distance.
• Big and dangerous guns
have a long history of being used to murder people. Guns seem to
have been invented as the weapon of choice in the world for bringing
a quick end to unfinished lives. Guns have been around for almost
500 years now (according to Internet sources) and have always been
about extinguishing life. Using a high-powered gun doesn’t set this
• The use of one bullet to
extinguish a foe was a common exercise (according to the lore of Old
West authors) in both gunfights and duels. There is almost a noble
or sportsmanlike quality to his use of one bullet, but that doesn’t
set this killer apart.
• Certain kinds of rifles
have been created especially for taking life from a long distance
away. These have been employed by big-game hunters for 100 years now
and also by the military to extinguish targets beyond normal sight.
Police are now saying that this killing doesn’t really require
expert skills. Good equipment and a little experience could give the
shooter the skill necessary. The use of this type of rifle, probably
with a scope and maybe even a silencer, doesn’t seem to set this
• Like all other killers
who gain the "serial" title, he (or she) has committed this killing
act over and over again, with more than one victim fitting the same
pattern. Hence, the title "serial" (like a serial show on TV or a
series of books by the same author about the same subject). There
are hundreds of names in the annals of history who have been called
"serial killers," and so it is not the serial nature of his criminal
activity which sets him (or her) apart.
Serial killers kill for two reasons: to
complete a collection or to gain attention.
The collection aspect of their behavior
can be absurd and deranged or can make a great deal of sense. In
fiction, Hannibal Lecter was a collector. He collected in order to
dine on various parts of his victims. In real life, John Wayne Gacy
collected the bodies of his young male lovers under his house,
Jeffry Dahmer the skulls of his victims in a closet, and Eddie Gein
in the 1950s made a suit out of human skin, a chair out of human
bones and a bowl out of human hair. Their psychosis is very deep:
They collect in order to re-enact some fantasy over and over again.
They tend to be loners and act totally without the need to divulge
their activities to any other human beings. Their activities are
disguised and are bound in secrecy, and they stop only when they are
[to top of second
column in this commentary]
The other kind of serial killer seems
to be a polar opposite of the collector. He or she operates to right
a wrong or to rid society of a certain genre of human beings: the
aged and infirm, the "immoral" or malformed, or their victims may
even seem to be random. Their whole activity is ultimately to gain
attention and be rewarded or punished for their deeds. Fame and
attention are their goals. They want the whole world to know of
their heroic or evil exploits, and their entire plan is directed to
fulfill that need.
There are two things that set this
killer apart, and these two details probably have the D.C. area law
enforcement agencies and the FBI really concerned. First of all,
serial killers are acting out of an addiction to kill. They kill for
the attention or they kill to enhance their collection, but they
never stop or pause until either they are dead or are arrested. The
killings usually escalate in numbers, with the period between
killings growing shorter and shorter until the killer is stopped.
But not this killer. Notice the reports
of a pause in the killings: 11 victims over a 12-day period, and
then nothing. Then there was a 12th killing, then a pause of about
three days and then an apparent 13th. The law enforcement community
must be afraid that this killer, who has remained totally anonymous
to date, might merely suspend his activities for a period, causing
the trail to grow cold, or might even disappear without a trace.
This is no ordinary serial killer.
But the second difference is even more
startling to the police: He doesn’t seem to want attention (69,000
phone calls to law enforcement so far in this case, and they don’t
have any good leads), and he doesn’t seem to be collecting anything
(unless the headlines and sound bites are his collectible?). All his
actions are rational, planned, deliberate, squeaky clean and leaving
His purpose in killing doesn’t fit the
other MOs of thrill seeker, mission-oriented or control freak.
Instead, it looks like this killer might be killing merely for the
sport of it. One bullet, complete anonymity and random victims all
fit the MO of a killer who is killing merely for the sport of it. He
may be the hunter, and you and I are the prey. When he is done with
this outing, he may just go home, clean his gun, gloat over his
hunting trip and disappear forever. And D.C.’s fear will not be
extinguished, and justice will not be served.
Fiction is replete with stories of the
serial killer-sportsman, who kills people merely for the sport of
it. Those thriller stories have caused us pause and have scared us.
But to date we cannot remember having encountered that fearful
reality. The absolute evil of the sporting-killer, who stops and
starts because he wants to, has never (in our knowledge) existed.
And this is
what is scaring us now!