I’ve mentioned several times that I have degrees in Criminal Justice and Psychology, but I don’t think I’ve ever specifically written about my love of true crime. I live on Investigation Discovery and have read more than my fair share of true crime novels. When I saw Supernatural Serial Killers on Netgalley, I literally let out a whoop of delight, which was repeated when my request was granted the other day. Seeing as I was currently between books, I decided now was the time to jump into this one.
SSK provides just over a dozen case studies of serial killers throughout history, all of whom have been given supernatural monikers such as vampire, werewolf, or monster. Obviously, none of the men studied here have paranormal abilities. They don’t need to consume blood to live (although several believed that they did) and they certainly do not transform into werewolves. However, several chapters, especially the early ones, which focused on Renaissance/Medieval murders, included the people’s belief in those very creatures. It is the inclusion of those chapters that is the book’s weak points. This is solely because these cases can be taken with a grain of salt. No one can actually know if the alleged killers were the guilty party because at the time of the crimes people did in fact believe in vampires, werewolves, and the like. Several times, witnesses were quoted as saying that they saw the killer transform in front of their eyes. To this, I could only think they were all suffering from Ergot’s Poisoning, causing mass hysteria. It is the only thing that makes sense. I would not have included any of these cases because they did not add anything to the narrative. Even the study of Elizabeth Bathory, whose crimes are fairly well-known, was not necessary. Lyon and Tan even point out that the witness statements in her case were unreliable. It doesn’t help matters that the so-called Blood Countess was not allowed to testify in her own defense. (What I didn’t understand about her case was the fact that while everyone was certain she committed the most heinous crimes known to man, she was not put to death like all of the earlier cases examined in this tome. Surely, this had something to do with the fact that she was near royalty (according to Lyon and Tam, she was next in line for the Polish throne–now, that’s a scary thought).)
Once we are past those chapters (and into the 19th and 20th Centuries), I really enjoyed (hmm, I feel like that is not the right word for what I felt because that makes me seem morbid in the extreme) reading about crimes that we know without a shred of doubt were committed by the men convicted of them. The most interesting studies were those on Albert Fish, Fritz Haarmann, and Jeffery Dahmer, but those (with the exception of Haarman) were crimes I was more familiar with than some of the others, many of whom I had no knowledge of prior to reading this book.
One of the things that intrigued me was Lyon and Tan’s attempt at categorizing the murderers, using the Holmes and DeBurger Typology (1998), which breaks down serial killers into distinct categories (Visionary-Type: killers who claim to have auditory or visual hallucinations and that those hallucinations led them to kill, Mission-Type: killers who are on a mission to rid the world of specific groups of people, The Hedonistic-Type: Killers who kill solely because it brings them pleasure–further broken down into Lust, Thrill, Comfort, and Profit sub-categories–and Power/Control Killers: those that kill in order to gain a sense of control). This is interesting because many books such as this one simply regurgitate the facts of the crimes and don’t attempt to make any form of analysis. This is not a story book–it is an examination and analysis of facts, which I liked. It would have been much easier, especially since this book was obviously written for the masses and not the academic crowd, for them to simply list the nefarious deeds and point out the reasons why these murderers were given their respective monikers.
I also liked that each chapter is separated into four sections–Introduction, Crimes, Trial and Sentencing, and Discussion. This kept things neat and reminded me of all those APA and MLA style papers I read (and wrote) in college and grad school. While the Discussion section is the shortest, this is the part that most appealed to me because it contained the analysis of the crimes committed and the person who committed them. This is probably because of all those psych classed that were required to get my degree.
I do feel the need to point out that gore is definitely an issue in the book. Many of the crimes, especially the ones committed by Haarmann and Dahmer, are graphic and described as such. There really is no way for a discussion of these murders not to be graphic. If you’re squeamish, this is not the book for you.