…drunk true crime! And frankly I’m sort of surprised nobody has made a Serial Killer Tarot, given the state of the world…although apparently there *is* a site where you can buy t-shirts with various killers represented as major arcana, thanks, capitalism. (For the record: I can buy Manson as Hierophant and Gein as Hermit, but Ramirez as the Devil seems facile, Zodiac as the Magician is a bit of a stretch, and IDK what’s going on with Dahmer as the Sun or Bundy as Temperance.)
But I’ve been listening to The Blotter Presents podcast, which discusses true-crime media properties and is done by Sarah D. Bunting, who is generally amazing, and lately they covered Yet Another “Was X Jack the Ripper” drama, which, as Sars says…no. No, he was not. And I, having read a lot of true crime (a good John Douglas profiles-of-horrible-murders book will keep most people from talking to you on pubtrans), have a lot of feelings about this.
CW: Serial killers, mention of mass murder/assassination.
There is exactly one property which I can get behind in re: the Someone Famous was Jack the Ripper theory, and it is From Hell. That’s because I’m pretty sure Alan Moore is just going off the “but if it were true, it’d be an interesting story,” principle, and does not believe that JtR was actually a time-traveling Freemason acting on the orders of Queen Victoria* but also invoking male dominance in the twentieth century through occult rituals. (Although he might, because we are talking here about Alan Moore.)
Without the time travel, this was an actual theory, which was weird: first of all, the mutilations-were-symbolic-warnings thing falls down because, to paraphrase Douglas, dude went to town in such a way as to probably hit a dozen different Secret Rites coincidentally. Disorganized killers: they are gross. But also, the secret-royal-marriage-and-love-child aspect does not in any way work: Victoria had nine kids, Edward had been involved in multiple scandals already, and I’m pretty sure there would have been a number of responses other than a Vast Murderous Conspiracy, ranging from simply paying the chick off to a discreet disinheritance in favor of whoever came next to just taking the non-improbable chance that a shopgirl talking about her royal marriage would’ve been met with “…sure, honey,” from all influential parts.
But at least that theory was a thing in the seventies, which from what I can tell is a time when people legit believed that aliens had built the pyramids and avocado green bellbottoms and muttonchop sideburns looked good on human beings, and which was definitely a time before serial killers were as much of an understood phenomenon. In the post-Silence-of-the-Lambs world, when there are voting adults who grew up watching the Law and Order franchise, is there really anyone out there who doesn’t know Serial Killers 101, namely that they’re generally nonentities who get off on twisted shit and decide to explore that in a seriously nonconsensual manner? After Dahmer and Bundy, do we really think that there needs to be a massive weird conspiracy or a famous person or someone with elite skills to kill five women in an at-risk demographic in Victorian London?
(Similarly, I haven’t done a lot of research, but I’d have expected JFK conspiracy theories to go down considerably after Hinckley and also just a surprising number of people trying to kill Ford. Once we took a couple of these people alive, we know what their deal is as a general rule–namely, that they’re fucked-up little nebbishes with weirdo goals that make zero sense to anyone living in reality, end of story.)
Apparently the answer is “yes,” or “no, but we need to put out an hour of programming,” and, okay, you do what you’ve got to do, but man…at least read a book? Watch an hour of the aforementioned Law & Order? Something? Because “they both killed some people” isn’t what anyone would call a similar signature or MO. Dude in Australia that a Netflix docudrama tried to get excited about? Killed two wives to avoid bigamy charges, more or less. H.H. Holmes? Killed a whole bunch of people for insurance money.
Neither of these are good people, or even non-horrible people, don’t get me wrong–like, it takes a special sort of person to think “You know what would solve my financial problems? A murder castle,”–but those are very different from the non-financially-motivated murder of strangers. With serial killers…we may not know who any particular guy is, but we know who they are, as a group, and it’s not the same thing.
Which is a tie-in to writing, here, especially writing villains: not all evil people come from the same source, or have the same motivations. Being evil in one or two ways does not imply that you’re going to be evil in every single other way possible. Think about what your villain does and why they do it…and, as with the But What About Prince Edward theory, whether there would be about ten easier ways to accomplish the same end.
And on a more shallow note, stop re-summarizing your program every fifteen minutes, History Channel. This is 2017; the only people watching with ad breaks are in hotels and do not care about following the plot. God.
*This does make me want to read fiction whereby every murder in Douglas’s The Cases That Haunt Us was carried out by a sinister mystic conspiracy and the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped by interdimensional Rotarians or whatever. Cherie Priest apparently has a book where Lizzie Borden fights Cthulhu, so that’s a good first step.