#BookReview: The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter


Hollywood’s make-believe maniacs like Jason, Freddy, and Hannibal Lecter can’t hold a candle to real life monsters like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and scores of others who have terrorized, tortured, and terminated their way across civilization throughout the ages. Now, from the much-acclaimed author of Deviant, Deranged, and Depraved, comes the ultimate resource on the serial killer phenomenon.

Rigorously researched and packed with the most terrifying, up-to-date information, this innovative and highly compelling compendium covers every aspect of multiple murderers—from psychology to cinema, fetishism to fan clubs, “trophies” to trading cards. Discover:

WHO THEY ARE: Those featured include Ed Gein, the homicidal mama’s boy who inspired fiction’s most famous Psycho, Norman Bates; Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, sex-crazed killer cousins better known as the Hillside Stranglers; and the Beanes, a fifteenth-century cave-dwelling clan with an insatiable appetite for human flesh

HOW THEY KILL: They shoot, stab, and strangle. Butcher, bludgeon, and burn. Drown, dismember, and devour . . . and other methods of massacre too many and monstrous to mention here.

WHY THEY DO IT: For pleasure and for profit. For celebrity and for “companionship.” For the devil and for dinner. For the thrill of it, for the hell of it, and because “such men are monsters, who live . . .
beyond the frontiers of madness.”

PLUS: in-depth case studies, classic killers’ nicknames, definitions of every kind of deviance and derangement, and much, much more.

For more than one hundred profiles of lethal loners and killer couples, Bluebeards and black widows, cannibals and copycats— this is an indispensable, spine-tingling, eye-popping investigation into the dark hearts and mad minds of that twisted breed of human whose crimes are the most frightening . . . and fascinating.

Amazon / Amazon UK / Amazon CA


My Review

The dark side of human nature is an endless source of morbid fascination, and with this book we go right to the heart of some of the most appalling human behavior. Despite the brutality of the topic, the author’s conversational writing style makes this an easy book to read.

We start at the beginning, when the term ‘serial killer’ was first defined. The author talks about specific traits common to serial killers, using notorious cases as examples. From there, this book covers a little bit of everything, from the types of killers, to their methods of killing and body disposal. The cases explored span from Jack the Ripper to modern-day killers.

Because they feel no guilt or remorse, psychopaths are able to maintain an uncanny cool in situations that would cause a normal person to break into a cold sweat. For example, when one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s handcuffed and bleeding victims managed to escape and run out into the street, Dahmer calmly talked the police into returning the young man to his custody.

A major flaw in this book, for me, was the repetition. The author relies on a handful of the more well-known serial killers for examples, and the same details are cited multiple times throughout. This might be due, in part, to the way the book is set up, though the information is repeated as if we hadn’t read the exact details in a different section.

The other problem area, for me, was with the ‘Why They Kill’ section. We’re lead to believe that all serial killers have mother issues, come from abusive homes, and are abnormally fixated on sex. While this is a general truth for many killers, it’s an oversimplification and not true for all killers. The author also appears to support the nurture over nature theory, which is another generality that doesn’t hold true. Abuse, in and of itself, does not create a serial killer. The fact is that, most often, it’s a combination of nature and nurture, and occasionally simply nature. In fairness, much of the neuroscience research in this area has been published within the past decade, before this book’s publication. Still, I felt this section tried too hard to simplify a complicated issue.

It goes without saying that serial killers tend to have extraordinarily aberrant sex lives. Their brutalized upbringings render them incapable of experiencing anything resembling love.

Overall, this is a good read, covering a vast topic and focusing on a handful of darkly intriguing cases.


Thanks for reading. 🙂