email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAll That You Leave BehindAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
My Life Among the Serial Killers
is a fascinating look at some of the world's most notorious serial
killers. Forensic psychiatrist Helen
Morrison has interviewed these murderers for hundreds of hours in an attempt to
understand them better, and she describes her impressions of Richard Otto
Macek, John Wayne Gacy, Wayne Williams, Bobby Joe Long, and several others. The details of these meetings and
generalizations she makes from them are by far the most interesting part of the
book. She explains that serial killers
rarely murder members of their own families, and often have bizarre inabilities
to tell whether a person is alive or dead.
They are often of above intelligence and are not retarded. Yet Morrison relates many cases in which
these killers they are caught due to bizarre lapses in their rationality,
sometimes letting victims go or escape for no apparent reason. She points out that while they often have
troubled childhoods, there is nothing very distinctive in their past experience
that would predict that they would go on to become serial killers.
Morrison describes many of the
murders and even rapes in vivid detail for both adult and child victims. This may be disturbing for some readers, yet
it is clear that as a scientist, she needs to understand such details in order
to understand the motivations of the killers.
Given the details we are already familiar with from Hollywood movies and
forensic TV crime shows, most readers will probably not be too shocked. Morrison herself reads the audiobook, and
she is a surprisingly good narrator.
She reads her own words with conviction and energy.
The book is rather less interesting
when Morrison describes her own career, her decision to refrain from telling
her children what her job entails, and even the failures of the police in their
attempts to solve crimes. These parts
of the book do give some background to the story, but they don't add to our
understanding of the murderers.
The most problematic part of this
book is in Morrison's theorizing about serial killing. Even though she has published four academic
books and more than 125 academic articles, you would never guess it from her
half-baked speculation and her vague use of language. One of the first warning signs is her surprising use of
psychoanalytic theory to discuss Richard Macek. She trots out the theory of the different psychosexual phases of
infancy, oral and anal, and speculates that he was stuck at one of those
phases. Of course, most academic
psychologists have long ago abandoned these parts of Freudian theory. Similar remarks apply to her use later in
the book of the concept of "personality structure," which is rooted
in psychoanalytic theory. But Morrison
is not an old fashioned psychoanalytic theorist; rather she seems to embrace
many different theoretical paradigms simultaneously.
Maybe her most bizarre suggestion,
put forward as an incredible realization that came to her in a "eureka
moment," is that serial killing is a form of addiction. The idea is problematic not so much because
Morrison lacks any evidence for her hypothesis, but rather because it is hard
to know even what the claim might mean.
It is not as if psychology has provided an uncontroversial general
theory of the nature of addiction and so to describe anything as an addiction
seems more metaphorical than literal.
This is why it is so hard to evaluate other addiction claims about gambling,
shopping, sex, love, or the Internet.
She does not even provide any evidence that serial murders feel strong
cravings to kill, or feel withdrawal symptoms when they have not killed for
some time. Most addictions involve
addictions performed repetitively hundreds or thousands of times, and it is
hard to make sense of the claim that one could be addicted to an action that
one performs less than ten times in most cases of serial killing, and generally
less than fifty times even in the cases of the most prolific cases.
At the end of the book, Morrison
waxes eloquently about the future study of serial killers, and she expresses
her belief that genetics and brain science will provide the ultimate key to
serial killers. She believes that one
day we will be able to predict which people will be prone to serial killing and
we will have to face difficult ethical questions about when to make such
predictions and what to do with the information. She does not explain exactly why she has such confidence in these
fashionable parts of psychiatric science, and her belief seems to be based on
faith rather than evidence. This is
based on a fundamental assumption that serial killers form a natural kind, a
genetic anomaly. This assumption seems
highly dubious. It seems much more
likely that serial killers have a variety of different mental disorders,
involving aggression, disturbed personality, inability to appreciate the value
of human life, sexual perversion, psychosis, paranoia, and compulsion, among
other traits. Despite Morrison's
theorizing, her descriptions of the serial killers she has met display a
striking diversity in their character types and their methods of
At various points, Morrison says
that serial killers are not human because they lack some of the fundamental
attributes that make us human. She does
not quite spell out what those attributes are, or indeed, what she means, and
so readers are left to speculate. She
does say that serial killers are not psychologically complete, but this does
not clarify her meaning. Who of us is
complete? We can't take her claim about
the lack of humanity of serial killers in a scientific sense, because obviously
serial killers are biologically human.
My guess is that by "human" Morrison seems to mean something
like "capable of moral understanding." But if this is her claim, it is implausible, since the cases she
describes show that serial killers entertain all sorts of beliefs about
morality and are even capable of kindness and warmth in some parts of their
lives. Morrison also argues that serial
killers are legally insane, and thus should not receive the death penalty. However, from her descriptions of various
murders, there is little indication that they were suffering from psychotic
delusions. While they may not have a
solid understanding of right and wrong, they do often have a good understanding
that murder is illegal and needs to be kept secret if one is to get away with
Acting as an expert witness in one
trial, Morrison testified that she did not think that a serial killer would be
able to refrain from carrying on a murder even if a policeman was present. This is a bizarre claim however since even
heroin addicts can refrain from shooting up if a law-enforcement officer is
watching. When she says that serial
killers are not psychopaths because psychopaths have self-control while serial
killers do not, she is probably wrong on both counts. It is well documented that many psychopaths, also known as people
with antisocial personality disorder, have very poor impulse control, and
indeed can act aggressively if given very mild provocation even if this is
likely to get them into immediate trouble.
It is worth remembering that most personality disorders, and certainly
antisocial personality disorder, are not well understood, and people with these
disorders form a very heterogeneous group.
The blanket statement that serial killers are never psychopaths is bound
to be false.
It is disappointing that there are
such obvious flaws in the theories of an eminent expert in the field of
psychiatry. Nevertheless, My Life
Among the Serial Killers is an interesting and provocative read full of
powerful characterizations of the men she interviewed.
© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of
the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at
Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online
Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine,
psychiatry and psychology.