Serial Killers in Media: NY Times Highlights

1960’s: The Boston Strangler (Albert DeSalvo)

The New York Times had published several articles revealing the details of horrible murders committed by Albert DeSalvo. All of them described the events regarding the series of murders, adding some information from the authors and police commentaries. The first one was published in 1963, called “10th Strangling Baffles Police; Neighbors Queried in Killing of Salem, Mass, Woman”, which describes the 1962 events of cruel crimes, which revealed 10 bodies within 15 month in Massachusetts. At that time, police was wandering who and for which reason committed the crimes. Anyway, the investigation gave no results, as there were no evidences, which could help reveal who might be a murderer. Hence, the representation of the event was obviously not complete as it failed to name the guilty. Edmund McNamara, who was in charge of Boston police at that time, called all the police officers having vacations to come back to work and warned all women about possible danger in the streets and at their homes. Hence, the article sounded as a warning. The author mentioned the age of the victims to show absolutely uncommon actions of the killer and warn the definite population group. Even though it was absolutely unusual that most victims were adults and elderly, no reasons can be substantial  to commit such violent and terrible crimes. The article can be characterized as warning, but the hope to account for the effective police actions and the killer’s catch was definitely present article.

Another article was much less inspiring than the previous. It was published in 1964, after 13th victim, was found by her roommates. The girls was killed in her apartment and was only 19 years old. There were, as usual, signs of strangling, assault, and rape. The commentaries on the crime had been rather confusing as police could not explain anything or provide any precise information on the murder. The most important feature that characterized this article was that the Boston Strangler was believed to be practically impossible to catch. Hence, the journalist hinted on the possibility of new murders. The tone of the article was rather skeptical. It was less hopeful than the previous one and represented the police as failing to conduct the investigation effectively.

The style of the articles changed due to the updated information on the murderer that has been caught and brought to the court. The information made the journalists represent the events from a new perspective. The next article discovered Bigart has reported that the results of medical examination showed that the Strangler was insane and needed to be treated as mentally ill person. His guilt had been found and related to 4 murders. However, his claiming that he has murdered all 13 women still had to be proven. The police was looking for more evidences and the representation of the killer became less hatred as far as the situation got more puzzled.

Later, in his article, Fenton has reported that few months later, DeSalvo together with his inmates escaped from the mental institution. They soon had been returned, however, their upkeep in the cells became stricter. This time, the article represented the killer not only as a dangerous, but also as a cunning person, who makes police and medical workers be in constant tense. While the other escapists were described in a rather funny way, as their run-away period lasted only two days, the attitude towards DeSalvo was extremely negative and restrictions were appropriate as for the most cruel and dangerous man.

One of the last articles in the New York Times was telling about the murder of DeSalvo in 1973. The killer was found stabbed in his cell. The article was represented as a sedative for the wider public as it represented the killer as a threat that has passed. Since then, the newspaper did not print information on the case until 2013. A historically significant event that greatly assisted in referring to the old crimes was the invention of DNA. Owing to the modern technologies, the biomaterial from DeSalvo and his last victim Mary Sullivan bodies were received through exhumation to make the situation finally clear. Such procedure brought positive results. After 50 years, the necessary material remained. These were the samples that were found on the killer’s and victim’s bodies proving DeSalvo’s guilt. It was very difficult to receive the permit for exhumation. Hence, the police managed to take the samples for the DNA analysis from the serial killer’s nephew. They were compared to the ones found among the evidences and to the remains on the body of Ms. Sullivan. In such way, the fact of killing was proven, at least for the given murder. Despite 99,99 % match, the court cannot close the case, which shows how imperfect the system is. Hence, one can see that the final representation of the case was representing the evidences that the American justices system is quite strong, but still has some flaws that make it imperfect. As for the representation of The Boston Strangler throughout time, one can see that his personality was viewed as cruel inhuman being in each article and the view at this did not change neither with considering him as mentally ill, nor after his death. 

1970’s: Theodore (Ted) Bundy

There were not so many articles about Theodore Bundy as about the above–mentioned person. However, a number of articles revealed him as inhumanly cruel murderer. The 1989 article “Bundy Is Put to Death in Florida after Admitting Trail of Killings” revealed horrible details of Bundy’s crimes, as well as human attitude, behavior, etc. Hence, the death sentence was represented as fair and supported by the people, who came to the Court to observe it. There were many people screaming out negative words in Bundy’s address. However, the situation could not be different. He officially committed over 30 murders within 15 years. However, the killer claimed that there had been much more victims than it was known for the public. Finally, after the fourth attempt the court issued the permit for death penalty implication. The behavior of Bundy at the day of court and before the trial was quite calm, and he did not resemble a cruel beast as his deeds proved him to be. It is obvious that only the serious psychological traumas could lead to such wrongdoings. However, the secret of his motivation died with the killer. The author also indicates man’s hatred toward the females, along with his problems regarding alcohol abuse and watching hard-core pornography. Such way of life resulted in an obsession with reconstructing the scenes from the movies into murders.

However, one of the most intriguing revelations of the article, discussing a good side of Bundy, is the statement that he actually used to be very caring and supportive: in his early years, he was a good child, B-student at the college, worked in crime prevention institution and wrote a manual for women on how to avoid being raped. One more positive attitude of the author is observed in the citation of Bundy: ''If anyone considers me a monster, that's just something they'll have to confront in themselves…” Consequently, it explains his position regarding people’s desire to condemn and convict somebody to remove the person they fear for the society.

After a twofold representation of Bundy, some new information concerning the murders was revealed in 2011 due to creation of DNA profile of the killer. With the development of technology, the police received his blood samples, which could not have been accessed so far. The article claims that the national police departments received an access to DNA profiles. It is expected to lead to new possible identifications of the earlier revealed unidentified bodies. The author emphasizes the importance of the DNA’s being uploaded to the FBI’s database. It would definitely help either to prove that the number of victims was higher or refute the killer’s words.  From such prospective, the investigation had been renewed due to the DNA data. Such analysis greatly contributes to the search of significant information lacking due to inaccessible data. A successful DNA extraction allowed police to look for connection between some unknown or missing and found victims in the course of investigation. However, the most basic reason for reestablishing everything was the missing of Ann Marie Burr in 1961. Tacoma police decided that she was possibly a victim of Bundy and asked for the DNA profile. Actually, it was their idea to make the profile actually complete. Bundy was 14 at that time, although he was still considered a suspect. Perhaps, after having made the DNA test, they would  have solved another mysterious disappearance. Later, Tacoma police was addressed by several other investigators asking for the DNA samples analysis in order to compare them with the samples they had and to make an effort to find the murder. The representation of the murder was not associated with some strong feelings. The author showed some doubts concerning the murder of Ann Marie Burr. However, police had a strong position and intention to prove the guilt. Unlike the case of the Boston Strangler, the given case still requires much research, analyze, and investigation. At the same, the articles that were released after the DNA test implementation focus more on the work of the justice system rather than on the murderer’s personality. In addition to that, one can even find a kind of sympathy in the article, when Ted Bundy was telling about himself, the way he was abused, etc. It contributed greatly to his becoming a serial killer, one of the cruelest in American history. The New York Times image of Ted Bundy seems twofold: a killer and victim of a childhood problems. However, it does waive responsibility for the crimes he committed. 

1950’s: Edward Gein

Edward Gein was mentioned on the pages of the New York Times for the first time in 1957. The article was claiming the court admits Gein guilty in committing two murders. However, despite of the number being rather small if compared to other serial killers, the cruelty and violence of them was a shock to the world. Without doubt, there were more crimes very similar by its style to the Gein’s ones, however, they were not murders. Hence, the  representation was corresponding. With the further investigations, the new information on the murders and crimes had been revealed and publicized.

The next article was related to the new details arising from investigation. What is different from the previous article, it focused on the story told by Ed Gein and contained more details. The killer claimed he murdered a woman and mutilated her body. The mistake of the murdered, according to the author, was bringing the body to his home, where it was found. The way Gein described the events seemed as if the person is mentally ill as far as a healthy person would feel at least some guilt while speaking about the horrors.

Another article related to the body parts found in the yard of Edward Gein’s farm. After that event, Gein admitted that he was digging out the elderly women bodies, namely the ones who reminded him of his mother. Such behavior was viewed by the court as one of the insanity signs. Consequently, less than in a year he was claimed mentally ill. However, it was possibly to attempt to prove his guilt and imprison him. The case was controversial and caused many arguments and concerns among the society members. The citizens of Plainfield became irritated due the investigation details and burned the house of a serial killer. However, there seemed to be no regret or pity.

In case of Edward Gein, the articles published and related to his story were brought to the screens. There had not been any new revelations concerning the murders and their investigation. The recognition of the killer of the crimes and evidences found on his farm left no doubts for the court to allow closing the case. However the event has remained a popular topic for books, films, or TV shows. What is important about the representation of the murderer, is the way it changed from absolutely inhuman to mentally ill person, who had a very problematic childhood. Hence, in contrast to the previous murderers, the representation of this one in the last articles seemed to find out the underlying reasons of the criminal’s problems, not simply representing the facts. 

1980’s Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer’s story had been discussed in the New York Times in several articles: two of them revealed the events caused by the killer’s crimes and one more related to his death.

The first article of 1991 titled “17 Killed, and a Life is Searched for Clues” discusses school years of Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as possible reasons of his crimes. According to the author, his sexual orientation and family relation led him to committing the murders. Pretending to be a straight man, he was struggling against being gay. The attitudes towards him by his father were an issue considered to be the main ground for him becoming a serial killer. The actions of Dahmer concerning other people mainly caused by his loneliness and desire for attention. The article describes the way he behaved with the remains of his victims and, after being interrogated, he committed the act of cannibalism. There psychologists were also interviewed, who analyzed the murderer’s actions and factors that influenced them. However, many specialists working for the current case agree that it was the fault of improper upbringing, ignorance, and indifference. They call him Jeff, which is a comparatively positive addressing and try to find the justification for his actions. The author also asked Mr. Dahmer’s school teacher about his behavior. A possible reason for his actions mentioned by the psychologists is related to the birth of his younger brother, which led to the feeling of being neglected and alien to his family. Another possible reason may be the frequent changing of the place of residence at primary school years.

The neighbors also replied about Jeffrey’s strange and cruel behavior with animals both as he was a junior and a senior. He was claimed to kill some animal as soon as the problems at home occurred. Due to parents’ divorce, he committed his first crime in the year of his high school graduation. The rest of his crimes are described based on the Dahman’s committing. However, there are doubts concerning the truthfulness of his words.

Another article published three years later: “Jeffrey Dahmer, Multiple Killer, is Bludgeoned to Death in Prison” reveals the details of the criminal’s death, as well as the efforts made to provide his safety. Due to a high risk of him being murdered in prison, he spent the first year of imprisonment in complete isolation. However, after that time he was removed to the prison with other inmates and said to work along with the others. As a result, Dahmer was killed in a toilet while doing the routine work. The possible murderer was caught and investigated in addition to his sentence for robbery, he blamed Dahmer for having the wrong impact on him. The author does not reveal any special feelings or anxiety toward the killing. There are also indications of the battle related to his property being inherited: families of the victims made attempts to receive money from selling of his apartment and its contents. Sister of one of the victims was interviewed and she revealed that received several phone calls being told that somebody would take care of Jeffrey Dahmer. However, special regrets concerning the outcome of his life were not actually voiced by any of victims’ relatives and the society inclusively.

Finally, the third article reveals the details of Jeffrey Dahmer’s murders, as well as his murderer: an inmate, named Mr. Scarver, who claimed the voices in his head told him to commit the crime. The author also provided information on the fact that it was not the only case he is blamed for reaching other inmates. However, these were two separate cases, not related to each other. In contrast to the previous decades, when the murdered were represented in media, one can see that articles about Jeffrey Dahmer did not simply defined the facts and estimated the cruelty of the criminal or appropriateness on the police actions, but seem to analyze the underlying reasons of such behavior of a person from various perspectives. 

1990’s: Gary Ridgeway

The Green River Killer, given a label Gary Ridgeway, was firstly mentioned in the New York Times in December of 2001 in the article entitled “Man Held in Serial Killing Was Long a Prime Suspect”, after he was arrested at work. However, it did not surprise his colleagues, as he had already been questioned due to the murder of 49 young women being either runaways or prostitutes. None of the two lie-detector tests showed he was guilty. Owing to the DNA testing development, there were three possible victims with semen remains. Further, the author discusses Ridgway’s family, work and life in general, admitting he was a normal man judged by the comments of his neighbors.

Another article “Suspect charged in 4 Green River slayings” was published some time later after the above-mentioned due to the additional information in the investigation regarding the expanding the geography of the murders, from San Diego to Vancouver, British Columbia. However, the author claimed that without the DNA tests analyzing the samples of Mr. Ridgway, all other murders could not be proved and, consequently, harm to one of the greatest killers of the USA. The investigators reached a great success in the forthcoming advancement due to DNA establishment.

The 2003 “New discoveries move Green River case to fore again” article describes the place revealed in a small forested patch of woods, which was possible place of burial of Ridgway victims. Being recognized as one of the longest and of the most expensive investigations, the case did not seem to be finished. According to the article, the search for justice meant much more than money spent on it. The investigators and detectives claimed that what mattered at that time was to bring the women to their families and help them overcome living in a constant concern.

The next article “Suspect Is Reported Set to Admit Killing 48 Women in Northwest” was published later in 2003. It was mentioned that Ridgway avoided death sentence due to plea deal, according to which he agreed to cooperate and reveal information on his victims, which were possibly more than 48. The deal meant that instead of the death penalty he would be sentenced to life imprisonment without a chance for parole.

One more article called “21 Year Hunt for Killer Shapes Man and Family” is based on the investigation of the Ridgway murders, however, including Ted Bundy’s participation in it. The sheriff Reichert, who was working on the case decided to address another murderer to understand the behavior and way of thinking of the serial killers in order to properly conduct the Ridgway case and analyze if his words were true or not. The author also discusses the family of the sheriff, namely his children, who knew about their father’s occupation and were extremely concerned of it. However, a rather positive evaluation of the sheriff’s actions is felt throughout the article.

Finally, the last article published in 2003 titled “Families Speak as Green River Killer Gets 48 Life Terms” is written on the basis of the trial taking place on December 18. There Ridgway addressed the families of the victims with an apology for what he had committed. The words sounded rather sincere, however, what sincerity could have been coming from the serial killer. The author also wrote that, based on the investigation, Ridgway did much to help find the remains of his victims and provided complete cooperation. However, the emotions revealed at the court were something strange as nothing similar had happened to him before. Perhaps, he finally regretted about what he had committed. Nevertheless, Ridgway’s understanding of his murders could not change the terrible things he had done. Consequently, one can see that representation of the murderer has changed throughout time. One of the main features of these changes was analysis of the comments of people, who knew him and attempting to provide explanation of the actions.

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