Earley, Pete (2012). The Serial Killer Whisperer: How One Man's Tragedy Helped Unlock the Deadliest Secrets of the World's Most Terrifying Killers. Touchstone. New York City: NY. ISBN-13: 978-1439199039.
Purpose of the book
The purpose of “The Serial Killer Whisperer” is revelation. The minds of serial killers and serial murders have fascinated us through investigative documentaries, sitcoms and Hollywood blockbusters (Schmid, 2005). The information that is portrayed to us in these mediums is generally violent and usually illogical behavior on part of the serial offender. This book, however, reveals a different side to the readers. The side that eludes investigators and criminal profilers; the emotions of a serial killer. It is a rare insight on how vicious monsters who do not hesitate to kill actually care about relationships. It is also an insight into how manipulative they can be if they are allowed to play with the emotions of others. The book presents excerpts to the social life of a serial killer and their reception to kindness.
The book follows the life of Anthony Ciaglia, who suffers a horrific brain injury in Jet Ski accident during his late teenage years that reduces his mental capabilities and ability to process emotions. The book details his struggle to survive and then attempt to blend with the society. The book also focusses attention on the type of damage brain injury can cause along with all the factors that can change. It also focusses on Anthony’s struggle to socialize normally and eventually find his new identity among the company of America’s most prolific serial killers.
The book outlines the relationship that the serial killers shared with Anthony and how influential the strong will of this troubled young man was. The book also draws the reader into the sinister web of deviousness that a psychopath spins around an individual. The book potentially sides the reader with Anthony during his defense of his so-called “best friends” in serial killers. The letters shared in the book are of graphic detail, especially when it comes to the actual reconstruction of the crimes when they are narrated by the serial killers. During the course of events, Anthony himself is induced with a violence that was until then a dormant entity during his outbursts.
The book sums up the contribution of Anthony Ciaglia and his family in the final chapters towards unsolved murders. It is focused on their attempts to provide closure for families of victims in cold cases. It embarks on a strange quest that not only speaks the remarkable journey of an unassuming man with a serious brain defect that stumbles into the twilight zone of serial offenders. The journey of honesty, emotions, rage, violence, relapse, disappointments and rare courage.
Strengths of the book
The strengths of this book are easy to spot. Unlike any book on the psychology of serial murderers, the chapters are influenced by the agenda of the serial offender through the letters. The inconspicuous presentation is in itself a well-crafted example of how serial offenders manipulate their victims and other people like family members. The ability of the author to involve the reader into believing that serial offenders are emotional beings. The other articles or books based on the subject do not capture the inner person of the serial offender as an ordinary person. The books usually provide an outline of a devious mind and use up the chapters to fill in the blanks. This book publishes the letters verbatim except perhaps the names of some victims, however; the essence of a serial killer’s mind is vividly captured among the lines. It would take the reader a break and reflection to understand the level of manipulation that takes place. Furthermore, the author captures the moments when Anthony Ciaglia feels entrapped inside the minds of America’s most prolific serial offenders.
Weaknesses in the book
The obvious weakness in the book is the absence of any criminal psychologist who could rebut the beliefs that Anthony Ciaglia holds about the emotions of serial killers. It is rather hard to take in without substantial verification that vicious monsters who kill for their pleasure would actually feel remorse and repentance on death row. It is even more fantastic when they try to blame their surroundings for their actions. These details are usually evaluated by criminal psychologists on what factors affected and turned the person away from a normal life. The weak attempt at verification by Anthony Ciaglia’s psychiatrist is not conclusive since the person does not have a criminal science background. Moreover, the emotions are usually thrust in by the author or by Anthony himself in his reflection on the situation.
The main concept
The main concept of the book is that nonprofessional people can unlock the minds of serial killers and help law enforcement to provide closure to cold cases. The majority of the book deals with Anthony Ciaglia’s attempt to stabilize his own brain injury and the manipulation that he receives from his serial killer buddies. However, from the first chapter, the author focuses on the possibility of solving cold cases through Anthony’s connection. The mind of any serial killer is manipulative, and every action is aimed at coming on top of the agenda; upsetting a pen pal doesn’t seem to be one of those. The connection between Anthony and his penitentiary buddies is rooted in the struggle against rage. He is inquisitive in his questions on how a serial killer feels during a crime. The urges, the pleasures and more importantly the planning. Astonishingly, these killers seem to enjoy the connection with their pen pal. The example of how Arthur Crossshaw relents and gives in when Anthony looks disappointed during his visit. He actually was willing to give away all his potential bargaining chips not to disappoint his young friend. Eventually, he names Anthony Ciaglia as his best friend even at the time of his death. This provides legitimacy to the connection that they shared. How many households will feel comfortable in following a serial killer’s recipe for supper?
Insights into the minds of serial killers
The book provides a fascinating peek into the minds of serial killers. It festers on their need for emotional support. Almost all of them came from a horrible childhood or with a life-changing head injury that will alter their personalities forever. Ironically, Anthony Ciaglia was not very far away from that route himself except for the strong support of his family. This was something almost all of his pen pals lacked. However, the recollection of how they tortured and killed their victims as described in the letters sent to Anthony are remarkably precise. It is a known practice for serial killers to revisit their crimes and draw pleasure from it. Some killers often visit the grave sites of their victims; similar to how Metheney describes the visit to the grave of his first victim.
The book provides an interesting position on how serial offenders evaluate themselves and their actions. David Gore evaluates his situation and cedes that all the crimes were due to the victims showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story with Robert Hansen, however, portrays his dark personality openly. Although, there is no chance of his release from prison on any pretext, Hansen looks to protect his secrets and take them to the grave with him. He is not interested in providing closure like Arthur Shawcross. The important aspect of letters from Metheney included his unrepentant responses. He is not remorseful and even during their meeting, he looks for benefits in exchange for information. This killer is maintaining his reputation as a sociopath.
Although the book seems to hold a bunch of letters that were exchanged by normal people, they were, in fact, written by cold-blooded killers who would not be remorseful, even if they had tortured and murdered their mothers. Despite the attempt at normalizing the situation, the letters have inadvertently provided these locked up monsters a venue to pride their trophies once more. FBI Profiler John Douglas says that serial killers are looking to exert power over their victims. Hence, the torture and overkill are part of their agenda all the time. The letters allowed the serial killers to forget that they were on death row and audaciously proclaim the works of their hands as masterpieces. Through the sadistic and cruel words, the picture of a monster is revealed.
Contribution of Tony Ciaglia and his letters
The contribution from the letters exchanged between Anthony Ciaglia and dangerous serial offenders such as Gore, Shawcross, and Metheney is immense. One can almost feel the intensity when Shawcross wants to come clean at the persuasion of his pen friend. He practically hands over his fate over to Anthony while agreeing to something like that. The initial part of the book describes how Anthony wins over Shawcross’ trust by declining an autograph of the Son of Sam. This was probably a test from Shawcross who was evaluating the credibility of his new-found pen friend. Perhaps there is a chance even for serial killers to rehabilitate if they have the correct environment.
When we look at the relationship between David Gore and Anthony, the letters are rather explicit. They are allowed freedom and accepted. The graphic details are encouraged and are not criticized. More importantly, Anthony responds with an honest estimation of the crime. He neither chooses to exalt the killer nor does he choose to be diplomatic. He is blunt in asking is the killer has no remorse or if the killer felt any guilt or felt bad for the victims. David Gore is so immersed in the letters and at the chance to reveal himself that he is noticed to lose control of emotions. These emotions are not soft. They are volatile and dangerous.
The relationship with Metheney and Anthony is extraordinary. The most remorseless of the lot who doesn’t mind revealing the gory details of his beef and “special meat” sandwiches. The letters are repulsive most of the time, and it is hard to imagine how the police officers that arrested this fiend would have sat through his despicable confession. Metheney confesses to cannibalism, which is denied by the local law enforcement. There is a good chance that they found his story extremely repulsive and chose to spare the community of the pain of having eaten some of his victims. There is also the question of playing the insanity card. Usually, cases involving cannibalism by the killer have a reasonable chance at criminal insanity. He was the most alert of the three killers whom Anthony had befriended and always looked to gain from the experience.
The twisted minds
The mind of a serial killer is always on alert for the next kill. They are not too concerned of who the person might be; family member, friend or even a pen pal with brain injury who wrote them regularly. Anthony Ciaglia’s personality changes dramatically when he immerses more into the world of serial killing. He begins to exhibit signs of anti-social behavior on more than one occasion. He picks up an unnecessary fight at the hockey match, uses his car keys on the van of a woman who annoyed him on the road and even punching the mirror at his psychiatrists’ office.
Although Anthony did have problems with handling rage prior to his writing serial killers, this exhibition of his emotion is different. His actions were not based on confusion. They were founded on vengeance. He is lauded for his actions by a group of people who exerted emotions of power by torturing and killing people. He suddenly found a group that was willing to embrace him as one of their own and almost take him on as an apprentice. Anthony’s mind convulses for a second time after the Jet Ski accident when he very nearly goes over the boundary. However, he is also reassert himself when he is confronted by his family. This type of intervention was not available to his unfortunate best friends. He is then able to counter their traps and proves to them that he cannot be taken in. This ultimately elevates him to a position of mutual respect with the killers.
Do serial killers feel emotions?
All news reports of serial killer trials portray a remorseless human being that usually occupies the defendant’s seat. This person is usually bored at the lengthy proceedings and sometimes even ridicules the families of victims. Although all of them had expressed their empathy for Anthony at the beginning, they forgot about his condition just like his high school friends. However, the letters written to Anthony exhibit rare moments when a serial killer feels remorse. These remorseful letters started arriving after Anthony’s break from writing his so-called best friends. They probably missed him genuinely. The author speaks of phone calls on the murder line from anxious killers enquiring about Anthony.
Since when did a serial killer care about another human being? This was a significant breakthrough. There were many who dropped in words of comfort, including a young double murderer who asks Anthony to take responsibility for his actions and stay on the medications. Did the brain-injured pen pal awaken emotions that these so-called monsters never knew they had? It is a mystery, however; thanks to Anthony’s letters and his life, we can conclude that serial killers do feel emotions. It is also safe to conclude that there is a fair chance to induce remorse if they had the chance at a real friendship (Gao and Raine, 2010).
Reader’s view of the book
The book is fast paced as it shifts from Anthony Ciaglia’s past and his present hobby. The book is written in simple language with very few technical or scientific jargons making it a simple read suitable for any level of reader. The author has gone great lengths in keeping the letters as close to the real thing as possible which has allowed us to take a peek into the mystic world of serial killers, however; it has also dug up a variety of controversies, including the glorifying of barbaric actions by depraved killers. We have to keep in mind that these men are, in fact, serial killers who would even make our most popular sitcom villains cringe. The tapping of the emotional side of serial killers is an interesting concept (Gao and Raine, 2010). The friendships and bonding between Anthony and the killers could also have a more sinister reckoning. It is common knowledge that serial killers form partnerships in their commission of the crimes. I cannot help wonder if this friendship and bond that Anthony shares with these killers could be one of them. It is a dark side theory definitely, however; it is logical that a serial killer will bond with another person who has a similar agenda.
The book speaks of a body hunt and evidence hunt at the end. This part of the manuscript makes me wonder how Anthony never thought about the victims until that moment. He had been encouraging the killers to spill the beans. However, only in the closing stages is he even feeling empathy for the victims’ families. Clearly, Anthony Ciaglia is not serial killing material, however; we need more people like him to decode some of the most cyphered minds of this dark domain.
Do TBIs enhance a person’s chance at becoming serial killers?
Anthony Ciaglia’s story is a very inspiring fight back. He could overcome the disability of not able to control his emotions, especially his rage. Although medication played a major part in this, his family’s support for him was pivotal. If we consider the same accident for a different individual from a dysfunctional family, would that person fare the same way as Anthony? Probably not. A Traumatic Brain Injury can alter the personality of an individual completely. A warm and loving person can become intolerable after such an injury. In fact, it is one of the common reasons why a person becomes a serial offender. The cases of Gacy, Rader and Ramirez are prime examples of this scenario. The brain controls all of our actions. It operates like a server that instructs and aligns actions to be done through the central nervous system. When the brain cells are damaged, it prevents the body from receiving proper instruction, including the ones about moral absolutes. Although the person would know that the action to kill or rape is wrong and punishable by the law, they will be unable to control themselves (Taylor et al., 2012).
A book with real-life stories is always scrutinized for accuracy. This book is an extraordinary experience by an unlikely individual in Anthony Ciaglia. Hence, the evaluation of this book’s accuracy is even more vital. The evidence that Metheney disclosed to Anthony in his letters in the final chapters of the book differs from the police version of events. The claims of cannibalism cannot be confirmed despite the Ciaglia’s visit to Metheney’s backyard and verifying the information with a couple of residents. How would they have differentiated between prime beef and human flesh? (Taylor et al., 2012). Besides stories from bar friends can hardly be seen as evidence. Evidently, the author has sided with Anthony in his beliefs of his serial killer buddies.
The Anchorage episode, however, indicates accuracy of the claims of Robert Hansen’s hideaway cabin in Seward. His wife confirms the existence of the cabin which is remarkable. At the same time, Robert Hansen did not confess to Anthony Ciaglia; he confessed to his cellmate. The confessions of Arthur Shawcross are also subject to accuracy defects since there is no way of ascertaining whether this serial killer actually chopped off heads to amuse himself. The Gore episode involving a Native Indian girl named Rose. However, was accurate. This leaves the door open for speculation that some of the serial killers might have kept Anthony on their mailing list just for the kicks.
What can a Criminologist gain from this book?
A Criminologist can ascertain a chance that serial killers might exhibit emotional behavior which is unbecoming of their natural character, however; killers like Bundy pretended to be injured to lure a victim into his van (Winter, 2007). The characteristics fit the mind of a serial killer, however; the unique aspect of this book is seeing the snare in action. The stories we have heard about these vicious killers are being played out in letters that were sent to Anthony Ciaglia. In the end, a serial killer wants power and all the killers who wrote to Anthony could exercise that power over him by convincing him unconsciously that he belonged with them.
Is the personal testament more informative than scientific processes?
There are gains in both approaches. When an FBI profiler like the legendary John Douglas interviews a serial killer, he is looking for psychological patterns that led the prisoner to the death row (Vecchi, 2009). However, when it is an individual such as Anthony Ciaglia, he is looking forward to connecting with a person who is holding better cards. Yet, he might indulge in giving away bits and pieces to lure his prey into his trap. A professional approach will enable us to lift the blueprint of the operation strategy of a serial murderer, however; a personal infusion like that of Anthony will enable us to see that blueprint in action (Vecchi, 2009).
Is this book useful to study about the devious minds of serial killers?
This book is a practical depiction of how a serial killer’s mind would operate. They are completely unflappable, unless they sense a trap (Nistor-Lung and Neagu, 2013). The case of Gore when Anthony was visiting is a good example. Gore sensed that this was not a game anymore. If Anthony wanted to speak to him about cold cases, the chance of commuting his death sentence to life would go straight out the window. David Gore sensed danger and quickly backed away. Unlike Shawcross or Metheney, he was not about to give away anything that would harm his interests. The author also confirms this in the last few pages of the book where David Gore refuses to write back for four months. When he corresponds again, the first thing on his mind is to explain the status of his case. This confirms the alertness of Gore and opens the speculation that he merely used Anthony to relive his fantasies (Nistor-Lung and Neagu, 2013). This practical application of a serial killer’s mind is not documented in any other book. It is fair to say that the only others who would have had access to the mind of a serial killer apart from unique situations like Anthony are the victims who died at their hands.
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