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Monday, February 8, 2010

Do serial killers look like serial killers?

(Left, Joel Rifkin, who was convicted of murdering nine women in New York city from 1989 to 1992, and who confessed to murdering eighteen; above, Kristen Gilbert, a nurse who murdered at least four of her patients at a VA medical center in Northhampton, Massachusetts by injecting them with epinephrine)

There is an old expression: after the age of fifty, you're responsible for your own face. (Meaning, by that age, your personality emerges on your face.)

I had been thinking of trying to determine whether that is true, using serial killers as a focal point. But there are two main difficulties. The first is that most serial killers are arrested well before the age of fifty, before their character has a chance to be fully etched onto their faces. Secondly, there is simply too much variation between photographs: you can manipulate the impression you want to convey simply by choosing the right shot (as I did above, by using high school yearbook photos). And many of the available photographs of serial killers are either mug shots or pictures taken during their trials. Under those circumstances, many of us would look like feral animals as well.

There's also the difficulty of separating ourselves from our previous impressions of infamous killers. Few could look at a picture of Ted Bundy and not see an evil face. But that's because we're already familiar with him and have learned to regard him as evil incarnate. If we didn't know who he was, we might just see a handsome face -- as so many of his victims did.

In any case, if you're interested in the subject, you'll find the following website interesting:

(Just highlight it and copy it to your address bar.)

Once you're there, click on "Enter Gallery" and there are pictures of 66 serial killers. (I suppose 666 would have been a more appropriate number.) If you're really fascinated by sociopaths (as I am), click on the "Profile" underneath the photo to get more details about their lives. I was surprised by how many of these killers I, a connoiseur of these creatures, hadn't heard of before.

Some of the killers look like killers, with faces that seem to reflect equal parts lust and inhumanity. And some look just plain creepy. But many of the killers look like regular people from various walks of life. A handful could pass for investment bankers (on Casual Friday). There are a sprinkling of truck drivers, a few Kiwanis-looking types, some drugged out rock and rollers, two or three Ma or Pa Kettles, some football players, some regular suburban dads, a couple of mountain men, and even a small group of Eagle Scouts. A good portion of the killers look more like mugging victims than muggers. And some of the pictures remind me of those mug shots you see of otherwise-glamorous Hollywood stars who've been picked up for DUI -- which illustrates my point about the variation between photographs.

So the moral of this story is, a serial killer is as likely to look like one of the three little pigs as the big bad wolf.

Be suspicious of everybody.

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