Sunday, October 19, 2014

Are You Willing to Murder Someone?

I never gave much thought to my inner feelings about committing murder. Oh, sure, in my novels I killed off a bad guy, here and there. But for years it didn't hit me in my gut or drain the blood mentally from my body.

After all, I'd been a mystery reader since I was a kid. Watched a lot of TV, where shooting with a gun was par for the course! Kill the guy, then drink Coca Cola or drive a Ford!

An active member of MWA since 1988, I've heard world-class authorities speak about various aspects of killing. I devoured all the Great Minds' revered tomes on the various arts of murder. I'd become a devoted disciple of John Douglas, Robert Ressler, Jefferson Bass and all the scholars of the science of criminology, behavioral profiling and sociopathic/psychopathic behavior.

My home was filled to the ceiling with books on weapons, terrorism, homicide, poisons, death and dying, crime scenes, human remains, criminal investigation.

Writing fiction about crime and death became as natural to me as breathing. (It didn't bother me a bit when people in non-mystery social settings moved their chairs when they heard that I wrote—gasp—"murder mysteries!")

Along the way I fell in love with the world of spies and espionage. Twenty years ago I became a member of AFIO (The Association of Former Intelligence Officers), attended their elegant annual conventions in Washington, rubbed shoulders with the great men and women of the dark worlds of spying.

My own crime novels have often dealt with topics other than murder—prostitution, kidnapping, sex-trafficking and slavery, terrorism, psychopaths, corporate intelligence.

But, as all crime writers, I was always aware that much crime writing deals with the ultimate battle with—or fear of—death.

Currently, the American serial killer Dennis L. Rader, a former code compliance officer, who killed 10 people in the Wichita, Kansas area, is co-writing a book with Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychology professor at DeSales University. Both authors hope this book will help investigators and criminologists understand serial killers.

"People like me need to be understood, so the criminal professional field can better understand the criminal mind," Said Rader, who called himself "B.T.K.", which stood for "bind, torture, kill."

I have a confession to make to you, my friends. I do NOT want to read this book!

After decades of immersion in the facts and theories of why bad men and women commit gross crimes… I don't want to know what made this Mr. BTK act out his inner demons!

Yes, I've committed several murders as a crime writer. But in my last novel I had a very hard time in letting my character commit a justified murder. Even though all evidence pointed to the fact that it was necessary—an act of justice—that had to be carried out by a decent and honest man! I spent days delaying the writing of that scene—even though yelled at by the agent…

Tell me, how do YOU feel about reading of the inner machinery and feelings of a serial killer?

In your opinion, how much does a serious crime writer need to know about the down and dirty reasons that make a demented mind turn to murder?

Granted, every serious crime writer needs to know a certain amount of background in—and knowledge of—these dark people who also walk on our sacred earth.

But, with the planet in such a state of upset on so many levels… my inner self yells out… Enough Already!

Please share your thoughts and insights with us, be you a writer or a reader.

Thelma Jacqueline Straw, still proud to be a member of the Mystery Writers of America

P.S. John Sanford, Pulitzer Prize-winning thriller novelist, writes in an interview with Writer's Digest, Nov/Dec: (In the Minnesota prison system... "I talked to all those killers who were smart enough to learn programming… I had long, intimate conversations with these guys… none of them took any responsibility for the murders whatever, even when they admitted doing it." P. 40 )


  1. I think this is creepy, too. What strikes me is that writing this book with a forensic psychology professor will give BTK a legitimate opportunity to relive, minute by minute, all of the horror he produced as he digs around in his demented mind and shares it with a professional. Will this mean that all serial killers are the same? Do they use the same methods? Reasoning? Stalking? Do they all have the same delight in gore and torture? Will he reveal how he could have been stopped? I suppose a book like that could make for some interesting reading. But you won't catch me reading it in the middle of the night when I find that I just cannot fall asleep. No, I don't think my door would ever be locked tight enough against what I might learn lurked in this guys mind.

  2. Terrific commentary, Margaret. You sound like a Professor at the John Jay College! T. Straw

  3. Many thanks to our brilliant Blog Administrator, Kate Gallison, , for this picture to illustrate my blog today! Kate, when in the world did you take this picture of me????? T. Straw

  4. Thelma, Thanks for this thought provoking post. I haven't written a murder mystery and I'm not sure I could. However, I've dabbled with the idea of including a stalker or psychopath in some of my work. Can research really put one in the criminal mind? As usual you've given me something to think about.
    Barbara Bent

  5. Thanks for your stopping by, Barbara. Actually, some of the best fiction and most highly paid today is found in novels that are both romance and murder!!! Thelma

  6. This certainly got me thinking. Margaret is probably on to something, that the book will give the killer a chance to relive crimes and get considerable attention.
    Will it help law enforcement? I've often wondered "How many serial killers are caught by profiling?" Or are they caught because a cop found a body in the bed of the pickup trunk during a routine traffic stop?

  7. Yes, Sheila, good point. And the people who've made a life study of these psychotics know they will do anything to get attention - this is what the crazed ones thrive on. tstraw

    1. If "BTK" gets to publish and profit from his book, it will be a crime in itself, but one at least partially committed by the people who buy it. How can someone who valued human life not at all claim to want to help anyone understand anything about killers? He's not doing us a social service, and neither is his collaborator. And if he describes his killings in the book, I would call that pornography. While readers of murder mysteries may at some times get a pleasurable frisson of terror at descriptions of killing, the extraordinarily graphic stuff is way too much for me, and when it is about real people who got killed, it is obscene. While killers may fascinate us with their "otherness," we should not make them celebrities.
      Mike Welch

    2. That was my understanding, too, about the law prohibiting anyone from profiting by his own crimes. Didn't it have something to do with Son of Sam and his plans to write a book?

    3. Actually, Mike and Kate, my understanding from the news re the bastard's book... was - not that he really hoped to get $$$ ... but he really looked for the satisfactions of the attention that he wd get! I wd imagine the DeSales professor wd have an understanding with her employers that she wd not be allowed to make bucks from the project - she was probably in it for the kudos on her C.V. But, then, I am only guessing. Kate is proably correct - there are certainly laws against financial profit for this sort of thing... I'll ask Andy Peck - he'd know. tstraw

  8. Thank you, Mike, for stopping by and your comments. T. Straw

  9. Replies
    1. Thanks for dropping by, Marilyn. I agree with you! T. Straw

  10. I agree about the BTK book. (And no, Rader will not profit from this.) I remember hearing John Jefferson, half of the Jefferson Bass writing team, talk about how disturbed he got when doing research for a serial killer book. I do think there's a fine line that every mystery writer has to draw for himself. There are places I will not go. I started to read the terrific book about the ATF agent who infiltrated the notorious Mongols motorcycle gang, but as I started seeing what was happening to him, I had to draw back. I skipped to the end and may never read the middle. I do want to write about the dark places in our souls, but some souls are too dark to go into very far! For my books, just let them do their dastardly deeds, give chase, and get caught. Leave me out of your black soul.

    1. Thanks for your astute comments, Kaye. I agree --- there are places I too will not go... T. Straw

  11. This is a wonderful post, Thelma. Such an important subject. I have to admit, though I read The Silence of the Lambs and am glad I did, I do not, cannot ordinary bring myself to, read serial killer stories. I love mysteries, but not gore. And I especially abhor violence against women. I am not a cozy fan, but not a blood and guts fan either. The fiction is next to impossible for me. I am sure the truth would be nauseating.

  12. Thank you for your visit here, Annamaria. I find the older I get the less of blood and gore and horrid crimes I wish to read. In fact, in my advanced age I'm enjoying best - crime novels with a healthy romance! T. Straw