Bad Parenting? Sounds About Right.

Killer Among Us by Joseph C. Fisher

In this semi-scientific study of modern serial killers, Joseph C. Fisher, a market researcher and author of several books on crime, addresses a host of American killers, plus Jack the Ripper for good measure. Fisher discusses the infamous, like Jeffrey Dahmer, to good effect, and provides an interesting view of how nearly everyone involved in the case ended up suing each other; one victim’s mother even sued Dahmer’s parents for bad parenting.

The chapter on Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams provides valid insights into his crime spree, which left at least 28 children dead. But after the first chapter, Fisher seems to lose touch with his point, ostensibly to measure public outcry against the crime and how the community’s response affects the killer. Most of the material, however, consists of gory synopses of the crimes, and the book is littered with graphic charts that little serve his purpose.

In the chapter on Coed Killer John Norman Collins, Fisher reports, many victims willingly accompanied the killer despite enormous community pressure to avoid strangers. While Fisher reports this phenomenon, he does little to investigate it or to explain how the excitement could so outweigh the risk in towns under siege.

More troubling is his invocation of self-styled psychic Peter Hurkos, who was called upon during investigations ranging from the Boston Strangler to the Coed Killer. Hurkos, long since discredited, is seen here as something of an affable buffoon who sometimes had the right answers, rather than as the last resort of desperate police investigators. The idea of a scientific analysis of a community response to fear is an intriguing one, but this book provides little in the way of real analysis.

KILLER AMONG US: Public Reactions to Serial Murder by Joseph C. Fisher (Praeger; ISBN 0-275-95558-3)

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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