Rape culture? Ya think?

Brian Sat, 2019-08-31 14:53
Eight of Psychokiller's victims, with names and ages

Recently I settled down to take in a movie recommended by a friend.

It turned out to be one of those pics examining the life and relationships of a vicious rapist-murderer. Not exactly a subject I'm interested in.

But I hadn't anything else to do, so I watched.

For this essay, I'm going to call him Psychokiller. Most readers will probably recognize who it is fairly quickly, but there's more than enough out there about him. I don't want this to be about him, but about us.

Psychokiller was executed in 1989 for some of his crimes, so younger folk can be forgiven for not placing him right away. He was a vicious serial rapist/killer of women during the 1970s (and possibly before), who before the end of his life had admitted to killing at least 30 women. The title of the movie ("Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile") describes him not badly; the words are said to be taken from the Florida judge who sentenced him to execution.

The movie itself is loosely based on a memoir of one of Psychokillers's girlfriends. I say "loosely" because you'd think the woman involved would certainly be the protagonist in her own memoir, but in the movie the main character is clearly Psychokiller.

That his rampage lasted for so long can be credited to a number of things, including:

  • he appears to have been fairly intelligent
  • he appears to have been quite adept, before DNA got involved, in committing vicious attacks without leaving physical evidence of his involvement
  • he murdered in several states, which gave law enforcement officials of the time a lot of trouble in pinning down that serial murders were involved, and a single killer was on the loose
  • as described by law enforcement officials, he had an uncanny ability to completely change his appearance with minor changes in his hair or expression

But Psychokiller didn't just rape and kill, he also:

  • raped with metal objects, causing extensive internal injuries
  • left the corpses of his victims in wooded or mountainous areas
  • cut off the heads of some of his victims, and kept them stored at his apartment; he incinerated one of them in his girlfriend's fireplace
  • returned to where he'd left their remains, and had sex with them, until they were too putrified to continue
  • would sometimes ritually wash and make up the corpses

I thought the movie was okay, but I really am not all that interested in serial killers, their motivations, their girlfriends, or their trial groupies, so it wasn't making much of an impression on me.

Eight more Psychokiller victims, with names and ages

But then, at the end, as the movie was fading out, rollover titles announced that, after his execution, his ashes were spread somewhere over Washington State's Cascade Mountain range, in accordance with his will.

At that, I jumped up and said, in not very nice language, "Are you kidding me? They spread his woman-destroying ashes over the place where he dumped his victims? You've got to be pulling my freaking leg! How can the will of a convicted serial monster obligate us to allow the desecration of one of nature's beautiful places, and the victims he's left there? Hasn't he desecrated it/them enough?

* * * * *

So the matter of Psychokiller's ashes really got to me. The movie, of course, had very little to say about Psychokiller's victims. For all the journey we're invited to take into this guy's brain, we learn almost nothing about the women he killed and raped. From what little I'd seen about this schmuck over the years, I thought that was pretty typical, so I made up my mind to do something about them, not him.

Now, in order to find out about them, you have to do a lot of poking around the entrails of Psychokiller's crimes. And what a chilling journey that is! Not only are people horrified by his crimes, or at least claim to be, they're freaking fascinated by him. So far, his wretched existence has provoked seven (7!) films, four (4!) TV specials, and six (6!) books, including one by a woman who served as one of his defence lawyers.

One can, of course, find many, many news reports about his murders. But here's the thing. Most of them feature, for their above-the-fold photo, a photo of him, even when the article is about one or some of his victims. You'll find collages where photos of his victims are combined with one of him—him in the centre, of course.

Clearly, psychokilling sells. Being killed—meh.

As usual, the interweb turns up some of the worst of it. One web-site that deals fairly extensively with his victims is "allthatsinteresting--dot--com." Interesting, not horrifying.

From a blog self-description: "Everything [Psychokiller] related. While I despise what he did and feel utmost sympathy for his victims, I think he was a physically beautiful man and this blog will chronicle his life and my affection for him. Feel free to message me, fellow [first-name]-heads!" Good grief! This guy's as significant as the Grateful Dead??

But the one that struck me as the most depraved is the site, in which, in the midst of an astonishing collection of Psychokiller trivia, he (male, natch) has a collage of 24 victims, captioned "Brides ♥ of ♥ Psychokiller." I kid you not. No names, of course. Go have your brain checked, shithead! (The site itself has a favicon—the tiny profile photo that appears at the top of your browser above the URL—of, of course, Psychokiller himself.)

But of course, these numb-nuts wouldn't be able to amass the mountains of material they've been able to collect on the "charming," "handsome," PoS they so admire, if there weren't so many media out there producing it for their own bottom line, profiting from our horror and fascination.

Last four known victims of Psychokiller killings

Now I'm undoubtedly not the most authoritative observer of rape culture around, but this one just jumps out at me. I understand "rape culture" to be, loosely, those parts of our society "in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality" (Wikipedia) Not everyone agrees with rape culture as a concept, I understand. But what better exemplar of that culture, in fact, in this case rape-murder culture, than the industry that's been built up around Psychokiller. Many people are fascinated by him, in fact, can't get enough of him. You can make money by knowing stuff about him. Makes me want to puke.

Here's Florida judge Edward D Cowart, the judge who sentenced Psychokiller to the Chair:

“You’re a bright young man,” Cowart said in an exchange with [Psychokiller], who studied law, after his sentencing. “You’d have made a good lawyer. I’d have loved to have you practice in front of me. But you went another way, partner.”

So he fooled Judge Cowart as well. If the movie is accurate about Psychokiller's antics in the courtroom, he was a good example of "the man who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer." Psychokiller didn't help himself at all in the courtroom. What he did was perform PR stunts for audience/media attention. In that he was quite successful, as the industry that's sprung up about him demonstrates quite adequately.

Myself, I'd have taken Psychokiller's ashes out to the nearest municipal dump, and buried them. Then I'd have apologized to the backhoe, to the backhoe operater, and to the garbage that's just had the maniac mixed in with it. Then, never another word about the monster.

The psychologists could study him all they want—that's their job—but I'd want them to shut up about it except for anonymous data in peer-reviewed journals. Any money made from it would be confiscated, and placed in victims' funds.

But enough about Psychokiller. In my own small way, I wanted this blog post to be more about the victims. Unfortunately, our culture's relative lack of interest in victims makes it a daunting task indeed. Though there are web-sites/FB pages out there devoted to this task, they unfortunately don't appear to be too reliable, or know very much. So I've had to settle for (1) the photos throughout this post, and (2) leaving Psychokiller's name out of it.

In the end, before Florida fried him, Psychokiller had confessed to 30 murders, though he only gave 20 names—the victims identified here. Psychokiller was a psychopath, though, so it's a tad difficult to believe anything he said. Some law enforcement types think he may have killed up to 100. So it's quite likely some of his victims are missing from this post. That's a shame.

However, I take some comfort from knowing I've put one site out there on the interwebs that's only about the women he victimized—no photos of him or even his name.

R.I.P. Kimberly, Caryn, Margaret, Debra, Laura, Roberta, Georgann, Donna, Lynda, Janice, Denise, Susan, Lynette, Melissa, Brenda, Lisa, Julie, Denise, Susan, Nancy, and any others we don't know about yet.

-30-

  • Eighteen-year-old Karen Sparks was attacked as she slept, beaten and raped with a metal rod, causing extensive internal injuries. She survived, but suffered permanent physical and mental injuries.
  • Cheryl Thomas, a 21-year-old Florida State University student, had her shoulder dislocated, her jaw fractured, and her skull fractured in five places. She suffered permanent deafness, and equilibrium damage that ended her dance career.

Five young women who survived their attacks, some with lifelong disabilities as a result