They ain’t chicken bones. They’re human fingers. I have a problem I’m a cannibal.

— Stanley Dean Baker
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Deadly Fantasies


Strange and bizarre fantasies thrive in isolation and anger. For the fledgling serial killer, fantasies of violence prompt further isolation, which in turn creates a greater reliance on fantasy for pleasure, according to Robert Ressler (et al) in Sexual Homicide. “As I grew up I realized, though imperfectly, that I was different from other people, and that the way of life in my home was different from that in the homes of others. … This stimulated me to introspection and strange mental questionings,” said “Acid Bath Murderer” John Haigh.

Eventually, to sustain the fantasy, serial killers come to a point where they need to live it out. They will dwell on the murder act for years, and drift into almost trance-like states days before the murder, completely enraptured by their fantasy. Their victims are reduced to hapless pawns in their wicked reverie. Much of the strange, ritualized mutilations come from an inner drama that only the killer can understand. “I made another world, and real men would enter it and they would never really get hurt at all in the vivid unreal laws of the dream. I caused dreams which caused death. This is my crime,” said Dennis Nilsen. Nilsen’s American counterpart Jeffrey Dahmer had a similar insight: “I made my fantasy life more powerful than my real one.”

Yet the brutal, messy reality of murder never completely fulfills the power of the fantasy. In fact, it is usually a letdown, but the fantasy won’t go away – it is too deeply ingrained in the killer’s psyche. This accounts for the serial nature of lust murder. “The fantasy that accompanies and generates the anticipation that precedes the crime is always more stimulating than the immediate aftermath of the crime itself,” observed Ted Bundy.

Many serial killers will keep “souvenirs” of their crime, which later refuels the fantasy. When Bundy was asked why he took Polaroids of his victims, he said, “when you work hard to do something right, you don’t want to forget it.”

As John Douglas says, keeping some memento — a lock of hair, jewelry, newspaper clips of the crime — helps prolong, even nourish, their fantasy of the crime. Between crimes — often while targeting future victims — they’ll pull out their trophies and just sit back in their La-Z Boy chairs and relive the crime over and over in their minds.

What’s interesting is that they often give the souvenir — particularly jewelry — to a family member or significant other. The recipient could be the wife or a girlfriend who was causing the subject grief at the time of the crime or was involved in a confrontation with him.

The subject goes out and commits the crime, and like the cat who catches the mouse, brings it back and drops it on the doorstep. He’ll present his wife or mother with a piece of jewelry and say, “Look, I found this on the street. I want to give it to you.” When he sees this person who is a part of his life wearing the item, it becomes part of a game. He looks at it and fantasizes about the victim he raped or murdered, and it’s like his own little secret: “If only she knew … what she’s wearing right now came from one of my victims.”

article by Shirley Lynn Scott