Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Myths Exposed

Serial killers are super clever

Hannibal Lector
Hannibal Lector

If this is true, how come Hannibal Lector got caught? Oh, yeah, because the police are even smarter! This scenario makes both the serial killers and the cops feel good about themselves. In reality, serial killers are of average intelligence. Clearly, they never really made use of their brains which explains why most have low level jobs and make poor decisions. In fact, it is exactly these poor decisions that get them in trouble on their jobs, in their relationships, and in their crimes.

Killers can seem smart when you can't figure out who they are. Actually, it is just the nature of these kinds of crimes which make the killer seem to be a brilliant opponent. First of all, since no one sees the killer commit the crime, there is no one to identify and put in a lineup. Most serial killers operate in cities and suburbs as opposed to small towns for a reason. If the town has fewer than 500 residents, after you lop off the female percentage of the population and then eliminate the kids and people in wheelchairs, the townspeople could probably point out weird Johnny as the guilty party. However, in the middle of Manhattan, the police pretty much just shrug their shoulders and hope for a lucky break.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy

My favorite choice for disproving the "serial killers are brilliant" concept is to take a look at Ted Bundy, America's most famous serial killer. It is said how terribly smart he was; that this is why it took so long to catch him. Is this the same Ted who couldn't make it through law school, who drove a GOLD Volkswagen to the lake in broad daylight and went up to women he was planning to kidnap saying, "Hi! My name is TED!"? Is this the same brilliant guy who nearly strangled his girlfriend who then found in his bureau drawer the plaster of Paris he used for fake casts in some of his abduction ruses? This same girlfriend and a couple of other people who knew him went to the police with their suspicions. The police ignored the information because he didn't seem the type. I think the movie "Dumb and Dumber" comes to mind for the killer and cops involved here. Ted was finally caught, not by clever investigative work but because he was caught speeding. He was so bright that he lied to the police officer about seeing a movie the cop knew didn't exist and then he let the police officer look into his trunk and note his rather obvious rape kit. Ted was by no means brilliant and it was the solid work of a beat cop that got a killer off the streets.

Bobbie Joe Leonard was clearly also a few numerals short of a Mensa invitation. Although he thinks his story about dropping the girl off at the motel was pretty good and that no one could actually prove he was with her at the time of the crime, it is rather curious that her body shows up in one of the buildings they work at, some 20 miles from that motel. I guess he could say she must have changed her mind and gotten a ride over to the work location but that is a bit of a stretch. Of course, he is still assuming that the prosecutor will not go to court without DNA evidence, so even if it is an odd coincidence that she got murdered after he dropped her off, there is still no absolute proof that he is guilty of any crime.

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