Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Part Two - Helen Morrison, "My Life Among the Serial Killers" (2004)

This is a continuation of yesterday's point-by-point rebuttal to Helen Morrison's My Life Among the Serial Killers (2004).

8. "It wasn't that the panties had sexual meaning to him. He just liked the feeling of them in his hand and on his body. To him, it was about simple comfort and quick release and not about fantasies or dreams ." (p.96)

In Chapter 6 ("The Gacy Interviews"), Morrison relates John Wayne Gacy's account of stealing his mother's panties as a kid. He also stole his neighbors' underwear off their clotheslines. And he even took panties from some of the boys he slept with. He admits that he "used to masturbate with them". Morrison's analysis of this habit is striking. Gacy clearly had issues with his gender identity. By sleeping with men, he confounded conventional expectations regarding sexuality. But to suggest that Gacy's sexual practices were not sexually meaningful seems to me to be the apex of denial. Obviously this extends to his masturbatory habits and methodology. Morrison's statements make me question whether she understands anything at all about male sexual behavior.

9. Dr. Morrison administered a "language test" in which she read a very simple and vague sentence, and asked John Wayne Gacy to interpret what was happening in the imagined scenario. He displayed what (to me) appears to be an understandable hesitancy to assume to know what had not been said. He explained that there were several unexplained variables, and outlined some possibilities. Instead of interpreting the answer as a cautious effort to avoid unwarranted assumptions, Morrison characterized it as the display of "a very primitive mode of thought" (p.98). She went on to say, "A normal person would come up with a structured beginning, a middle, and an end to the story", and then gave her own formulation of a correct answer. Apparently if a subject is unwilling to jump to conclusions based upon flimsy data, then they are abnormal. This explains much of the logic within Morrison's book.

10. Morrison has the unfortunate tendency of overgeneralization. I remarked on this in my last post. Chapter 7, in which the psychiatrist appears for her first time as an expert witness in a "high-profile criminal trial", and displays her habit of flawed simplification. She suggests that her study of Gacy led to extensive knowledge of serial killers in general. She goes on to say that seeing Gacy "is like seeing [Richard] Macek in a different body" (p.101). Macek was the very first serial killer Morrison was allowed to examine in depth and in person. Here she appears to have formed a template to superimpose on individuals, regardless of their differences. This strategy seems not only naive, buy also completely unproductive.

11. "After ten years of research and investigation, I felt I'd barely scratched the surface of what goes on inside the head of a serial killer. (...) I knew a little, and while that was more than anyone else, I still needed to know a lot more." (p.127)

The first part of the above quote is understandable, given Morrison's shoddy research techniques and obvious pattern of misconception. The second half (containing the portion I placed in boldface) is downright disturbing. Her self-assessment shows such an extreme narcissism and hubris that it raises the question of whether or not she should be allowed by law to claim any credibility or expertise on the subject of serial killers.

12. "Gacy could have gotten bored with his victim or he could have become tired physically. But it was not something Rignall did that made this occur. Rignall's passivity did not allow a distraction to occur; it couldn't have." (p.129)

Here Morrison is referring to a victim that was released by Gacy. There has been speculation that Rignall's demeanor helped influence Gacy's decision to let him go. How Morrison feels qualified to make her assertions is a mystery. She has no way of qualifying her claims. She couldn't know what happened between Rignall and Gacy. She wasn't there. Yet she voices her guess with total authority, as if she were omnipotent. Perhaps this too is attributable to her role as defense witness. She attempted to "prove" that Gacy's actions were beyond his control. If Gacy could choose to let a potential victim go free, then her position is necessarily disproven (as it ended up being judged at the trial).

13. "Whenever he drank too much, Peter would indeed open up, only to collapse in fits of hooting laughter, incessant giggling, that often went on for up to ten minutes. Once he got started, he couldn't stop."(p.132)

Morrison included a chapter that presented a detailed profile of British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper). Apparently Peter both abused alcohol, and experienced decreased inhibitions when using it. These are both blatant contradictions of earlier statements made by the author (see Part 1). It's amazing that Morrison was able to get her doctorate, but is unable to identify her many academic inconsistencies. My Life Among the Serial Killers is a prime example of poor scholarship.

14. "Serial killers rarely can control the intensity of their impulses. When they go to do something, they don't modulate their reactions. It's all or nothing, broken wrist or not." (p.132)

This quote references an incident when the young Sutcliffe broke his own wrist while punching a bigger target. Any substantial exploration of the lives of serial killers will demonstrate that Morrison's conclusion here is mistaken. There are multiple incidences of serial killers fighting their instinct to take additional victims, and then succumbing slowly to their aggressive drives after a number of years. The author even gives several examples of serial killers deciding to release their victims after torturing them, but before killing them.

Stay tuned for Part 3...

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