I have a confession. I have a fascination with serial killers. I’m very well-read on the subject. Yes, this is one of my bookshelves, groaning with tales of murder, torture, kidnap and deprivation.
I have made poor Mr GK sit through films like Dahmer, Bundy, and more, and given him a borderline-Asperger’s like detailed rundown of who did what, how and when, when documentaries about serial killers come on the TV. He’s not really into it. He’s a happy-go-lucky, laid-back kinda guy. I have a darker side that clearly needs feeding! So, I’ll be watching Channel 5’s latest instalment in their Killers Behind Bars series on the iPad tomorrow, whilst we watch the football tonight, and he goes to bed free of murderous facts he didn’t even want to know.
My fascination began when I was a teenager, and still living at home. My brother got Shoot! and Smash Hits delivered to the house from the local papershop. I got Murder – a series of magazines detailing the lives and ‘works’ of the likes of Charles Manson, The Rillington Place killer John Christie, John George Haigh, the acid bath killer, and Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.
I can vaguely recall the Yorkshire Ripper being apprehended when I was just 10. Maybe that’s where it started. I was always an inquisitive child. Probably pestered my mother until she relented and told me who he was. (I’m kidding!). But as I grew older I devoured books on serial killers. Scottish killer Dennis Nilsen became a particular ‘favourite’ of mine. (Although Mr GK has warned me that saying ‘I love serial killers‘ and ‘Dennis Nilsen is my favourite serial killer‘ are not great prhases for new company. And when my holiday reading by the pool in Greece a few years ago was the disturbing (and enthralling and fascinating) Night Stalker, about Richard Ramirez, he just shook his head.)
I found a kindred spirit in a friend I met in Glasgow who runs a second-hand store. Maybe it’s a fascination with people, social history, who knows, but she has it too. We would spend hours trading tales, and swapping recollections of serial killer and she told me the most amazing story once. A friend of hers had gone to London to work not long after Nilsen was apprehended for killing 15 men in 1983 and dissecting and disposing of their bodies. Said friend had gone to work at the very office Nilsen had worked at, and wondered why no-one came near his desk. Said desk had apparently been Nilsen’s. Who cares if it’s true, it’s a great tale to tell. Of course, there will be people who will berate me for this. I am well aware that with serial killers come victims, and lots of them. I am in no way condoning or ‘celebrating’ murderers.
But I will be tuning in tonight because I am fascinated, and if it’s ghoulish fascination then so be it, but I am interested in what motivates people to kill, and kill again. Tonight’s Channel 5 programme is about Peter Tobin. Arrested in 2006 for the murder of Angelika Kluk, he was subsequently convicted of the murders of Scottish schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton, who had gone missing in 1991 – a case I clearly remember, and 18-year-old Dinah McNicol who went missing the same year.
For Professor of Criminology David Wilson (pictured above), who has made these shows for Channel 5, it’s a case he has delved deeply into, and written a book about Tobin, connecting him with the 1960s ‘Bible John’ Glasgow dancehall murders . Tobin terrifies me. Watching him sneer and lash out at guards as he was taken to the prison van made my skin crawl. But I am still intrigued to hear what David Wilson has to say about him.
Sometimes, I think a life as a criminologist would be good. Maybe I missed my calling. Other times however, I think that a dark ‘interest’ like this is best kept on the edges of my life, and back on my bookshelf, rather than at the heart of it.
Killers Behind Bars, Channel 5, 8pm, Tuesdays.