Katherine Ramsland: Interviews with a Serial Killer

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I’ve been speaking and teaching at the Writers Police Academy for six years. Those who’ve come regularly heard me announce the sale of Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Last year at WPA, I was proofing the manuscript. This year, it’s ready, and I’ve asked my publisher to do a special pre-publication launch at WPA. Some attendees have shared in my journey. In fact, I first met WPA organizer Lee Lofland in Wichita, the town that BTK terrorized. So, this is a full-circle experience.

I got involved with this book serendipitously. Someone else had started it, collecting letters from Rader for five years. I saw her on Facebook in 2010, so I asked her about it. She had one of my books and knew who I was. She told me she needed a writer to take over and invited me to submit a proposal to the victims’ family trust, which owned the rights. She also introduced me to Rader. I did not go looking for this project, but when it was offered, I jumped in.

I had just published a book, The Mind of a Murderer, which describes a dozen cases from the past century of mental health experts who took the extra time needed to learn about an extreme offender from the offender’s point of view. So, I had role models.

Confession is what I call a guided autobiography, structured with what we know from criminological research. Rader pondered the things I showed him and selected the factors that he believed weighed most heavily in his violence. He provides a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an organized, predatory serial killer who designed his killing career on specific role models. He confided the details about his compulsion to kill and how he successfully kept his secrets while living as an ordinary family man. Within steps of his wife and children were “hidey holes” filled with numerous incriminating items.

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I open the book with the most challenging thing: figuring out Rader’s code system, which was also a test for me. The introduction shows my early first steps. Finally, collecting all the information into an accessible yet educational structure required intense focus and a lot of uninterrupted time. Rader wrote long letters about his life, experiences, and fantasies. We read a few books and articles, and discussed how the concepts applied to him. In the end, I summarized our enterprise, but the content is primarily from him.

For me, it was the chance to immerse in the mind of an extreme offender. Whenever he named other serial killers or described movies or books that had an effect on him, I researched the subjects and watched the movies. If he described places that had meaning for him, I visited them. Together, we expanded the story from mere memoir to experiential narrative. We also watched some television shows, like The Americans and Bates Motel, and discussed them by phone each week. This, too, gave me information about Rader’s perception.

I was most fascinated with Rader’s description of  “cubing” (his word for the more clumsy academic phrase, compartmentalization). He talks about how he developed “life frames,” but more interesting for me was bumping up against these boundaries whenever I asked difficult questions. Rader, I found, is unique even in the world of serial killers. Many people have assumptions about serial killers and they expected Rader to fit the mold. In some ways he did, but in other ways he’s an outlier.

When I entered into this project, I knew it would deepen my awareness of what I write about, research, and teach. I did not know that I would be heavily immersed for five years, but I expected that working so closely with someone like Rader would affect my thinking and theorizing. It did. I see better how he experiences the world and I have deepened my description of certain aspects of the criminal mind. I view Confession as a significant complement to the work I have done, especially to The Mind of a Murderer.

I look forward to sharing with the WPA attendees.

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*  Dr. Katherine Ramsland, director of the Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program at DeSales University, also teaches the forensic psychology track. She has published over 1,000 articles, stories, and reviews, and 59 books, including The Mind of a Murderer, The Forensic Science of CSI, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, The Ivy League Killer, and The Murder Game. Her book, Psychopath, was a #1 bestseller on the Wall Street Journal’s list. She presents workshops to law enforcement, psychologists, coroners, judges, and attorneys, and has consulted for several television series, including CSI andBones.  She also writes a regular blog for Psychology Today called “Shadow-boxing” and consults for numerous crime documentary production companies. Her most recent book is with serial killer, Dennis Rader, called Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. She will also publish The Ripper Letter, a supernatural thriller based on Jack the Ripper lore.

Dennis Rader is currently serving several life sentences in a Kansas prison.

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Killing Your Readers with Bad “Stuff”

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I’ve been writing this blog for over eight years and I admit that it’s sometimes tough to come up with a new topic each and every day. However, I suppose there’ll always be questions that need answering as long as writers continue to write stories about cops and crime. So … here are a few responses to recent inquiries.

(By the way, I’ve seen each of these used incorrectly in at least one book, or on someone’s blog).

1. Do revolvers eject spent brass with each pull of the trigger?

Answer – No, they do not. Spent brass must be manually ejected. Semi-autos, however, do indeed eject individual empty brass casings each time a round is fired.

2. I heard a stupid thing the other day. Someone told me that thermal imagers can “see” through black garbage bags, allowing officers to identify the contents without opening the bag. This is not true, right? 

Answer – This is true.
 

3. How many locks are on a pair of handcuffs? One or two?

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Answer – Two.

4. Speed Loaders are competition shooters who are extremely skilled at loading their weapons in a very short amount of time, right?

Answer – Read about speed loaders here –  http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/dump-pouches-v-speed-loaders/

5. Isn’t it true that cars almost always explode when hit by gunfire.

Answer – No. In fact, the opposite is more likely to happen … no explosion at all.

6. A writer friend told me that DNA evidence is used to convict defendants in nearly every case. Is she correct?

Answer – DNA is rarely the deciding factor in a criminal case. Sure, it’s nice to have, but it’s not always available.

7. The FBI can take over any case, any time, from local police, so why do the locals bother?

Answer – This couldn’t be further from the truth. The FBI does not have the authority to take over a criminal case. Besides, they have a ton of their own cases to work, which, by the way, does not include murder (as a rule).

8. Do the Kevlar vests worn by officers (or similar types) also stop punctures from knives and other sharp objects.

Answer – No, they’re not designed to stop punctures from knives and other edged weapons. There are, however, vests that do guard against stabbing-type weapons, but they are typically worn by officers who work in prisons and jails.

9. Do cops have to release bad guys if they forget to read them their rights the moment they arrest them?

Answer – No, Miranda is required to be read/recited only when suspects are in custody AND prior to questioning. No questioning = no advisement of Miranda. Some departments may have policies that require Miranda advisement at the time of arrest, but it’s not mandated by law.

10. Are police officers required by law to wear seat belts while operating a police car?

Answer – No, not in all states. In fact, some state laws also allow certain delivery drivers to skip buckling up (USPS letter carriers, for example).

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11. Are all deputy sheriffs sworn police officers?

Answer – No. Normally deputies who work in the jails are not police officers. On the other hand, sheriff’s deputies have far more responsibilities than you may be aware of, such as (click the link below to read about the duties of deputy sheriffs):

DEPUTY SHERIFFS: THEY’RE JUST COPS, RIGHT?

12. Coroners have to be medical doctors, don’t they?

Answer – No, in many areas corners are elected officials who have absolutely no medical training whatsoever. Actually, some California sheriffs also serve as county coroner.

13. Isn’t it true that small town police departments never investigate murder cases?

Answer – All police officers are trained to investigate crimes, and small town officers investigate homicides all the time.

14. Robbery and burglary are synonymous. I mean, they’re the same, right?

Answer – No, robbery and burglary are two entirely different crimes.

Robbery occurs when a crook uses physical force, threat, or intimidation to steal someone’s property. If the robber uses a weapon the crime becomes armed robbery, or aggravated robbery, depending on local law. There is always a victim present during a robbery.

For example, you are walking down the street and a guy brandishes a handgun and demands your money. That’s robbery.

Burglary is an unlawful entry into any building with the intent to commit a crime. Normally, there is no one inside the building when a burglary occurs. No physical breaking and entering is required to commit a burglary. A simple trespass through an open door or window, and the theft of an item or items, is all that’s necessary to meet the requirements to be charged with burglary.

For example, you are out for the night and someone breaks into your home and steals your television. That’s a burglary. Even if you are at home asleep in your bed when the same crime occurs, it’s a burglary because you weren’t actually threatened by anyone.

15. I once read that narcotics dogs are fed small amounts of cocaine at an early age to get them used to the drug. This is cruelty to animals and cops should be arrested for doing it.

Answer – This couldn’t be more false. Dogs are never, not ever, given narcotics of any type. Instead, they’re trained to locate drugs by their scents.

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16. Shotguns and rifles are basically synonymous. I know this because my grandfather had both and used both to hunt wild game.

Answer – False. To read about and see the differences, please go HERE.

17. Has there ever been an escape death row?

Yes, and a great example is the escape of the Briley brothers from Virginia’s death row at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center.

18. Is there a gun that allows officers to shoot around corners?

Answer – Yes, and you can read about CornerShot here http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/corner-shot-who-says-bullets-dont-bend/

19. Cops are definitely trained to aim for arms, legs, and/or to shoot a knife or gun from a suspect’s hand. This I know because I read it on a blog written by a popular activist and she should know.

Answer – Officers are taught to shoot center mass of their target. It is extremely difficult to hit small, moving targets while under duress. Therefore, officers DO NOT shoot hands, legs, elbows, or weapons (well, not on purpose). Your friend’s statement is totally incorrect.

20. Why do officers always shoot to kill? Couldn’t they shoot an arm or leg, or something?

Answer – See #19 above, and … Police officers are NEVER trained to “shoot to kill.” Instead, they’re taught to stop the threat. When the threat no longer exists the shooting stops, if it ever starts. Often, the threat ceases before shots are fired.

Shoot to Kill or to Wound? Here’s the Answer

 

 

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Revolver v. Pistol: Do You Know the Difference?

Pistol (semi-automatic)

The term “Pistol” means a weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having:

  • a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);
  • and a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Pistol nomenclature (below)

Revolver

The term “Revolver” means a projectile weapon of the pistol type, having a breechloading chambered cylinder so arranged that the cocking of the hammer or movement of the trigger rotates it and brings the next cartridge in line with the barrel for firing.

Revolver nomenclature (below)

*All of the above (text and images) are from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). Thanks to the folks at ATF for allowing the reproduction and use.

For Writers: Semi-autos and fully automatic (machine guns) automatically eject spent cartridges. Revolvers DO NOT. Therefore, writers, chances are slim and mostly none of finding empty revolver cartridges at a crime scene. Please remember this when writing the “aha” moment in your WIP.

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