503 Service Temporarily Unavailable



Inside Their Heads

The biggest mistake in trying to figure out why these people are this way is that we try to analyze them through our own standard of behavior.

They don’t think the way you or I think. We’re not sure why—but the point is they don’t.
JIM WRIGHT, FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit

When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

Few would disagree that Herbert Mullin, who thought he was saving California from the great earthquake by killing people, and Ed Gein, who was making chairs out of human skin, were entirely insane when they committed their acts. The question becomes more difficult with somebody like law student Ted Bundy, who killed twenty women while at the same time working as a suicide prevention counselor, or John Wayne Gacy, who escorted the first lady and then went home to sleep over thirty-three trussed-up corpses under his house. On one hand their crimes seem “insane,” yet on the other hand, Bundy and Gacy knew exactly what they were doing. How insane were they?

The Insanity Plea

Part of the problem is that there is no precise definition of insanity—doctors define insanity differently from courts of law. The insanity plea has existed in English jurisprudence since the reign of Henry III (1216–1272), when the king could commute a death sentence of an insane criminal if it was demonstrated that irrational behavior was not unusual for the person in the past. In such cases, the prisoner would often end up being confined in a monastery. In the next century the plea was moved into the regular appeals process, no longer requiring the king’s authority. In 1581 legal authorities were arguing what a test of insanity should consist of in law, settling upon “knowledge of good and evil” as the test.134

In 1843, English jurisprudence developed the concept of insanity as a defense against charges of murder. A mentally ill man named Daniel M’Naghten came to believe that he was personally being threatened by Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel and mistakenly shot and killed Peel’s private secretary. He was acquitted on the grounds of insanity in what is known to this day as the M’Naghten rule. It is used in many Western countries today, including the United States, to define insanity in the courts. It states that to establish a successful defense on the ground of insanity:

It must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.135

In other words, to claim insanity, a defendant needs to prove that he could not distinguish between right and wrong, or that he was not aware of what he was doing, because of mental illness.

In 1887, U.S. judges expanded the test for an insanity plea. They felt that while the M’Naghten rule excused those who could not tell right from wrong, it did not excuse those who knew they were doing wrong but could not resist the impulse to do so because of mental incapacity. Ruling in State of Alabama v. Parsons, the judges stated:

If, by reason of duress of such mental disease, he had so far lost the power to choose between the right and wrong, and to avoid doing the act in question, as that his free agency was at the time destroyed.136

In 1954, American courts further broadened the ground for a plea of insanity in Durham v. United States: “An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect.”137This broad decision was codified by the acceptance of American courts in 1962 of a test proposed by the American Law Institute:

A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality [wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law. The terms “mental disease or defect” do not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise anti social conduct.138

Between 1955 and 1984, every trial where this defense was used required the conflicting testimony of psychiatrists who frequently disagreed on an exact definition of “mental incapacity” and its effect on an “irresistible impulse” of a defendant. Defense lawyers for serial killers who were lucid, cleverly concealed their crimes, and functioned in their daily lives argued that they were not guilty by reason of insanity—that they could not resist the impulse to kill, even though they knew it was wrong, because they were sick.

This broad definition of legal insanity came crashing down between Dan White’s so-called “Twinkie Defense”* in the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978 and John Hinckley’s acquittal by reason of insanity for his attempt to gun down President Ronald Reagan. In October 1984 Congress passed the Insanity Defense Reform Act, which returned the insanity pleas in federal courts closer to the original M’Naghten definition and set a model for state courts as well:

At the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.

The inability to resist an impulse to kill, for whatever reason, is no longer a viable defense for a serial killer. Most serial killers do not fit the legal definition of insanity, especially the organized ones. They search for and stalk their victims, they arrive with weapons and restraints prepared, they take their time killing, and they destroy the evidence afterward, demonstrating a full knowledge of the consequences of their crime. They elude detection and therefore are obviously aware of the wrongfulness of their act.

This was clearly hammered home with the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer in 1992, who was charged in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with the murders of fifteen men and boys. He kept some of their body parts in his fridge, occasionally eating them. He constructed altars from their skulls while reducing the remains of their corpses in drums of acid stored in his bedroom. He attempted to transform several of his still-living victims into sex zombies by drilling through their skulls and injecting their brains with battery acid. One would think, if that’s not crazy, then what the hell is? And that is precisely the argument his attorney attempted to present. It did not work.


So what is wrong with these guys? Obviously something makes them different from the rest of us. Describing them as merely evil seems too simplistic and unscientific—after all, what is “evil” exactly? Psychologists over the last decade have been desperately attempting to evolve clinical definitions and explanations for the deeds and personalities of serial killers.

Psychotics and Psychopaths

The two concepts most often associated with serial killers by the public, press, law enforcement, and academia are psychotic and psychopath. The two terms have very different meanings.

A psychotic is someone who has psychosis, a debilitating organic mental illness, still not entirely understood, that can result in delusions, hallucinations, and radical changes of behavior. Individuals with this disorder are rarely violent, and very few serial killers are diagnosed as psychotic. In a study of 2,000 people arrested for murder between 1964 and 1973, only 1 percent were found to be psychotic.139 The psychotic’s incapacitating disconnection with reality rarely makes him a good candidate for a long career as a serial killer. Psychotics who display violence most often direct it at themselves.

On the other hand, serial killers are most often diagnosed as psychopaths, or another closely related term, sociopath. A psychopath is profoundly different from a psychotic. The psychopathic state is not so much a mental illness as a behavioral or personality disorder. One forensic psychiatrist described it as follows:

A morality that is not operating by any recognized or accepted moral code, but operating entirely according to expediency to what one feels like doing at the moment or that which will give the individual the most gratification or pleasure.140

Psychologist S. K. Henderson described psychopaths in his 1939 text as follows:

The term psychopathic state is the name we apply to those individuals who conform to a certain intellectual standard, sometimes high, sometimes approaching the realm of defect but yet not amounting to it, who throughout their lives, or from a comparatively early age, have exhibited disorders of conduct of an antisocial or asocial nature, usually of a recurrent or episodic type, where, in many instances, have proved difficult to influence by methods of social, penal, and medical care and treatment and for whom we have no adequate provision of a preventive or curative nature. The inadequacy or deviation or failure to adjust to ordinary social life is not a mere willfulness or badness which can be threatened or thrashed out of the individual so involved, but constitutes a true illness for which we have no specific explanation.141

Psychologists theorize that psychopaths have a diminished capacity to experience fear and anxiety, which are the roots to the normal development of a conscience. Psychopaths are often very charismatic and very able at manipulating people. They are highly talented in feigning emotions while inside feeling nothing. They have no remorse for their victims and have highly developed psychological defense mechanisms such as rationalization (“She should have known better than to hitchhike”), projection (“She was a heartless manipulating slut”), and disassociation (“I don’t remember killing her”). They have a very weak realization of self and compensate for that with grandiosity and an inflated notion of entitlement—meaning that they feel that they are special and “entitled” to act above the law or morality. Most notably, psychopaths lack any sense of empathy with the feelings of others.

A psychiatric manual lists some of the primary characteristics of the psychopath, many if not all of which can be found in a serial killer: glibness and superficial charm; grandiosity; continuous need for stimulation; pathological lying; conning and manipulative behavior; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect; callous lack of empathy; parasitic lifestyle; poor behavioral controls; promiscuity; early behavior problems; lack of realistic long-term goals; impulsivity; irresponsibility; failure to accept responsibility for actions; many short-term relationships; juvenile delinquency; revocation of conditional release; and criminal versatility.142

While not all psychopaths are violent, they are prone to violence more than average. It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of prison populations consist of psychopaths.143 But the same might be said for the populations of corporate CEOs, performing artists, and certainly for politicians. Being a psychopath alone does not make one a serial killer.


The official psychiatric term for a psychopath is antisocial personality disorder. The diagnostic criteria for this disorder, as described by the standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV), are as follows:

  1. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by at least three (or more) of the following:
    1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repreatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
    2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
    3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
    4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights and assaults
    5. reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
    6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
    7. lack of remorse, as indicated by indifference to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another
  2. Individual is at least age 18 years.
  3. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder with onset before age 15 years.
  4. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of a Schizophrenic or Manic Episode.
  5. Evidence of conduct disorder onset before age fifteen.144


Generally speaking, violent psychopaths emerge out of a combination of personal social conditions and biological and genetic factors. Brain injuries can cause a psychopathic behavioral pattern; many serial killers have a record of head injuries when they were children or recent injuries prior to their beginning to kill. But this is not the cause of their murderous behavior—other behavioral problems are already present. Healthy people who sustain head injuries do not become killers.

Psychopaths also show abnormal balances of chemicals currently linked to depression and compulsive behavior: monoamine oxidase (MAO) and serotonin. They show cortical underarousal, high CSF free testosterone, and EEG abnormalities.145 A high level of urine kryptopyrrole and an extra Y chromosome have also been suspected as factors in the violent behavior of psychopaths.146

There is evidence that some type of congenital genetic abnormalities resulting in brain damage may be common to many serial killers. Nineteenth-century criminology tended to promote the idea of a genetic criminal type. This idea has been swept away in the twentieth century by environmental theories. Now criminology is beginning to steer a line somewhere in between the two approaches.

Forensic psychologist Joel Norris listed twenty-three types of physical characteristics of which three or more would indicate congenital genetic disorders and which he frequently found in serial killers he studied. Some of these characters included malformed ears; curved fifth finger; larger than normal gap between first and second toes; fine or electric wire hair that will not comb down; bulbous fingertips; and a speckled tongue with either smooth or rough spots.147

The prevailing theory is that there is a delicate balance between a chaotic or abusive childhood and biochemical factors that can trigger murderous psychopathic behavior. Healthy social factors can prevent a biochemically unstable individual from committing criminal acts; healthy biochemistry can protect a person with a turbulent childhood from growing up to be a killer. Violent offenders emerge when both elements are out of balance. This theory goes a long way to explain why some children with difficult childhoods do not become serial killers and not everyone with a head injury behaves criminally.


The problem with psychopaths is that the disorder is highly elusive—it is not a disease that can been directly traced to a single chemical, viral, or organic agent; it is a mysterious behavioral disorder whose history is buried deep in the offender’s psychology, environment, and biochemistry. It is likely that a cure for cancer will be found before psychopaths can be routinely treated and cured. Numerous serial killers, after committing their first murders and being sent to psychiatric facilities or receiving psychiatric treatment in prison, were deemed “cured” and committed more escalated series of murders after their release. Edmund Kemper, for example, murdered his grandparents at age fifteen and was released after five years to murder seven women, including his mother. (See his case study later in this chapter.) Arthur Shawcross murdered two children in Watertown, New York; served fourteen years with treatment; and then was released in April 1987. By 1990 he had murdered eleven women in the Rochester area and was captured having lunch over a corpse he had dumped several days earlier. Richard Biegenwald was released after serving seventeen years for murder and went on to kill another seven victims before being sent back to prison.

Most often, however, psychopaths cure themselves as they age. Starting from age twenty-one, approximately 2 percent of all psychopaths go into remission every year.148 The older the psychopath becomes, the more likely that he will become adjusted to society—especially in his midforties. This may account for the relatively young average age of serial killers (midtwenties) and for why some serial killers vanish without being captured or identified.

Successful treatment of psychopaths, however, is so rare that articles trumpet them in psychiatric journals with a grandeur akin to the discovery of a new planet. The International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology in 1999 described a “Marcel” who raped six children and, while in a psychiatric facility, raped an adult male. After undergoing therapy, Marcel has apparently been living a normal life for the last twenty years.149 In 2003, in the same journal, an article described a “Mr. X” who sought out treatment for his fantasies of becoming a serial killer. The article states, however, that Mr. X, while having some similar traits of serial killers, did not show any signs of being a psychopath when tested. The Ohio psychiatrists who treated Mr. X concluded, “This lack of psychopathy may have led him to treatment rather than to carrying out the planned homicides.”150

 Peter Woodcock (David Michael Krueger)—Thirty-Five Years of Therapy

I have read a lot of case histories in researching this book, but few compare to the story of my own hometown serial killer, Peter Woodcock in Toronto. “Crazier than a shithouse rat” may not be a highly scientific term, but it’s the only one that comes to mind. Few have heard of Peter Woodcock, who committed his first series of crimes in 1956–1957 and escapes mention in all serial killer encyclopedias and lists (which makes me wonder how many other “hometown” serial killers around the world are not catalogued by researchers).

Woodcock was born March 5, 1939, in Toronto, Canada. It is unclear whether his young mother, Wanita Woodcock, was a seventeen-year-old factory worker or a nineteen-year-old prostitute—the record is conflicted. An adoption was arranged after his mother was allowed to keep him for a month to breast-feed him. Adoption agency records report that already in that first month, Peter showed feeding problems and cried constantly.151

As an infant he was shunted around numerous foster homes, unable to bond with any of his foster parents. In his first year he cried constantly and slept and ate little. After his first birthday he became terrified of anybody approaching him. He learned to talk but his speech was incoherent, described as strange whining animal noises. He had problems with at least one of the foster placements at around age two—he was treated in an emergency hospital with an injured neck as a result of a beating at the hands of one foster parent.

Peter was finally placed in a stable home when he was three. His new foster parents—Frank and Susan Maynard—were an upper-middle-class couple who had a son ten years older than Peter. Susan Maynard is said to have been a forceful woman with an exaggerated sense of propriety who became very attached to the weird child who had difficulty walking and still screamed when anyone came near.

By age five Peter had stopped screaming at the approach of strangers but remained a weird and lonely child. Other children in the neighborhood refused to play with him and he became a target for bullies. Between ages seven and twelve, Woodcock was treated extensively for emotional problems in Toronto’s renowned Hospital for Sick Children.

His primary problem was a tendency to wander away from home great distances, sometimes staying away several nights. After one search, he was found cowering in some bushes and explained that he was hiding from other children. He killed the family’s pet canary, blaming it on the dog. He tore down window blinds, hacked up his socks, cut his clothing, smashed the radio, and carved crude symbols into the dining room table. He also developed a strange walk in which he would swing his arms forward on the same side he would step forward.

Woodcock says that when he was seven or eight, his mother underwent a transformation after being pushed down a railway station staircase in an attempted purse snatching. After that, he says, she would beat him with a beaded rod.

Peter lived in a vivid fantasy world full of obsessions. One of his primary obsessions was Toronto’s streetcar system and he compulsively rode and tracked the various routes. Decades later, while he was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital and much of Toronto’s streetcar system had been changed or dismantled, Woodcock could still recall from memory the various routes and their schedules.

Peter was sent to a nearby private school, but the weird child did not do very well there. He made no friends, participated in no games, and remained isolated from other children.

By age eleven, Peter was an angry little boy. A Children’s Aid Society report written when Woodcock was eleven years old describes him as follows:

Slight in build, neat in appearance, eye bright, and wide open, worried facial expression, sometimes screwing up of eyes, walks briskly and erect, moves rapidly, darts ahead, interested and questioning constantly in conversation . . .

He attributes his wandering to feeling so nervous that he just has to get away. In some ways, Peter has little capacity for self-control. He appears to act out almost everything he thinks and demonstrates excessive affection for his foster mother. Although he verbalizes his resentment for other children, he has never been known to physically attack another child . . .

Peter apparently has no friends. He plays occasionally with younger children, managing the play. When with children his own age, he is boastful and expresses determinedly ideas which are unacceptable and misunderstood.

At one point, when the social worker was walking with Woodcock at Toronto’s annual fair—the Exhibition—little Peter muttered, “I wish a bomb would fall on the Exhibition and kill all the children.”

Peter Woodcock was sent to a special school for emotionally disturbed children in Kingston, Ontario, a small town two hours east of Toronto. There, according to Woodcock, he began to act out on strong sexual urges with other children. He says that he had consensual intercourse with a twelve-year-old girl when he was thirteen. When Peter turned fifteen, he was discharged from the school and returned to live with his foster parents. He was reenrolled at the private school, where he remained isolated from the other children.

When Woodcock was sixteen he was sent to a public high school where kids from the neighborhood instantly recognized him and severely tormented him. Six weeks later he was transferred to a private high school. His teachers there remember him as a very bright student who excelled in science, history, and English and frequently scored 100 percent on his tests. While his peers shunned him, many adults liked him for his quick wit and intelligence. He was remembered as charming and able to hold his own in conversations. He was also a frequent visitor to a police station near his home, where he would chat with officers about police work.

Peter Woodcock’s prize possession was a red and white Pee-Wee Herman Schwinn bicycle on which he satisfied his continuing compulsion to wander. He rode the bike to the far reaches of the city, even during the Toronto deep cold winters. He evolved a fantasy in which he led a gang of five hundred invisible boys on bikes called the Winchester Heights Gang. His foster parents were aware of that fantasy and his obsession for the public transit system and compulsion to wander. But nobody knew exactly what the seventeen-year-old Peter did on his long bike rides in the city.


Even today, Toronto is a remarkably crime-free city. With 2.5 million inhabitants it registers roughly fifty-two homicides a year—one a week on average. Back in 1956, the city’s population hovered around the 1 million mark but the city averaged a mere ten homicides a year. Most murders were typically the result of domestic disputes or drunken brawls. Weird and strange unsolved homicides rarely occurred in Toronto in those days. Then on the evening of September 15, 1956, seven-year-old Wayne Mallette went out to play and failed to come home.

His body was found by the police approximately six hours later on the grounds of the Exhibition—the very same one on which Woodcock hoped a bomb would drop and kill all the children. The boy was dressed in a British schoolboy blazer, shirt, and plaid pants. It appeared that his clothing had been removed and he had then been re-dressed. The cause of death was strangulation. His face was pushed into the dirt and two bite marks were found on the body—one on the boy’s calf and the other on his buttock. There was no evidence of rape. Pennies were found ritualistically scattered near the body and the killer had apparently defecated next to the victim as well. Police found faint bicycle tracks near the crime scene. Witness had recollections of a young teenage boy on a bike in the area.

Nine days after the murder, a fourteen-year-old boy, Ronald Mowatt, skipped school and vanished for four days. He was found hiding by police in a crawlspace beneath a staircase with a blanket and pillow. To police, he seemed a likely suspect, and before the night was out he had even signed a confession stating that he had killed Mallette accidentally in a scuffle. Nobody bothered to compare the bite marks to the accused boy’s actual teeth, or if they did in those times before strict rules of discovery, nobody shared the information with the boy’s defense counsel.

Three weeks later, nine-year-old Garry Morris was found dead in a grassy area near the city’s port. The boy appeared to have been strangled into unconsciousness and beaten to death; he had died of a ruptured liver. There was a bite mark on his throat and this time paper clips seemed to have been ritualistically sprinkled near the corpse. Again, the clothing had been removed from the victim and then he had been re-dressed. Witnesses recalled the victim riding off on the front handlebars of a bike ridden by a teenage boy.

To this day there is no rational explanation why the Toronto police did not link the bite marks or the reports of the boy on a bike with the two child murders. Perhaps there was some police misbehavior behind Mowatt’s confession—backtracking might have risked the careers of some senior homicide investigators. Mowatt was quickly convicted of murder in juvenile court and packed off to a reformatory to serve an indeterminate sentence.

On January 19, 1957, Carole Voyce, a four-year-old girl, was approached by a teenage boy on a bicycle while playing in front of her home and offered a ride. She was found dead later that night in a ravine under a bridge. Her clothes had been pulled off and she had been choked into unconsciousness. Her killer had stuck his fingers into her eyes, stripped off her clothes, and inserted his finger into her genitals. Death was caused by a branch pushed through her vagina. Tracks in the snow showed that the killer had attempted to leave the scene several times, but circled back to the victim again. At one point he had kicked her in the head. He was seen by witnesses biking out by a road at the bottom of the ravine.

Still refusing to link the murder to the Mallette killing, the police at least connected the Garry Morris and the Carole Voyce murders. A reward was offered and numerous witnesses came up with a description of the boy and his bike.

Peter Woodcock, in the meantime, continued visiting at the local police station, inquiring how the investigation was coming along. Forty years later Woodcock explained, “If you’re going to do something, the last thing you do is break the patterns that you’ve set. Keep normal routines. It’s only common sense that, if you’re up to something, you don’t draw attention to yourself . . . For me to have stepped out of character by not going into the police station would have been a grave mistake. They expected me to come in on a regular basis, just because I was one of those kids who came in on a regular basis. You don’t do anything to arouse suspicion.”152

In fact, Woodcock had been terrorizing and attacking children in Toronto for the last eleven months. In March the previous year he did, however, attract police attention. Woodcock had taken a ten-year-old girl to the ravine. Woodcock recalled:

I did have plans to cut her up to see what she looked like inside. We got lost in the ravine in the dark and getting out seemed more important. I had a penknife with me. When you’re naïve, a penknife seems enough to kill with. It was a turning point. I was already troubled with my fantasies and dreams. This ten-year-old girl, I did have plans of killing her. It didn’t dawn on me that she would die. Well, I knew she would die, but that would be the extent of it. I wanted to look at the arm, see how the muscle attaches to it. This was going to be a very thorough anatomical lesson, though I don’t believe I would have been able to name a third of the things I would have seen.153

Instead Woodcock and the girl returned home three hours late. Police had been called and came to the Maynard home, but the full extent of Woodcock’s intentions remained hidden. He was scolded but not charged because no apparent harm had come to the girl. Woodcock promised his foster mother not to pick up any more children, but Woodcock says he continued to choke children into unconsciousness, strip their clothes away, and peer at their bodies. None of these crimes seem to have been reported—not a surprise in a conservatively Protestant city like Toronto of the 1950s. It was only in September when he went too far and killed his first victim, Wayne Mallette.

After the Carole Voyce murder, the two officers who had been called during the March episode quickly recalled the boy and his bike. Woodcock was arrested on the second day after the murder and quickly confessed. Revealingly he recalls, “My fear was that Mother would find out. Mother was my biggest fear. I didn’t know if the police would let her at me.”


Woodcock was found not guilty by reason of insanity and packed away into Ontario’s criminal psychiatric system. (The prosecution insisted on keeping Ronald Mowatt, the boy convicted for Wayne Mallette’s murder, incarcerated. He was not ordered released until May 1957, four months after Woodcock’s arrest. The judge scolded him: “All I have to say to you is this. You of course yourself know whether your statement was true or not, if it was not true then you brought it upon yourself, all the trouble you have been in, in connection with this case, all the trouble given your parents, simply because you failed to tell the truth.”)


Woodcock underwent thirty-five years of various forms of psychiatric therapy, including LSD treatments when they were popular in the 1960s. He was pumped full of other personality-breaking drugs: scopolamine, sodium amytal, methedrine, dexamyl.

He was subjected to “dyads”—a personality-breaking therapy in which inmates challenged each other’s belief systems. The inmates referred to these sessions as “The Hundred-Day Hate-In.” Dyads were developed in the late 1950s to early 1960s by a Harvard psychologist and former CIA interrogation and psychological warfare expert, Henry A. Murray. In the 1960s, one of Murray’s volunteer personality-destruction subjects had been a young Harvard student—Ted Kaczynski, the future Unabomber.

Woodcock was not an ideal prisoner. He engaged in homosexual acts and exploited his fellow inmates, who were often less intelligent or less sane than he was. He formed an imaginary gang, the Brotherhood. He convinced inmates that he had contact with the mythical group on the outside. In order to be initiated into the gang, inmates had to perform oral sex on Woodcock and bring him gifts of cigarettes.

Somewhere along the way, before the Freddy Krueger movies came out, Woodcock legally changed his name to David Michael Krueger. The reason for his choice of name remains unclear, but his rejection of Woodcock had to do with the many puns being made of the name.

Despite the various infractions and problems with Woodcock, he gradually assumed a mask of stable sanity. He charmed the staff with his wit and intelligence in the same way he had charmed his schoolteachers three decades earlier. Psychiatric reports, however, consistently warned of his continued homicidal fantasies and characterized him as dangerous.

The problem was in the enormous political pressure on Ontario’s prison and psychiatric systems to release inmates into the community to make way for new incoming offenders. By 1990, some thirty-five years after the murders, it was felt that the middle-aged Woodcock, or Krueger as he was now known, should be reintroduced into society—to continue holding him would be tantamount to admitting that the therapy programs were a failure.

Despite the objections of some of the psychiatric staff, Woodcock was transferred to a medium-security psychiatric facility in the town of Brockville, near Kingston, Ontario. As part of the preparation for Woodcock’s release, hospital staff decided to issue him his first three-hour pass, allowing him to leave the hospital grounds, visit the town, buy a pizza, and bring it back to the facility. Woodcock, of course, would have to be escorted by somebody of his choice. Remarkably, under hospital rules, that person could be a former inmate of the facility. Woodcock nominated the recently released Bruce Hamill as his escort—a former “candidate” in Woodcock’s imaginary Brotherhood. Hamill had spent several years in the facility after stabbing his elderly female neighbor to death. He was now considered “cured” and out on parole.

The details of Woodcock’s and Hamill’s communications prior to the day of the pass are unknown, but on July 13, 1991, Hamill arrived in Brockville carrying a pipe wrench wrapped in newspapers. He first went to a drugstore, where he purchased an over-the-counter sleeping medicine frequently abused by addicts. Then he went to a “big-box” hardware store and bought a hunting knife, hatchet, and sleeping bag. He rolled up the pipe wrench and weapons into the sleeping bag and proceeded on to the hospital, carrying the sleeping bag with him. Nobody bothered to unroll the sleeping bag and search it. Peter Woodcock met him at reception. The two then went for a stroll on the hospital grounds and selected a densely wooded area near the perimeter. They seeded the bushes with the weapons and then returned to the hospital building.

On the way back, they ran into another inmate, twenty-seven-year-old Dennis Kerr. He was another aspirant for membership in Woodcock’s Brotherhood, and had been falsely promised by Woodcock a loan of five hundred dollars to buy a set of used drums. Woodcock told Kerr to meet him in the woods in an hour, and on the way into town he would give Kerr the money. Hamill and Woodcock returned to the hospital and filled out the paperwork for Woodcock’s first pass in thirty-five years. Instead of leaving through the gate, they strolled off to the edge of the hospital grounds and slipped into the bushes to wait for Kerr. As they waited, Hamill quickly got high on the sleeping medication.

When Dennis Kerr arrived as instructed, Woodcock struck him in the head with the pipe wrench and continued to beat him into unconsciousness. After the first blow, Kerr apparently cried out, “What did you do that for?”

Woodcock said:

I could barely lift the thing, let alone swing it. I did manage to do it, and I got Dennis in the head. I hit him again, after he asked his little profound question, this time from the front, and he fell down, but not without a struggle. He struggled nearly the whole time. He seemed to be afraid to die.154

Woodcock and Hamill seized the hatchet and knife hidden in the bushes and hacked and stabbed Kerr, mutilating his body, cutting it open, and nearly severing his head. Drenched in Kerr’s blood, they then stripped themselves naked and sodomized the corpse and chanted over it. This was Hamill’s initiation into the Brotherhood.

Hamill soon passed out from the drug, while Woodcock stood over his naked body and gently caressed it with the blade of the knife. He decided he was too tired to kill Hamill. Putting on his bloody clothing, Woodcock then left the hospital grounds, walked to a police station about two miles away, and turned himself in.

He brought the police back to the murder site, where Hamill was found still sleeping next to the corpse. Woodcock was kept in police custody that night, and they noted that he masturbated openly until early morning of the next day—at least six times in the first ten hours of custody. He finally fell asleep, only to be roused with a bacon-and-egg breakfast. Woodcock said:

Come the morning, I wake up, and they’re serving bacon and eggs because it’s Sunday. I haven’t had bacon and eggs in something like five years. And I thought to myself, “Fancy this, all I had to do to get bacon and eggs was commit murder. You literally have to kill somebody if you want a good breakfast in this system.”

So much for Peter Woodcock’s first three hours of provisional freedom. Woodcock and Hamill were granted an insanity plea in December 1992 and sent back to where they came from—where they are once again being routinely evaluated for their suitability for release.


One really has difficulty summarizing Peter Woodcock’s story without the word evil crossing the page. What other possible explanation can one have for the thirty-five years separating his first three murders and what was hopefully his last murder? What seems to happen is that confinement, whether in a psychiatric facility or a prison, somehow arrests the evolution of a serial killer’s compulsion to kill. It doesn’t cure it—just freezes it like a bacterial culture until freedom thaws it out and he begins from where he left off. This phenomenon has been noticed in several cases where killers were profiled as being younger than they actually were, their killing maturity was suspended by a prison sentence until their release, and they picked up from where they were the day they were arrested. Two years after his fourth murder, back in a maximum-security hospital, Woodcock-Krueger explained:

I grew up here. My personality reflects the influences here, and I’m accused of having no morality, which is a fair assessment, because my morality is whatever the system allows, whatever I can get away with. In a setting like this, the people to fear are the staff, not God.155

 Edmund Kemper—Serial Killer “Burn Out”

Perhaps one of the most studied serial killers, after Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy, is Edmund Emil Kemper III of Santa Cruz, California. He was born in 1948 and was raised by an extremely domineering mother who often berated him in public. At age eight he was disciplined by his mother by being forced to sleep in a dark cellar for eight months, his only exit a trap-door in the floor on which usually stood the kitchen table. When Ed was nine his father left, apparently unable to deal with his wife’s domineering personality. Ed’s mother constantly told him that he reminded her of his father—whom she hated.

At age ten, Ed Kemper was above average in size and his mother became obsessed with the thought that he would molest his sister. He was now sent back into the basement to sleep, locked in every night while his mother and sister slept in their bedrooms. His response was to kill the family cat by burying it alive. Afterward he cut the cat’s head off and mounted it on a stick. When his sister received a doll for Christmas, Ed cut off the doll’s head and hands.

When he was twelve his favorite game was “gas chamber,” in which he asked his sister to tie him up and throw an imaginary switch. Ed tumbled over and writhed on the floor, pretending to be dying of gas.

One day his sister teased him that he liked his schoolteacher and wanted to kiss her. Ed replied, “If I kissed her I’d have to kill her first.” He recalled that as a little boy he would sneak out of his house and, armed with his father’s bayonet, go to his second-grade teacher’s house and watch her through the windows. He fantasized about killing her and then making love to her corpse.

Ed was highly intelligent—his IQ was measured at 145, near-genius level. He also was abnormally tall for his age. At age thirteen he ran away from home to find his father. When he was returned he killed another family cat by cutting off the top of its skull with a machete and exposing its brains. He kept pieces of the cat in his closet until his mother found them.

Afterward his mother sent him to live with his paternal grandparents on their farm in the foothills of the California Sierras. There, like many boys living in a rural region, Ed was given a .22-caliber rifle for hunting. But when Ed began killing domestic farm animals and pets, his grandparents took the rifle away from him.

In August 1963, when Ed Kemper was fifteen, he suddenly killed both his grandparents. As his grandmother sat at the kitchen table reviewing children’s stories she had written, Ed shot her in the head with the .22-caliber rifle. He fired two more shots into her back and then stabbed her repeatedly. He waited for his grandfather to come home and then shot him dead in the yard as he was coming up to the house. Afterward he phoned his mother and told her what he had done and calmly waited for the police to arrive. When asked at the time why he had committed the crimes, he replied, “I just wondered how it would feel to shoot grandma.”


Kemper was confined at the Atascadero State Hospital in the criminally insane unit. There California Youth Authority psychiatrists and social workers strongly disagreed with the court psychiatrist’s diagnosis. Their reports maintained that he showed “no flight of ideas, no interference with thought, no expression of delusions or hallucinations, and no evidence of bizarre thinking.” He was diagnosed as having “personality trait disturbance, passive-aggressive type.”

Kemper was such an endearing model prisoner and so intelligent that the staff trained him to administer psychiatric tests to other prisoners. Kemper later admitted that being able to understand how these tests functioned allowed him to manipulate his psychiatrists. Kemper also said that he learned a lot from the many sex offenders to whom he administrated tests; for example, he learned that it was important to kill witnesses after a rape. His psychiatrist meanwhile commented, “He was a very good worker and this is not typical of a sociopath. He really took pride in his work.”


After five years, Kemper was certified no longer a danger to the public and released at age twenty-one to live with his mother. “They paroled me right back to mama,” Kemper recalls. “Well, my mother and I started right in on horrendous battles, just horrible battles, violent and vicious.”

His mother worked at the time as an administrator at the University of California in Santa Cruz and was a popular and helpful person at the campus. At home, however, Kemper claimed she was vicious and tormenting. Now divorced for the third time, she blamed her troubles on Ed, telling him, “because of you, my murderous son, I haven’t had sex with a man for five years.”156 By now Kemper was a six-foot-nine-inch, 280-pound behemoth. His wish was to join the California Highway Patrol. His mother attempted to have his juvenile homicide record sealed so that he could join the police, but in the end he was rejected for being too big. Nonetheless, Kemper went to restaurants and bars frequented by police officers and often joined in their discussions and sat with them at the table. When he began killing, he got inside information on the course of the investigation. One police officer even gave him a police academy trainee’s badge and identification card. He was so well liked and respected by the Santa Cruz police that when he telephoned to confess to killing and mutilating eight women, the police at first thought he was drunk and joking and refused to take his call seriously.


Kemper found a job with the California Highway Department and moved to a small apartment of his own. He complained that he still could not get away from his mother, that she constantly phoned him and paid him surprise visits. Kemper described using his “Atascadero learning” to “push her toward where she would be a nice motherly type and quit being such a damned manipulating, controlling beast.”

During this period, Kemper made regular required visits to his probation psychiatrist. At the same time he started rehearsing for his upcoming series of kills. He is known to have picked up dozens of young women hitchhiking in the Santa Cruz area, developing a nonthreatening “gentle giant” persona. Later Kemper confessed that when he stopped in front of a female hitchhiker and she appeared unsure of getting into his car, he deliberately glanced at his watch. Kemper explained that this gesture subtly transmitted to the woman the message that he was a busy man and that she was of minor interest to him. Manipulation and control are the primary talents fueling the psychopathic serial killer.

On May 7, 1972, he struck. He picked up two college girls, Mary Anne Pesce and Anita Luchessa, hitchhiking on a freeway ramp. Knowing the area well, Kemper managed to drive around without them realizing that he had changed directions from where they wanted to go. He then stopped his car in a remote area he was familiar with from his work with the highway department. Kemper first handcuffed Pesce in the backseat of the car. He later confessed, “I was really quite struck by her personality and her looks, and there was just almost a reverence there. I think once I accidentally—this bothers me too, personally—I brushed, I think the back of my hand when I was handcuffing her, against one of her breasts, and it embarrassed me. I even said, ‘whoops, I’m sorry’ or something like that.”157

Kemper then took Luchessa out of the car and locked her in the trunk. Within thirty seconds of apologizing to Pesce for accidentally brushing against her breast, he threw a plastic bag over her head and wrapped a bathrobe belt around her neck. But as he pulled on the belt, it snapped; meanwhile Pesce had bitten through the plastic bag. Kemper then drew his knife and began to stab Pesce in the back, but the blows did not seem to have any effect and she began to twist around, facing Kemper. He then stabbed her in the side and in the stomach, and Pesce twisted back the other way. He then grabbed her by the chin, pulled back her head, and slit her throat.

Kemper then went to the back of the car, opened the trunk, pulled Luchessa out, and began to stab her repeatedly in the throat, eyes, heart, and forearms. He recalled being surprised by how many heavy blows she took before losing consciousness.

Once the women were dead, he drove their corpses back to his apartment and carried them inside. In his apartment he dissected their bodies, handled their various internal organs, snapped Polaroid photographs of them, and cut their heads off. Kemper confessed, “I remember there was actually a sexual thrill. You hear that little ‘pop’ and pull their heads off and hold their heads up by the hair. Whipping their heads off, their body sitting there. That’d get me off!” But Kemper insisted, “There was absolutely no contact with improper areas.”

Kemper said, “I would sit there looking at the heads on an overstuffed chair, tripping on them on my bed, looking at them [when] one of them somehow becomes unsettled, comes rolling down the chair, very grisly. Tumbling down the chair, rolls across the cushion and hits the rug—‘bonk.’ The neighbor downstairs hates my guts. I’m always making noise late at night. He gets a broom and whacks on the ceiling. ‘Buddy,’ I say, ‘I’m sorry for that, dropped my head, sorry.’ That helped bring me out of the depression. I would trip on that.”

Afterward Kemper put what remained of the two women into plastic bags and buried them in the Santa Cruz hills, their torsos and limbs in one location, their hands in another, disguising the burial ground using techniques he had learned in the Boy Scouts. He kept the heads a few days longer before throwing them into a ravine. He returned to the grave where Pesce’s headless body lay because, as he explained, he loved her and wanted to be near her.

Kemper said that just before he began killing, his fantasies of making love to women became dissatisfying because he came to believe he could never realize them. If he killed them, then they would not reject him as a man, he explained. He characterized his crimes as “making dolls” out of human beings.

On September 14, 1972, Kemper picked up fifteen-year-old Aiko Koo hitchhiking to a dance class in San Francisco. He took her to another remote area, choked her into unconsciousness, raped her, and then finished killing her. He placed her body in the trunk and on his way home stopped off for a beer. Emerging from the bar, Kemper said he opened the trunk of the car, “admiring my catch like a fisherman.” He took the corpse back to his apartment, dissected it, had sex with it, and cut off the head.

The next day Ed Kemper had a scheduled appointment with his probation psychiatrists. In the morning before heading out to the appointment, Kemper buried Koo’s body at one location and her hands at another, but kept her head. He then drove to the psychiatrists’ office with the head locked in the trunk of his car. Leaving his car in the parking lot, he went in for his interview. The psychiatric report resulting from that day’s visit reads:

If I were seeing this patient without having any history available or without getting the history from him, I would think that we’re dealing with a very well adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence and who was free of any psychiatric illness . . . In effect, we are dealing with two different people when we talk of the 15 year old boy who committed the murder and of the 23 year old man we see before us now . . . It is my opinion that he has made a very excellent response to the years of treatment and rehabilitation and I would see no psychiatric reason to consider him to be of any danger to himself or to any member of society.

The second psychiatrist cheerfully added:

He appears to have made a good recovery from such a tragic and violent split within himself. He appears to be functioning in one piece now directing his feelings towards verbalization, work, sports and not allowing neurotic buildup with himself. Since it may allow him more freedom as an adult to develop his potential, I would consider it reasonable to have a permanent expunction of his juvenile records. I am glad he had recently “expunged” his motorcycle and I would hope that he would do that (“seal it”) permanently since this seemed more a threat to his life and health than any threat he is presently to anyone else.

One can only wonder what the psychiatrists’ diagnoses would have been if either of them had looked into the trunk of Kemper’s car that morning.

On November 29, 1972, Kemper’s juvenile record was permanently sealed so that he could go on with his life. In the meantime, he had moved back home with his domineering mother.


On January 8, 1973, he picked up college student Cindy Schall. He shot her in the head and then drove back with her body to his mother’s house. While his mother wasn’t looking, he put Schall’s body in his bedroom closet and went to sleep. In the morning when his mother went to work, he took the corpse to bed with him and had sex with it. Afterward he placed the cadaver in his mother’s bathtub, drained it of blood, carved it up into pieces, bagged them in plastic, and threw them off a cliff. He kept Schall’s head for several days, often having sex with it. Afterward Kemper buried her head in his mother’s yard, facing up toward his mother’s bedroom window. He said he did this because his mother always wanted people to “look up to her.”

Santa Cruz was plagued at that time with a series of bizarre unsolved murders, and warnings had been issued to students not to accept rides from strangers. But Kemper’s mother had given him a university sticker for his car so that he could easily enter the campus to pick her up from work. This sticker gave women a sense of security when he offered them a ride.

On February 5, 1973, he shot two more women and brought them back to his mother’s house. He cut off one woman’s head in the trunk of his car, and when his mother went to bed he carried the headless corpse to his room and slept with it in his bed. Kemper explained, “The head trip fantasies were a bit like a trophy. You know, the head is where everything is at, the brain, eyes, mouth. That’s the person. I remember being told as a kid, you cut off the head and the body dies. The body is nothing after the head is cut off . . . Well, that’s not quite true. With a girl, there is a lot left in the girl’s body without the head. Of course, the personality is gone.”158


On Easter weekend in 1973, Kemper finally decided to face his nemesis. At 5:15 A.M. he walked into his mother’s bedroom while she slept and struck her head with a claw hammer. He then rolled her over and slit her throat. Upon killing his mother, Kemper said, he was shocked at how vulnerable and human she had been—that she had died just like his other victims. He said that before then he had always perceived his mother as foreboding, fierce, and formidable, and whether he hated or loved her, she had always been a big influence in his life. Upon killing her, he felt relief.

Kemper then decided, “what’s good for my victims was good for my mother.” Kemper cut her head off and raped her headless corpse. He removed her larynx and fed it into the garbage disposal. “It seemed appropriate as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years,” he later told the police. When he turned on the disposal, it jammed, throwing back up his mother’s voice box. “Even when she was dead, she was still bitching at me. I couldn’t get her to shut up,” Kemper recalled bitterly.

Kemper then telephoned his mother’s best friend, Sally Hallett, and invited her over for a “surprise” dinner party for his mother. He punched her, strangled her, and cut her head off, placing it in his bed. He then spent the night sleeping in his mother’s bed.

Before Kemper drove away from his mother’s house, he left a note for the police:

Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need for her to suffer any more at the hands of this horrible “murderous Butcher.” It was quick—asleep—the way I wanted it.

Not sloppy and incomplete, gents. Just a “lack of time.” I got things to do!!!

Kemper began an aimless drive out of Santa Cruz, through Nevada and into Colorado. After several days of constant driving, he pulled over at a telephone booth, called the Santa Cruz police, and confessed to being the Coed Killer. It took several calls before they took him seriously and dispatched the local police in Colorado to pick him up as he quietly waited by the phone booth. Kemper recalls, “It was very late at night, I was exhausted . . . I was past exhaustion. I was just running on pure adrenaline. My body was quivering . . . and my mind was slowly just beginning to unravel. I had lost control of my body. I had experienced this in the killing of my grandparents when I was fifteen. I just completely lost control of myself. But as far as my mind went, I had realized what was going on and I couldn’t stop it. In this case my body was just exhausted and my mind was starting to go. I was hallucinating. I finally had a thought. I was trying to think, ‘Wow, I have got to stop this because it is getting so far out of hand. I am not going to be responsible for what happens any further’. . . and I didn’t like that idea.” Paradoxically, Kemper began to fear that he would begin to kill outside the parameters of his own insane logic. Kemper had enough insight into his condition to turn himself in once he killed his mother, and to later analyze his crimes with FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit researchers.

Kemper, for example, had nothing but disdain for fellow serial killer Herbert Mullin, who was killing in Santa Cruz to prevent earthquakes about the same time that Kemper was committing his murders. “He was just a cold-blooded killer . . . killing everybody he saw for no good reason,” Kemper complained. But having said that, he immediately commented on the irony of his so “self-righteously talking like that, after what I’ve done.”

Kemper and Mullin were incarcerated in the same prison block, and Kemper tormented Mullin by calling him “Herbie,” a diminutive Mullin hated. “He had a habit of singing and bothering people when somebody tried to watch TV. So I threw water on him to shut him up. Then, when he was a good boy, I’d give him peanuts. Herbie liked peanuts. That was effective, because pretty soon he asked permission to sing. That’s called behavior modification treatment.”159

Asked if Kemper thought Mullin was insane, he replied, “Yes, judging from my years in Atascadero, I would say he is mentally ill.”

On why Kemper stopped killing and surrendered to the police, Kemper said, “The original purpose was gone. It was starting to weigh kind of heavy. Let’s say I started returning to some lucid moments where I—where I started to burn out the hate and fear . . . and the need that I had for continuing death was needless and ridiculous. It wasn’t serving any physical or real or emotional purpose. It was just a pure waste of time.”

Kemper concludes, “I couldn’t keep on going forever . . . I really couldn’t have. Emotionally, I couldn’t handle it much longer. Toward the end there, I started feeling the folly of the whole damn thing, and at the point of near exhaustion, near collapse, I just said the hell with it and called it all off. Let’s say . . . I wore out of it.”


“I wore out of it.” Kemper called the police and surrendered. It is likely that Andrew Cunanan shot himself for the same reason after killing Gianni Versace—he “wore out of it.” Albert DeSalvo “grew out of it.” Other serial killers who do not get caught neither surrender nor kill themselves, but simply “retire,” leaving behind an unsolved mystery and a pile of corpses. The Zodiac Killer stopped killing and was never identified; the Green River Killer mysteriously ceased killing (although that did not stop police from identifying Gary Ridgway nearly twenty years later; it is believed that Ridgway in fact continued to kill, but less frequently and sporadically).

Asked what he thinks now when he sees a pretty woman, Kemper replied in probably his most often quoted remark, “One side of me says, ‘Wow, what a pretty chick, I’d like to talk to her, date her.’ The other side of me says, ‘I wonder how her head would look like on a stick.’ ”*

Kemper has been eligible and applying for parole since 1980. He has been refused . . . so far.


What each of these cases demonstrates is that a psychiatric context is virtually impossible to definitively identify in cases of serial murder. Serial killers seem to come close to a psychiatric definition of psychopaths, but in the final analysis, they elude existing categories.

Forensic psychologist Stephen J. Giannangelo suggests that serial killers be given a new and separate category in the next DSM edition. He proposes the following category:


312.40 Homicidal Pattern Disorder

  1. Deliberate and purposeful murder or attempt at murder of strangers on more than one occasion.
  2. Tension or affective arousal at some time before the act.
  3. Pleasure, gratification, or relief in commission or reflection of the acts.
  4. Personality traits consistent with diagnosis of at least one Cluster B Personality Disorder (antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic).
  5. Understanding the illegality of actions and continuation to avoid apprehension.
  6. Murders not motivated by monetary gain, to conceal criminal activity, to express anger or vengeance, in response to a delusion or hallucination, or as a result of impaired judgment (e.g., in dementia, mental retardation, substance intoxication).160