19 OCTOBER 1991, Page 11

If symptoms

persist . . .

LAST WEEK I was consulted by a patient who, almost immediately on en- tering my room, asked whether I was interested in the recent case of an Amer- ican serial killer who had murdered and In part eaten 17 victims. I said I thought the case had its points of interest, but that too great a fascination with it was unheal- thy. My patient hastened to agree.

He was dressed in a military-style jacket — not always, amongst civilians, a Sign of mental stability — with an iron cross sewn on to each shoulder. His warm, moist handshake was that of a man Perpetually ill at ease.

His complaints were vague and almost philosophical rather than strictly medical. He led an isolated existence and said he was unable to communicate at any depth With people: and that, in any case, he found most people ignorant, in the sense of uncouth, crude and aggressive. He preferred animals to humans, and some- times he went to animal rights meetings.

'I'm a vegetarian,' he said. It's terrible what they do to animals.'

He told me how he had once seen a video of men having sex with chickens. The cruelty to the chickens had revolted him and made him murderously angry. He would have liked to avenge the chickens by killing the men.

He had what I have come almost to accept as a normally violent upbringing: one of his elder brothers used to stub out his cigarettes on his skin, and once strangled him to the point of uncon- sciousness.

'I don't like violence,' he said, 'but I'm excited by it, like.'

One of his pastimes was watching war films on his video. He admired the Nazis. 'I don't agree with what they done to the Jews, like, but they was good fighters.'

He was fascinated by numbers. He could correctly multiply any three figure number by any other faster than I could enter them into a calculator, but he was otherwise without intellectual accom- plishments. His character and interests were archetypally those of a serial or mass killer.

'Have you ever thought of joining a gun club?' I asked. 'The ammunition's too expensive,' he said — in other words, yes, he had.

'And have you ever fantasised about killing people other than those who have sex with chickens?'

'Yes, I have,' he said. 'I'd like to clear the streets of the gangs what mug old women. And I'm not a racist,' he con- tinued, 'because I went to school with blacks and there was never any problem. But in the Social Security some of the blacks push to the front of the queue and everyone's afraid to say anything because they'll be accused of being racist. Be- sides, they might pull a knife out on you.'

And had he ever thought, I asked, of suicide?

'Yes,' he replied, 'but I'd want to take a lot of people with me. I'd be on telly then and in the newspapers.'

Ah yes, telly and newspapers. Without them, how many serial killers would there be? If telly and the newspapers had not inflamed the minds of lonely eccen- trics and inadequates with the idea of fame or notoriety, would there be any serial killers at all? I trust that readers, having read this article, will destroy it at once.

Theodore Dalrymple