Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer
By Katherine Ramsland
It’s easy these days to find quickie guides to forensic science and psychology. You have to look harder if you want in-depth details from experts. That’s why I like being interviewed for Crime and Science Radio with D. P. Lyle and Jan Burke. They’re both forensic professionals who are also writers. They ask good questions because they have extensive knowledge and experience.
I have a Crime and Science program coming up on August 13 regarding the writing of my two latest books, The Ripper Letter (a novel) and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. (http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html) Since Confession will be published in early September, I’ve been asked a lot about it, which sends me back to the text again and again to relive the experience of working closely for five years with a serial killer.
A peculiar thing about me, and maybe this is true of other writers, is that I move so fast from one project to the next that I often forget what I’ve just written. Because the BTK book took much longer than most of my books (and since I’m still in touch with him), I recall a lot about the experience. Yet when I look through the pages, I’m surprised by how dense with information this book is.
It begins with my struggle to understand Rader’s codes, covers his “dark journey” from his point of view, and ends with my professional evaluation. As disturbing as many of his revelations were, it has been among the most interesting book-related experiences of my life (and I went undercover with vampires for over a year!)
First, let me say why this project took five years. Rader had signed over his “life rights” to his victims’ families, and they evaluated authors who asked for a shot at this project. I passed the test, because I planned to give Rader’s memoir serious treatment that would benefit law enforcement and the fields of criminology and forensic psychology. I also agreed that they should benefit financially.
Once approved, I had to read five years’ worth of letters and documents that Rader had turned over to the family trust in order to write a proposal. Then I had to convince my agent. There were many layers. All during this time, I guided Rader through his autobiography.
So, this book is not just a serial killer blathering on about himself. We’ve had books like that already. Instead, his narrative is structured with what we know from criminological research. I filled in the theoretical details and provided Rader with specific items to read and ponder. Rader did talk in detail about each of his murders, but he also described the factors that he believed weighed most heavily in his trajectory toward serial violence. He proved to have some interesting self-reflections.
Rader has counted over 100 letters to me to date, some of which were 20-30 pages long. He also talked with me weekly by phone, and drew explicit pictures from his fantasy life, providing a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an organized, predatory serial killer who based his killing career on specific role models. His story, in his own words, is fascinating. Some readers have told me that it’s also frightening.
Because I listened to Rader and assisted him to view his “dark side” from various angles, including neuroscience (which fascinated him), he dove deep. It took nearly two years before he opened up in a way that I think is valuable for criminologists and psychologists, but he did manage it. We taught things to each other, which doesn’t happen very often in my world.
So, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss it in a lively presentation with Lyle and Burke. A production of Suspense Magazine, Crime and Science Radio airs every other Saturday at 10 AM PT on Blogtalk Radio. It’s free!
NOTE: Join Katherine on CRIME AND SCIENCE RADIO as Jan and I welcome her to discuss her work on this amazing book and many other topics.