Category Archives: Forensic Psychiatry

Katherine Ramsland: What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You?

It seems that after many disturbing crimes, the family, friends, or neighbors, in shock at what happened, often say: “But he seemed so nice. So normal. We had no idea.”

Happens all the time.

My friend Katherine Ramsland addresses this in an excellent new blog post in Shadow Boxing on the Psychology Today site.




What if Jack the Ripper Lived with You? by Dr, Katherine Ramsland

An early Ripper tale depicts the role of denial in reframing the obvious.

I’ve long known about an early fictional story based on the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, but only recently read it. The Lodger, by Marie Belloc Lowndes, was published as a short story in January 1911 in McClure’s magazine. Later, she lengthened it into a novella that focused on the female landlady. Alfred Hitchcock changed it somewhat to turn it into a film.

Reportedly, Lowndes was inspired by an anecdote she heard at a dinner party about an elderly couple who were certain that Jack the Ripper had lodged with them around the time of the murders late in 1888. During the Ripper spree, Lowndes had been a young aspiring writer. Although she was in Paris, not London, at the time, she followed the sensational news coverage. Years later, she used the unique context to write a story that drew out gender and class issues in London society. She also shows a keen eye for subtle psychological twists.

The plot is basic: The Buntings, an aging couple with financial problems, are overjoyed when a single man arrives and decides to rent several rooms. Without this stroke of good luck, they would have starved. The lodger, Mr. Sleuth, is an odd duck, but Mrs. Bunting can overlook this as long as he pays and doesn’t cause trouble. Her accommodating attitude foreshadows more dramatic allowances to come.

Mrs. Bunting attends to Sleuth, while her husband spends his time reading newspapers, especially when stories pop up about “The Avenger,” a Ripperesque killer of alcoholic women. Mr. Bunting has a friend on the police force, so he gets behind-the-scenes details. This also gives the author a chance to describe Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, founded in 1875.

Criminological museums popped up in several large cities during the late nineteenth century. Objects and pictures were exhibited to showcase theories about crime and its perpetrators. Into these museums went weapons, poisons, blood samples, fingerprints, hangman’s nooses, morgue photos, crime reconstructions, handwriting samples, police memorabilia, and even human remains.

Mrs. Bunting despises her husband’s obsession with the unsolved Avenger murders, but she begins to suspect that their lodger might be the guy. This is where the story’s genius lies. The more she discovers, the more she covers for him. She even ventures out to a coroner’s inquest – something only vulgar people did – to discover what the police actually know. (Great period detail!)

Mrs. Bunting knows the lodger has a satchel but she cannot find it when she cleans his rooms. She spots red liquid seeping from a locked cabinet, but accepts his hasty and implausible explanation. She begins to act in uncharacteristic ways, including lying to her husband. Each time she discovers something that implicates Mr. Sleuth as a killer, she tones it down.

In part, she needs to feel safe in her own home, and in part, she needs the money. If he’s arrested, she faces poverty.

In this tale you get some early criminal profiling (a “mission killer”), and even a glimpse of Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum. But most interesting is the way Lowndes so subtly shows how anyone might accommodate the behavior of someone later unmasked as a serial killer.

I hear this question all the time. People just cannot believe that in the home of a serial killer there might be innocent parties. But it happens. Even if certain items or behaviors should seem sinister, denial is a powerful mechanism – especially when a personal investment in seeing things in a more flattering light is strong.

The best expression I’ve seen is in Lionel Dahmer’s memoir about his son, Jeffrey. When Jeff lived in his grandmother’s basement, she complained to Lionel twice about disgusting odors. Jeff had an innocent explanation: he experimented with chemicals on chicken parts from a grocery store. Lionel found a nasty-smelling liquid near the garbage cans that he thought was ordinary meat juice. Why would he have concluded that it was human blood?

“I allowed myself to believe Jeff,” Lionel mused in A Father’s Story, “to accept all his answers regardless of how implausible they might seem…. More than anything, I allowed myself to believe that there was a line in Jeff, a line he wouldn’t cross…  My life became an exercise in avoidance and denial.”

He accepted a stolen mannequin as a “prank”, a .357 Magnum as a “target pistol,” a charge of child molestation as an “accident,” and the request for a freezer as a responsible attempt to be economical. Who would have thought it was for dismembered body parts?

The Lodger sheds no light on the Ripper’s identity, but it does portray what can happen when bias and need infect our perception and beliefs.

Visit the original post:

And check out Katherine’s recent interview on Crime and Science Radio:




Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

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. (–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.

MORE INFO:–science-radio.html





Crime and Science Radio: Personal Violence: Sex and Domestic Crimes: An Interview with Former Federal Prosecutor and Author Allison Leotta


BIO: For twelve years, Allison Leotta was a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in sex crimes, domestic violence, and crimes against children. Drawing on this experience, she now writes legal thrillers, for which she has been dubbed  “the female John Grisham.” Her goal is for John Grisham to be dubbed “the male Allison Leotta.”

After publishing her debut, LAW OF ATTRACTION, Simon & Schuster asked Allison to continue writing about her fictional sex-crimes prosecutor, Anna Curtis.  A series was born! There are now four books in the Anna Curtis series, and a fifth is in the works.

LAW OF ATTRACTION earned a starred review in Library Journal, which said, “In this riveting debut, Leotta joins the big league with pros like Linda Fairstein and Lisa Scottoline.” Allison’s second novel, DISCRETION, was named one of the Top Ten Books of 2012 by Strand Magazine and Best Suspense Novel of 2012 by Romance Reviews Today. Her third novel, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL, was named a Best Book of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.  The fourth book in the Anna Curtis series, A GOOD KILLING, will be released this May.

USA Today says Allison’s writing is “as real as it gets.”

Allison is also a contributor to the Huffington Post, where she reality-checks TV crime dramas like Law & Order: SVU. Her own blog, The Prime-Time Crime Review, was named one of the best legal blogs in America by the American Bar Association. Allison has provided legal commentary for outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and Reuters TV.  She serves on the Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America.

A graduate of Michigan State University and Harvard Law School, Allison lives outside of Washington, D.C., with her husband, Michael Leotta, and their two sons.


Link goes live Saturday May 7,2016 at 10 a.m. Pacific


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Last Good Girl cover




FFD 300X378


Forensics For Dummies Updated 2nd Edition is now available.

Get it through your local Indie Bookstore or here:




Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition Coming Soon


FFD 300X378


Just got the new cover for Forensics For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

It will be released from Wiley on 2-29-16

Pre-Order now


Sisters in Crime Forensics Day Coming 1-24-16

Join Dennis Palumbo, David Putnam, and me for the Orange County Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s annual Forensics Day. It’ll be a fun afternoon as we dig into what makes the bad guys (and gals) do what they do.


Orange County Sisters in Crime Forensics Day
Dennis Palumbo, David Putnam, and DP Lyle
“What Makes Your Bad Guys Tick? Dark Motivations and Heinous Acts
Sunday, January 24th, 2016, 2:00 p.m.
Irvine Ranch Water District Community Room
15500 Sand Canyon Avenue
Irvine, CA 92618


Forensics Fest 16 flyer


Why Did Two girls Want to Kill For Slender Man?

Slender Man copy

I previously posted about the Slender Man hoax and how it went viral on the internet and led to the attempted murder of a young girl by two of her friends. The post centered around a Psychology Today article titled “Murder By Meme: Slender Man and the Wakefield Anti-Vax Hoax” by Travis Langley, PhD. An interesting article.

Thankfully, Bella, the victim of the murder attempt, survived the attack but now the Slender Man case is moving along. Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, the two young girls charged with the crime, have apparently plead not guilty so a trial will likely be forthcoming. It will be an interesting ride as there are so many aspects to this story that just make you shake your head.

More details of the bizarre, yet sad, case are revealed in an article in New York Magazine by Lisa Miller. Chilling and then some.

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