Real-life serial murder cases differ from Hollywood portrayals, experts say
An American criminal profiler says the behaviours of serial killers are much more complex than portrayals in pop culture – and that’s part of what makes these cases difficult for police to investigate.
“It isn’t like everything always goes 100 per cent one way, and that’s what you see in the movies,” Pat Brown said. “[Where] the victim is always exactly the same, the crime is always committed exactly the same way with exactly the same weapon, and the bodies are dealt with exactly the same way.
“That’s Hollywood, and the police wish this were true, because if it were, it would be a lot easier to link the crimes together.”
Brown, a longtime commentator on serial murders and the author of several books, joined The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto on Tuesday to discuss the case of accused killer Bruce McArthur.
LISTEN: Pat Brown joins The Morning Show on 640 Toronto
On Jan. 18, McArthur, a 66-year-old landscaper, was charged in the deaths of Selim Esen and Andrew Kinsman, two men with ties to Toronto’s historically LGBTQ Church-Wellesley neighbourhood who went missing last year.
In a major update in the case on Monday, Toronto police identified three more of McArthur’s alleged victims — Majeed Kayhan, 58; Soroush Mahmudi, 50; and Dean Lisowick, 43 or 44 — and revealed unidentified human remains were found inside large planters at a property connected to the accused.
Investigators referred to McArthur as an alleged serial killer. The charges against him — now five counts of first-degree murder — have not been tested in court.
WATCH: Three new victims named in Bruce McArthur case
What is a serial killer?
University of Toronto sociologist Jooyoung Lee said the basic definition of a serial killer — someone who kills more than three people in separate episodes with a “cooling off” period in between — is very broad.
He said his colleague, U of T criminologist Sasha Reid, argues that “instead of looking at the just sheer number of people that a person kills, and the timing of these kills, we should be paying attention to their psychological motivations for doing so,” Lee explained on the Kelly Cutrara show on 640 Toronto on Tuesday.
LISTEN: Associate professor Jooyoung Lee joins the Kelly Cutrara show
Lee said that some of the popular understanding surrounding serial killers is based on “partial truths” — for instance, that they are considered more likely to be highly intelligent is a widespread notion due to notorious killers such as Ted Bundy, who was a law student.
“The idea that all serial killers are somehow criminal masterminds is something that’s in large part reified and reproduced by Hollywood and movies and TV shows, where we see people like [Silence of the Lambs’] Hannibal Lecter, who’s this diabolical genius, but that’s simply not the case,” he said.
WATCH: Timeline shows key events in Bruce McArthur case
Police have said they believe there could be further victims in the McArthur case, saying on Monday that they are also looking into the possibility that the deaths may have moved beyond Toronto’s gay community.
“The last two victims that we’ve identified don’t quite fit the profile of the earlier victims,” said Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga, referencing Mahmudi and Lisowick. “As I said, we don’t know how many more victims there are going to be, but it certainly encompasses more than the gay community, it encompasses the City of Toronto.”
Brown said that while serial killers often have what she called victim pools, it’s an “old myth” that they will only target those in that group.
“Sometimes, they just get in the mood,” she said of serial killers.
“When you look at who they pick for victims, serial killers, it’s not so much they look for people who look alike,” she said. “They really just pick people they can access really, really well.”
In reference to serial killer behaviour in general, Lee told Cutrara that the murders are often planned and organized, noting that killers often will prey on vulnerable groups, including sex workers, the LGBTQ community and racialized individuals.
Brown suggested there is a common thread among serial murderers’ motivations to kill.
“There is only one motive that a serial killer ever has – it’s called fun,” she said. “He enjoys what he does. And he enjoys having the power and control when he does it.”
With files from David Shum
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