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serial killer

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

For my first Halloween read this year, I have chosen the new graphic novel about Eddie Gein who was a necrophile serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs! This true-crime story was horrifying, yet of course sickly fascinating.

Established author Harold Schechter who has written a previous book about Gein is paired with artist Eric Powell, known for his The Goon and Hillbilly graphic novels, and they proved to be a superb team to tell this tale. The story opens with Alfred Hitchcock in 1960 recounting how Psycho was inspired by Gein’s crime, just three years prior. The well-researched story then flashes back to Gein’s childhood in Wisconsin, born to mismatched parents- a weak drunkard father and a strong-willed and religiously fanatical mother. While young his parents move him and his older brother Henry to an isolated farmhouse where the boys can’t escape from their mother’s tyrannical rantings and they become warped by her teachings. Despite this, Eddie develops an unhealthy attachment to his mother, believing all other women are harlots.

The story continues chronologically, with the boys aging into strange men, still under the thrall of their mother. The father dies in 1940 and a few years later Henry (perhaps killed by his brother), leaving Eddie happily alone with his mother. A stroke leaves her in a weakened state, and some disturbing pictures show Eddie’s sick delight in helping her with all her personal care. Her eventual death in 1945 leaves Eddie alone to his own devices, and in his grief he seeks ways to recreate his mother, in shocking ways. Unchecked for a dozen years, Gein committed at least two murders and uncounted grave robbings, in which he then used the women’s skins to make himself a skin suit, facemasks, and other ghastly creations.

The evocative art by Powell, done in his trademark black and white illustrations, is inked and shaded to perfection. Each chapter opens with newspapers headlines, that guide you through the story, with the depictions of the Gein family and townspeople very accurate to photos of them and to that era. Some people have a touch of caricature to them, as Gein’s droopy eye and in later pictures the townspeople sharing their recollections seem exaggerated. In the midst of all this, Powell actually adds some whimsy, in guessing what Gein’s inner-thoughts might have been, finding dark-humor in Gein’s psychosis. It proves to be an interesting blend of pulp horror and non-fiction.

Darkly disturbing, and scarier because it is based on facts, this story is not to be missed for true-crime aficionados!

-Nancy

This picture isn’t actually in the book, it’s a promotional picture by artist Eric Powell for Kickstarter.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

This true-crime graphic novel about Gary Ridgway aka the Green River Killer was surprisingly tender and an unapologetic love letter from the author to his father who was one of the lead detectives on the case. Author Jeff Jensen’s father, Detective Tom Jensen, worked the Green River case for two decades and once Ridgway was caught, he was on the task force that interviewed him for details on his crimes. Having a real-life connection to the case, similar in a way to My Friend Dahmer, made the narrative obviously more authentic and poignant.

The story begins in 1965 when a teenaged Ridgway attempts to kill a young boy just for the joy of killing. While unsuccessful, while serving in Vietnam a few years later, he begins his unhealthy fascination with prostitutes and brings that sickness home to Seattle. It is after his second divorce that he goes on his crime spree, killing most of his victims from 1982-84, although he would periodically kill for years afterward. Almost all of his dozens of victims were young prostitutes that were killed after he raped them and were dumped near the Green River.

We are introduced to Tom Jensen, who was also a soldier and joins the police force afterward, eventually becoming a respected detective. He begins investigating the case along with a large group of other detectives, but after the crimes drop off and many of the detectives are re-assigned he doggedly continues with the case. New advances in technology link several victims with a swab that was taken from Ridgway earlier, as he had been an early suspect, and he is apprehended in late 2001.

The chronology skips around in the narrative showing both Jensen and Ridgway on parallel tracks, both former soldiers and fathers, but who are polar opposites with their morality. This fresh take on the tired trope of a manhunt for a serial killer showcases Jensen’s life and work on the case, so it is more the man than the hunt we end up caring about.  It is also Jonathan Case’s artwork that brings the story into focus. Done in black and white, Case’s linework is excellent, and his moody panels expertly bring you in and out of different eras in Jensen’s and Ridgway’s lives. He captures the look of Seattle with its outlying woods and the realistic aging of the characters.

While a sobering subject matter, the book was a quick read. The author is upfront that the story is not truly non-fiction as details were changed to preserve privacy for some, and it is more a story about his father than a true recounting of Ridgway’s crimes. While there is certainly graphic content and no shying away from the horror of the killings, the story is more about good persevering in the midst of evil. For a unique take on true-crime, this book can’t be beaten.

-Nancy

My Friend Dahmer

This disturbing book about a serial killer’s youth was heartbreaking, as the book makes us witness to Jeffrey Dahmer’s slide into madness, from the viewpoint of a former classmate and “friend” of his.

The author, John “Derf” Backderf, attended high school with Jeffrey Dahmer. He knew JD as a lonely middle schooler, who then changed into a hulking strange young man in high school. He and his friends started taking notice of JD when they were amused by his strange mannerisms and talent for mimicking individuals with cerebral palsy. We learn some background about JD’s family, learning that his parent’s contentious divorce led to him being practically abandoned when he was most vulnerable, with no adults present to witness and possibly stop the behaviors he was exhibiting. JD’s death fascination started with road kill, escalated to the killing of pets and wildlife, and ultimately led to his first murder two weeks after high school graduation.

While the author would like to stand back and point at the adults as the only one’s to blame, he and his callous friends certainly played a part in Dahmer’s downward spiral. They were never true friends to JD, but let him tag along as a mascot and not an equal. They egged him into pranks and grotesque public displays, and then dropped him when they felt he had gone too far.  Dahmer never felt that he could be himself, for he was hiding his homosexuality and sick fantasies, but became a caricature whose shtick got old, and his peers left him behind once again.

Derf’s artwork is very reminiscent of Robert Crumb and of Don Martin from Mad magazine, with the angular and strangely jointed people. It is all drawn in black and white, and while not an attractive art style, it does get that 70’s era gritty punk vibe right. Derf also did his research to make the story as authentic as he could. When Dahmer’s murders first came to light, he wrote a small comic about him, but years later wanted to do the subject justice. An interesting prologue and sources section detail how the author got his information beyond what he observed, giving more credence to the story.

As a mother, and as someone who works with teens, I ache for bullied youth who are disenfranchised and lonely. There were so many signs that something was wrong with Jeffrey, and not a single adult stepped forward to help him. Most glaringly his parents, but what about teachers or his peers? How could the drinking not be noticed? This disheartening book should serve as a warning to youth and adults alike, to take note and help when you see someone struggling. Was Jeffrey Dahmer so far gone at that stage that no intervention would have helped? We’ll never know because no one did intervene, and his depraved acts went unchecked and he became the monster we heard about in the news.

-Nancy

MFD
Backderf, Derf. My Friend Dahmer. 2012.

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