Serial Killer Diaries

Some killers show their desperate need for control in their written records.

Posted Jul 31, 2019

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

Leonard Lake built a cinder block bunker on a remote property near Wilseyville, California, where he and Charles Ng “screened” women during the mid-1980s to be their sex slaves.

Lake recorded himself saying that he wanted perfectly submissive “on the shelf” women who would be available to meet his needs but would otherwise remain out of sight. They would also clean and cook for him. Those who resisted his plan were raped and killed. In a diary, he called this the “Miranda Project,” based on a 1963 novel, which was found in his bunker.

The Collector, by John Fowles, features Frederick, a lonely entomologist who abducts a woman named Miranda. He keeps her in a locked dungeon on his secluded property, where he can hold her indefinitely. She resists, but time is on his side. Although he expects that she will eventually love him, he treats her like a specimen in his butterfly collection. It’s just an experiment and she’s just a thing. He believes he can manipulate the outcome to his satisfaction.

Because Miranda does eventually grow submissive, the story delights predators like Lake: the plot supports their belief that women can be remade into willing slaves. Lake’s diary also described tracking humans like rabbits. He sometimes released his captives into the woods so he could enjoy the sport. Once he caught them, he’d subject them to a variety of hideous deaths, burning the remains.

A pathological need for control is evident in the meticulous logs that some killers keep: they’re a written record of mastery, as well as a means for them to relive their nastiest deeds. Robert Berdella, for example, recorded each word his unwilling male captives said when they woke up in his Kansas City home, bound and subjected to continuous torture. He’d jot down the exact amounts of the injections he gave, the times at which he gave them, and how each “slave” responded. Berdella also recorded the dates on which each man eventually died from the ordeal. He'd use the records to torment others. One captive managed to get away and bring back police.

The need to possess and abuse people in this way signals weak or inadequate personalities. Some insist they’re “benefiting” their abductees, e.g., introducing them to sexual pleasure or saving them from a terrible world. Others are just sadistic. They enjoy the terror and pain another person might experience, narcissistically pleased that they can elicit these things. It makes them feel godlike.

Dennis Rader, the “B.T.K.” serial killer kept a coded log of his “projects.” After he killed four members of the Otero family in January 1974 in Wichita, he described in a secret notebook the details of their home, his preparation, and what he’d done to each one. Later, he used this narrative as the basis for letters he sent to the police to prove that he was their killer. He used his log to jot down ideas to try, recording over 50 potential projects. The log, along with Rader’s drawings, came into police hands in 2005 when they arrested him. He’d been in the process of writing chapters of his life story, with the help of his diary, to describe each of his crimes. His compulsion to keep written records, along with photos and items from victims, had undermined him.

The “Sex Beast,” too, left written evidence of his crimes that ended up stinging him. In 1959, a family of four was abducted and murdered in Virginia. A dark-haired man with an odd gait had been seen in the area, threatening other drivers. When the bodies were found in separate locations, it was clear that the mother, Mildred Jackson, had been tortured and sexually assaulted. An anonymous letter directed police to Melvin Rees, a twenty-six-year-old jazz musician with an interest in existential philosophy… and murder. The letter writer suspected Rees of killing a woman in 1957, in a case in which there was a survivor who could ID the killer.

The FBI took over. They searched Rees’s room at his parents’ residence. Inside a saxophone case that he’d left behind, Rees had stored a .38 caliber handgun used in the murders, along with his private notes about sexually sadistic acts. One was attached to a newspaper page that featured a photo of Mildred Jackson. He described killing a man and baby on a lonely road (the other Jacksons), and included a chilling statement: “Now the mother and daughter were all mine.” Rees had claimed that he had indeed tortured Mildred, sadistically drawing out her death for his own pleasure.

Reporters dubbed Rees the “Sex Beast” and called his writing a “Death Diary.” News coverage was fierce, despite the district judge placing Rees’ explicit writings and drawings off-limits. Reporters complained so a few were allowed to use selected quotes.

Those killers who want their secrets recorded take a risk. Some simply don’t believe they’ll be caught, but others might have such a compulsion to record their deeds that while they're declaring their sense of power, they reveal how powerless they really are.

References

Ramsland, K. (2016). Confession of a serial killer: The untold story of Dennis Rader the BTK killer. ForeEdge.