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The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World's Most Terrifying Murderers Paperback – December 30, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

THE DEFINITIVE DOSSIER ON HISTORY'S MOST HEINOUS!
Hollywood's make-believe maniacs like Jason, Freddy, and Hannibal Lecter can't hold a candle to real life monsters like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and scores of others who have terrorized, tortured, and terminated their way across civilization throughout the ages. Now, from the much-acclaimed author of "Deviant, Deranged, and "Depraved, comes "the ultimate resource on the serial killer phenomenon.
Rigorously researched and packed with the most terrifying, up-to-date information, this innovative and highly compelling compendium covers every aspect of multiple murderers--from psychology to cinema, fetishism to fan clubs, "trophies" to trading cards. Discover:
WHO THEY ARE: Those featured include Ed Gein, the homicidal mama's boy who inspired fiction's most famous "Psycho, Norman Bates; Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, sex-crazed killer cousins better known as the Hillside Stranglers; and the Beanes, a fifteenth-century cave-dwelling clan with an insatiable appetite for human flesh
HOW THEY KILL: They shoot, stab, and strangle. Butcher, bludgeon, and burn. Drown, dismember, and devour . . . and other methods of massacre too many and monstrous to mention here.
WHY THEY DO IT: For pleasure and for profit. For celebrity and for "companionship." For the devil and for dinner. For the thrill of it, for the hell of it, and because "such men are monsters, who live . . .
beyond the frontiers of madness."
"PLUS: in-depth case studies, classic killers' nicknames, definitions of every kind of deviance and derangement, and much, much more.
For more than one hundred profiles of lethal loners and killercouples, Bluebeards and black widows, cannibals and copycats-- this is an indispensable, spine-tingling, eye-popping investigation into the dark hearts and mad minds of that twisted breed of human whose crimes are the most frightening . . . and fascinating.

About the Author

Harold Schechter is a professor of American literature and culture. Renowned for his true-crime writing, he is the author of the nonfiction books "Fatal, Fiend, Bestial, Deviant, Deranged, Depraved, " and, with David Everitt, "The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers". He is also the author of "Nevermore" and "The Hum Bug", the acclaimed historical novels featuring Edgar Allan Poe. He lives in New York State.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1 edition (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345465660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345465665
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World's Most Terrifying Murderers," Harold Schechter, New York, Ballantine Books, 2003 ISBN 0-345-46566-0 (ppk) is by an established author of 10 prior books, 7 on serial killers.

The book's 402 pages of text are conveniently divided into 9 chapters plus 7 pages listing a rather thorough true-crime bibliography for about 100 individual cases, mostly SK-loners but perhaps 10% SK-couples or "family".

If this book is read cover-to-cover the reader encounters moderate redundancy -- but this is a literary devise seemingly required for the book's division into chapters which nicely explore all those elements of the lengthy sub-title (who, what, where, how and why) plus intriguing chapters on sadism, extreme perversions as cannibalism, methodology, profiling, and an exceptionally spirited coverage of SK culture.

This book is a treatise with cross-referencing of "everything you ever wanted to know about serial killers," with lots of gruesome details on lust-killers, torture, etc. Were one to choose a single book on SK, this one by Schechter stands out, and the price is right. The only technical error I noted was the name of the acids hydrochloric vs sulfuric (HCl page 265, and H2SO4 page 334) used by J. G. Haigh, the "Acid-Bath Killer".
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I have been a reader of Mr. Schechter's non fiction for three or four years now. One of my first books on serial killers in general (as opposed to books on individual serial killers) was A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, so I didn't know about this book. But, well, the subject matter is too tantalizing, so I went for it. Was I glad I did. The most valuable thing about this book for me were the updates. We get the Green River Killer update, The Railway Killer, and the Beltway Snipers, to mention only a few. The format here is interesting, and while I read it from page one all the way straight to the end, with its terrific index, its a reference or a "snack" of infomation, however you wish to use it. It has a place of honor on my shelf.
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This is a veritable compendium of serial killers (who they are, how they kill, why they do it) and each killer has an in depth case study, and I do mean IN DEPTH! What more can I say. It was an interesting read with loads of resources for whatever macabre murder or murder type strikes your fancy...my only complaint is that there was actually quite a bit of repeated information. I'm assuming though that the author probably doesn't intend for the book to be read cover to cover (as I did), so he repeats information in various sections one might reference, probably to ensure his ideas are conveyed thoroughly for those not reading the entire book, like say, looking up a specific killer or type of killer. I give it a solid B, this would make a handy reference for a library or for use in a personal library if one writes about serial killers! :-)
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So many true crime books are sensationally written, poorly researched tabloid type renditions of serial murder. Harold Schechter, however, has literally written a text book of murder. This book is well written, organized, and provides an interesting historical overview of serial killers...from the "Bluebeard" killers, to the Black Widows, to the sexual sadists, he covers them all. Schechter also provides insight into the empty soul of the sociopath. I highly recommend this book!
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This is without any doubt one of the most informative books on the history of serial killers. Schechters writing style is so fluid that it's hard to put the book down. Around 150 - 200 serial killers are discussed in the book, which means that Schechter also mentions the lesser known serial killers, like Javed Iqbal and Li Wenxian. It's interesting to read that serial killers aren't a phenomenon of the last 150 years. Schechter proves that by going back to ancient Rome and the middle ages.

Who, what, where, how en why ... You will find the answer in this book. Excellent for true crime addicts. 5 star
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Overall, the book is recommended. Many passages are engrossing and the author is a great writer that provides shocking details and discusses many serial killers you probably haven't heard of. However, he is needlessly repetitive, introducing the same serial killers multiple times throughout the book and rehashing the same information. While he often goes into more details he didn't include earlier, his constant rehashing is annoying.

I also found his "why" chapter a complete let down. The discussion in this all important chapter was superficial. Also, he quickly dismisses the "bad seed" idea and basically pins the behavior of serial killers on bad family backgrounds. OK right. I am sure a bad family background definitely contributes but its not going to lead to the completely out of this world deviant behavior exhibited by these people. There is obviously a "bad seed" component which in the modern era we would refer to as genetics.

He does give some credence to the idea the two may be related, i.e. these people had rotten family backgrounds (abuse in childhood or bizarre behavior by parents) because of a bad family genetic history. But the idea is not explored enough. The fact is millions of people grow up with abusive parents, and Albert Fish was not alone in the boarding school when he suffered abuse as a child. So what made Albert Fish grow up to be a complete freak while his fellow boarders presumably grew up normal or at least not as serial killers? Obviously there is a biological cause. Three things that were missing from this chapter were a discussion of brain imaging, more detail and genetics, and the Robert Hare psychopathy test. For example- hasn't functional MRI been tried on some of these people?
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