Inside the Mind of the Long Island Killer: This Ain't Hollywood

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Police gather at a crime scene near a beach in New York's Nassau County after finding remains on April 11, 2011

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Is that what we're waiting for here, for the killer to do something like that, slip up and get caught?
No, that's not how they get caught. The No. 1 way serial killers are apprehended is by a surviving victim. Law enforcement needs to assume in every single serial-murder case that there is a surviving victim out there somewhere. The problem is that surviving victims don't want to come forward, because they're distrustful of the police. And plus, they're likely doing illegal things, like prostitution, or drugs, or they were somewhere they weren't supposed to be. And so they're very reluctant to come forward. Especially early on in a killing series, where the offender has not yet perfected his technique and somebody may survive. In almost every case there are surviving victims.

Does anything about the technology in this case set it apart? The fact that the killer is meeting victims on Craigslist, using cell phones, sending text messages, e-mails?
Technology has its good side, but there's always a downside to it. But really, it's just another way to make contact with people. Using media to get a victim is not new. There was a case back in the '50s of a guy named Harvey Glatman, in Southern California. He put ads in newspapers for models. And he put together a little photography studio in his basement, and a woman would come over and he tied her up and said that they were going to be on the cover of a crime magazine, you know how sometimes women are tied up and stuff. And when he tied them up, he overpowered them and killed them. And so using the media, whether it's a 2010 high-tech Internet or using the classifieds of a newspaper, is really nothing new.

There have been some reports, though, that this killer is using technology smartly: ending calls just before he's been on the phone for three minutes (the time it takes to trace a call), which suggests maybe he has some sort of knowledge as to how the police conduct investigations. Some have suggested he might even be a police officer.
No, that doesn't mean anything. You can get that from watching Criminal Minds or Law & Order. What I would caution against is overhyping this, consistent with the mythology that he's an evil genius outsmarting the police. The likelihood of that is very, very remote. The intelligence level of serial sexual murderers follows the normal distribution, but most of them skew toward the lower end.

So how is the public's perception likely wrong in this case?
The public wants its serial killers to be evil geniuses, with high IQs, who speak five languages and are connoisseurs of fine wine and literature, similar to Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, when it took 30 years to apprehend Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, the mythology surrounding him was that he was a master of deception and disguise, that he was toying with the police. And when they arrested him, his IQ was 83 and he painted signs on trucks.

When serial killers are apprehended, they are extraordinarily below average, in almost every respect. And so there's a difference between the myth of the serial killer and the reality.

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