For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Team Killers:
A Comparative Study of Collaborative Criminals
  • Jennifer Furio
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Team Killers: . A Comparative Study of Collaborative Criminals
About the Author

Author and prison-reform activist Jennifer Furio is a frequent guest on national talk shows including Montel Williams, 20/20, and Dateline. She has three books with Algora.

About the Book

Murders committed by people working in teams are just as gruesome as those committed by killers who work alone - or even worse. The author shows that it is just as chancy to accept a ride offered by a couple as it is to hop...

Murders committed by people working in teams are just as gruesome as those committed by killers who work alone - or even worse. The author shows that it is just as chancy to accept a ride offered by a couple as it is to hop into a car driven by a single male. And, while we may like to assume that women are nurturers, in fact, their participation in such crimes often heightens the cruelty and sadism. In Team Killers , Jennifer Furio has set out to examine this terrifying phenomenon, building on the topics that are explored in her previous books, The Serial Killer Letters: A Penetrating Look Inside the Minds of Murderers and Letters from Prison: Voices of Women Murderers.

Simply stated, couples or groups that kill are most often found to have perverted tendencies as individuals, but it is only when they come together that their combined personality becomes lethal. The French have coined the expression folie a deux to indicate a delusion shared by two emotionally-linked persons.

The book shows that in all the teams, one dominant member orchestrates the activities and relies on a submissive, easily-manipulated partner to assist. It looks at both men and women: are there differences between male teams, mixed teams and female teams?


Preface

FOREWORD: Assigning Responsibility in Collaborative Killings

All humans are social creatures, but when two or more people collaborate in the most feared and taboo of...

FOREWORD: Assigning Responsibility in Collaborative Killings

All humans are social creatures, but when two or more people collaborate in the most feared and taboo of criminal acts — killing — questions are raised that go beyond standard or “commonsense” understandings of sociability. The Law falls short when it comes to delimiting culpability in the realm of homicide, where social and moral issues must be taken into account. How do we define homicide? Once, the distinction between first- and second-degree murder involved a fairly clear difference between a clear and considered determination to kill another person, versus a sudden impulse to kill during a moment of conflict or stress. It has now collapsed into a vague attempt to distinguish between a decision to kill that is taken (as many states define it) “in a moment in time, however brief,” and a decision to kill that is taken without that “moment in time, however brief.” What is a jury to make of this? The difference is considerable, and can lead to sentences ranging from a mere twenty years to life imprisonment without parole.

The definition of manslaughter is similarly slippery: a homicide where no intent need be proved, only recklessness or negligence on the part of the perpetrator. That leaves the door open to a host of fine moral distinctions, which the defense attorneys are happy to guide us in examining.

Beyond this, there is the matter of justified or excused homicide, where the person who has been killed was acknowledged as being wicked, or attempted to perpetrate great harm on an innocent person. Self defense and the defense of others is another fertile field for public debate.

A commonsense definition of homicide is that it involves the intention to terminate the life of a specific person. In some cases, where the motive is material gain (as in insurance or robbery cases), this definition seems adequate. But, commonsense also assumes that human beings are rational creatures, and most murders make no sense at all if judged by the model of a rational person’s intentions. Intentionally killing, for no reason beyond passionate hatred, jealousy, or uncontrollable anger, seems inconsistent with the notion of rational behavior.

This commonsense model of rational human action fails because it presumes a much greater degree of social detachment than actually can be found throughout the population. We commonly think of the “individual” as a person who has private goals, relating to his own preferences, and who pursues his life with the intention of achieving these goals, while interacting with a throng of similarly self-interested individuals. The inimitable Mrs. Thatcher is quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as society, only persons.” Sociability is considered secondary, a proclivity for others that one may exercise in any degree that one finds comfortable, considering that the individually-held objectives come first. In this rationalistic model of individualism, the law exists to intimidate the individual into conformity, by making a plausible threat that violation will be exces7 sively costly, depriving the individual of the things that s/he really wants. Violation of the law, then, would be a miscalculation, presuming the crime were detected.

Another aspect of this commonsense individualism emphasizes the idea that sometimes “emotions” may overcome reason and lead to a crime of passion. The law makes some minor allowance for this, but only when a jury of commonsense persons can find that, if they were in the same situation as the accused, they too would be likely to act irrationally. The most extreme form of this is to be found in the insanity defense, which has become so thoroughly muddied by constant efforts to refine just what counts as insanity that it is virtually useless. If the individual is sane enough to stand trial, he is considered sane enough to be found guilty. Thus, the law relies on a general assumption that individuals are rational and calculating. But what about those situations where a homicide is committed by more than one person?

Suppose one accepts that humans are not just sociable by choice, but may be irremediably caught up in social relationships over which they often have no control whatsoever. In that case, involvement in even a homicide may be the consequence of the social bond, more than of any individually chosen course of action. Social relationships are not often between equals; and the degree and force of the inequality can vary greatly. At the most benign end of the spectrum, two persons may have the sort of deep friendship that is sometimes called male bonding. If one of them becomes involved in a situation that moves toward homicide, the other may help — simply out of loyalty. The most extreme form of this can be found among soldiers, who frequently bond so closely that they will help each other in truly atrocious murders. Long after the event, the participants may remember what they did with intense shame and remorse.

Spouses may join forces to commit a homicide, the one (usually the woman) not really wishing to kill but feeling pulled in by her spouse’s involvement. In cases of this sort, the person who went along with and helped in the killing may be able to articulate very clear feelings of remorse at what s/he recognizes as a terribly wrong act.

The common thread of this sort of collaborative killing is the recognition by some of the actors that the deed was really wrong. They have a “standard” social conscience, and may be able to articulate the intense feelings of loyalty that overwhelmed that conscience. Loyalty is a major element of a “normal” social life; its overriding effect could hardly excuse the participant, but it is worth noting that an excess of a desirable trait usually seems less wicked than the absence of anything positive in the motives of the accused. When the social relationship between the participants in a collaborative killing is less equal, the apportionment of blame, at least in the form of an indictment, often takes little account of that situation. If an older and more experienced person effectively plays on the insecurities of a younger associate, boasting of the crimes he has ruthlessly committed and, in effect, challenging the younger person to “prove himself,” he has engaged in a perversion of the rites of passage. In extreme cases, the older person may have achieved such an aura of power that he can tell an underling to commit a murder and expect to be obeyed without having to involve himself directly in carrying out the deed. The resultant crime may appear to be the work of the “fall guy” underling, who usually will not “roll over” and implicate the boss; but it is certainly the latter’s work at least as much as his own. In a crime organization, one moves up by proving himself to be a “hard man,” ready to do whatever he is told without qualms or questions.

The intense emotional dependence that arises within an abusive relationship between man and woman (or, occasionally, in same-sex relationships) can create what appears to be a similar dynamic, but there are important differences involved. The central dynamic of an abusive relationship is the abused person’s inability to escape the cycle of alternating abuse and reconciliation.

An abuser who never lets up is not likely to succeed; what is needed is abuse, then cessation — often with a false reconciliation. The extension of love, followed by withdrawal and estrangement, appears to work powerfully on the victim, depriving her/him of the ability to flee, but, even more strongly, creating a pathological desire to please. The victim descends into a state of utter dependency, which the abuser often exploits cunningly in carrying out criminal plans.

Abused persons do not make good killers, but they can be employed in a variety of ways that involve them in a homicidal situation. They may become accomplices by driving a car used in a felony that turns out to involve a murder, or help lure a victim to his death, or assist in kidnapping someone who dies as a result of the crime. Getting rid of a body or covering up other evidence is not full complicity in a murder; however, if it is done with prior knowledge that a homicide is contemplated, then it does count as aid. A cynical or assiduous prosecutor can often find ways of trapping the person into making a statement implying prior knowledge — and that is enough to allow the jury a “reasonable inference” of full complicity.

Recruitment scenarios can also lure an individual into participating in an activity that turns homicidal. Often, there is an unexpressed but clear threat for failure to comply and, equally, there may be little or no description of anything more that what is required of the recruit. In such cases, the actual subcultural milieu in which this takes place is a crucial factor in evaluating the real character of the threat. Someone living on the “mean streets,” where threat is omnipresent and escape is virtually unthinkable, may be under brutal social pressures quite unthinkable to the jury, the prosecutor or the judge. The law allows a plea of duress; but the members of the court may not be in a position to assess whether duress existed. Extreme social pressures should, reasonably, take into account that for many people it is virtually unimaginable to leave behind the place that they know, for once and for all — even if that is the only alternative to complying with a command to involve oneself in a crime.

Our laws say only that duress is an excuse if one is threatened by imminent death or great bodily harm; but that defense cannot be used in murder cases, even those special felony murder cases where the individual went along with a criminal act that turned out to involve a murder.

Children must be judged according to a different model altogether. Overwhelming social pressure is clearly at play in cases where a child is enlisted in a criminal act that results in death. In common law, a child below the age of eight is deemed not capable of committing a crime, whereas one between eight and twelve is presumed incapable unless the prosecution can prove otherwise.

Above the age of twelve, the presumption is that the child understands the gravity of a crime, especially murder. What has been overlooked is the matter of justifiable homicide and the tendency of a child to take other people’s judgments as definitive.

We live in a culture in which nearly every child is saturated with the sight of homicides, justifiable and unjustifiable, on a daily basis. Televised representations generally make a clear distinction between homicides committed by villains and the necessary and entirely justifiable killing of those same rogues; but the question of what makes a rogue is terrifyingly simplified. Rogues are people who harm or threaten the persons or property of the Good. Unobjectionable enough — but this lays a trap for the child’s mind.

Children who benefit from anything resembling a normal up-zringing are intensely loyal to their primary group. It is from this group — first parents, then peers — that they get their sense of who the Good are. The child doesn’t think in terms of an abstract concept of a good person: innocent, law abiding, harmless; the child thinks in terms of “mine” and “others.” If “my” people say the “others” are bad, then everything the child has learned supports him in thinking that it is right and good to treat the others harshly, even to the point of killing them.

Death itself is an alien concept to the young. The false, tidy villain- killing portrayed in the entertainment media gives no hint of the terrible social rupture caused by (almost) anyone’s death. Child killers, brought into court to see the anguish of those who loved their victim, are often reduced to tears at their first hint of what death really means to the living. It follows, then, that children far beyond the age of twelve who are recruited into a homicidal adventure cannot know what a person of even thirty can know of its meaning. When we combine that ignorance with the intense bond of group loyalty, it is no surprise that children can participate in terrible killings.

In a similar way, the socially isolated can easily be manipulated by their desperate need for social acceptance. Camus’ Mersault, feeling his estrangement from the normal bonds of society, was an easy mark for the man who befriended him only in order to recruit an accomplice to murder. So, at both ends of the spectrum of social attachment and estrangement, there are powerful social impulses that can lead people to participate in killing.

War is a state-sponsored example. Young people are recruited under threat, taught the art of killing, told who the “enemy” are and compelled to participate in the most awful of collaborative killings. Where the state, rather than the situation, defines friend and enemy, it takes on the exact moral character of a mastermind in the killing of not one or a few, but perhaps millions. All of the arts of social pressure, solicited loyalty, bonding, threat, and defining the enemy are consciously practiced.

The most coercive cults can also lead to murder. The appeal of a cult is that it provides the socially excluded with an intensely attractive illusion — social acceptance with a simulacrum of love and esteem. All that is required is that the individual surrender any private moral conscience to the dictates of the group, as manipulated by its leadership. Cults, inherently morally revisionist, promise redemption to the dispossessed. Unusual activities may be portrayed as spiritual practices, which the followers understand to be the guarantee that they will never again be alone. The followers accept the premise that the leader(s) have a deep wisdom and understanding, offering something pure and fine in place of the shallow and false morality of everyday life (which excluded them, and which the cult members now reject). Outsiders gradually become villains. And the villains are no trifling matter — they are, in fact, the authors of the great social pathology of the world outside the cult. Thus, their death hardly seems deplorable. Indeed death, even for the members themselves, can come to be seen as an attractive adventure — for “religion” can offer the promise of a perfect and endless life once one has rejected (or been rejected from) the mortal coil of everydayness.

Is this an exercise in spinning excuses for a whole category of criminals, or an attempt to offer a slew of loopholes through which killers can slip to evade just punishment? The best I can say is that projects like Jennifer Furio’s books are undertaken to make the public aware that crimes of this sort have their roots in the sociability of humankind, to remove the strangeness, the alien quality so often attributed to them by uncomprehending people.

Determining the exact degree of culpability and thus what punishment is appropriate are matters for careful consideration; no “one-size-fits-all” approach can suffice. In 1787, the English philosopher William Godwin said that, one day, society would attach no more moral blame to the killer than to the knife he used. We may never see that day, but we may come finally to place the killer within society and see his (or her) crime as something more than a wayward action taken by an individual propelled by inexplicable drives.

J. W. Premiston, PhD

Professor of Jurisprudence, Penal Systems and Crime

Eastern Washington University


Table of Contents

Assigning Responsibility in Collaborative Killings

5

INTRODUCTION - Studying Team Killers

15

Part I. Male/Female Team Killers

23

Rosemary and Frederick West

27

Catherine and David Birnie

37

Debra Denise Brown and Alton Coleman

41

Cynthia Coffman and James Gregory Marlow

53

Caril Ann Fugate and Charles Starkweather

59

The Moors Murders — Myra Hindley and Ian Brady

67

Judith Ann and Alvin Neelley

75

Carol Bundy and Doug Clark

79

Charlene and Gerald Gallego

91

Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez

97

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo

103

   

PART II. FEMALE/FEMALE TEAM KILLERS

113

Gwendolyn Graham and Catherine Wood

115

Amelia Sach and Annie Waters

121

The “Angels of Death” — Two Nurses

125

   

PART III. MALE/MALE TEAM KILLERS

129

Dean Corll and Wayne Henley

131

Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris

135

The Hillside Stranglers

141

Charles Ng and Leonard Lake

151

David Gore and Fred Waterfield

159

   

PART IV. FAMILY AND GROUP KILLERS

167

The Zebra Killings

169

The Chicago Rippers

173

The Lainz Hospital

181

The Manson Family

187

   

After Thoughts

197

References

201


Categories

Pages 220
Year: 2001
LC Classification: HV6515 .F87
Dewey code: 364.15'23
BISAC: TRU002000
Paper
ISBN: 978-1-892941-62-6
Price: USD 19.95
Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-892941-63-3
Price: USD 26.95
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ISBN: 978-0-87586-143-2
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