Why Gay Men Were The Reigning Serial Killers of The Twentieth Century
My introduction into western gay culture had — to say the least — a nefarious starting point. I imagine, but I’m not sure, that today's gay neophytes have a smoother road map guiding them through the struggles of embracing their homosexuality. Gay culture has bolstered itself with examples of widespread Ellen positivity and the It Gets Better project, which has led to increased levels of tolerance and has initiated further political action. YouTube is a haven of coming out stories, resources into queer knowledge, and an online supportive community (if you search in the right direction), for those who feel terribly isolated.
I didn't know any gay people when I was growing up. The first one I learned about was Jeffrey Dahmer.
During a wayward conversation with my father I asked.
"How come it's always girls? Serial killers always go after girls."
"You're so wrong Brian, lots of them kill guys, they're just the gay ones, like Jeffrey Dahmer. He used to lure guys into his apartment, murder them, and eat them."
When I was thirteen, I would describe myself as being voted most likely to be a misanthropic wretch. My father said my perception was backwards. He told me while most people viewed the world with their eyes, I looked at it from my asshole. I lived inside my headphones, perpetually cranked to eleven, and showcased the world a wardrobe exclusively of black band shirts. The boys I wanted to touch didn't want to touch me back and that pissed me off.
Being the festering angsty ball of internalized rage I was, my fantasized conception of Dahmer was a man who seduced hot straight guys into sleeping with him and then went full black widow once the mating ritual was completed. It was a gross exaggeration, however, I decided to dive into the entire scoop.
I bought two unauthorized biographies on him, spending the summer at the lake by my house swimming and reading both books. Naturally, this led to online research and a recommendations list that pulled me deeper into the virtual netherworld of murderers. There were others. In fact, there were a lot of others. Gacy, Corll, Haarmann, Kearney, Kraft, Nilsen, and Bonin to name a few, but the list goes on.
From a list of a hundred serial killers with the most confirmed kills, fourteen of them identified as homosexual males. Don't pull out your calculator, I will level with you, that is 14%. A Gallup Poll from 2016 indicates that 4.1% of the population identifies within the LGBT spectrum. Radford University located in the State of Virginia has a Serial Killer Information Center managed by Dr. Mike Aamodt, which reports statistics and demographics based on a database of serial killers. The sexual orientation information that has been collected is for 2,323 of the 4,912 serial killers in the database. 5.7% are LGBT compared to 4.1% in the U.S. population. The database also indicates that 90.8% of serial killers are male.
There are gaps which must be taken under consideration. The database contains less than half of the information collected on serial killers and their sexual orientation. Census boards can only be equated with generalizations when it's in reference to a person's sexuality, in other words, it can be fibbed more easily than say a person's age. The information collected is not infallible; there is room for error and inaccuracies, however, based on the reports that we do have, a glaring disproportionate issue must be addressed.
Fact: Serial killers are not ghoulish muppets with access to ubiquitous surveillance who punish you in a torture palace for not picking up your dog shit.
Fact: Serial killers are not Frasier-esque Renaissance men who feed on brains to increase their Omega-3 nutrients and spike their daily intake of pomposity.
Fact: Serial killers are not chainsaw-wielding linebackers slamming Matt Bomer down on the butcher's block to peel his face off and keep as a memento. Although, can you really blame Leatherface? Even psychos can recognize a thing of beauty.
In reality, serial killers are most often severely damaged kids who grow up to be volatile adults with extreme sexual frustrations and social impairment. They are emotional loners (occasionally, facading as charming extroverts), prolonged bed wetters, byproducts or participants in heavy alcoholism, Sesame Street arsonists, and small mammal sadists. Three key emotional components that facilitate their transmogrification are rage, shame, and emotional abandonment. Their motives are usually sex related, either dominance, punishment or the carnal throes of lust. In a world where we view serial killers as deviant maniacs, there is certainly many similarities in their patterns which homogenizes them. They are extreme outliers orbiting in the same field outside of reality. In personal terms, they are all different as whole individuals.
Based on the figures, gay men had the highest incidence of becoming serial killers during the twentieth century compared to the ratio of their straight counterparts. Talk about homophobia — for once — in the literal sense. Along with increased rates of homelessness, alcoholism, suicide, and depression, serial killing was another dark spot clouding over the rainbow. There is a silver lining though, believe it or not. Such a discovery is an important tool because it highlights a recognizable trend. The simple conclusion would be a Westboro Church slogan, more fuel to the fire: Fags are evil! So are serial killers! That's why so many of them are fags! A = B, case closed, but I digress. Psychopathy has had a long-standing debate on whether the traits are inherited or whether outside behavior has influenced them to become monstrous. When we witness a group that is more prone to depraved behavior it illustrates that psychopathy may not be a randomized gene sprinkled about, but instead, a cultivated madness.
The darker questions need to be answered. Why were gay serial killers exhibiting behavior only befitting an incubus? Why were they such a prominent fixture during the twentieth century? Why were a group of oppressed victims becoming monstrous villains?
The question makes people uncomfortable, as it should. Nowadays, as a western society, we are more tolerant to the sympathetic issues concerning homosexuals. Suicide, alcoholism, and depression are easier to digest than witnessing the creation of a monster.
Serial killing as a crime rate tally is essentially off the radar. It accumulates less than 1% of the overall crime in the United States. It's not always about the numbers however, the cultural impact is what has kept America satiated.
Serial killers cast a monolithic nimbostratus on criminology because your chances of being murdered are as likely as getting struck by lightning. The metaphor doesn't end there though. I have chosen a large dark cloud as an example because it also illuminates the cultural significance that serial killers play to a societal audience. The murder rate is low, but serial killing is really about the demented lore and horrific details that are spread across the mainstream. Like a dark cloud, not everyone is gonna be pumped full of electricity, but nobody likes the look of it in the sky. Their acts of perverse hedonism and brutality are often unclear, however, culturally it's a gold mine for inspiring fear. The problem is perception. Serial killers are viewed through a freak show kaleidoscope in which people can see the blood-tacular spectacle of victims, news reports, and vivid descriptions of ritualistic slaying.
John Wayne Gacy is responsible for practically the entire subculture of killer clowns. Before his arrest in 1978 there was fuck zero outside of The Joker pertaining to the newfound phenomenon in terror. Coulrophobia — which is a neologism describing an intense fear of clowns — didn't even hit the cultural atmosphere until the 1980s. Stephen King has claimed the inspiration for his novel which undoubtedly popularized the killer clown genre had no reference to Gacy. Coincidentally, the year he cites as inspiration is 1978. Given that Pogo's appearance (Gacy's clown character) is nearly as terrifying as Pennywise, along with Gacy's penchant for abducting youths, it may just be another bizarre coincidence, or King is full of sh(IT). Speaking of King, Pennywise is probably a bad example on how evil manifests, I think Carrie paints a more accurate picture.
Dahmer is the most referenced killer in Hip Hop, maybe music altogether. He resurges in documentaries and biographical movies as often as the Summer Olympics. Dahmer is particularly referential given his background of cannibalism, alcoholism, and necrophilia on top of murder. In spite of his unforgivable actions, Dahmer usually gets a rather obscure sympathetic portrayal whenever Hollywood decides to dig him up again.
Unquestionably, the transgressive title of inspiration in relation to serial killing belongs to Ed Gein. He belongs in a category altogether. His influence has trickled through films and American society for half a century. His habits and backstory are worth a lifetime on a shrink's couch. His bizarre aesthetic taste in organic upholestry. His literal graveyard shifts. The Oedipus complex, and his Emily Dickinson hermit-hood. His big bad farm, with a nipple belt here, and a nipple belt there, here a skin sin, there a skin sin, E-I E-I Oh no! Ironically, for being one of the most credited serial killers, Gein's confirmed murder count is just two people, which means that in many circles he isn't even considered a serial killer, apparently the lucky number is three or more.
The fact of the matter is, there is no absolute answer. I can't succinctly tell you why gay men, based on the ratio of population percentage were four times more likely than straight men to become serial killers. I do not possess the skill set, resources, or intuition to condense the personal lives of fourteen men into a just reasoning. There are some trends however, which should be taken under consideration based on the fourteen men who made the list (Gacy, Haarmann, Kearney, Yong, Dahmer, Hatcher, Nilsen, Mullin, Kraft, Paulin, Eyler, Bonin, Dominique, Corll).
The average date of birth amongst the sample was 1944.
Ten of them were American.
Strangulation was the preferred method of killing, practiced by ten from the fourteen.
The average age of the killer at the time of their first murder was twenty-nine years old.
The motivation was sexual for all of them, with the exception of Thierry Paulin who targeted elderly women for monetary reasons.
Nine of them were baby boomers, or baby boomer-adjacent.
My theory — when it comes to self destruction — is that there are only two passages one can take. If you put a person in an emotional pressure cooker of rage, abandonment, and hopelessness, once it reaches critical mass, you can internally combust (suicide) or force it outside (devastation).
The gay men who were serial killers during the twentieth century had some weathering conditions that may have exacerbated their behavior. The sexual revolution that happened from the 1960s to the 1980s still had homosexuality at the bottom of its supposedly equal totem pole. The twentieth century was the most murderous, labeled as the bloodiest century in human history, with World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War measuring high in the death count. Gay men were being fed two spoonfuls of masculinity and two spoonfuls of self hate on a daily basis. They were entering an era where heteronormativity was in sexual abundance and private shame was reduced to hand signals at secret bars or clandestine encounters in parks. They were teased, taunted, persecuted, rejected, abused, and isolated. They were moving through generations where sex was reaching liberation and they were still shackled for being true to their nature. Some of them died, some of them persevered, and some of them who were more broken than Humpty Dumpty were never able to pick themselves back up again. So they became something else, something much worse. Serial Killers are waning, the dark ages of murdering were the highest between 1970 to the mid 1990s. Are they being caught more easily? Are people becoming less insane as we head forward into the future? The population has gone up, so has tolerance. Mark my words, there will never be another decade in America where gay serial killers will be as plentiful as in the past. The hate is slowly evaporating and so are the knives.
I identify myself somewhere in between Catherine Deane and Carl Rudolph Stargher. If you are unfamiliar with the reference, consider it an open invitation to watch The Cell.
I had a lot of weirdo traits that shaped me while I was growing up. I could never sleep, my mind had no off switch. I used to bang my head against the wall 'til my synapses called uncle and I KO’d on my mattress. Later in life I discovered liquor, which was a nice replacement for my rock 'em sock 'em ritual. I enjoyed torturing cats when I was younger and have had a longstanding obsession with fire. I am the son of a ginger as well as a lawyer with a German background. There was no way around the fact that some traces of schadenfreude were gonna hit my veins.
I was a bed wetter until I was twelve years old. After that I developed dermatophagia in my mid teens, an OCD condition that I still have to this day, which is the excessive chewing or biting of one’s hands whenever stressed, bored, in deep thought, or just musing about life. I thought about killing people most of my life. Never acted upon, but a perpetual consideration from the darkest recesses of my mind nevertheless. I am still standing and not slaying.
Where's my GLAAD award in lifetime acheivement for not setting anybody on fire in spite of some serial killer traits being stacked against me?
I was born into the right family, at the right time in history, and in the right place. I can’t assure you of my trajectory had one of those things taken a turn for the worse.
The thing is, after reading both of those books on Dahmer during that summer, I actually kinda got it. On some deep intrinsic level, I understood what caused him to get to the place where he was. I understand loneliness, humiliation, and why some days you just want to tear the world apart by its last fibers. I am not a serial killer sympathizer. The irreparable damage which has been caused by them is unforgivable. However, I am an observer on why that bull is a repeat customer to the China shop. You can manipulate your behavior. It is impossible to deny your feelings.
I remember a particular clip from one of the last interviews with Dahmer before he was sentenced.
The interviewer asked him: what was his motivation for the first murder? What made him decide to kill Steven Hicks? In those split seconds, what possessed him to irreparably fracture any slice of sanity left and venture to the point of no return?
Dahmer's answer: "I just didn't want him to leave . . . I didn’t want to be alone.”
Dahmer was wrong.
He was not alone.
Brian Degen is a writer and banker who currently resides in Toronto, Canada. His hobbies include swimming, reading, terrible cinema, and trying to outdrink any Irishmen. His spirit animal is the angler fish because it manages to glow in even the darkest places.