Killer Among Us

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Overview

What effects does the presence of a serial killer have on the collective health of a community? What strategies do people adopt to manage the fear and anxiety that accompany news of a serial killer's predations? And why do citizens and the media respond as they do to serial killers, who usually account for only a small portion of the homicides in the communities in which they are active? ^IKiller Among Us^R examines serial murder from this fresh perspective: an exploration of the ways people react when a killer is at large in their community. Drawing on 19th-century tabloid accounts of the predations of Jack the Ripper and on 20th-century media coverage of such villains as The Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, the author constructs vivid and provocative retellings of many of the most infamous cases of serial murder.

In 1973, teenage girls began disappearing from Folly Beach, a small town on a barrier island in South Carolina. Initially thought by police to be a spate of runaways, the real story emerged when a police officer on patrol heard a cry for help and found three girls bound and gagged in an abandoned beach cottage. Further investigation turned up bodies buried in the dunes nearby. The police reacted quickly and closed off the only bridge to the mainland, thereby trapping the townspeople with the certain knowledge that one among them was a serial killer. Everyone became a suspect, as neighbor turned against neighbor in an atmosphere of rapidly growing hysteria.

What effects does the presence of a serial killer have on the collective health of a community? What strategies do people adopt to manage the fear and anxiety that accompany news of a serial killer's predations? And why do citizens and the media respond as they do to serial killers, who usually account for only a small portion of the homicides in the communities in which they are active? Killer Among Us addresses these questions by examining serial murder from this fresh perspective: an exploration of the ways people react when a killer is at large in their community. Drawing on 19th-century tabloid accounts of the predations of Jack the Ripper and on 20th-century media coverage of such villains as The Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, the author constructs vivid and provocative retellings of many of the most infamous cases of serial murder.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
"Between 1968 and 1974, I had the dubious distinction of living in two communities that were threatened by serial killers." So begins this rigorous report by Fisher, a criminologist with a flair for archival research, on the ways in which communities respond to the trauma of serial killings. The killers profiled range from well-known figures like Jack the Ripper and Jeffrey Dahmer to more obscure ones like John Norman Collins, who murdered several young woman in Ypsilanti, Mich., in the late 1960s. The first killings Fisher covers were perpetrated by Richard Raymond Valenti, who slew three teenage girls in Folly Beach, S.C., between 1973 and 1974. This case becomes the book's prototype, illustrating the four stages that, according to Fisher, a community goes through when subjected to serial murder: anger at betrayal of the social contract; search for rational and scientific explanations; appeals to the supernatural; community-wide suspicion and self-hatred. Each case study further illuminates these stages, as Fisher effectively uses "contemporary newspaper reports as a window... to observe and recapture the thoughts, feelings, and actions of each community studied." Along the way, Fisher debunks some stereotypical notions about serial murder investigations, including the value of complicated personality profiles and of psychic investigators in apprehending the guilty. According to Fisher's research, serial killers are almost always caught by simple police work or by accident. Though Fisher's writing is dry at times, and his method overly schematic, he presents a wealth of information and, especially in his coverage of the Son of Sam investigation, offers a mildly satirical look at "the bond of mutual exploitation" created among the public, the authorities, the killer and the press-a bond, he suggests, that may excite the killer, desperate for media attention, to strike again.
Booknews
Explores some of the most infamous cases of serial murder from a new perspective: how the public reacts to the news that a killer is at large in their community. Draws upon 19th-century tabloid accounts of Jack the Ripper, and 20th- century media coverage of cases such as The Son of Sam, Wayne Williams, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A semi-scientific study of modern serial killers.

Fisher, a market researcher and author of several books on crime, here addresses a host of American killers, as well as Jack the Ripper. Fisher discusses the infamous, like Jeffrey Dahmer, to good effect, and provides an interesting view of how nearly everyone involved in the case ended up suing each other; one victim's mother even sued Dahmer's parents for bad parenting. The chapter on Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams provides valid insights into his crime spree, which left at least 28 children dead. But Fisher, after the first chapter, seems to lose touch with his point, ostensibly to measure public outcry against the crime and how the community's response affects the killer. Most of the material, however, consists of gory synopses of the crimes, and the book is littered with graphic charts that little serve his purpose. In the chapter on Coed Killer John Norman Collins, Fisher reports, many victims went willingly with the killer despite enormous community pressure to avoid strangers. While Fisher reports this phenomenon, he does little to investigate it or to explain how the excitement of risk could so outweigh the promise of danger in towns under siege. More troubling is his invocation of self-styled psychic Peter Hurkos, who was called upon during investigations ranging from the Boston Strangler to the Coed Killer. Hurkos, long since discredited, is seen here as something of an affable buffoon who sometimes had the right answers, rather than as the last resort of desperate police investigators.

The idea of a scientific analysis of a community response to fear is an intriguing one, but this book provides little in the way of real analysis.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275955588
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/30/1997
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 819,291
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

JOSEPH C. FISHER is President of InterData, Inc., a research firm specializing in advertising evaluation studies and marketing investment analysis.

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Table of Contents

Tables and Figures
Preface
1 Introduction 1
Richard Raymond Valenti: Folly Beach, South Carolina (1973-1974)
2 Serial Murder: Public Reactions 13
3 The Common Denominator 31
Albert Henry DeSalvo: The Boston Strangler: Boston, Massachusetts (1962-1964)
4 The Coed Killer and Clairvoyant 55
John Norman Collins: Ypsilanti, Michigan (1967-1969)
5 The Media and the Murderer 89
David Richard Berkowitz: The Son of Sam: New York, New York (1976-1977)
6 A House Divided 127
Wayne Bertram Williams: Atlanta, Georgia (1979-1981)
7 There All the Time 163
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer: Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1987-1991)
8 The Classic Case 199
Jack the Ripper: London, England (1888)
Epilogue 217
Notes 219
Selected Bibliography 229
Index 231
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2012

    Intriguing but no analysis

    Killer Among Us by Joseph Fisher is a semi-scientific study of serial killers. Fisher compares many high level serial killers in this book and describes how the public reacts to them. It was interesting how the book was written to compare multiple serial killers and the unique things about each one instead of focusing on just one specific serial killer. Althoug the book sounded interesting on the inside front cover, there was really nothing that I found to be interesting. I thought the book was a little scary and it is not one that I would want to read again. Most of what the book sounds like it is going to be about happens within the first chapter. The book goes on to compare various serial killers in the following chapters. I disliked how there wasn't any real analysis within the book. I felt like I was reading multiple really long research papers. I thought that there was a lot of investigation in each serial killer that Fisher wrote about, but none of them had good enough explanation on how it would feel to be any of the people surrounded by these serial killers. I would suggest not reading this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2012

    Straightforward but not as interesting

    A semi-scientific study of modern serial killers. Joseph Fisher compares many high level serial killers in this book and describes how the public reacts to the fact that a serial killer may or may not be in their neighborhoods. These case studies provide insight into serial murders and insights into an aspect of serial killing that is not usually focused on which is the effect on the community and its' institutions.Throughout the book, Fisher gently encourages the reader to consider the killers' actions through newspaper reports, reflecting the thoughts, feelings and insights of specific communities. While Fisher admits that this type of record is imperfect, it does reflect the stages of social activity that he previously identified. While Fisher reports phenomenons, he does little to investigate it or to explain how the excitement of risk could so outweigh the promise of danger in towns under siege. The idea of a scientific analysis of a community response to fear is an intriguing one, but this book provides little in the way of real analysis.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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