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My Life Among the Serial Killers: Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers

My Life Among the Serial Killers: Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers

3.4 66
by Helen Morrison, Harold Goldberg

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Over the course of twenty-five years, Dr. Helen Morrison has profiled more than eighty serial killers around the world. What she learned about them will shatter every assumption you've ever had about the most notorious criminals known to man.Judging by appearances, Dr. Helen Morrison has an ordinary life in the suburbs of a major city. She has a physician husband,


Over the course of twenty-five years, Dr. Helen Morrison has profiled more than eighty serial killers around the world. What she learned about them will shatter every assumption you've ever had about the most notorious criminals known to man.Judging by appearances, Dr. Helen Morrison has an ordinary life in the suburbs of a major city. She has a physician husband, two children, and a thriving psychiatric clinic. But her life is much more than that. She is one of the country's leading experts on serial killers, and has spent as many as four hundred hours alone in a room with depraved murderers, digging deep into killers' psyches in ways no profiler before ever has.

In My Life Among the Serial Killers, Dr. Morrison relates how she profiled the Mad Biter, Richard Otto Macek, who chewed on his victims' body parts, stalked Dr. Morrison, then believed she was his wife. She did the last interview with Ed Gein, who was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. John Wayne Gacy, the clown-obsessed killer of young men, sent her crazed Christmas cards and gave her his paintings as presents. Then there was Atlanta child killer Wayne Williams; rapist turned murderer Bobby Joe Long; England's Fred and Rosemary West, who killed girls and women in their "House of Horrors"; and Brazil's deadliest killer of children, Marcelo Costa de Andrade.

Dr. Morrison has received hundreds of letters from killers, read their diaries and journals, evaluated crime scenes, testified at their trials, and studied photos of the gruesome carnage. She has interviewed the families of the victims — and the spouses and parents of the killers — to gain a deeper understanding of the killer's environment and the public persona he adopts. She has also studied serial killers throughout history and shows how this is not a recent phenomenon with psychological autopsies of the fifteenth-century French war hero Gilles de Rais, the sixteenth-century Hungarian Countess Bathory, H. H. Holmes of the late ninteenth century, and Albert Fish of the Roaring Twenties.

Through it all, Dr. Morrison has been on a mission to discover the reasons why serial killers are compelled to murder, how they choose their victims, and what we can do to prevent their crimes in the future. Her provocative conclusions will stun you.

Editorial Reviews

“Profoundly enlightening….Morrison provides startling insights into what factors breed serial killers…An absorbing, disturbing book.”
Publishers Weekly
With serial killers a hot topic in the wake of Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning performance in Monster, forensic psychiatrist Morrison's memoir of working with more than 80 serial killers couldn't be more timely. The author's countless hours of interviews with John Wayne Gacy and others of his ilk have led her to a controversial conclusion: she believes there's a serial killer gene ("He is a serial killer when he is a fetus, even as soon as sperm meets egg to create the genes of a new person"). Unfortunately, she offers little in support of this deterministic view, and she will offend some readers with an implied exoneration of criminals whom she describes as "completely unaware of the process leading up to murder," despite the detailed planning and preparation displayed by many of them. And even readers who are willing to have an open mind about Morrison's theories are likely to find some aspects of her report a little creepy, as when she discusses a treasured trophy she keeps in her basement: "I place John Gacy's brain back in the box because my kids are calling for me upstairs." Agent, Chris Calhoun at Sterling Lord. (On sale May 4) Forecasts: 60 Minutes II has committed to a profile with Dr. Morrison to air May 5. The author will appear live on the Today show on May 6, with more media appearances in the days to follow, including with Paula Zahn on CNN and Chuck Scarborough on MSNBC. Expect an initial surge in sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Morrison is a forensic psychologist who focuses on the activities of serial killers; she has profiled more than 80 of them, reading their journals, reviewing their crime scenes, and conducting interviews. She has worked as an expert witness on the trial of John Wayne Gacy and interviewed Richard Macek and Ed Gein, the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho. She talks about the killers' limited emotional development, their above-average intelligence, and how an interview with one helped her to develop her theory that for the large majority of them, killing is like a drug. One limitation here is the lack of discussion of female serial killers such as Arlene Wurnos. In addition, the abridgment makes the work appear to jump from place to place instead of moving in a straight line. For large libraries with true crime collections; others should consider purchasing either an unabridged set or the print version.-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A forensic psychiatrist takes well-turned clinical forays into the heads of multiple murderers, with additional long-distance thoughts on their peers in foreign countries and in the past. Aided by veteran journalist Goldberg, Morrison shapes her experiences as a memoir and lets her prose express both analytical detachment and utter fascination. Nonetheless, she states, "I still could feel sickened about the nature of their crimes, no matter how detached I tried to be." And these crimes are particularly dreadful. Morrison has spent 25 years trying to uncover some pattern to serial-killer behavior, a painstaking process of trying to understand why they do what they do by interviewing as many serial killers as she can get access to. Slowly the material accrues. John Wayne Gacy, she found, had the emotional makeup of an infant and "felt he was drowning when subjected to emotional complexity." Robert Berdella displayed a total lack of empathy; he "couldn't picture what the meaning of torture or even death is." Serial killers typically show no social or psychological attachments, yet the author finds a terrible chemistry that suggests "serial murder at first sight exists and thrives much like love at first sight." Killers had a "sudden urgency to get a victim. It wasn't just a need; it was a drive, a compulsion"-an addiction of sorts. These discoveries pointed Morrison toward a genetic explanation of serial killing: something, she believes, causes an imbalance of the neurochemicals that trigger emotions and lead to actions. "I am firmly convinced there is something in the genes that leads a person to become a serial killer," she asserts. "In other words, he is a killer before he is born."Morrison has not been able to prove this theory conclusively, since her attempts to run tests on serial killers have, understandably, run into issues of free will. A scary piece of work, with even scarier implications. Agent: Chris Calhoun/Sterling Lord Literistic

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Read an Excerpt

My Life Among the Serial Killers
Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers

Chapter One

Richard Macek

In March of 1977, the old road to Waupun, Wisconsin, was somehow eerie and foreboding, not simply rural but isolated in the kind of way that makes you watch your back. About twenty minutes outside of Madison, the colorful, welcoming signs for homey diners and Wisconsin cheddar cheese vanished, and the whole world seemed devoid of life. The sleepy fields along the way were still brown, not yet tinged with green, and there was an uncanny quiet, made heavier by the gray, chilly day. To be quite honest, I was nervous. I was a young doctor about to step into a world brimming with horrible crime and serial murder. It was a world full of macho, hard-drinking law enforcement officials who'd seen too much, and I wondered if I would be accepted or even tolerated not only as a professional, but also because I was a woman. Occasionally, I gripped the steering wheel too hard, as if driving straight and steady on the highway would steady my thoughts. I glanced at myself in the rearview mirror, to make sure the anxiety didn't show. It was important that I appear calm and composed.

I was no stranger to challenges, to tough times. As a child living in a small town near Pittsburgh, I never knew my real parents. It's not that I didn't yearn to find out. It just wasn't part of the deal. My parents weren't that kind. Sure, six other children and I had a roof over our heads, and food, but when it came to the real security that love can provide, well, it simply wasn't present. It sometimes seemed that the reason six others and I were children to these people was due to factors not understood, even now. Our lives as children were often unremittingly dark, and we were very alone in the world the parents defined.

But in one way I was ahead of the game. I discovered an early passion for what I wanted to do. At the age of eleven, I watched as eightyear-old Beth, one of my favorite siblings, came down with scarlet fever. The rash of scarlet fever usually looks like a bad sunburn with unsightly but tiny bumps. I often felt like a mother to the rest of my siblings, so as her condition worsened, her chills and shakes, high fever, and vomiting had me worried. As she hallucinated, I was sure she was near death. I became frightened, full of the kind of all-encompassing terror that only children can feel. But when a doctor came to the house to treat her, she soon began to recover. In my young mind, I thought the doctor was a miracle worker. Amazed, I vowed right then to become a doctor. I was working by age twelve to bring in money, and I believed that if I worked harder and longer than anyone else, I could accomplish anything to which I set my mind -- including becoming a doctor. It didn't matter if I had to deliver newspapers or if I worked as a waitress or a clerk in a grocery store to do it. Sometimes, I stood restless at the outskirts of our small town. And I imagined myself somewhere else, traveling to the more exotic places I saw in magazines or heard about on the radio. I could get out. I would get out. I had to.

As I drove, I kept thinking about what the FBI agent had asked me. "Have you ever seen anything like this before?" Special Agent Louis Tomaselli obviously had seen a lot in the course of his job, but the gruesome nature of the eight-by-ten black-and-white photographs he showed me had him mystified and concerned. Tomaselli was smooth talking, dark haired, and wiry. He had this way of talking with his hands. Careful but darkly animated, his hands moved not simply to express what he said but also gestured, twisted, and grabbed the air to help me picture the words. Early in our conversation, he said, "There's not much difference between me and the bad guys -- except the FBI got to me first." The off-the-cuff comment startled me, but it made sense. If you're straight and narrow and you're going in undercover, you may be too conspicuous and your cover will be blown. Like a chameleon, you have to blend into the environment in which you're working. It never crossed my mind that people could go either way. I was young, from a town so small you might think it was just a bunch of nondescript wood frame houses at a dusty intersection. My sense had been that you were either right or wrong, that the rules in life were very black and white. This was just one of the myriad of core beliefs that would change radically for me in the months ahead.

Tomaselli approached me moments after a seminar I cotaught in 1977 called "The Use of Hypnosis in Criminal Investigations." At that time, law enforcement was intrigued with the possibilities of using memory-enhancing techniques like hypnosis, so the seminar was well attended. I told them that hypnosis is simply a state of deep, intense focus and has nothing to do with magician's wands. I myself was the subject, but it wasn't at all about strutting around onstage like a chicken. I was shown a photograph of a crime on a subway before and after I was hypnotized. The officials in the room were impressed that I was able to recall many more of the details within the picture when I was hypnotized. Everyone in attendance learned that memory could be improved but not manufactured through hypnosis.

Hundreds of investigators like Tomaselli had gathered just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, from around the state for a two-day conference about investigating and solving homicides more effectively. Many of the seminars dealt with hard-to-crack cases ...

My Life Among the Serial Killers
Inside the Minds of the World's Most Notorious Murderers
. Copyright © by Helen Morrison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Helen Morrison, M.D., is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology for general psychiatry as well as child and adolescent psychiatry. She is also a certified forensic psychiatrist. She is the editor or coauthor of four academic books, as well as the author or coauthor of more than 125 published articles in her field. Dr. Morrison has worked with both national and international law enforcement, and has made presentations in more than fifteen countries. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

Harold Goldberg has written for the New York Times Book Review, Vanity Fair, and Entertainment Weekly. He lives in New York City.

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My Life among the Serial Killers 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very disappointing to me. I had heard an interview with Dr. Morrison and it sounded interesting. I couldn't wait to get to the part about her 'controversial' theory. After two hundred and some pages she finally mentioned her theory - in one paragraph. She never develops this theory and never applies it to the cases she mentions. At the end of the book, the last chapter, she asks more questions about what causes serial killers to kill than supports her theory. If you are buying the book to read and maybe gain some insight, don't buy it. If you are buying simply for entertainment, you might like it. Overall, I would say that she's a terrible writer and scientist. A scientist knows how to develop a theory and support that theory. DON'T BUY THIS BOOK!
PhDeity More than 1 year ago
Sigh. I know it's hard to write a book, and I would not be surprised if authors read these reviews. So I don't take this lightly. But this is not a very good book. I had hoped that the author, with her medical background, would have better insights than many who have written on the topic, and I was prepared to wade through a bit of tedium if that's what it took. Unfortunately, the book is a double miss: it _is_ rather boring, but not the least bit enlightening. The author trots out several well-known cases, including ones where her involvement is limited or non-existent, and offers insights along the lines of 'there is something really wrong with these people.' She wraps up with a laundry list of tests she would like to do if she could...if I were teaching research methods to undergrads (have done so) I would've given her a "C-". You'll be better off with a good writer like Ann Rule, who, frankly, is not only a better story teller, but a more analytical thinker with a better grasp of her topic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Helen Morrison has struck again. She baked a book about her career experiences with serial killers, law enforcement and the media. Long known as a doctor whose opinions were for sale to the highest bidder, she's done it once more. This book is full of scientific inaccuracies; and even some stuff the the good doctor fabricated on her own. There is the description of one serial killer developing blisters on his hands and arms when hypnotized and discussing some burns he received. Believable, right? Wrong. Hypnotized people cannot get blisters from talking about experiences with fire. Morrison threw this in to make the book more riveting. It didn't work. She also offers this 'blistering experience' as a reason for not talking to other serial killers about injuries they have experienced while on the hunt under hypnotic trance. Her reason? Talking about broken bones under hypnosis could cause bones to break. Want her for your doctor? I don't think so. Morrison, a favorite of the media, is known as a real ethical lightweight among the forensic community. Now, you can find out why. Don't waste your money on this one. Wait til it's in the library and let your kids take it out. They might find it believable if under 15.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The woman seriously does not know her field that well. Her insane theries are just that-insane. Who does she think that shes the expert and everyone else is wrong. Not recommended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On page 56 Morrison writes about an interview with Ed Gein. "But they said you sealed off a lot of your house and made it a shrine to her,(his mother) and that you kept your mother in that room after embalming her." I have read much about Ed Gein and have found nothing that says his mother was embalmed in the house. Maybe she watched Psyco and got them mixed up. I wonder if she asked him about the hotel he ran also.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Books on those who work with serial killers are normally self-aggrandizing anyway ('I was the first to theorize that the killer would be a left-handed podiatrist instead of a right-handed one!'), but this one is especially guilty. The writing is disappointing both in style and content. The actual writing is pedestrian and banal. The assertions are even more shaky. For example, Morrison takes issue with behavioral profiling, finding it overly simplistic, but it is her definition and understanding that it is simplistic. Granted, not everyone who sets fires, kills animals, or wets the bed will become a serial killer, but these are excellent markers present in a number of those who eventually murder. One cannot throw this notion out because not every serial killer fits this profile. This is the problem with Morrison's writing: she sets up a number of straw men and proceeds to knock them down, but her own theories are hardly sound. Save your time and money.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an okay book. It's an interesting concept and I love reading about anything involving profiling. One reason I didn't like the book was the author's theory when it comes to serial killers. She believes that it's nature, not nurture. I have mixed feelings about that. Other than our differences of opinion, it's a well written book, but doesn't go into the details I had hoped.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was expecting more, especially her so called interview with Ed Gein. Did she even have an interview with Ed? I got more of an understanding of his life and interviews in the book called "Deviant" by Harold Schechter. When reading my life amoung a serial killer...I felt a little lost, she jumped around a lot in her thoughts and understandings. Waste of money, maybe I should of read the reviews first before purchasing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My life among the serial killers by Helen Morrison was very well written and a good page turner. The author did an excellent job explaining her tactics in her psychology which made it more understandable. The scenarios she experienced were excellently written and shows lots of imagery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poorly written. Dr. Morrison can' t decide if she' s writing an autobiography or a treatise on serial killers. She is sanctimonious in criticizing others and laying blame on " the old boy's network" for her lack of success in this field. Yet her description of her "research" demonstrates lots of assumptions and very little scientific method. As a female physician who trained in the same era, I find her lack of professionalism disappointing. It's hard to believe that an educated woman could write such tripe. I'd give it no stars if I could.
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M-Pritchard More than 1 year ago
very good
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank Goodness that I borrowed this from the library and did not waste money on it. This has to be one of the worst books that I have ever read. I was initially excited to see Morrison's take on her interviews with so many serial killers. However, I now question if there really were that many interviews. Not only are her stories -- I mean interviews-- lacking any insight, they are also probably fiction. Did she really use hypnosis to recover memories?? Any freshman psych major can tell you that the human memory is very unreliable and hypnosis is even more unreliable!! I also find it astonishing that the killer broke out into blisters while recalling a fire -- really!! We are supposed to buy into that. There are also grammatical and contextual errors as well. Who edited this book?? Very bad!!
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littleredDK More than 1 year ago
Dr. Morrison certainly had a busy life, but not one that most of us would envy--instead we just want to peak and put away. Her insight and details are chilling as she becomes the intervewer of choice for many of the most notorious serial killers in America. Strongly recommend this for anyone who is curious about what makes these people tick.
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Jannette Reyes More than 1 year ago
I was so absorbed in this book I even took it to work and read it on my breaks! Great book for anyone wanting to get inside the mind of a serial killer. The chilling details even made it somewhat hard for me to sleep! lol! Great buy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago