Photo: Courtesy of Scott Bonn
Detailed, hand-written letters recounting the gruesome killings of more than 16 people arrive in two stark-white envelopes at Scott Bonn’s Manhattan apartment once a month.Bonn, a sociology professor at Drew University, is pen pals with Dennis Rader and David Berkowitz, two notorious serial killers. Both men will die in prison for the crimes they committed.
“I’ll admit I’m both repelled and fascinated at the same time by serial killers,” said Bonn, 55.
Bonn corresponds with the serial killers as research for a book on the media and the public’s fascination with serial killers.
Rader, better known as the serial killer “Bind, Torture, Kill,” or BTK, writes to Bonn in a matter-of-fact way. Recounting the 10 people he murdered between 1974 and 1991 with no sign of emotion, guilt, remorse or pleasure. Totally matter-of-fact. He killed them. And remembers all the details.
Conversely Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam,” writes letters in a remorseful tone. Since killing six people in the late 1970s, he has found God and become a born again Christian. He devotes his time in prison to helping mentally unstable patients and performing community service. He asked the state not to grant him parole, because he now knows what he did was wrong, and believes he’s where he should be: prison, according to Bonn. Berkowitz’s message is one of hope, redemption and service to others.
While Bonn writes his book, with the aid of the killers’ perspectives, members of the media have reached out to Bonn to help clarify information the police leak about serial killers. He helps profile serial killers by using the information to make conclusions using inductive reasoning.
What another human is capable of fascinates the masses. Bonn said he believes someone like Rader pushes the limits of “what it means to be human” and tip-toes the line of being a “monster.”
“I have a theory: Is consuming news about a serial killer really that different than (sic) watching a movie with a fictional character such as Hannibal Lecter?” Bonn said. “Until that real-life serial killer affects your life, it’s all entertainment. The way the news portrays someone such as the Long Island serial killer is just stylised entertainment. It captivates us.
“Where does ‘human’ end and ‘monster’ begin? What’s the dividing point? With that question, BTK pretty well extended the boundary to the point of monster. What could possibly be worse than capturing, kidnapping, dismembering, killing, and maybe eating another human?” Bonn said.
Rader became cocky toward the end of his reign, sending letters and floppy disks to police and the media with details of his killings, getting a ‘high’ from the interaction and attention. It eventually led to his capture in 1991.
“They both seem very aware of the concept of evil,” Bonn said. “And they recognise that we the public are fascinated with evil. Rader does not see himself as evil, but Berkowitz does, as the way he was acting at that time.
A former vice-president at NBC, Bonn left the advertising and marketing world to get his masters in criminal justice and doctorate in sociology, with a concentration in criminology. He is also the author of “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq,” which was published in 2010.
“So much of crime news is just sensationalized, and not only is it sensationalized, its incorrect and not factual,” Bonn said. “I’m trained as criminologist and I understand motivations of crime, I hope to be that bridge between criminal justice system and the media to help them frame complex crime issues properly.”
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