I recently read an article on Vice. It was titled “What I’ve Learned From Being Pen Pals With Nearly 50 Murderers and Serial Killers.”
Now this definitely grabbed my attention. I couldn’t wrap my mind around wanting to talk to someone that does such horrible things to other people. Also, even though I know they are never getting out of prison, I wouldn’t want them to know my name or know who I was. What if they ever did get out or escaped? They might come after me!
Christopher Duett, the writer of this article, explained how when he was young he watched the news coverage of the execution of Ted Bundy, a serial murderer. A few years later he heard about another murder, Danny Rolling, who was on the loose. His mother explained to him what a murderer was and what they did. For some reason, Duett became extremely fascinated by these infamous killers. He noticed that the stories of their murders and horrible crimes were all over the news, but, he realized, he didn’t know anything about them as people. What caused them to become killers? What was their motivation? Did they have anything in common?
In 2009 he decided to write his first letter to a killer. The response was not what he was expecting. Duett admitted that “if I hadn’t already known him as the Night Stalker, it would’ve been impossible to tell if he was in prison for petty theft or for serial murder.”
Duett only truly considered one of the convicts a “friend.” This convict was Barry Loukaitis who, at 14, open fired in his middle school algebra class killing three. Duett’s relationship with Loukaitis helps answer some of the questions that he was searching for when he decided to communicate with these killers.
Loukaitis, who now feels remorse for his actions, explained that as a kid he felt like an outcast. He became a bully, but when confronted he always backed down. Loukaitis got caught up in the spiral of silence. He feared rejection so he did not speak up about anything. He told himself that the other kids were not worth befriending, but really he was just not confident enough to speak up. This rejection was one of the things that caused him to kill his classmates. He decided that he was going to prove once and for all that he was not weak or a coward.
Duett realized he and Loukaitis had a lot of things in common with each other. The most important similarity was that, being close in age, they played the same video games and movies. Perhaps it could be argued that these video games or violent movies caused Loukaitis to kill. If this is the case Loukaitis is an example of facilitation via priming from violent video games. On the other hand, though Duett found these murderers interesting, his exposure to video games as a child did not cause him to become a serial killer. This could be an example of catharsis. If he got all of his “interest” in violence out while playing these video games, then he has no need to act violently in the real world.
On the other hand, Phillip Jablonski is a very different kind of killer. He daydreamed of violence. Duett called him a “stereotypical serial killer.” This stereotype is a very widespread assumption about murderers. They are just blood-thirsty monsters, but Loukaitis is a prime example of how this stereotype is not always the case. He is very remorseful for what he has done.
The cultivation theory explains that increased media exposure changes our beliefs and attitudes. Duett, along with the rest of America has seen TV shows like “The First 48” about serial killers. These solidify our stereotypes about serial killers. It makes all of them out as horrible people, which may be true, but they do not all have the same motivations. We have become desensitized to most violent content. For this reason we take a peripheral route when it comes to analyzing this media. We just assume that all violent acts and people are the same. All in all, after five years of actual experimenting Duett admits that “these stories have become intensely real to [him] — no longer an article in a newspaper, a page in a true crime book, or a segment on the nightly news.” There is a lot more complexity behind these violent acts than first meets the eye.