Something sinister has infected society, and nobody knows why

Elise T. Chisolm

July 02, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

COULD THERE be something dark at large, consuming us? Could there be a new genre of evil that has surfaced?

I feel that there is something dark, something with which we are not coping.

I feel we are not just floating in environmental pollution but in an intangible kind of morass.

Drugs, guns, abusers, liars, cheaters, you name it, we run the gamut.

I am not alone in my concerns. Major television shows ''20/20,'' ''48-Hours'' and ''Prime Time Live'' have all done recent segments on serial killers. Newsweek has a special edition,''Children," documenting that American children remain the most neglected in the developed world.

Time magazine devoted its June 10 cover story to evil, ''Does It Exist -- Or Do Bad Things Just Happen?''

Writer Lance Morrow asked the question and uncovered troublesome truths. But there is no consensus.

The television shows told us this:

* There are more serial killers than ever before. Every state has one, and they are usually sexually violent, too.

* The serial killer is obsessed with killing and gets a thrill out of it; he does not regret it.

* This type of killer is usually a white male between 20 and 35, is often married, and in pictures he is depicted as a ''nice'' looking man. He does not fit the description of your run-of-the mill murderer, is often someone you know, a loner.

* The serial killer is usually someone who was abused in childhood.

Having just finished the best seller about a serial killer, ''Loves Music, Loves To Dance,'' by Mary Higgins Clark, I am frightened. And you should be, too. The author got her background from FBI files on a killer who enticed women through personal ads.

I want to know WHY? Why is there more violence of this type. What can we do?

In Time, Lance Morrow argues that evil has a perverse fascination that good somehow does not. ''Evil is entertaining . . . good, a sweeter medium, has a way of boring people.''

He quotes Elie Wiesel, who was in Auschwitz as a child. ''God is in exile, but every individual, if he strives hard enough, can redeem mankind and even God himself.'' But if there is redemption, and I don't mean to sound like Job, where will it come from?

I talked with Robert Ressler, a noted Washington criminologist, author and founder of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit. ''The problem is there is no single profile of the serial killer; there are some commonalities to the average killer," he said.

''They are apt to have had long-term relationships that are troubled or go unresolved. But in general the serial killer seems intelligent, articulate, bright and are seemingly normal men," Ressler says.

''There are many different types of psychopaths, but none of them has any moral standards.''

The criminologist blames the graphic exposure to violence on the media.

''Cable television and videos can bring us anything and everything in the name of entertainment, and violence is glorified.''

But what can we do? I ask him.

''Mainly society does not deal with the killers properly. Our system of justice lets them out on parole or back on the streets. Serial killers are the hardest to track.''

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jonas Rappaport, a clinical professor of psychiatry at University of Maryland School of Medicine, worries too. ''There is more violent crime today than 20 years ago. . . . At least our data-collecting shows THAT.

''I worry more about the copy-cat factor. A child sees abuse in the home and he emulates it, or a disturbed person sees killing on television and he copies it. Even hostage-taking has a dangerous copy-cat phenomenon.''

Rappaport, who is also the psychiatrist for the Baltimore City Circuit Court, puts the blame on the breakdown of the family and the community, which has led to greater moral decay.

So none of us has the total answer, and neither professional wanted to expound on the forces of evil.

And yes, very bad things are happening. But I am more frightened that the terrible ''darkness'' is of ourselves, our own making.

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