Jeffrey Dahmer's admitted murder of at least 17 men recalls astory of multiple killings I covered as a reporter for a Houston television station in 1973.
Dean Corll, Elmer Wayne Henley and David Owen Brooks were part of a torture and murder ring that led to the deaths of 27 young boys. Watching authorities dig up the bodies on an island along the Texas Gulf Coast and in two other locations was a sight and a smell I shall never forget.
Corll used high school student Henley and Brooks to procure young boys for him. He had constructed a torture chamber inside his house which he used to inflict pain on his victims while he sodomized them and finally killed them. The victims were mostly runaways and boys from Henley's school who were interested in drugs or free cigarettes, which Henley used as lures to get them to Corll's house.
Henley shot Corll to death when Henley said he wanted to end things but Corll refused. Henley and Brooks are serving life terms in a Texas prison.
Two years ago, Henley gave his first interviews since his conviction to the Houston Post and a local television station. In the Post interview, Henley said he has been haunted by the thought that he may be an evil person.
This is not an admission that our sophisticated culture usually accepts. Though Time magazine recently did a cover story on evil, we prefer secular to spiritual explanations. Still, in mass murder scenarios, the spiritual seems to satisfy more than the intellectual.
Dr. Walter Byrd, a psychiatrist with the Minirth-Meier and Byrd Clinic in Fairfax, Va., says in the mind of a mass killer ''the sense of commonality and connection with one's fellow man has been extinguished. He may carry on in social ways, but he has lost his spiritual life.''
This spiritual void in an evil person is explored in M. Scott Peck's best-selling book, ''People of the Lie.'' Dr. Peck defines evil ''as the exercise of political power that is, the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion in order to avoid . . . spiritual growth.''
Dr. Peck says ''the evil (person) attacks others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgment of one's need to grow. If we cannot make the acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection.''
People in Milwaukee, like those in Houston 18 summers ago, wonder why the police or neighbors or someone did not notice what went on in these houses or the disappearance of so many people. An explanation is that our culture still believes that people are basically good and so tries to ignore things that do not conform to that presumption.
Dr. Peck takes the opposite view: ''The problem of evil cannot be separated from the problem of goodness. Were there no goodness in the world, we would not even be considering the problem of evil.''
Dr. Peck says he has been asked dozens of times why evil exists, ''yet no one has ever asked me. . .'Why is there good in the world?' It is as if we automatically assume this is a naturally good world that has somehow been contaminated by evil.''
The opposite is not only more plausible, but the evidence seems to support such a conclusion that man is basically not good and needs to be controlled and conformed to a common standard of goodness.
As Dr. Peck notes, ''evil is revolting because it is dangerous.'' As to controlling it, Dr. Peck dismisses any notion that people like Dahmer and Corll can be reformed: ''I have learned nothing in 20 years that would suggest that evil people can be rapidly influenced by any means other than raw power. They do not respond, at least in the short run, to either gentle kindness or any form of spiritual persuasion with which I am familiar.''
This is why we need prisons and capital punishment to protect us from such evil. Thanks to Henley, Dean Corll isn't around anymore to terrorize new victims.
If the courts should find that Dahmer's confessions are true, they should make sure that he never experiences freedom again, and, if justice is to be served, a better case for the death penalty could hardly be found.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.