Author Books Journalism Information
Camp novel crops up in the BTK case
March 3, 2005
St. Paul mystery writer John Camp wasn't thrilled to learn that a copy of the inside cover of his book, "Rules of Prey," was among the contents of a manila envelope that was sent to a Kansas TV station in February and has been linked to accused serial killer Dennis Rader.
Nor does he think Rader, who was charged Tuesday with 10 strangulation deaths that terrorized Wichita beginning in 1974, took any "inspiration" from the book, he said, pointing out that all but one of the Kansas killings took place before the publication of "Rules of Prey" in 1989.
It wouldn't surprise Camp, however, if the suspect in the "BTK" case (for "bind, torture, kill") had seen something of himself in the book's evildoer.
"He [Rader] was a reasonably effective church leader," Camp said Wednesday from his home in Lakeland Shores. "He was a Boy Scout leader. He raised children who seemed to be nice enough. In my books, my killers are always like that. They have all the problems that normal people have. They have families. They have businesses. They have problems that they have to deal with that are quite routine. And they are under intense stress from the fact that they are also monsters."
Camp, a former reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has written 15 books in the bestselling "Prey" series. The "maddog" serial killer in "Rules of Prey," the first in the series, has a meticulous MO. He taunts police with phone calls and leaves notes on each of his female victims:
Never have a motive.
Never follow a discernible pattern.
Never carry a weapon after it has been used.
Isolate yourself from random discovery.
Beware of leaving physical evidence.
Camp, who writes under the pen name John Sandford, captures his character's fanatical urgency "the urgency that guaranteed the kind of transcendent experience he had come to require" as well as his craving for attention. At one point, "maddog" desperately studies the instructions for operating a VCR in order to tape the news reports about his murders. He eagerly digests accounts of himself in the morning papers and gets up early for the "Good-Morning Show."
He also is a seemingly ordinary guy, an attorney with duck-stamp prints on his office walls. It is this mask of ordinariness that both fascinates and horrifies, as in the case of the suspect in the Wichita killings.
"They're just like the rest of us," said Camp, who as a reporter interviewed dozens of convicted first-degree murderers, many of them at Stillwater prison. "But they have this one thing that turns them into a monster."
Imagine the simple and relatively minor crime of shoplifting, he said. "You think about how nervous you'd be, how upset you'd be, how worried you'd be about the impact on your life if you got caught." Then multiply the intensity of that, he said, and you can start to imagine the life of a killer. "They've got this one aspect of their life that is unbelievably stressful, and, at the same time, they're trying to keep all the other parts of it operating in a kind of normal way."
While his thinking about killers may be nuanced, make no mistake about his sentiments
"I make no bones about the fact that I think they're monsters," Camp said. "They're ill, and it may be impossible to treat this illness. That's why you lock them up.
"In my books, the bad guys always get their just desserts."
The need for this assurance, that justice will be done, might partly explain the appetite for mysteries and thrillers, said Michael Newton of Nashville, Ind., the author of "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers" (Facts on File, 1999). It's not always the case in real life: Of 1,500 cases of serial killing in the past century, only about 20 percent were never resolved, he said.
Sure, readers crave suspense and action, and have "the impulse to be scared," Newton said. But they also want the scariness "resolved in a favorable fashion or at least in a fashion that you can put back on the bookshelf when you're done, even if it's not a happy ending."
Said Camp: "It's been done since Grimm fairy tales. What we do is we tell fairy tales."
Newton said two of his books on serial killers have been found with killers. But did his writing contribute to their pathology?
"If you go with prevailing psychiatric opinion, these sorts of individuals are basically set on their path around the time they are 4 to 5 years old by detachment from their parents and childhood abuse and so forth," Newton said. "In most cases, they've already started to torture animals and assault human beings before they are even of reading age." To have been influenced by him, he said, "they would have had to have read in the womb."
4 January 2013
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