"Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life." Daniel Webster
I recently read an excerpt from Michael Capuzzo's new book, The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases. The section I read (featured in the August issue of Reader's Digest) focused on a woman who murdered her live-in boyfriend after finding out he'd found a "decent girl" to bring home to mom and dad.
I thought the information provided would be useful to anyone developing a character who just happens to be a murderer.
The victim, 24 year old ladies man Scott Dunn, had moved from his well to do home in Philadelphia, to a small West Texas town in hopes of turning his troubled life around. But his real troubles began upon meeting waitress Leisha Hamilton.
A year after Scott's murder, his father, James Dunn, was put in contact with Profiler Richard Walter. By this time the unsolved murder had become a cold case.
Dunn explained the first time he heard from Leisha. She'd found his name on a phone bill and thought he needed to be contacted because Scott had been missing for four days and she was concerned. Dunn had never heard about her. The only girl Dunn knew anything about was Scott's soon to be fiance, Jessica. Leisha claimed Scott had vanished without a trace, only leaving behind his car. And she hinted in subsequent conversations that since she was closest to Scott, she should get his car. Hmm...
Dunn had recorded Leisha's cold, atonal voice, and played it for Walter, saying he'd never heard anything like it. After Scott's disappearance, police regarded it as a missing person's case. Dunn pushed for a luminol test in Scott and Leisha's apartment. Luminol detects blood as diluted at one part per million. Even after rigorous cleaning, when the chemical is sprayed on walls in darkness, they'll glow blue for 30 seconds. The walls in the apartment glowed blue like they'd been spray painted. DNA tests confirmed the blood as Scott's.
According to Profiler Walter, "the careful cleanup speaks to an elaborate plot. The murder was purposeful, not recreational." Recreational is choosing a random victim for sadistic pleasure. But a carefully organized crime, cleanup, and body disposal indicate a power assertive, or PA killer. "The killing is all about power--incapture, restrain, torture, kill, throw away, 'I win, you lose' kind of power."
Upon examining Leisha's personality, Walter found her very bright, sexy, flippant and manipulative. She had a long list of lovers, husbands, and one night stands, as well as five children--all by different fathers. She claimed only to love the ones conceived in love. Hmm...
The end for Scott came the day Jessica called and Leisha answered the phone. Walter says, "If anything is going to get you killed, it's to reject the psychopath and say, 'I'm better than you are.'"
Before Scott disappeared, he was seen sick, leaving a party with Leisha. Walter believes at that point, Scott was poisoned. He speculates that Leisha then called on neighbor Tim Smith to help murder Scott. Smith had sent Leisha fawning love letters saying that if Scott weren't around, they could be together.
Walter says this is classic setup for a female PA killer. She'll enlist trickery to disable a stronger male and/or acquire a sympathetic and weak accomplice.
But calling attention to herself was Leisha's biggest mistake. She called Scott's father. She also played the coquette with detectives on the case calling them with new information and pretending to be afraid of Smith. But she moved in with Smith in order to set him up to take the fall. Walter says, "The need for stimulation is quite insatiable for a psychopath, the ego gratification to prove they're smarter than anyone, the gotcha."
In a later meeting with Leisha, Walter says, "I've noticed you seem to have a great ability to attract men...But for the life of me, I can't figure out what they see in you. Can you explain it for me?" After a startled silence, she smiled and said awkwardly, "Well, I don't know," then excused herself to get back to work.
When a detective with Walter asked why he called her a dog, he said, "Leisha thinks she is smart enough to outwit everybody. What we must do is make her feel insignificant--unimportant. This will drive her crazy, and she may well make a mistake."
Walter later received from a detective a pencil sketch by Leisha of the murder scene. The drawing had been given to the detective by an ex-boyfriend she took up with after Scott. The drawing documented the torture of Scott Dunn. It indicated that she'd chained him to a pallet. At the bottom of the picture was a key depicting handcuffs, a needle, a knife and a gun. Also shown were fists and a blunt instrument.
"This is classic," Walter said. "She drew this to memorialize her achievement." She'd also made other dramatic changes classic to post murder behavior. Walter says killers use murder to to stimulate personal growth. "It was a very dark self-help movement--'I'm Okay, You're Dead." Since the murder, she'd moved on to two more boyfriends and had a child by the last one. She'd also gone to nursing school, while continuing to work as a waitress, and graduated at the top of her class.
Walter says,"If you're accused of being a murderess, how do you cleanse yourself of all suspicion? You become a healer and dress in white."
Leisha was eventually convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Phew! One less murderer roaming the streets.
Hope this information is useful in any future fictional character development you're working on. And be sure to read Capuzzo's book! I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing. How about you? Do you have a true crime work you'd like to recommend?
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