Opinion: Dean of Students teaches us how to ‘spot’ a mass killer

By Billy Huntsman

Managing Editor

Michael Jasek, the dean of students at NMSU and the “adviser” for us here at student media, sent out an email this morning urging anyone overly disturbed by recent events, such as the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and at Texas Southern University in Houston, to seek help at the Counseling Center, or referrals to counselors in the community for those at campuses other than main.

I don’t take exception to this.  I’m all for receiving counseling services.

What I take exception with in Jasek’s email is on the second page.  After encouraging students to be vigilant in order to make their campuses safer (which I don’t disagree with, either), Jasek goes on to say, “If someone has disclosed to you that they are thinking of harming themselves or others, has commented that they are accumulating weapons, or are indicating unusual interest in recent acts of violence, notify the NMSU Police Department by calling 9-1-1.”

I don’t disagree someone should call the police if a person is talking about hurting other people or is accumulating weapons, but expressing unusual interest in recent acts of violence? I think that’s ludicrous.

Here’s why:

When I was in fifth grade, my mother and I went to this diner in Albuquerque we both really loved.  This diner was mostly the haunt of elderly folks, 60 being young.  My mother and I sat at a window-side table idly picking at our lunches while reading our books.  She was probably reading a James Patterson novel, while I was entrenched in The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers.

I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers.  Ed Kemper, Ed Gein, B.T.K., John Wayne Gacy, H.H. Holmes, and, goodness me, Charles Manson, I could talk ad nauseam about these guys.

This Oct. 8, 2014 photo provided by the California Department of Corrections shows 80-year-old serial killer Charles Manson. A marriage license has been issued for Manson to wed 26-year-old Afton Elaine Burton, who left her Midwestern home nine years ago and moved to Corcoran, California to be near him. Burton, who goes by the name
Is this the face of a serial killer? Charles Manson’s 2014 updated mugshot. Creative Commons photo.

Further, I love violence.  I’ve actively sought out the most violent, goriest, most reprehensible movies out there simply for the sake of satiating my violence fetish (which has yet to happen).  Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Evil Dead (2013), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both versions), Cannibal Holocaust, Punisher: War Zone, American History X, The Passion of the Christ, Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, The Lords of Salem, Seven, the entire oeuvre of Herschell Gordon Lewis, The Human Centipede trilogy, Philosophy of a Knife, give me more, do you hear me? More, more!

So should you call the police on me? I suppose you could, if you wanted to troll me.  But I have no guns, no knives, no clue as to how to make a bomb (I can barely manage to plug in my wireless router at home), and have no desire to acquire these items or skills.

Would you classify my borderline-obsessive interests in Charles Manson and the Family, the West Mesa murders in Albuquerque, the Las Cruces bowling alley massacre, the Toybox killings in Truth or Consequences, Jack the Ripper, or the Zodiac Killer as unusual?

ted bundy
Or is this? Ted Bundy’s high school yearbook photo. Creative Commons photo.

And what constitutes unusual, anyhow?

Robert Graysmith, for instance, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle during the time the Zodiac killings started.  As the killer’s encrypted messages came in, Graysmith attempted to decode them.  If you’ve read his book, Zodiac: The Full Story of the Infamous Unsolved Zodiac Murders in California, or seen the fabulous 2005 David Fincher film, you’d be hard-pressed not to describe his interest in the Zodiac as obsessive.

Truman Capote researched the murder of a Kansas family, primarily by interviewing those who were arrested and later executed for the crime, for seven years before publishing In Cold Blood in 1966.  He became almost like a brother to one of the perpetrators.  Did his interest in this crime implicate him as an accomplice?

truman capote
Truman Capote. Creative Commons photo.

James Ellroy has ravaged the public records of the Los Angeles Police Department in the hopes of solving his mother’s unsolved murder case from 1958.  In the process, he became, for the sake of consistency, obsessed with L.A. police corruption and crime, best seen in his 1987 novel The Black Dahlia, based on the vicious real-life murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947.

Were these individuals’ interests in their respective areas unusual?

I don’t know.  Is there an acceptable level of interest?

The bottom line is, Jasek’s comment about “unusual interest” is vague, more akin to an assessment by a psychology minor at the University of Phoenix online than by a Ph.D. from the University of West Florida.  It’s the kind of admonition that would likely come from somebody who thinks “sociopath” is a profound descriptor for someone such as Christopher Harper-Mercer, rather than saying he had antisocial personality disorder (which I’m not saying, because I’m not a psychologist).

Ultimately, I would advise Jasek, as well as anyone else who thinks he or she knows how to “spot” a potential mass/serial killer, to leave the psychological assessments to those with graduate psychology degrees.

Answer: Between Charles Manson and Ted Bundy, Bundy is the serial killer.  Manson has never been formally charged with murder.

Author: nmsuroundup

The student voice of New Mexico State University since 1907.

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