BOOKS

Murder in multiples

HUNTING HUMANS: THE RISE OF THE MODERN MULTIPLE MURDERER By Elliott Leyton

ROBERT MILLER April 14 1986
BOOKS

Murder in multiples

HUNTING HUMANS: THE RISE OF THE MODERN MULTIPLE MURDERER By Elliott Leyton

ROBERT MILLER April 14 1986

Murder in multiples

HUNTING HUMANS: THE RISE OF THE MODERN MULTIPLE MURDERER By Elliott Leyton

(McClelland and Stewart, 318 pages, $16.95)

Their actions are the stuff of nightmares: lethal assaults on victims selected at random. Their names or nicknames, after flaring in newspaper headlines, continue to smoulder in the public consciousness: British Columbia’s Clifford Olson, New York City’s “Son of Sam.”

And their numbers are increasing: from one or two a decade early in this century to a 1980s rate of roughly one a month in the United States.

Police call them “serial killers” and concede that their methods make them difficult to find.

Now, a recently published book casts new light on the psychological makeup of the killers—as many as 100 of whom are at large in the U.S., according to the Justice Department.

Most law-abiding people, seeking to rationalize the existence and behavior of serial killers, categorize them as psychopaths, sex maniacs or members of a subhuman species. But according to author Elliott Leyton, 46, an anthropologist at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, those categorizations are delusory and possibly even dangerous. In his highly readable paperback about the grim compulsion of multiple murderers, he writes, “Their acts are personalized social protest, and in that they are neither revolutionary nor deranged.”

In Leyton’s well-argued view, serial killers (who pursue their victims furtively over an extended period) and mass murderers (who tend toward spectacular massacres) are often engaged “in a form of class war” in which they were the early casualties. Leyton scrupulously avoids making excuses for wholesale butchery, but he is unrelenting in his contention that multiple murderers are a social rather

than a medical or psychiatric problem. And he is often scathing in assessing psychiatric evaluations of the six American killers whose cases he examines in detail.

Hunting Humans draws its title from the macabre last words that gunman James Oliver Huberty uttered to his family shortly before he unleashed his fury and killed 21 people at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif.: “Society’s had their chance. I’m going hunting —hunting humans.” Among Leyton’s principal case studies: Albert DeSalvo, the notorious Boston Strangler who killed 13 women in the 1960s as well as sexually assaulting hundreds of others; David Berkowitz, the self-proclaimed Son of Sam who shot and killed six people at random in New York in 1976 and 1977; and Mark Essex, the black militant who took nine lives and held more than 500 policemen at bay during a prolonged 1973 gun battle at the Howard Johnson’s hotel in downtown New Orleans.

In his treatment of all the murderers, he analyses their backgrounds and seeks to understand their actions, but Leyton clearly is most troubled by the case of Essex, an apparently

happy and well-

adjusted youth from a stable family. Essex encountered serious racial prejudice for the first time when he joined the U.S. navy. During a brief and desperate period, he went from being a prized recruit to a rampaging killer. Shortly after leaving the service, he became so radicalized that his murderous appearance in New Orleans now seems almost predestined. Leyton’s description of Essex’s stand against helicopters, inept police snipers, firemen and army marksmen is one of the book’s most rivetting passages. Indeed, Leyton portrays the young Essex as a little Rambo who is eventually mowed down by more than 200 bullets. In all, the author has delivered an important and timely book.

ROBERT MILLER