Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Touching Evil: Getting to know a serial killer is the title given to a three part series published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The story surrounds a class of senior forensic science majors at Dunquesne University who contacted and corresponded with the serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson for a class project. Keith Hunter Jesperson murdered at least eight women between 1990 and 1995.
Background To The Forensic Science Project
The idea for the project was put forward by course teacher Ronald Freeman as a way of providing students with an alternative perspective on forensic investigation. "In school, they talk to professors, scientists, and I'm an ex-cop. They get our perspective on the criminal justice system. I thought, 'Why not try to look at it from a different side?'"
Having suggested and ascertained that the forensic science class wanted to contact Jesperson, approval was also sought from the students parents, the director of the forensic science and law degree program and the dean of the school.
Click Here to read the first letter the forensic science students sent to serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson.
In addition to the original letter, a further dozen or so were exchanged between Jesperson and the forensics class and on the 5th of November the class held a live Q&A session with Jesperson via conference call.
You can listen to several excerpts from the conference call by clicking on the following links.
How Jesperson Killed His Victims
The Happy Face Killer Nickname
Things Jesperson Regrets
What Compelled Jesperson To Kill
Why Jesperson Agreed To Particpate In The Class Project
What Went through Jesperson's Mind As He Killed
What Do You Think About This Project
My personal view is that generally speaking it evokes all the normal reactions associated with anything to do with serial killers i.e., compelling, fascinating, intriguing etc but I have to say that this project makes me feel very uncomfortable on a number of levels.
I have no doubt that the intentions of the project were honorable and genuinely designed to provide a unique learning experience for the students involved, but I am struggling to see how this experience would translate into improved forensic investigation skills and/or knowledge in the field.
Even if this could be qualified in some way I strongly believe that Jesperson got so much more out of this that the students ever could, not least beacuse it provided him with the perfect platform to do what he loves doing best, namely manipulating, dominating and controlling. The following quotes from class members were just two of many that made me wince.
"I had no idea that he was going to turn out to be actually such a pretty nice guy aside from the fact that he killed a bunch of people."
"I guess I expected someone who would be a little more harsh and callous, but he was really nice, like an uncle kind of nice, which is kind of strange,"
I also found aspects of the reporting crass in the extreme. The start of second part of the Touching Evil: Getting to know a serial killer series begins:
The student's blood-red T-shirt was a big hit. "Friends help you move," the front said. And on the back, "Real friends help you move a body." The dark humor was dead-on funny for the 30 Duquesne University forensic science and law majors.
Gallows humor is common place within the forensic community and serves as a useful coping mechansim, but it's nearly always kept in-house and I think to document something like this in such a public way shows a basic lack of respect for the victims and the their families, however, unintentional.
You can have your say by clicking on the comments link at the end of the post.
A number of video clips regarding this project have been produced which can be accessed by Clicking Here
You can read the first part of the Touching Evil: Getting to know a serial killer series by Clicking Here
You can read the second part of the Touching Evil: Getting to know a serial killer series by Clicking Here
"I": The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen
Library Journal Book Review
During the 1990s, the Pacific Northwest was besieged by a serial killer, Keith Hunter Jesperson, who taunted the police for incarcerating the wrong people for one of his eight victims; he signed his letter to the police with a happy face and hence became known as the Happy Face Killer.
Renowned true-crime author Olsen (Hastened to the Grave) uses diaries, court records, and interviews with the killer himself to present Jesperson's version of why he became a serial killer and how he killed his victims. As a truck driver, he was able to travel cross-country and kill young women who, he thought, were going to present a problem for him. With each of his victims, he played a "death game" in which he choked them, then revived them a few times before killing them.
The book's flaw is that it is one-sided. The reader is not told how law enforcement officers caught on to Jesperson or about the trial. Nor does it provide details as to what happened to the wrongly convicted. Nevertheless, Olsen's popularity in the genre will make this a popular choice for public libraries.
For more details and/or to get hold of this book, just click on the following link.
I: The Creation of a Serial Killer
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Touching Evil: Getting To Know A Serial Killer