Most Evil - Cold-Blooded Killers - Friday October 12

most evil
cold-blooded killers (2/6)
23.00–00.00

This documentary series delves inside the mind of killers in an attempt to find out why they kill; how they get away with their crimes and how they rationalise their actions. In each programme, Dr Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at New York City’s Columbia University, considers killers and places them on his ‘most evil’ scale, which he has devised to categorise murderers. In tonight’s edition, Dr Stone examines some of the most infamous serial killers in American history, such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy Jr, using his revolutionary scale to compare the work of these murderers and decide what drove them to commit their horrible crimes.

It is thought that psychopaths such as John Wayne Gacy Jr, Ted Bundy and others share defining characteristics such as lack of remorse, fearlessness, and a cold-blooded detachment from typical human emotions. “We must be dealing with something that impairs the ability of the individual to experience normal compassion and empathy with other people,” Dr Stone says. Ted Bundy, who shocked America with a string of gruesome murders in the 1970s, certainly fits this profile. He was a surprisingly eloquent and charming man who even defended himself in court after he was charged with the murders of 30 women. His defence was unsuccessful, however, and he was sent to the electric chair in 1989. “He was callous and unmoved by the emotional terror he inflicted,” says Stone, who rates Bundy at level 17 on his 22-point scale.

Psychiatry professor Kent Kiehl of Yale University has tried to get inside the minds of psychopaths to see what makes them different to normal human beings. Putting subjects through MRI brain scans, he has flashed up sets of words with contrasting emotional resonance –such as ‘peace’, ‘friend’ and ‘love’ versus ‘hurt’, ‘maim’ and ‘kill’, to see what electrical responses are provoked in the brain. His discoveries are shocking. “What it suggests is that they understand the book meaning of the words but they don’t understand the deeper significance,” says Kiehl. “They know the words but not the music.”

Another serial killer who fits Stone’s profile is Tommy Lynn Sells, who was convicted of murdering 70 people across America over two decades. His victims were targeted indiscriminately, and his crimes did not follow any set patterns. He killed woman, men and children, sometimes slaughtering entire families at once. In a disturbing and deeply harrowing scene, Stone travels to meet Sells in prison and interviews him from behind a glass panel. “He’s the most coldblooded killer I’ve ever met,” says Stone. “In fact he got a rush, actual pleasure from seeing people suffer. For that reason, I would place him on level 22 of my scale.”

Joining Sells at the highest level is John Wayne Gacy Jr, a seemingly model citizen on the surface, who tortured and killed 33 people in the 1970s. Up to his execution in 1994 Gacy maintained his innocence –despite the fact that police discovered 29 bodies buried underneath his house. Stone investigates Gacy’s upbringing to find clues to why Gacy committed these murders. Gacy was constantly ridiculed and humiliated by his alcoholic father as a child, who taunted him for not being manly enough. “Gacy may have been predominantly a homosexual, who was deeply shamed by his intolerant father,” explains Stone. “This humiliation stirred up a tremendous anger, both at his father and at the homosexual part of his psyche. Later on, he directed this hatred toward his victims.”

Tonight’s programme goes on to examine the brutal rampage of Gary Ridgway, the ‘Green River Killer’, who murdered over 50 people in the Seattle area in the 1980s.The documentary also examines some intriguing recent studies into how psychopaths do not deal with fear in the same way as most people.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1