Most Evil - Friday November 2

most evil
psychotic killers (5/6)

This documentary series delves inside the minds of killers in an attempt to find out why they kill. 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, Stone focuses on psychotic killers, exploring the stories of Ed Gein, Arthur Shawcross and Gary Heidnik. “

At some point in his life, Ed Gein lost touch with reality, which led to particularly gruesome and twisted acts.” So says Dr Stone of the notorious serial killer whose horrendous crimes inspired a number of modern horror tales. In order to explore the reasons behind Gein’s behaviour, Stone looks back into his history and examines his whole life. Was the killer aware of his actions when he committed his crimes and, if not, what pushed his mind into madness?

Born in Wisconsin in 1906, Gein was dominated by a devout and stern mother who was convinced that men were lustful creatures, driven to sin by their desires. Despite her severity, Gein was devoted to his mother and was left devastated and alone by her death when he was 39. Already shy, aloof and schizoid, Gein “became grossly psychotic and remained so for the rest of his days”.

Gein became convinced he could bring his mother back to life and began to steal body parts from graves. He then turned to murder. When police entered his house in 1957, they discovered a grisly monument to death and depravity, including bowls made from human skulls, the decaying faces of nine women and a shoebox full of noses. “He would dress in dresses made of human skin,” explains Dr Stone. “I don’t know of anybody else who can make that claim.”

After his arrest, Gein was diagnosed with mental illness and declared incompetent to stand trial. He spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital, until he died of cancer in 1984. It is the killer’s mental state that leads Dr Stone to rate him relatively low on his scale of evil –at just 13 out of 22, despite his heinous crimes. “I always put the men who are clearly psychotic on a lower number,” he explains. “The most shocking killers are not necessarily the most evil.”

Between 1972 and 1990, Arthur Shawcross killed 13 people in upstate New York, often mutilating and cannibalising his victims. He claimed he suffered from out-of-body experiences and was unaware of his actions while committing the crimes. “I can look back at it like a movie,” says Shawcross now of his killing spree. To get to the bottom of Shawcross’s claims and to see if he deserves a place on the scale of evil, Dr Stone carries out a face-to-face interview with the killer in prison. “The thing I’m most interested in probing him about is the ‘why’ question,” says Stone. “In other words, what prompted him to do the things that he is on record as having done.”

The interview with the killer reveals a dark, disturbed past full of abuse and anger. “It is clear to me talking to Shawcross that his tortured childhood contributed to his later violence,” says Stone. But the killer was never diagnosed as psychotic and Stone believes that he was aware of his criminal behaviour. He therefore ranks Shawcross at 17 with other sexually perverse – but not psychotic –serial murderers.

Dr Stone’s scale of evil ranks murderers according to the level of depravity they exhibited when committing their crimes. At the highest level of the scale is a man whose crimes would overshadow the horrors of both Arthur Shawcross and Ed Gein.

In March 1987, Philadelphia police uncovered the odious crimes of 43-year-old Gary Heidnik. In his basement, Heidnik had developed a laboratory of torture in which he abused, raped, electrocuted, murdered and cannibalised a number of women who he kept chained up. “This is a guy who was consumed by systematic, prolonged torture,” says Dr Stone. “It was truly the kind of thing that sickens anyone who hears the story.” For this reason, Heidnik is placed at 22 on the scale of evil.

About the author

  • Cynthia

    I once rode in Ted Bundy’s car for 6 miles. Of course I didn’t know it at the time… I discovered that it was him years later but the impact because of what happened was still fresh in my mind. I was staying at the KOA campground with my Dad in Midturn, CO which was 6 miles away from Vail.CO where I worked for a short time at The Lodge at Vail as a maid (until they found out I wasn’t yet old enough to work). I was hitchhiking and a VW Bug stopped and a guy with a sweater vest with a white shirt picked me up. We went a couple of miles before I realized he had exposed his private parts and was grinning at me. I pretended I didn’t notice and kept talking (I talked alot); but, I was thinking how am I gonna get out of this? The road was cut out of a mountainside and there were 3 exits to Vail then nothing. I planned it that right before the 2nd exit I faced him fully and berzerked, “Let me out! You creep!” He slowed down enough and I jumped out and ran and was too scared to hitch hike ever again. About 15 years ago I was watching a show and saw Ted Bundy’s pictures and I started shaking… then I realized it was that man in CO. I was 15 years old at the time. I think I am very lucky and had a really powerful angel riding with me that day. I was a shy and withdrawn kid something prompted me to scream at him and get the edge I needed to get away.

  • kat

    hey cynthia

    I too had a close call with Ted Bundy on a lonely road in Co he tried to get me to pull my car over by pointing to a tire on my car-by the way my tire was fine! I sensed evil and drove away as he tried to follow. I remembered the VWBug and familiar face when he was arrested a couple of years later. I couldn’t forget the incident either. Strange how those gut feelings stay with you. We both had an angel in the seat.

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