From The Mouths Of Madness: 11 Books Written By Serial Killers
"Killers are made, not born." That quote is taken from Ian Brady’s book The Gates of Janus, and it rings true for many convicted serial killers and murderers. His book and other autobiographies and crime novels by murderers offer a bizarre look into the authors' dark pasts, twisted minds, and horrific crimes.
Letters and books written by serial killers aren’t new. But rules commonly known as Son of Sam laws, which prevent criminals from profiting the publicity of their crimes, weren't implemented until the "Son of Sam" case brought widespread media attention in 1977. Before that, scary serial killers like H. H. Holmes often received payment in exchange for writing about their dark deeds - or even penning a confession.
In these books by killers, some authors, like Jack Unterweger and Carl Panzram, explicitly recall their murders. Others, like John Wayne Gacy, use the text to attempt to prove their innocence. Whatever the specifics, these books written by serial killers hold grisly fascination for fans of true crime and curious historians alike.
- Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Herman Webster Mudgett - better known as H. H. Holmes - horrified Chicagoans with his murderous activities. Using the 1893 Columbian Exposition to lure in victims, he tortured them and disposed of their bodies in his specially constructed "Murder Castle." Holmes may have killed as many as 200 people during the 1890s. He was eventually convicted for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, and sentenced to death.
While Holmes was in prison, many tabloids offered Holmes money for his confession. Yet, what they received was mostly nonsense. Holmes gave unsubstantiated details of his family life, claimed that he was innocent, and said that Satan had possessed him. Most of Holmes's letters flat-out contradict facts, but one phrase struck a chord: "I was born with the devil in me."
The Strange Case of Dr. H. H. Holmes collects his unusual confession. It was published just before his execution in 1896.
- Photo: Terapeak/eBay
John Wayne Gacy killed 33 young men and boys. He frequently appeared at children’s parties as "Pogo the Clown," a gig that earned him the nickname "The Killer Clown."
After his conviction in 1980, Gacy co-wrote a book about himself titled A Question of Doubt. In it, he blamed other people for the murders and corpses found buried below his home. Gacy also claimed that the media and the police played a part in implicating him.
About 500 copies of A Question of Doubt were published in 1993, but it’s no longer in print. It's become something of a collector's item, with books selling for hundreds of dollars.
- Photo: Daniel Lefkowitz / via YouTube
Son of Hope, written by convicted killer David Berkowitz, is different than other published works from murderers. While Berkowitz does admit to committing the "Son of Sam" killings that shocked the public from 1976 to 1977, he doesn’t go into detail about them.
Instead, Berkowitz’s book details his self-destructive ways, and how he credits his parents for doing their best in raising an uncontrollable, possessed child. Son of Hope explains how Berkowitz felt he was doing the Devil’s work, and that God would never forgive him for his crimes. After spending 10 years in prison and listening to an inmate talk about how God would forgive him, he became a born-again Christian.
Still incarcerated, Berkowitz now serves as a sort of prison preacher who helps other inmates reform.
What happens when good cops go bad? They might become someone like Deputy Sheriff Gerard John Schaefer, Jr. He was sentenced to life in prison for the 1972 murders of two teenage girls.
While Schaefer was behind bars, author Sondra London published a collection of his short stories entitled Killer Fiction. However, investigators found that the stories' in-depth descriptions of torture and murder were very similar to Schaefer’s true-life murders.
Schaefer was killed by a fellow inmate in 1995, but London went on to make a life for herself as a true crime writer.
- Photo: Serial Killers Around The World / via YouTube
An Austrian man named Johann “Jack” Unterweger was convicted of killing a sex worker named Margaret Schaefer in 1976. Later, he wrote a book that he hoped would convince the public he was a completely reformed man. The autobiography titled Fegefeuer Oder Die Reise Ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the Trip to Jail - Report of a Guilty Man) was written while he was in prison, and it became a bestseller in 1984.
In his book, Unterweger claimed that his desire to kill stemmed from the abandonment of his mother. He was forced to live with his drunken and abusive grandfather, and his feelings of loneliness led him to seek affection from sex workers.
The state was swayed by his book, and Unterweger was released on parole in 1990. He became something of a literary celebrity - but then more sex workers began turning up dead. Unterweger was arrested for the murders and convicted in 1994. Shortly thereafter, he hanged himself using the string from his prison jumpsuit.
Also known as "The Meanest Man in America," Donald Henry "Pee Wee" Gaskins claimed to have killed over 100 people. He was eventually put to death in 1991, after being convicted of nine murders.
While on death row, Gaskins spoke with journalist Wilton Earle, who recorded his life story. The resulting book, Final Truth, contains grisly details of his crimes. He apparently began young, raping boys and burglarizing homes. Later, Gaskins began torturing and murdering people, and claimed that he even practiced cannibalism.
Due to the horrifically graphic nature of the book, it’s not recommended for children or casual readers.