In his book, “Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters”, Peter Vronsky mentions that the detective magazines became a subject of a detailed study as their presence was found in not only serial homicide cases, but in cases of child molestation, rape, and autoerotic deaths. The covers of these magazines almost always featured a luridly illustrated or photographed image of a frightened, often bound female. Bondage was depicted in 38 percent of the covers studied and the subject bound was a woman in 100 percent of the covers. The aggressor was a male in 71 percent of the covers, who loomed over the woman and was always indistinguishable or lurking beyond the edges of the page. Sometimes the victim looked out to the reader as the source of her anguish.
While there was no explicit violence or nudity depicted in any of these magazines, numerous serial killers have reported being highly excited and inspired by such publications. It can be argued perhaps, that precisely because the nudity was not explicit, it functioned as a stimulant rather than as a release of fantasy: the offender was driven to “fill in” with his own imaginative resources the remainder of the fantasy, instead of having it preempted by an explicit image.
Ted Bundy recalled a fascination for detective magazines and their images of abused females. In his final 45 minutes interview with Dr. James Dobson, a religious psychologist and crusader against pornography and the founder of “Focus on the Family”, he talked about the effect his pornography addiction had on his life “As a young boy (and I mean boy of 12 or 13, certainly), I encountered, outside the home again, in …the local grocery store and the local drug stores, the softcore pornography (or what people “softcore”). As I think as I’ve explained you last night, that this … anecdote …that as young boys we explore the back doors and … the sideways and byways of their neighborhoods, and oftentimes the people would dump … the garbage and whatever they’re cleaning out their house and from time to time, we come across pornographic books of a harder nature than … a more graphic, you might say, a more explicit nature of what we would encounter, let’s say, in your local grocery store. And this also included such things as, let’s say … detective magazines…” He continued, “And this is something that I want to emphasize, this is the … the most damaging …kinds of pornography – and again I’m talking from personal experience … hard, real, personal experience – so, the most damaging kinds of pornography, are those that involves violence and sexual violence. Because the wedding of those two forces – as I know only too well –brings about behavior that is just ……just … too terrible to describe.”
Detective magazines were not the only type of easily available magazine during the 1970s and 1980s depicting victimized females in various states of undress. There was a whole genre of monster movie magazines, often showing images of women attacked by creatures or being carried away unconscious by monsters. These magazines were especially directed at adolescent and teenage males as were series of bubble-gum trading card depicting wartime atrocities in lurid color. Comic books especially pulp horror ones were also cited as inciting youths to commit violent acts and partially banned in the 1950s and early 1960s.(“Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters” by Peter Vronsky)
Ted Bundy’s final interview before he was executed in 1989 focused on his early exposure to the salacious content of “true detective” magazines.
“(…)it is important to me that people … believe what I’m saying, and to tell you that I’m not blaming pornography. I’m not saying it caused me to go out and do certain things. I take full responsibility for whatever I’ve done and all the things that I’ve done. That’s not the question here. The question … and the issue is how this kind of literature contributed and helped mold and shape the kinds of violent behavior.(…) Well, in the beginning, it fuels this kind of … thought process. Then, at a certain time, it is Instrumental in crystallizing it, making it into something which is … almost a separate entity inside. And that points you at the verge, I was at the verge of acting out on this kind of fantasy.
It happened in stages, gradually, it doesn’t necessarily – not to me, at least – happened over a night. My experience with, I’d say, pornography, generally, but with pornography that deals on a violent level with sexuality, is that … once you become addicted to it (and I look at this as a kind of addiction) like other kinds of addiction, you keep … you keep looking for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder, harder, something which … which … gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far, you reach that jumping off point where you begin to wonder if… if maybe actually doing it will give you that which is just beyond reading about it and looking at it.”
“Crime Suspense Stories” was a bi-monthly anthology crime comic published by EC Comics in the early 1950s. The first edition came out October/November 1950, the last February/March 1955. Ted was 7 years old when this appeared. (“A Visual Timeline” by Rob Dielenberg) You can read the Magazine issues online here.
Criminologist Eric Hickey states in “Serial Killers and their Victims” that “the fact the certain serial murderers have insisted that pornography was a major factor in their killing young women and children cannot be ignored.” In his later work, “Sex Crimes and Paraphilia”, he concludes, “The addiction to pornography affects each individual differently. Complex events, curiosity, loneliness, or even low self esteem may all combine to affect someone uniquely.” He cites a study that defined a four-step syndrome:
1) addiction to the images,
2) an increased appetite for those images,
3) desensitization to the violence,
4) acting out the images
All the detective magazines had in common the objectification and dehumanization of women in violent scenarios. “(…) we’re talking about an influence which … (that is the influence of violent … type of media and violent pornography), which had a … which was an indispensable link in the chain of behavior, the chain of events that led to behaviors, to the assaults, to the murders and what … It’s a very … difficult thing to describe … the … the sensation … of the … of reaching that point where you …where I knew … that … it was something as you would say that snapped, that I knew that I couldn’t control it anymore. These barriers I’d been … that I had learned as a child, that had been instilled in me … were not enough to hold me back with respect to … seeking out and harming somebody.” (Ted Bundy)
One of the studies by the FBI has shown that 81 percent of the sexual or serial killers surveyed listed pornography as their primary sexual interest. It was also noted that the killers were “characteristically immersed in fantasy.” Another study, conducted by the North Carolina State Police have found that 75 percent of defendants in violent sex crimes.
“The last time Bundy was caught, you know what he had in his car? A stack of well-thumbed pamphlets for cheerleader training schools. He was into cheerleader pamphlets, and he wasn’t using them for scratch paper. He also got off on his college physiology text, which had diagrams of female genitalia.” (crime writer Stephen Michaud)
The girls portrayed in the magazines were the full figured, feminine ideal of the 1950s, idealized depictions of what a sex symbol should have looked like. During the early years of 1900s society began reacting against the repression of the previous decades and “sexy” images began to pop up on magazines in illustrated stories. Esquire Magazine, which continued to be the first source of pin up art until the 1950s when Playboy kicked in. By 1955, most magazines looked more like Playboy than the pin-up covers so popular ten years before. Once the magazine had surpassed the pin-up in popularity, there wasn’t as pressing a need to preserve the women’s innocence.
Rudolph Belarski by 1951 he’d become a leading artist for New York-based Popular Library, delivering lively, often riveting artwork for novels by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Rufus King, Steve Fisher, Patricia Wentworth, and their like. Those fronts typically showed women being menaced by men, but on occasion it was the women who were most dangerous.
Robert Maguire (1921–2005) first professional projects were for a purveyor of pocket pulps including Hollywood Detective Magazine. Over the years, “Maguire painted dangerous dames, pagans, romantics, wantons, harlots, and more than a few victims of bad men,” according to his biographer, Jim Silke.
“I don’t know why I was vulnerable to it. All I know is that…that it … it had an impact on me … that was just so …central in the development of the violent behavior that I engaged in.(…) Those of us who are … who have been …so … much influenced by … violence … in the media, in particular, pornographic violence,are not some kinds of inherent monsters. We are your sons and we are your husbands and …we grew up in regular families, and pornography can reach in and snatch a kid out of anyhouse today… it snatched me out of my … it snatched me out of my home twenty-thirty years ago.(…) There’s no protection against the kinds of influences that there are loose in the society that tolerates … (…) I’ve lived in prison for a long time now, and … I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence, just like me. And without exception,every one of them was deeply involved in pornography, without question, without exception, deeply influenced and consumed by an addiction to pornography. There’s no question about it. The F.B.I.’s own study on serial homicide shows that the most common interest among serial killers is pornography.(…) But I’ll tell you: there are lots of other kids playing in streets around this country today who are going to be dead tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day and the next month, because other young people are reading the kinds of things and seeing the kinds of things that are available in the media today” (Ted Bundy).
One should not, however, easily conclude that pornography or detective magazines cause homicidal fantasies. “Images might not make someone a serial killer, but for some young males they can be potent triggers” says Katherine Ramsland, Ph. D. professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and the author of 60 books.
“The matter of pornography deserves a study of its own. It might be believable that pornographic addiction could relate to a sexual offender. In considering the needs of a pattern murderer, the person who kills, not just sexually assaults, there’s a missing link in the argument. It would appear that pornography is to the serial killer as gasoline is to the arsonist. Both are tools of the sexual criminal. Both are immersed in fantasies and have the motivation to fulfill their erotic desires. Magazines and movies definitely help fuel the fire. However, without gasoline, the arsonist still finds a match. Without the pornography, Ted Bundy kills scores of women anyway.” (Stephen J. Giannangelo, the author of Real-Life Monsters: A Psychological Examination of the Serial Murderer).