Is it possible that someone who was already intent on committing a crime could learn tips and tricks from a novel to aide them in said crime? If so, do horror and mystery writers have a moral responsibility to their readers, to NOT provide an accurate textbook, if you will, on how to kill and get away with it?
We have all heard the expression, ‘copy cat killers’, but who is more responsible? –A creative writer who creates a painstakingly researched and accurate scenario that may appeal to someone with a lesser conscience, or the “copy cat” them-self, who may or may not have committed the crime had the writer not inspired it. Clearly, it is not the writers fault if their work encourages a depraved mind to act on something that is morally wrong. But, what can be done about it? -If anything…
Here are some examples of crimes inspired by fiction:
The Pale Horse, by Agatha Christie has been said to have inspired a double homicide in 1972. Graham Young, known as the tea-cup killer, was convicted in 1972 for murder by Thallium poisoning. –A method of murder used by the criminal in Christie’s book. She was extremely distressed that someone would use her story as a ‘how to kill’ textbook. Obsessed with poison and murder mysteries, did Christie’s book inspire Young to kill?
The Collector, by John Fowles, has been said to have inspired serial killer Christopher Wilder, a man who murdered 8+ women in the 1980’s. Wilder committed suicide, with this book in his possession.
Wilder may have identified with the protagonist in this story, a man with severe social problems who kidnapped and held a woman as part of his ‘collection’.
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger purportedly inspired John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman. Obsessed with phonies and the music of John Lennon, Chapman killed the singer, sending shock waves through the music industry.
Obviously, not everyone who has read this book, or the ones above, has been urged to assassinate a renowned singer. The Catcher in the Rye is a classic, and read by millions of high school kids every year as required reading.
So what was it about The Catcher in the Rye that triggered Chapman? Perhaps we will never know…
Please do not get me wrong. My argument is not for censorship, but a better understanding of the human mind and what triggers one to act on their violent fantasies. Should people with impulse control problems not read/view horror and or violent content? Might they have a better chance of not doing something destructive if the seed isn’t implanted into their minds via a book, video game, or movie?
We have no answers as of yet, only questions. In the meantime, I hope the horror and crime mystery writers keep doing what they do best, and that any future wanna-be copy-cat killers won’t be reading their work!