Skip to comments.FATAL ATTRACTION: Author Peter Stubley on Why We Have a Deadly Fascination With Murder
Posted on 02/27/2013 2:09:06 PM PST by nickcarraway
WE all love a good murder. Whether its the benign bloodless corpses in Columbo, the savage group revenge on the Orient Express, Midsomers alarming homicide rate, or the gruesome realism of The Killing, we take enormous pleasure in the method and motivation of the killer, and their eventual unmasking and capture.
Real murders are just as compelling, although for different reasons. Because of their mystery and drama, crimes as distant as Jack the Ripper still fascinate more than 120 years after he cut up five women in the East End of London.
But, according to crime reporter and author Peter Stubley, contemporary slayings make us feel more uneasy. Unless theres a celebrity involved they rarely carry the same sense of sensation as they did 100 years ago.
Those that do, such as the Soham murders or Damilola Taylor do so not out of misplaced curiosity but because of what they have to say about society and the natural empathy we have with the parents and the child victims.
People still read about cases with interest, Stubley says. But unless theres a celebrity murder you cant imagine people poring over cases in the newspapers with the same kind of interest they used to. Dr Crippen was major news. The exceptions are not out of fascination, but because of what they say about us.
Stubley, 35, who lives in Angel, has spent the past 12 years working at the Old Bailey for a news agency covering all sorts of murders. It compelled him to start the Murder Maps website, a project to document all the murders in London.
He has also recently published two books 1888: London Murders in the Year of the Ripper, and Murder and Crime in Islington. The first records all the other murders in 1888 that have been overshadowed by the Rippers crimes; the second catalogues Islingtons most infamous crimes. I do every modern one, Stubley says of Murder Maps. Im trying to go back in time, but theres a lot. Im only on 2007. Five years ago there used to be 150 homicides a year. This year [as of December 2012] it might be below 100. The fall is a recent trend 2003 was a high with more than 200. Now were on 80-something so far.
He might seem callous, but that is far from the truth.
It might sound like you lack empathy as a journalist but you still get affected if you see relatives crying in court, he says. Theres mixed feelings about murder its a very touchy subject if youre doing modern cases. People are much happier talking about old cases. It becomes more of a thriller, its more divorced from reality.
I think now, and in the past, murders tell you about society at the time. So in 1888 a lot of new born babies were left to die; they were dumped or cut up and flushed down the drain. One was put in a fire. It was difficult to tell in those days if they were born dead or alive. Most of the mothers were never prosecuted. Some were charged with murder but ended up in court for the lesser offence of concealing a corpse.
Today theres more male-on-male teenage, early 20s, violence whether thats in the street, stabbing, or gang violence. There was a teenage gang murder in 1888 in Regents Park. So there were teenage gangs then. But only one case. Whereas now, theres a dozen or so a year.
He also notes that murder cases record details of the period that might otherwise be lost, because of the detail needed to solve a case.
His book on Islingtons notorious slayings charts the history of the borough by its murders.
You start off with Islington when it was surrounded by fields and was a pleasure resort for the rich, so there were highwaymen. Then in the 19th century it becomes built up. Theres one case where there was a murder of an old man in a cottage off Liverpool Road, which in those days was a field of cottages. He was battered to death.
The suspect had heard that the guy had been flashing a £50 note. But it turned out it was one of those fake notes, like a barbers note: I promise to pay £50 if I dont do a good job of your haircut.
There are other details, such as the lengths people go to hide bodies. One man put his victim in a storage unit and visited him once a week.
Nowadays, Stubley says, we perhaps take our cathartic enjoyment from television drama and films, meaning the sensation of real life has less affect on us.
You can see how some happen, he says. Most murder is people who kill their partners. Its hard to have sympathy with anyone who kills, but sometimes you can see why they did it. The nearest we get to an excuse these days is mercy killings, society can almost accept that not quite because they still get prosecuted.
Part of what fascinates me about murders is the psychology of what drives people to it. Its like, how can anyone do something that gruesome and still be human?
1888: London Murders in the Year of the Ripper. By Peter Stubley. The History Press, £9.99.
Murder and Crime in Islington. By Peter Stubley. The History Press £9.99.
Peter Stubleys Murder Map website www.murdermap.co.uk/
Murders are not the same as stories about murders.
Maybe there wouldn’t be so much fascination if murderers were tortured and burned alive in the public square. I forgot, there is no more public square.
Or even political ones...
The Obama Dead Pool file
I used to love reading murder mysteries. I have a fantastic collection of crime and mystery books.
Last summer a friend of mine was murdered. I no longer have any interest in reading mystery novels or seeing crime stories on TV. There’s no way to describe the quick heave of the stomach that comes now from even hearing about a murder. We’ve become desensitized through using hideous death as pleasurable entertainment, and this past summer made me realize that fact.