In 1972, Herbert Mullin, an unemployed schizophrenic man living in California, came to the conclusion that the West Coast would be devastated by a series of earthquakes unless he performed blood sacrifices. He acquired a gun, and began killing people. He first killed a male hitchhiker, then a female hitchhiker. He went to a priest, who, according to Mullin’s disordered mind, thought Mullin’s work so important that he offered to be a sacrifice himself. Mullin killed him, then a mother and her children whom he also believed volunteered to him. By the time he was caught, he had killed 13 people, most chosen more or less at random.
Herbert Mullin’s Mugshot
The most famous serial killers, in the United States at least, all selected their victims based on sexual preference or according to the standards dictated by fantasy. Ted Bundy killed brunette women. Jeffrey Dahmer lured young men into his home; so did John Wayne Gacy. David Berkowitz looked for women sitting in cars alone or with men. These men are called organized, and they have more media appeal. They fit our television idea of the serial killer: the crafty pervert who hunts individuals, who plans. They are like spiders. They seem smarter and are therefore more frightening.
Personally, I find killers like Herb Mullin, disorganized killers, much scarier. Take Richard Trenton Chase, another mentally-ill man living in California in the 1970’s. Chase was convinced that he was being poisoned, and that his blood was turning to powder. He believed that the only way to replenish his blood was to drink the blood of others, and he did this to several of his victims. Chase broke into the homes of people who lived in his neighborhood, and killed men, women, and children, and even after his conviction, he believed that he killed in self-defense.
Richard Trenton Chase’s Mugshot
After he was convicted, Chase was interviewed by the famous FBI profiler Robert Ressler, who asked him how he picked his victims, and the houses he broke into. Chase told him that he simply walked down the street, trying doors. If a door was locked, he moved on, telling Ressler, “If the door is locked, that means you’re not welcome.” If it was open, he went in and killed anyone he found.
That is terrifying. Against men with a plan, you can arm yourself, at least hypothetically. You can refuse to go home with Gacy, or to get in the car with Bundy. But against Chase, against crazy chaos like that, there is no way to plan. You might be able to hide from death that is looking for you, but from death that knocks at random? There’s no hiding from that.
For Robert Ressler’s account of Herbert Mullin, Richard Trenton Chase, and the development of criminal profiling for the FBI, read Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI.