Suicidology Online 2010; 1:19-27.
Two Cases Of Serial Killers Who Completed Suicide
killer” (rather than the psychotic, the missionary or the thrill killer).
Baumeister was born on April 7, 1947, in Indiana (Weinstein & Wilson, 1998). His father was an anesthesiologist. He had one younger sister and two younger brothers. He experienced an apparently normal childhood. In adolescence, however, he exhibited bizarre behavior, playing with dead animals and having strange fantasies such as wondering what urine tastes like. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic (or multiple personality – the journalistic report confuses the two diagnoses), but he did not receive any treatment. He had a series of jobs, worked hard, but continued to exhibit bizarre behavior, such as ranting at fellow workers and urinating on his boss’s desk. He once sent a Christmas card with a photo of himself and another man dressed in drag.
He married Juliana Saiter in 1971 and had three children, but Juliana reported later that they had sex only six times in their 25 years of marriage, and she never saw her husband nude. He founded the Save-A-Lot chain of discount stores in 1988 and quickly rose to affluence and prominence in his community. By the mid-1990s, however, the business began to falter.
In the 1990s, a number of gay men in the Indianapolis area disappeared, and in 1993, police were contacted by a man claiming that a “Brian Smart” had killed a friend of his and attempted to murder him. In his interaction with “Brian,” Baumeister had the man strangle him while he masturbated, and then they reversed roles.
In 1995, he saw the man again, recorded the license plate of the car, and the police traced the car to Baumeister. Investigators approached Baumeister, informed him that he was a suspect and requested permission to search his house. Baumeister refused. In 1996, his wife filed for divorce, frightened by Baumeister’s mood swings and erratic behavior, and permitted the search while Baumeister was on vacation. The search yielded the remains of eleven men, four of whom were identified.
Baumeister fled to Ontario where he committed suicide in Pinery Provincial Park by shooting himself in the head. His suicide note gave his failed marriage and his business problems as the cause. It made no mention of the murders. Baumeister is also suspected of the murder of nine men found along Interstate 70 in Indiana and Ohio.
Baumeister showed early signs of psychiatric disturbance but, despite this, was reasonably successful at work and managed to marry and have a family. His disturbance, whatever it was, did not grossly impair his life-path. He had homosexual inclinations and sadistic fantasies and, in killing gay men, an obvious hypothesis is that he projected his self-loathing for his own homosexuality onto others, permitting him to abuse and murder them.
In the opinion of Virgil Vandagriff (unpublished), Baumeister fits the profile of a “lust
Richard Chase is an example of a psychotic serial killer (Biondi & Hecox, 1992). He was born on May 23, 1950, in California. He was abused by his mother and, by the age of ten, showed the classic triad of danger signs: bedwetting, pyromania and sadism toward animals. In his teenage years, he abused alcohol and drugs and had impotence problems.
He developed delusions that his heart occasionally stopped beating and that someone had stolen his pulmonary artery. He tried to absorb vitamin C by holding oranges over his head, and he shaved his head so that he could watch his cranial bones move around. He left his mother’s home, believing that she was trying to poison him. In his apartment, he captured, killed and disemboweled animals which he ate raw to prevent his heart from shrinking.
In 1975, he poisoned his blood by injecting rabbit blood into his veins and was committed to a psychiatric institution. He was treated with medication and released in 1976. His first murder was a man, killed in a drive-by shooting on December 29, 1977, but he then switched to women. Chase entered the home of Teresa Wallin on January 21, 1978, shot her, had intercourse with her dead body and bathed in her blood. On January 27th, he entered the home of Evelyn Miroth, shot a man there and her son and her nephew, and then repeated his pattern with her body. He fled with the dead 22-month-old nephew and ate parts of him. The police arrested him at his apartment, where he proclaimed his innocence. He was found guilty of six counts of murder and sentenced to death. He was found in his cell on December 26, 1980, where he had committed suicide using an overdose of anti-depressants prescribed by the prison doctor that he had hoarded.
It is clear that serial killers are less likely to complete suicide than mass murderers. The reasons for this are far from clear, and psychological autopsy studies are needed to suggest hypotheses for this difference. For American rampage mass murderers, those who completed suicide (typically at the scene of the crime) killed and wounded more victims than those who were captured, but had fewer victims than those killed by the police.
An understanding of the reasons why a small percentage of serial killers complete suicide (only about 3% to 5%), as well as the timing of their suicide, must similarly await a sound psychological autopsy study. In the meantime, John White and I are collecting a data set for over 500 serial killers, based on biographies, newspaper reports and website information, and one of the analyses we plan is a comparison of those who completed suicide with those who did not. We hope that this study will provide clues to the suicide of serial killers.