How Do Criminals Hide in Plain Sight?
Famous Serial Killer Ted Bundy
Even the Worst Criminals Can Go Undetected
Three young women are discovered in a Cleveland home after being held prisoner for 10 years, and the nation wonders why nobody noticed anything amiss.
An Austria man creates an underground dungeon, where he holds his own daughter captive (and fathers seven children by her), and his wife claims she had no knowledge of the horrific situation.
Two people, one of them a handsome young man planning a legal career, spend hours side by side volunteering at a crisis hotline, and years later his companion (author Ann Rule) discovers her coworker was Ted Bundy, the poster boy for serial killers in America.
The parents of quiet and lovely young woman in a middle-class neighborhood are suddenly and viciously murdered, and the community realizes their daughter, Lizzie Borden, may be the culprit.
How do these things happen, seemingly in plain sight, without being detected?
Although the actions themselves are impossible to explain, once you understand how normal minds work, it's easy to why nobody spots clues that later seem 'obvious.'
It's Not Easy to Spot a Crime While in Progress
Textbook on Serial Killers - by David Schmid
Why People Don't Detect Monster Criminals
As David Schmid points out in his book, Natural Born Celebrities, killers are considered 'monsters' by 'normal' people.
It is extremely difficult for a normal and psychologically healthy person to comprehend the actions of people like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy (convicted of killing numerous young men and burying them in shallow graves in his basement), or that a middle-class young woman (Lizzie Borden) could violently butcher her own parents.
We Need to Believe "Normal" People Don't Do Monstrous Things
Ted Bundy was the all-American guy; he was handsome, highly intelligent, admired by everyone, and seemingly headed for a successful career in law or politics. He was the kind of guy parents hope their daughter will bring home one day. And he was the kind of guy who would eventually claim he had raped and murdered at least 30 women.
Ariel Castro appeared to be a nice guy, a good father and an okay guy to share backyard barbecue and drinks with on a hot summer day. Who knew he would be accused of sequestering and abusing three young women (two of whom had been kidnapped as teenagers) in his home for a decade? Where were the signs that he might be a monster?
Josef Fritzl seemed a bit quiet and quirky to his neighbors, and he was perhaps controlling with his wife, but who knew he had dug a subterranean home of horrors for his young daughter, where he kept her imprisoned for 24 years? Why didn't anyone spot the signs of what was going on right under their feet?
The disconnect people feel when a Ted Bundy, Josef Fritzl or (it appers) Ariel Castro surfaces in a community shows the need people have to feel these are not 'normal' humans.
As Schmid and others point out, if we recognize that someone normal can commit these crimes, we have to admit there may be inner demons in all of us.
The corollary to this is that, therefore, we expect everyone to be normal. To some degree, we accept people as they are. Nobody is perfect, so if Ted Bundy acts aloof one day (maybe even evasive), maybe he is just being private at that moment. If Josef Fritzl spends hours in his 'cellar,' well, he always was sort of quiet and a bit of an odd duck.
We allow each other those margins of eccentricity we allow ourselves. If we didn't, we would become unhealthily suspicious of everyone we meet.
Book About Josef Fritzl
Dungeon of Horror in Austria
Austrian's were shocked to learn Josef Fritzl had hidden his daughter in an underground dungeon for 24 years.
Shocking Case of Monster Josef Fritzl in Austria
Should Josef Fritzl's wife have known what he was doing? Maybe. And Maybe not.
Consider for a moment what sorts of actions are taken for 'normal' among those you know. People go to work, they have hobbies, they are shy or outgoing, they mow their lawns and repair their cars. They get sick, get married and sometimes divorced, get into arguments with spouses and maybe have a drink on weekends.
Josef Fritzl's wife (Rosemarie who, we are told, was told never to go into his basement workshop) crossed her husband, she knew she would get into trouble. Their marriage wasn't perfect, but whose is? Their daughter Elizabeth had run away from home at a young age, and had left three children on their doorstep over the years, with notes saying she couldn't care for them.
If Rosemarie Fritzl saw her husband go into his underground workshop daily, she was probably glad to be away from him for a few hours. She knew not to cross him or violate his rule to stay away from that domain. He supported her financially, didn't appear to be having affairs, and helped care for those three abandoned grandchildren. To all appearances, he had some good qualities as well as his eccentricities.
Even if she had questioned his basement workshop activities, there is no way, as a normal human being, she would have thought the unthinkable. How could she possibly have raised a question in her own mind such as, "I wonder if he has dug a prison down there, and he's keeping our daughter Elizabeth in it, and fathering children with her?"
That idea would be so far-fetched, so unthinkable to a normal mind, that it would not have occurred to her. Or to any neighbor, or anyone else, including law enforcement officials who may have seen him go into the cellar regularly.
Normal people do not invent the horrendous and abnormal actions these people commit.
The Deliberate Stranger: Movie About Ted Bundy
The Stranger Beside Me: Book on Bundy by Ann Rule
Serial Murderer Ted Bundy: To Good to Be True
Before he went on the run, Ted Bundy was the quintessential normal guy.
He was also the dream-date and 'ideal' boyfriend for anyone who hoped to marry a handsome, successful attorney. He was too good to be true.
Bundy managed not only to fool Ann Rule (who later wrote The Stranger Beside Me, relating her volunteer experience with Bundy and his later crimes), he fooled his girlfriend and well-known politicians.
When Ted Bundy's name is mentioned, the term "Serial Killer" comes to mind, in part due to the popularity of Rule's book.
But if we think of the words "Serial Killer" outside of the context of Bundy, we visualize someone monstrous in looks as well as actions. We do not picture a handsome young soon-to-be-lawyer, wearing a suit and charming the political leaders of the time.
Bundy was able to avoid suspicion because of his patent normalcy. Although eventually, his girlfriend recognized a pattern of his absences and local murders (and reports that a man named "Ted" had been seen with victims), prior to having those dots to connect, she had no reason to think Bundy's periodic evenings away were signs he was out murdering one woman after another.
What part of his handsomeness, his intelligence, his attentiveness and claims of affection indicated he was a murderer? None.
Hiding in Plain Sight: Where The Three Girls Disappeared and Location of Ariel Castro's Home
Last place Gina DeJesus seen before kidnapped at age 14
Michelle Knight disappeared here on August 23, 2002
Amanda Berry last seen here on April 21st, 2003
Home where all three girls found, May 6th, 2013
Cleveland Man Ariel Castro Kept Three Women as Prisoners for Years
A case in America hit the news a few yeas ago, and has defied comprehension.
Three women, all missing for several years, are held in chains and ropes in a dungeon of torture in Cleveland, Ohio.
By all accounts, the man arrested for the crimes was a 'nice guy' who drove a school bus, played in a local band and shared fun times at cookouts with his friends and neighbors.
As the case unfolded, newscasters asked those who knew Castro how they didn't spot him as a 'monster.' How could they be around this person on a regular basis, and not know what he was doing?
It is certainly infuriating to think the actions he is accused of went unnoticed for more than 10 years.
During those years, dating back as far as 2002, Castro is said to have kidnapped three people: Michelle Knight, who was a young woman at the time she disappeared, and two teenage girls, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.
Then, according to charges, he imprisoned them in his homemade chamber of horrors, where he is accused of repeatedly raping them, beating them, fathering several children (only one of whom survived), starving the women and using them for his own pleasure.
Yet none of his relatives or anyone else who knew him had any idea these things were happening, almost in plain sight.
Neighbor after neighbor, as well as Castro's own children, siblings and mother, expressed genuine shock and disbelief of what was discovered on May 6th, 2013.
How could three women be held prisoner right under their eyes? How could they miss what was happening?
If anyone had good reason to hide the 'monster' side of himself, it is the person who committed the crimes Ariel Castro is accused of doing.
Ariel Castro kept to himself and didn't let people in his basement or upstairs, but was that sufficient reason to suspect he had three women locked up for his personal gratification? A few neighbors saw some 'unusual' behavior, but nothing that rose to a level that would merit a legal search of the property.
Could anyone have even remotely imagine the things happening in his house, year after year?
The answer is "No." Normal humans generally don't speculate that a 'normal-looking' neighbor is doing something unthinkable.
Not long after his conviction, Castro died in his cell. It's not officially stated whether it was suicide, or accidental strangulation in an attempt to stimulate himself. Either way - good riddance.
Home of Lizzie Borden
Have You Known a Criminal?
Have you personally met someone who committed a serious crime?
Normal People Need to Believe in Normalcy
It is all to easy for criminals to hide in plain sight, because we take normal behavior, and even variations of normal behavior, at face value.
When Lizzie Borden's parents were bludgeoned in 1892, the peaceful community of Fall River, Massachusetts was stunned. And unable to comprehend what may have happened. Did Lizzie actually murder her own parents? If so, why? How could this be?
Nothing in Lizzie Borden's behavior prior to her parents' deaths gave any sign that she might later be accused of killing them.
Lizzie may have had her own idiosyncrasies or unique behaviors, but she clearly fell under the category of 'normal.' Therefore, she would not have been considered a monster, or capable of behaving like one.
As mentioned above, it we take 'normal' behavior at face value. But more importantly, it is both 'normal' and essential for us to do so.
We, as a society, have to believe in 'good,' or else everything will be converted to 'evil' by our darkest fears.
Certainly, we need to be diligent in spotting truly abnormal behaviors. We need to be quick to piece together clues, cues and signs of danger or serious crime.
But we also need to be psychologically healthy enough to continue to trust others, to go about our daily life with a sense of safety (where appropriate), and to grow as a culture.
The "Normal" Fascination With Criminals
Sadly, the most unimaginable actions of humans are also, after the fact, among the most compelling.
Accompanying the close scrutiny and forensic analysis of a post-crime situation is a universal disbelief that such a horrible act could happen 'right in front of people' with nobody noticing the clues.
Part of this fascination is from our desire to spot the crimes in a timely fashion, and to prevent them wherever possible.
But a bigger part, perhaps, is our need to feel these people are not like us. We need to believe 'normal' is safe and would not do these things. We need to believe there are indeed monsters in the world.