Serial Murder and Media Circuses

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Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 - Social Science - 233 pages
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The Axman of New Orleans specialized in killing grocers of Italian descent in the 1910s, apparently to promote jazz music. Dorothea Puente was a little old landlady who murdered her tenants, but kept cashing their government checks. The Manson Family terrorized California in the 1960s, as did the Hillside Stranglers a decade later. Twelve serial murder cases, occurring in eight decades between the 1890s and 1990s, had one thing in common: significant presence of the mass media. This book examines these specific cases of serial murder, and the way the media became involved in the investigations and trials of each.

Gibson argues that the American media plays a multidimensional and integral role in serial killings and their investigation--and that this role is not generally a positive one. Serial murder cases motivate the media in unfortunate ways, and the result is that even typically respectable media organizations can be involved in such things as document theft, or in interfering with the capture of serial murderers on the run. This link between multiple murderers and mass communication is not accidental or coincidental; rather, the relationship between the press and serial killers is one of extraordinary importance to both parties. Gibson examines the role of the media in serial murder cases; the body of knowledge on serial murder as seen through the lens of mass communication; the effectiveness of law enforcement responses to serial murderers and how they might be improved if the mass communication influence was better understood; the magnitude of the serial murder problem; and the interaction between the media, the killers, and serial murder investigations. Specific examples and numerous quotes are provided throughout to illustrate this strange and detrimental relationship between media and serial murderers.


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In Serial Killers and Media Circuses, Gibson examines twelve cases of serial murder occurring between 1890 and 1990. Despite the individuality of each case, the commonality in all twelve cases is the signficant presence of the mass media. In this book,Gibson has made a commendable attempt at examining the relationship between serial murder cases and the role of the mass media. The book is clearly written, efficient and organized in a manner that is simple and straightforward to understand. Unfortunately, the book is largely reliant on secondary sources which has the ability to detract from its credibility; Gibson selects bits and pieces of media criticism from other scholarly books and journal articles and simply presents the material without drawing enough of his own conclusions. Gibson also makes over-generalized comments about negative media effects without any substantial evidence to back up his arguments. Overall, Serial Murder and Media Circuses is a valuable addition to the field of criminology. Despite its shortcomings, the issue of media involvement in serial murder cases is of great importance to those in the profession as well as those who intend on carrying out research related to the profession.
Reviewed by: AMY MAIKAWA


2 The Axeman of New Orleans
3 Earle Nelson
4 The Manson Family
5 Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
6 Angelo Buono Jr and Kenneth Bianchi
7 Jeffrey Dahmer
8 Dorothea Puente
9 Gary Ridgway
10 Andrew Cunanan
11 Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
12 Westley Allan Dodd
13 Conclusion
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2006)

Dirk C. Gibson is Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico. He has published numerous articles on a variety of topics in such journals as Public Relations Quarterly, Public Relations Review, and Southern Communication Journal. He has also published several book chapters and two books, The Role of Communication in the Practice of Law (1991) and Clues from Killers (Praeger, 2004).

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