"We postulate that detective magazines serve as pornography for sexual sadists"
- Park Dietz, forensic psychologist
Much like Dr. Fredric Wertham's infamous screed in his book, Seduction of the Innocent, that claimed reading comic books led to juvenile delinquency (an archaic term today that has morphed into "at risk youth"), so did the once-popular true crime detective magazines that crowded the newsstands come under fire from psychiatrists, psychologists and criminologists alike.
Noted for their sensational and lurid covers, detective magazines proliferated on the shelves of newsstands and other outlets for many years. Beginning in 1938 with the first photo cover, pulp detective magazines began to split from the usual fiction stories to those of true crime cases and lasted well into the 1990's. The covers were characterized most often by female models posing in various states of bondage, submission and other forms of degradation. As the years went on, the poses became increasingly lusty, with women in bras, showing cleavage, partially-bared breasts, and bare legs and thighs, all while being victimized by their male attacker. They were often tied up or otherwise depicted in submissive positions. These images would later be construed by criminal experts as covert and more "acceptable" methods of illustrating the bondage and domination themes that were detailed more explicitly in adult magazines sold from "behind the counter".
Publishers used these types of cover images and scandalous stories to titillate readers into buying their magazines. It obviously worked well as there were dozens of titles to choose from every month for decades. They successfully lured readers with the promise of savage and terrifying horrors lurking within their pages. But did these magazines lead to sexual crimes and murder?
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Noted forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, along with his co-authors Bruce Harry and Roy R. Hazelwood wrote a collaborative academic indictment with the article, "Detective magazines: pornography for the sexual sadist" (Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 31, No. 1, 1986). This abstract succinctly summarizes their views:
The origins of detective magazines can be traced to 17th and 18th century crime pamphlets and to 19th century periodicals that [19th century Italian criminologist] Lombroso called "really criminal newspapers." Content analysis of current detective magazines shows that their covers juxtapose erotic images with images of violence, bondage, and domination; that their articles provide lurid descriptions of murder, rape, and torture; and that they publish advertisements for weapons, burglary and car theft tools, false identification, and sexual aids. Six case histories of sexual sadists illustrate the use of these magazines as a source of fantasy material. We postulate that detective magazines may contribute to the development of sexual sadism, facilitate sadistic fantasies, and serve as training manuals and equipment catalogs for criminals. We recommend that detective magazines be considered during policy debates about media violence and pornography.
Over his long career, Mr. Dietz interviewed and testified at the trials of numerous murderers and serial killers including Jeffrey Dahmer and John Hinckley. In addition to his article on the relationship between detective magazines and crime, he wrote an essay on a survey of pornography of the type sold in adult bookstores.
Dietz claims that detective magazines were largely overlooked by researchers and commentators on the subject of media violence and pornography. He rectified that by conducting a survey in numerous cities and the placement of detective magazines on newsstands compared to mainstream publications. These are some of the key points he makes in his paper:
- These [detective] magazines provide factual accounts of crimes and criminals, and are thereby distinguished from mystery fiction. They rarely contain photographs of nudes, and are thereby distinguished from those publications that most individuals casually refer to as erotic, pornographic, or obscene.
- Detective magazines depict and describe sadistic acts in familiar settings, using the imagery and language of tabloid newspapers.
- Detective magazines characteristically pair violent and sadistic images with erotic images, yet are more accessible for purchase by young persons than are magazines that depict naked bodies.
- These magazines generally [are] displayed along with women's, "confession," and children's magazines, usually adjacent to adventure and gun magazines, and always on a different rack from espousedly erotic men's magazines.
- The most common image on front covers was that of a woman in an inferior or submissive position. Seventy-six percent of the cover photographs showed domination and submission imagery. Men dominated women in 71% of cover pictures, while women dominated men in 5%.
- Bondage was depicted in 38% of the cover pictures, and all of the bound subjects were women. Ropes, chains, handcuffs, and cloth were used to achieve this bondage with equal frequency. In order of decreasing frequency, other repetitive cover imagery included violent struggles, brassieres, guns, accentuated breasts, strangulation, corpses, blood, and knives or other cutting instruments.
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If you've ever watched MINDHUNTER, the lamentably short-lived, two-season Netflix series, you'll know that it is based on the true investigations of real-life FBI criminal profiler, John E. Douglas (played by Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford in the series). Along with his co-author, Mark Olshaker, Douglas wrote the book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, first published in 1995, about his decades-long experiences with interviewing high-profile serial killers such as Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz, the convicted Atlanta child murderer Wayne Williams, and even Charles Manson. Douglas references Park Dietz's assertions about the influence of detective magazines on criminals in 1999's The Anatomy of Motive (again with Olshaker), and has his own opinion on the veracity of the subject. Commenting on Dietz's claims, Douglas wrote: ". . . it's very important to remember that in cases like this . . . the media don't cause the crime". He further added, "What they can do is influence and heighten the details. They don't create motive in people for whom it is not there already. That comes from someplace inside. Somewhere deeper and scarier".
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The website NetNanny.com published this list, titled, "What Serial Killers and Murderers Think About Pornography", in 2013. While none of them specifically mention detective magazines, the use of pornography for stimulation is more than evident here. Whether true or not, or using it to deflect the blame on themselves (which is the more likely the case), some of them blamed pornography for their crimes.
- Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer of Wisconsin, speaking of his routine before hunting for a victim said, “Just…using pictures of past victims…the pornography videos, the magazines…” Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 boys and men.
- Ted Bundy, convicted rapist and mutilation murderer of Washington, said that hard-core pornography had a "crystallizing effect" on his violent tendencies and his acting out during the 1970s.
- Arthur Gary Bishop from Utah, executed for raping and murdering five boys in the 1980s, said pornography's "effect on me was devastating."
- Andrei Chikatilo, a Russian serial killer, murdered at least 53 women and children. "…with pictures of naked women in his prison cell, he blamed pornography as the cause of this troubles."
- Wisconsin resident Ed Gein, the first serial killer, aka The Butcher of Plainfield, and inspiration for movies such as Psycho, Maniac, and The Silence of the Lambs "accumulated a library of anatomy books, porn magazines, horror and adventure novel…" in the 1950s.
- John Wayne Gacy's wife filed for divorce in 1976 because "Gacy's moods had become erratic, and [she] had found Gacy's pornographic magazine collection which was all centered around young boys." Gacy killed at least 33 young men and boys in Chicago, Illinois.
- The nickname BTK (bind, torture, kill) was given to Dennis Rader, a Kansas native, who killed 10 people. "He kept meticulous records of his fantasies and crimes in what he called his 'mother lode' collection of pornography."
- David Berkowitz killed over a dozen people in New York. He joined a cult and was introduced to "drug use, sadistic pornography and violent crime." The cult also created and distributed child pornography.
- Richard Ramirez was exposed to explicit pictures of his cousin "raping Vietnamese women and severing the heads of Vietcong soldiers." He in turn killed at least 13 people in California.
- Edmund Kemper, a California serial killer and necrophile known as the Co-ed Killer, used pornography and detective magazines for erotic stimulation; he picked up women who were hitch-hiking, then killed, and raped them post-mortem.
- Ottis Toole from Florida became obsessed with gay pornography. He "committed his first murder at the age of 14." During his killing spree, accompanied by Henry Lee Lucas, he killed 108 people. [NOTE: The facts of this statement have come under fire, as explained in a recent Netflix documentary on Henry Lee Lucas, who recanted his claims of killing over 360 people or more.]
- The Grim Sleeper, Lonnie Franklin Jr., "had a penchant for prostitutes and pornography." A resident of LA, he would pick up prostitutes, take pornographic pictures of his victims, then strangle them to death. His killing spree included 11 murders.
- In the 2013 murder case of Tia Sharp, a 12-year-old girl from the UK, the judge declared to murderer Stuart Hazell, "the records of your internet searching on your mobile phone make abundantly clear that you were looking out for pornographic pictures of pre-teen girls."
- In 2013, on the day Mark Bridger, a UK native,abducted April Jones, he "viewed online photographs of a young girl and a pornographic cartoon depicting...rape."
There is little doubt that detective magazines stimulated the reader with their sex and violence, even possibly further inflaming the thoughts of the more impressionable. But exactly to what extent remains debatable as a correlation between the two is elusive and difficult to quantify. At what point did the images from detective magazines trigger a violent act, if at all? One thing is for sure, since the heyday of detective magazines are long gone, the alternatives are stronger, more potent and, depending on one's viewpoint, even more dangerous.
Following is a gallery of images that illustrate the unique use of "cover girls" by true crime detective magazines:
|Early on, the pulps exclusively published crime fiction stories.|
|Some covers relied on the "come hither-ish" photo.|
The interiors could sometimes be just as graphic as the cover:
Even magazines that weren't crime-related got in the act. In this example below, the correlation between sex, crime and death is glaringly exploited.
Mindhunter by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
The Family by Ed Sanders
Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
The Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry
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