Developing a good novel requires research—a lot of it. The reading I do before I start to write helps me understand different places, cultures, and people so I can create a more believable world for my readers. One challenge I faced with Her Darkest Nightmare (and the previous book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, Hanover House) was getting into the minds of my psychopathic characters. Psychopaths don’t think like “normal” people. They lack empathy and are completely narcissistic, which can make them ruthless in getting whatever they want. As I descended further and further down this rabbit hole of research, I turned up some pretty fascinating facts about serial killers. Here are 10 of the most shocking:
1. Jeffrey Dahmer pulled a lot of high school pranks.
In high school, Jeffrey Dahmer had a hard time fitting in. He built a reputation for pulling pranks on his classmates—doing things like bleating like a sheep in the middle of class and faking epileptic episodes. In fact, he became so well known for his antics that pranking a person became known at his high school as “doing a Dahmer.” No doubt that phrase has an entirely different meaning nowadays.
2. Rodney Alcala won “The Dating Game” amid his killing spree.
In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared on the popular TV show “The Dating Game”—and won! Bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw picked him based on his answers, but after the show, she changed her mind and refused to go on a date with him because she thought he was “creepy.” Alcala was later convicted of murdering five people from 1977-79 and eventually pled guilty to two more murders that he committed in 1971 and 1979.
3. Richard Chase only broke into houses that were unlocked.
Chase killed six people in approximately one month in Sacramento (considering that’s where I’m from, it’s extra upsetting to me). He was called “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he often drank the blood of his victims. He also had a very peculiar code: He felt that unlocked houses were an invitation to enter and that locked doors meant he wasn’t welcome. Some twisted version of the “vampires need to be invited in” piece of vampire lore.
4. Ted Bundy had a different side to him.
We know Ted Bundy as the deeply evil man who killed at least 30 women, yet there are several instances of him doing things that appear, at least on the surface, to be good. He saved a child from drowning, retrieved a woman’s purse from a thief, and worked for a suicide hotline. Since he was a psychopath, it’s likely that he did these things as a way to feel powerful or attain notoriety, but it’s still a bit confounding that he would spend time helping people while also taking so many lives.
5. There’s a reason Vlado Taneski’s writing was so detailed.
Taneski was a Macedonian crime reporter who wrote stories about a serial killer. He turned out to be that killer. (Creepy!)
6. Arthur Shawcross saved a prison guard’s life.
Shawcross, perhaps better known as the Gennessee River Killer, was serving five years for arson and burglary. He was released after only 22 months for saving a prison guard during a riot. He then went on to kill at least 14 people, and some of his murders included cannibalism.
7. Aileen Wuornos was a talented artist.
This female serial killer, who was the basis of the Charlize Theron film Monster, had a softer, more creative side.
8. Ottis Toole’s grandmother was allegedly a Satanist.
According to Toole’s account, his grandmother took him on grave robbing expeditions and made him participate in rituals that included self-mutilation. Toole went on to kill at least six people.
9. Many serial killers have partners and families that have no idea.
John Wayne Gacy, for example, buried his victims under the family home. His wife Carol supposedly believed her husband when he said the smell was due to mice.
10. Richard Angelo’s murders were a byproduct of wanting recognition.
Angelo killed 25 people in 1987. He was a nurse and felt like he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. As a result, he decided to start injecting patients with Pavulon, a drug that paralyzes the body’s muscles and can induce respiratory arrest. His goal was to then save the patient so he’d gain recognition and notoriety, but he failed at least 25 times, which resulted in those patients’ deaths.
In the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, you will meet some frightening individuals—including Jasper Moore, the seventeen-year-old boy who kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed Evelyn Talbot when she was only sixteen. He was her boyfriend at the time, someone she loved and trusted. It was this life-altering incident that imbued her with the desire to become a psychiatrist. She’s on a mission to learn how a psychopathic mind works, to protect victims and fight back. But, the most chilling fact of all is that there is currently no treatment for psychopathy. So far, efforts to socialize psychopaths have only helped them become better at avoiding detection.
Evelyn’s determined to change all of that. But, the fight won’t be easy. Pick up your copy of Her Darkest Nightmare today to see what she’s up against—and who will get the better of whom.
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Brenda Novak, New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author, is the author of more than fifty books. A five-time Rita nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Silver Bullet. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.