Non-Fiction Review: The Serial Killer Letters by Jennifer Furio

One thing that I would probably never have the courage to do would be to seek correspondence with a serial killer.

That’s just me.  I mean, I like horror movies.  I do have a bit of a morbid streak.  I devour true crime books and I do occasionally watch those trashy docudramas that show up on A&E and Netflix.  But I have never personally known any serial killers and I’m totally happy to keep it that way.  I don’t care if they are incarcerated and perhaps in serious mental need of pen pal to communicate with.  If you’ve killed over three people, I’m not sending you anything with my return address on it.

Jennifer Furio, however, disagreed.  In the 90s, she wrote to over 50 serial killers and several of them wrote back.  She then published that correspondence in the 1998 book, The Serial Killer Letters.  My main reaction, while reading the book, was a desire to ask, “What were you thinking!?”  Furio doesn’t include any of the letters that she wrote to the killers.  Instead, she only includes the letters that she got in return.  Still, just from reading those letters, it’s obvious that she revealed quite a lot of details about her life to these men.  Quite a few of them thank her for sending them a picture.  One complains that her smile is too wide and that “whoever told women to smile all the time should be cold cocked.”  Quite a few of them ask her to send them money.  Another offers her what appears to be marital advice.  Randall Woodfield, an ex-football player who was only convicted of one murder but who is suspected of having committed 18 others, sends several flirtatious letters and shirtless pictures of himself.  Judging from Woodfield’s comments, he was, at the very least, under the impression that Furio was flirting back.  There are times that the reader really does wish that Furio had included her own letters to the serial killers, if just to provide context for some of their replies.  Instead, it is left as an open question as to what she said to get some of them to open up to her in the way that they did.

However, even with Furio’s contribution to the conversation missing, the letters do make for interesting and disturbing reading.  Some of the killers admit their guilt.  Others continue to insist that they were railroaded by the cops or the FBI.  Quite a few claim that it was their partner who committed all of the murders and that they were just along for the ride.  Some, like Texas’s own Henry Lee Lucas, claim to have found God.  Some write about how ashamed they are of themselves while others show no shame at all.  What every single one of them has in common is an intense sense of victimhood.  Even the ones who admit their guilt and claim to feel shame over what they did are quick to argue that the world never gave them a chance to be anything other than a killer.  A few of them, like David Gore (who was executed for his crimes in 2012) did such good job of seeming to express contrition that it wasn’t until I re-read their letters that I noticed that most of them still managed to weasel out of actually accepting responsibility for their actions.  Instead, it was because they were raised by an abusive parent or because they fell in with the wrong crowd or the education system failed them or …. well, just about everyone had an excuse.  Even locked away in prison and with no hope of ever gaining freedom, the majority of the book’s killers continued to manipulate and try to control others.  With some, it was no doubt intentional.  With others, it was probably such a natural thing that they don’t even think before doing it.  It was just their nature.

It makes for disturbing reading but it also provides a valuable service.  At a time when it seems as if every serial killer is destined to either have a movie or miniseries centered around themselves and their crimes, it’s good to be reminded that these people are losers.  In this book, you can learn that from reading their own words and looking at the often childish handwriting that they used to scrawl out their claims of victimhood.  Jennifer Furio wrote letters to over 50 serial killers and there wasn’t a Hannibal Lecter or a Dexter Morgan to be found.

2 responses to “Non-Fiction Review: The Serial Killer Letters by Jennifer Furio

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 9/26/22 — 10/2/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The I-5 Killer by Ann Rule | Through the Shattered Lens

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