Inside the mind of a serial killer: Could 4 cold cases be connected?
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - What makes a serial killer?
That’s a question that has been researched for decades. We’re exploring the psychology behind serial killers, after we highlighted a series of cold cases detectives believe may be connected.
The cases of four women who were brutally murdered in the 80s and 90s have many striking similarities.
The women were all last seen in the same area of Cleveland. Most of them were strangled. Their bodies were dumped in rural areas along Route 6 in three different counties east of the city, heading to Pennsylvania.
Cold cases timeline
-1981: Delores Furnace, 30, found dead next to a country road in Geauga County.
-1992: Verlene Flenoy, 28, discovered near a country road in Ashtabula County.
-1994: Terri Iverson, 38, found dead next to a country road in Geauga County.
-1999: Danita Landres, 34, found dead in a soybean field just across the state line in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.
Detectives working the cases in the 90s believed these killings could be connected.
And the detectives working on them today do too.
Detective Don Seamon with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office thinks it’s possible this could be the work of a serial killer.
“It would appear that there was some type of profile that the killer was looking for sure,” Det. Seamon said.
He thinks someone out there can connect those gaps in time to someone they know.
“We are only one phone call away and that next phone call could be the one that could help us solve this case,” Det. Seamon said.
A forensic psychologist’s take on the cases
Dr. Joni Johnston is a forensic psychologist and the author of Serial Killers: 101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask.
We asked Dr. Johnston what stood out to her about these four local cold cases.
Two of the victims officially died of strangulation.
“Actually it’s rare, you know, to have a murder that involves strangling. And so when you see two murders that involve strangling, particularly with victims who look very similar, that is very striking and that would certainly for me kind of go. ‘Okay, we have now enough similarities enough commonalities that I’m going to certainly entertain the hypothesis that these two are related,’” she said.
We also asked her about those gaps in time.
There were no known murders between 1981 and 1992 and then again between 1994 and 1999.
“So the fact that there is this lengthy time period, it’s not in any way for me make me kind of want to say, ‘oh they’re not related.’ Because it’s much more significant to me the victims that he selected and the commonality we’ve already discussed. Because you know, there are lots of potential explanations for this gap,” Dr. Johnston said.
And finding those explanations could be key to solving the case.
“It could be that this person was committing other murders we don’t know about. It could be this person moved somewhere else and was murdering people. It could be that this person was engaging in other crimes,” she said.
Inside a serial killer’s mind
Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Samuel Little are just some of the most infamous American serial killers.
Fascination with their stories continues over time.
Dr. Johnston said the “hey day” of serial killers was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.
Many people often question what factors lead to a person becoming a serial killer.
“That’s really an ongoing question,” Dr. Johnston said.
“And I think the best answer we have now is it seems to be some kind of recipe of ingredients that come together to create this perfect storm,” she said.
A lack of empathy and fear is common, but that’s not all.
“There’s kind of a genetic vulnerability that is oftentimes then combined with childhood trauma. We know that certainly not all serial killers have been abused as children, but we also know that certainly they are over-abuse represented among serial killers,” Dr. Johnston said.
A triggering event could lead to the killings.
We asked Dr. Johnston how important it is for law enforcement to understand the psychology behind serial killers as they try to solve these cases.
“So I think it’s very important for them to obviously network and look for those behavioral similarities,” Dr. Johnston said.
“We know that crime scenes tell us a lot about the behavior or the psychology of the perpetrator. And so that’s why they look for ‘okay, how did this person, you know get their victim, do we know that?’ What kind of person is the victim-- doing the victimology,” she said.
Serial killer myths
Dr. Johnston said there are many common myths about serial killers.
In highly publicized cases, they often seem to follow a certain pattern.
But Dr. Johnston said their motivations are not all the same.
“I also think it’s important to realize the limits of profiling, because while it can be helpful, I think sometimes in terms of narrowing down suspects when you have a list, it can also lead people down the primrose path in terms of creating a certain mindset or a certain person that you’re looking for that can turn out to be somebody that’s completely different,” Dr. Johnston said.
She said another myth is that serial killers don’t stop killing.
“You know, when you see interviews and you talk to some of the individuals, it does seem to be that there seems to be some, some drive that starts and kind of ramps up as they’re killing spree goes on. Having said that, there have been serial killers that we know about who stopped or almost aged out of it, you know, it’s relatively rare to see a serial killer who’s actively killing in their 60s and in their 70s,” Dr. Johnston said.
She said it’s also a myth that serial killers want to get caught.
“I think that myth started because there been some serial killers who, you know killed numerous people and then got caught because of a traffic ticket or because of some just kind of stupid mistake. And there was this kind of psychological interpretation that, ‘oh subconsciously, this person really wanted to get caught.’
I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think that anybody wants to get caught. I think sometimes what happens is a person may start killing and start thinking in a way, ‘I can’t get caught. I’m so good at this now, you know, I’ve gotten away with four murders, five murders, 10 murders. I’m not gonna get caught.’ And so they become careless,” Dr. Johnston said.
That’s when something as simple as parking in a “no parking zone” gets the killer caught.
And since all serial killers don’t follow the same pattern, that makes the job for detectives on these cases much harder.
You can read more about America’s deadliest serial killers here.
Call with any leads
If you have any information on any of the local cold cases we profiled above, you can call the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office at 440-279-2009.
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