Like having a dear old friend over for dinner, Serial Killer Timelines: Illustrated Accounts of the World’s Most Gruesome Murders is a walk down memory lane. Not good memories, mind you, but true crime aficionados will be familiar with many (if not all) the murderers found in this book.
The first true crime book I ever read was about Randy Kraft. Kraft was so evil, his story ignited a passion to find out more about serial killers. Although the repugnant details are enough to put one off rare meat for decades, my interest has been in two areas: 1) criminology (forensics and detection), and 2) psychology (what were they thinking?). Having read the “true story” of scores of serial killers, I’m pretty sure that whatever they were thinking is not something I’ve ever thought (or maybe I’m just better at sublimating).
Serial Killer Timelines is divided into five chapters, beginning with “A Lust for Killing.” Cases covered are the infamous John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, as well as the prolific Andrei Chikatilo, Pedro Lopez, Harold Shipman, and Gary Ridgeway. The second chapter, “Special Desires,” includes — as you would expect — Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert Fish, plus H.H. Holmes, Joachim Kroll, Dennis Nilsen, Edmund Kemper, and Richard Ramirez. Some of the cases go back to the late nineteenth century (such as Chapter Three’s Jack the Ripper), most are from the twentieth century, and a few were active in the twenty-first century.
The third chapter is “Predators”; in addition to the Whitechapel Killer, there are David Berkowitz, Robert Hansen, Randy Kraft, The Yorkshire Ripper, and the Beltway snipers. Chapter four is relatively short; its “Female Murderers” are Jane Toppan, Dorothea Puente, and Aileen Wuornos. The final chapter presents “Serial Killer Couples”: the Moors Murderers, The Hillside Stranglers, and Fred and Rosemary West.
Author Chris McNab provides readers with an overview of each killer, a timeline for one of their crimes, a chronological list of crimes and known victims, and hundreds of photos. With so many killers and victims, it must have been tough to keep them straight. There are several instances where the text is contradicted by photograph captions, and at least one known murder is omitted from the Beltway Killers (others are buried — as they should be — so deep in my memory, I don’t recall all the details). Despite these minor flaws, Serial Killer Timelines is a noteworthy collection citing the evil that men — and women — do.
Interested readers who have never read true crime books might take this one in small doses. Reading ghastly details with which I was already familiar was not too disturbing, but those unfamiliar with the criminals and crimes might find them unsettling. Represented within Serial Killer Timelines are some of the most horrific acts one human being can perpetrate against another.