Son of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present

by Ezra Buckley on August 21, 2018

Before the term was coined in 1981, there were no “serial killers.” There were only “monsters”–killers society first understood as werewolves, vampires, ghouls and witches or, later, Hitchcockian psychos.

In Sons of Cain–a book that fills the gap between dry academic studies and sensationalized true crime–investigative historian Peter Vronsky examines our understanding of the history of serial killing from its prehistoric anthropological evolutionary dimensions in the pre-civilization era (c. 15,000 BC) to today. Delving further back into human history and deeper into the human psyche than Serial Killers–Vronsky’s 2004 book, which has been called “the definitive history of the phenomenon of serial murder”–he focuses strictly on sexual serial killers: thrill killers who engage in murder, rape, torture, cannibalism and necrophilia, as opposed to for-profit serial killers, including hit men, or “political” serial killers, like terrorists or genocidal murderers.

These sexual serial killers differ from all other serial killers in their motives and their foundations. They are uniquely human and–as popular culture has demonstrated–uniquely fascinating.

Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present explores the evolution of serial murder in Western civilization from prehistoric archeological-anthropological evidence, ancient and medieval court records and accounts through to the rise of forensic sciences and criminology in the 19th Century on the eve of the 1888 Jack The Ripper – Whitechapel murders and into the 20th century in the 1950s when the seeds for the so-called 1970-1980 “serial killer epidemic” were laid.  Vronsky argues that our concept of supernatural vampires and werewolves closely follows the FBI’s categorization of serial killers as either “organized” or “disorganized” and presents evidence that killings in the past attributed to supernatural monsters and lycanthropes were perpetrated by very human lust serial killers and necrophiles.  Sons of Cain documents several “serial killer” epidemics in past history, before the term “serial killer” entered common usage in 1981, and argues that 19th century forensic psychiatrist-alienists and criminologists substantially understood the psychopathology of serial killers before Jack the Ripper and had already performed rudimentary attempts at profiling these “monsters” long before the term “serial killer” came into use.  Sons of Cain proposes that the roots of the notorious so-called “golden age” serial killers of the “epidemic” in the 1970s-1980s like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, Ottis Toole, Edmund Kemper, Gary Ridgway were shaped as children by repressed post-World War II and Cold War era societal and cultural trauma, fear and loathing.


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