Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guest Blogger: LISA BLACK


Television tells us that serial killers come in one consistent profile—white men between 25 and 40, quiet, loner types with a grudge against their mother. Reality tells us that nothing in life is ever that consistent.

Google “Cleveland, Ohio” and “serial killer” and the hit list will come up with exactly two, separated by over seventy years: Anthony Sowell, who killed eleven women and buried them beneath his home, and the still-unknown Torso Killer. Anthony Sowell was caught in 2009. The Torso Killer murdered at least twelve people, possibly twice that, mostly between 1935 and 1938, adding a new layer of grief to a city besieged by the Depression. However, Cleveland’s serial killers operated at polar extremes of both time and method.

Eliot Ness, the city’s new safety director, could do nothing. Cleaning up organized crime was one thing, but trying to find a foe with no such businesslike motive to his work turned out to be quite another. The Torso Killer was America’s first apparent serial killer before the term existed. He was America’s version of Jack the Ripper--bizarre, bloody and prolific.

Anthony Sowell, on the other hand, is your ‘classic’ serial killer, one who followed all the modern-day rules for staying under the radar: Be polite to your neighbors. If you get caught, serve your time quietly and move on. Pick victims who can disappear without furor, poor women with addiction problems.

The Torso Killer broke all these rules. He killed men and women alike. He castrated, mutilated, dismembered. Sometimes he wrapped the pieces in clothing or newspaper for some unlucky witness to find. Far from keeping a low profile, he displayed his work with dramatic abandon.

The police didn’t know what to make of him. They rounded up the usual suspects—crazy men and various ‘perverts,’ looking for the obvious when cops today would know to look for someone more like Anthony Sowell—someone quiet, unnoticed. It didn’t help that homeless men were riding the rails more than ever, criss-crossing the country and functioning without the trail of dental records, fingerprints and missing person information databases that exist today.

The victims of these killers were brought to the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, where I used to work as a forensic scientist in the trace evidence lab, so I’ve tried to cite both these past and present methods of serial murder. In Trail of Blood CSI Theresa MacLean must apply modern-day science not only to the Torso killings but to a new series of murders in order to keep history from repeating itself.

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue, and now works as a certified latent print analyst and CSI for a police department in Florida. Her books have been published to critical acclaim in seven languages.

Lisa's latest book is TRAIL OF BLOOD. Visit her on her website at
www.lisa-black.com. Or stop by the Glades Road Branch Library on Thursday, Oct. 7 at 2:00 PM to meet Lisa in person!

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