Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane


Contributions by Neil Gaiman

By John Skipp

Contributions by Lawrence Block

Contributions by Ray Bradbury

Contributions by Joe R. Lansdale

Contributions by Edgar Allan Poe

Contributions by Jim Shepard

Contributions by Richard Connell

Contributions by Amelia Beamer

Contributions by Joan Aiken

Contributions by Laura Lee Bahr

Contributions by William Gay

Contributions by Jack Ketchum

Contributions by Mercedes M. Yardley

Contributions by Steve Rasnic Tem

Contributions by David J. Schow

Contributions by Leah Mann

Contributions by Kevin L. Donihe

Contributions by Leslianne Wilder

Contributions by Norman Partridge

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This collection of thirty-eight terrifying tales of serial killers at large, written by the great masters of the genre, plumbs the horrifying depths of a deranged mind and the forces of evil that compel a human being to murder, gruesomely and methodically, over and over again.

From Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs) to Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), stories of serial killers and psychos loom large and menacing in our collective psyche. Tales of their grisly conquests have kept us cowering under the covers, but still turning the pages.

Psychos is the first book to collect in a single volume the scariest and most well-crafted fictional works about these deranged killers. Some of the stories are classics, the best that the genre has to offer, by renowned writers such as Neil Gaiman, Amelia Beamer, Robert Bloch, and Thomas Harris. Other selections are from the latest and most promising crop of new authors.

John Skipp, who is also the editor of Zombies, Demons and Werewolves and Shapeshifters, provides fascinating insight, through two nonfiction essays, into our insatiable obsession with serial killers and how these madmen are portrayed in popular culture. Resources at the end of the book includes lists of the genre’s best long-form fiction, movies, websites, and writers.


Our Brain: The Monster of Choice, When There’s No One Else Left to Blame


The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.

—Horace Walpole (1717–1797)

This just in: SOME PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE! It’s the hideous headline heard daily, ‘round the world.

As it turns out, we do it quite a bit: every sixty seconds, in the USA alone, according to the latest statistics. The global guesstimates must be even more impressive.

Which means that, in the time it takes me to write this sentence, at least one somebody is killing somebody else, somewhere on Earth. Probably a hell of a lot more.

And in the time it takes you to read this sentence—six months to a hundred years after I wrote it—those odds have probably only gone up.

And you thought math wasn’t gonna come in handy!

Lemme tell ya: this world can make you crazy, if you weren’t already. And if there’s one thing I hope we’ve all figured out by now, it’s that we’re all at least a little bit insane. Prone to thoughts we probably shouldn’t have. Occasionally impelled toward some really bad ideas.

It’s a relative thing, of course, ranging from harmless oddball activities like collecting stamps all the way to, you know, harvesting skulls. There’s a lot of idiosyncratic leeway in between, which is where most of us live out lives of either (a) quiet, secretive desperation or (b) noisily in-your-face acting-out. Depending on our personal style and symptomology.

But most of us can agree that there’s a pretty clear line somewhere between “acceptable” crazy—eccentric, obnoxious, slightly off, kinda spooky—and genuinely terrifying, murderous madness. The kind that tears holes in our lives. And makes us so deeply afraid of each other.

That’s where this book differs from our previous supernatural anthologies—Demons, Zombies, and Werewolves and Shapeshifters—David J. Skal’s Vampires, and Hans Holzer’s nonfiction Ghosts and Witches volumes.

Ask anybody what they’re most afraid of in this world. The answer is not likely to be vampires, werewolves, or zombies (which most people don’t believe in), or ghosts, witches, and demons (which many people do).

For most folks, the monster of choice is other people.

Because other people are scary. You don’t know what they’re going to do. They may seem nice. They may seem friendly. They may seem like they’re going to do what any other nice, friendly person would do. Like you would do, if you were nice and friendly.

But maybe they won’t.

If it turns out that they are not nice, friendly people, then the horrible truth is that you might wind up in a real-life nightmare world of shit almost beyond imagining. Just by rubbing up next to them, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. At a grocery store. In the ATM line. In traffic. At your place of business. Or even at home, among your own.

And the closer you get to them, the more you find out.

Whether you want to or not.

It is this ultrathin line that we’ll be crossing throughout the extraordinary work that follows: a staggering thirty-eight-course banquet of literary mania and mayhem, served up by some of the most amazingly astute, deeply disturbing, immensely entertaining chroniclers of crazy ever to grace the printed page.

So let’s try to set up our terms, real quick, before we descend into the misfiring brainmeat of the matter.

Psychosis is an only-slightly-more-precise word than madness, given all the factors that play into it, and the incredibly personal nature of the experience. It’s a universe of chemical/historical/experiential variables, which scientists are deciphering as we speak. With a very long way to go.

The richly schizoid, hallucinatory varieties are the easiest to spot, by and large, because they tend to drive other people away with their disassociative weirdness and inability to fit in. That is, unless they’re also wildly charismatic, form a cult or other familial grouping, find a nice remote location, and multiply unseen. (Or just multiply the madness inside their own heads, alone, wherever “home” may be.) Our asylums are packed with these ladies and gents. But you’d be stunned by how many run loose.

And then there are those otherwise-normal folk driven over the edge by circumstance. A horrific encounter or, a tragic loss, might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, ultimately snapping the spine of sanity. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is woefully real, and nothing to sneeze at, no matter how strong you are, as we’re finally coming to understand.

In a war zone, pretty much everyone has it, from soldiers to civilians to their animals and plants. War is horror on a grand scale—Hell on Earth, unleashed—and no one who’s been through it comes out unscathed.

If you live in a rough-enough neighborhood, the same principle applies. Constant street-level threat weighs heavy on the human soul. Fear wears us down. And even in the nicest parts of town or country, it only takes one sufficiently terrifying violent encounter to yank our sense of security out from under us, and let the dark thoughts in.

Most of us somehow find a way to weather it. Some even thrive and blossom in adversity. Find themselves. Become an inspiration to others.

Some of us just can’t. We snap. It’s too much.

And then more of the tragic bad things happen.

But the bulk of the one out of every one hundred of us who are arguably psychotic—according to the latest pop science projections—are functioning members of society. Many with high-paying, power-intensive jobs. (A 2012 study suggests that one out of ten high-powered CEOs meet the psycho test. Living in Hollywood, I suspect the number might be higher.)

Whether these numbers are nonsense or nailing it, they say something profound and intense about our current level of relative sanity.

Functioning psychosis—which is to say, the psychosis that interacts with us, day by day—is largely characterized by lack of empathy: the inability to feel or care about others. This enables psychotics to move through the world without the burden of sympathy or conscience, indifferent to moral codes that make no sense to them.

To psychotics, morals and empathy just seem like a big load of hooey: meaningless, stupid obstacles between themselves and whatever they might hope to achieve. This is the mind-set that allows a person to ruthlessly step on others, treat them like shit, and kill them if necessary or otherwise exciting.

The other side of the problem, of course, is feeling too much. That’s where crimes of passion kick in, and all that latent crazy goes to town.

But for most psychotics, it’s thinking too much. Thinking and thinking. And, the sad truth be told, being smart is no defense against madness. Sometimes smart doesn’t help much at all.

Obviously, you don’t have to be smart to kill people. Any lunkhead can do it. Henry Lee Lucas was dumb as a post. Ed Gein wasn’t real sharp, either. And don’t even get me started on John Wayne Gacy.

But Hannibal Lecter—the Dr. Moriarty of modern madness at its highest and most nightmarishly evolved—very clearly suggests that even genius is no defense. It just ups the voltage on crazy, makes it weirdly more impressive and sustained.

Till you finally get caught. Which you very well might. Unless you’re a CEO, or a major political figure, or some other kind of above-the-law superstar. Or otherwise extremely cunning and lucky.

But even that might not be enough to keep your world from caving in.

Which brings us to the ultimate, terrible truth.

There is no escape from the horror of horror. However it’s explained, justified, or exposed, it’s still fucking horrific, and that’s all there is to it.

For most of us—no matter how dark our impulses—it’s one thing to imagine them. It’s another to act them out. The difference is clear, because the difference has consequences.

Horror—and crime, and mystery, and suspense, and all the other literary forms that evoke that emotion—are fictions of consequences. They lay out scenarios. They postulate what-ifs. They flood us with streams of experiential gnosis in which we are the ones thinking, feeling, experiencing.

When it’s happening to you, it’s a whole ‘nother story.

And that’s why these stories are so astounding.

Because they take you inside every side of the nightmare moment, from the killer to the knife to the victim to the people who were otherwise affected by the act: because they saw, because they cared, or because they just, unfortunately, shared the same world.

For this book—in some ways, more than any other—my excellent editor Dinah Dunn and I put an extremely high premium on psychological acuity. Which meant that honesty was our highest priority, right next to talent, vision, and skill. It wasn’t enough to just tell a good story. And enormous as this volume turned out to be, we still only had so many pages.

That’s why it pains me to say that we could easily have filled two books this size with incredibly great stories, with some left over, most of which could easily sell to any other astute editor.

In the end, our job was to bring the most comprehensive, wide-ranging cornucopia of mind-shatteringly kick-ass fiction we could gather, by some of the finest writers ever to spelunk this treacherous territory. Descend into this black hole of the soul.

You may notice an uncharacteristic shortage of “vintage” classics in this assemblage. That’s largely because I honestly feel that better short psychological fiction is being written now—particularly as pertains to honest depictions of madness—than in the hallowed days of yore, when you had to be some kind of monster to even think such things. (More on the history of the literature, and the mind-sets that framed it, in the appendices that follow.)

In a weird way, I see this book as the flipside of our last volume, Demons, wherein supernatural forces helped abstract and mythologize just how crazy we can get, and made that bitter pill somewhat easier to swallow. You know. The devil made me do it! Or I turned into a werewolf, or something!

This time, however, we’re on our own. It’s just us and our crazy brains. Thinking thoughts we probably shouldn’t. Coming to grips, as best we can.

Or succumbing to the tidal wave of psychosis.

And laying waste to all we love.

We are our own demons, yes. And each other’s. Cuz people are scary. But as the great Lord Buckley said, “Angels got wings because they take themselves lightly.”

So hang onto your heart and your wits and your wings. Believe me, you are going to need them. A pitch-black sense of humor will also come in handy.

In the end, I suspect true sanity lies in making peace with all the painful insanity that is so much a part of our human heritage. Facing it down, without letting it win. Seeing it for what it is. And then saying, “No, thank you.”

The real war—the eternal one—is the battle against the madness within ourselves. Don’t ever forget it.

Everything else, from patriotism on down to the most intimate one-on-one, is just a costume we drape over that central conflict. Finding excuses to let our inner monster run free. Or finding opportunities to tame and rein them in.

I hope these stories provoke you, in the very best way, to remember what it is to be a human being. Through the laughter and tears.

Now enjoy, you crazy bastard!

Classical Scenes of Farewell


People often tend to think of serial killing as a modern phenomenon, the term having only been coined as recently as the 1980s, when the escalating trend of death-crazed media darlings (Bundy, Gacy, et al.) made such snappy buzzwords commonplace nomenclature. But, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Case in point: a good four hundred years before Jack the Ripper became the first pop star of nocturnal disembowelment—carving up streetwalkers and spreading panic through the cobblestoned Whitechapel of 1888—there was Gilles de Rais.

Here was a man of noble roots, epic contradictions, and monstrous compulsions, whose horrors played out on such a grand, historic scale of war, perversion, class disparity, religious hypocrisy, and power-gone-mad that it’s hard to believe Shakespeare didn’t invent him.

And so we begin with Jim Shepard’s tragic, immaculately rendered inside account of a life spent complicit with a fifteenth-century devil made flesh, its implications rumbling through our culture to this day.

As a child who could barely hold myself upright without tottering, I was steeped in my mother’s belief that our tumbledown farm was serried about and tumid with devils. In my mind’s eye they stood in a ring and clasped one another’s taloned hands and leered in at me while I slept. My fourth summer was the year that Sophie, the stonemason’s daughter, was seized with a helplessness in her limbs until her father conceded her diabolic possession and took her to the Church of Our Savior, where the priest found five devils residing inside her, whose names were Wolf, Lark, Dog, Jolly, and Griffin. The devils confessed they’d conjured hailstones through her by beating the surface of well water with her hands and that they’d additionally concocted the tinctures and ointments she’d used to blight her neighbors’ apple trees. They said they’d requested, and been denied, a special grease that would have turned her into a werewolf. When asked of whom they’d made their appeal, they said only “The Master.”

When I was twelve, the man from whom we rented our pastureland—a lifelong bachelor whose endless mutterings were his way of negotiating his solitude, and whose imagination extended only to business; the sort who milled his rye without sifting it, so it might last longer—was found in the middle of our lane one winter morning, naked, his feet and lips blue. He said a demon had appeared to him on a pile of wood under his mulberry tree, in the likeness of a corpulent black cat belonging to the house next door. With its front paws the cat had gripped him by the shoulders and pushed him down, and then had fastened its muzzle on the man’s mouth and would not be denied. The man claimed that for nearly an hour he’d remained that way, swooning, speechless, and open to the cat’s searching jaws, unable to make even the Sign of the Cross and powerless to diminish the urgings of its tongue. He had no memory of where his clothes had gone, or how he’d ended up in the lane.

My mother had long since taken to enfolding a crucifix in the bedcovers when she turned down my poor linens for the night. My chamber was in our barn’s loft, attached to the back of the house, and from this, the highest point on the hill, I could view the Delorts’ farm to the west. Their daughter, Katherine, was the continual object of my confused nightly agitations as well as the focus of my joy.

And then one sunstruck August afternoon when we were passing through the village, my mother and I investigated a disturbance on the church steps, a crowd squabbling over who had sufficient schooling to interpret the document posted on the doors before them. A sacristan emerged to provide assistance and to read aloud what he declared to be a juridical confession lately obtained through the harrowing of some of our neighbors. Said neighbors had been identified to the ecclesiastical investigators by other neighbors.

The confession stated that Marie Delort, along with her daughter, had for three years been giving herself over to a pair of demons, from Friday midnight through to Saturday dawn, and had assisted at a series of conjurings in the company of others. According to the deacon Katherine had testified that her association began when one evening, washing her family’s linen outside of town, she saw before her a man with a curved back and pointed ears whose eyes were like emeralds in an ash pit. He called for her to give herself to him and she answered that she would. He then gentled her cheeks with both hands, his palms softly furred, and flooded her mouth with his breath, and from then on each Friday night she was carried to a gathering from her own bed, simply by willing herself free. At the gathering place she shed her night-dress and was approached, every time having been made to wait for a period alone in the darkness, by the same man leading a gigantic he-goat, which knelt before her, and to both apparitions she abandoned herself.

The sacristan then read her mother’s corroboration of this account, which further detailed the strange trance during which she was also transported from her bed, and their mutual adoration of the goat and the man, and their not only bathing in but also taking in all sorts of offensive liquids, with satiation being the object of their every clutch and gesture.

I was born Etienne Corillaut of Pouzauges, in the diocese of Luçon, and am known as Poitou, and I am now of twenty-two years of age, and here acknowledge to the best of my abilities the reasons for those acts that have made this name along with my master’s the object of hatred throughout the region. I here also address the questions that my kinsmen hear from every stable hand, every innkeeper, every farmer in his field: What transpired in his mind that allowed a young person to have acted in such a manner and then to have lived apparently untroubled among his fellows? What enabled him to have stepped forward into the sunlight and Nature’s bounty for six years of such iniquity?

My master is Gilles de Rais, whom I have served as page and then bodyservant for these last six years; and for the past three, since he first offered access to the full chamber of his secrets, he and I, with five others I will name, have been responsible for the entrapment and mutilation and dismemberment and death of one hundred and forty-two children between the ages of five and fifteen. Coming in the Year of Our Lord 1440, this admission dates the full vigor of my offenses back to the winter of 1437. But even before he chose to sweep back the curtain on the full extent of his ferocity, I knew myself to be already standing outside the ring of salvation, having failed so signally as a neighbor and a brother and a Christian and a son.

My father failed no one, having been brought up in honesty and industry with a mild and peaceable disposition, and my first memory of my mother is of the two of us gathering into her basket rue and southernwood in bright sunlight. I remember her saying one sweltering morning that the forest, our edge of pastureland, and a hive of bees were our only livelihood. I remember her tears. Later there was a shed and a little tower with a dovecote. We raised rye and beans and pot-herbs. As I grew stronger I was given suitable responsibilities, my first being light weeding during the day and laying the table and filling the hand basin after sunset. Before that my contributions had been limited to fanning the wasps out of my little sister’s sweet milk.

At that time I was devout. I retired each morning to pray and refused refreshment for a quarter of an hour afterward. And I displayed other singularities. My brother and sister avoided me, which I attributed to acts of stupidity that somehow had discredited me forever. I played alone, chopping at roadside weeds with my special stick. “Still fighting your cabbages?” my brother asked one day, having seen me thrash some wild collards.

My mother liked to claim that all she brought to the marriage was a bench, bed, and chest, and I first registered their sadness while hiding in the fields watching my father cut clover. My mother brought him soup, ladling it out in the shade of an elm, and he said, “Will you kiss me?” and she answered, “We all have our needs.” He then told her to take back her soup, for he didn’t want it, and scythed all the clover without eating and returned hungry to the house.

He complained later that it was as if his accounts were tallied small coin by small coin. She confided in my brother, her favorite, that she lived in dread of bad weather, during which his father would pass the hours in the kitchen, his resentment turning from the weather to her. We slept with pounding hearts when they fought.

And during a rainy October the day after my eleventh birthday my brother fell sick of a malady of the brain. We moved him to a room off the kitchen with a hearth that backed on to our stove, where during sickness or bloodletting or weaning, a greater warmth could be maintained. My mother made him an egg dish into which she chopped dittany, tansy, marjoram, fennel, parsley, beets, violet leaves, and pounded ginger. He was seized with convulsions and his writhing was such that she couldn’t stay in the room. He died at cock’s crow two mornings after he was first afflicted.

She afterward seemed so bereft and storm-tossed that our neighbors called her “the Wind’s Wife.” November imprisoned the farm with its load of ice, sheathing both sickle and hoe. In our little pond fish hung motionless and petrified with cold. My mother kept to herself in the kitchen, puzzled and drained by our questions, her smile gloomy and terrible in its simplicity. Our father sat on a stool drawn up near the door, a hermit paying his visit to a sister hermit.

And even after the winter seemed well ended it suffered a relapse, piling snow deeper atop our work. My sister and I offered ourselves to our mother without success. On this side and that, she seemed to find only sore constraint and bitter captivity. Her blood turned thin as water and she developed scrofulous complaints. When at her angriest, she wiped my nose, violently, and said it was oppressive to be looked at so reproachfully by children. If we asked for too much, her panicked response frightened us further.

Her own presence seemed to distress her. She fell endlessly behind in her work. She was found at all hours bent in half and rubbing her back. She couldn’t warm her hands. One palm on the table would quiver, and, seeing us notice, she’d cover it with the other.

Our animals sickened as if bewitched. Our cat died of hunger. When the weather permitted my mother sat in the field as far as possible from the house. When storms drove us inside, on occasion I glimpsed her before she had composed her expression. One sleeting morning she taught my sister a game, based on the stations of a woman’s life, that she called Tired, Exhausted, Dying, and Dead.

At night when I was visited by strange dreams and pleaded for her company, she told me she’d seen witches lying in the fields on their backs, naked up to the navel. She fixed on a story from a neighboring town of a man who’d confessed that he’d killed seven successive boys in his wife’s womb by means of his magic, and that he’d also withered the offspring of his father-in-law’s herd. She told us that lost girls were cooked in a cauldron until the flesh entire came away from the bone, from which the witches made an unguent that was a great aid to their arts and pleasures. She followed closely the sensational story of de Giac, the king’s favorite, who confessed he had given one of his hands to the Devil, and who asked when condemned that this hand be severed and burned before he was put to death.

She took her life with a series of plants that my father said she had gathered from the most sinister localities. We discovered her early one bright morning. I remained in place near her bed, remembering her hand slipping off my inhospitable arm the evening before when she’d been trying to negotiate some ice on our doorstep.

I was fourteen. My sister was nine. We discussed what had happened as though it all belonged to a period now concluded. Our day-to-day world having fallen away, something else would take its place.

After that I paid only distracted attention to the ordinary round of life. If others came too close, I made signs with my hands as if to repair the harm I’d done them. At times during chores I would halt as if seized by my own vacancy. I saw very well how people looked upon me. I despised in my heart those who despised me. And when my father saw me in such torments, he thought: he loved her so much he’s still weeping.

All I desired, morning in and evening out, was a love with its arms thrown wide. But the contrary is the common lot, everyone’s family telling him furiously that everything hurts, always. The nest makes the bird.

This potter’s wheel of futility and despair would have continued had our parish priest not singled out my voice for his choir, and detected in me what he claimed were aptitudes, especially for the sciences. What he offered as appreciation I took to be pity. It was suggested to my father that I be turned over to the monastic school at Pont-à-Sevre. But even before that decision could be made, Henriet Griart, having heard the choir, brought me to his lord de Rais’s attention. He was then seventeen, and quick-eyed and enterprising in his service as steward.

Thus does this chronicle turn, harsh and bleak as it is, from one misfortune to another. I was presented at Tiffauges, which was so tall that its towers were cloud-capped when I first saw them, and orange in the setting sun. Out of its windows summer had never been so mild, dusk so vivid, or the surrounding hills so shady in their grateful abundance of streams and gardens. My sponsor, who’d refused converse during the carriage ride, provided some instruction on etiquette while we waited in the great hall, adding that if I behaved he’d see that my promotion was advanced with great ingenuity.

His kindness moved me. And when the doors opened for the castle’s master and his retinue, tears sprang to my eyes. My interview was conducted through that blur of weeping. This was the lord whom even I knew to be one of the richest in France. Who’d fought side by side with Joan the year our country had pulled herself from her knees. Who’d drawn the bolt from the Maid’s shoulder and in her vanguard had raised the siege of Orleans.


On Sale
Sep 25, 2012
Page Count
608 pages

John Skipp

About the Author

John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author and editor, whose 18 books have sold millions of copies in a dozen languages worldwide.  His first anthology, Book of the Dead, laid the foundation in 1989 for modern zombie literature, bringing George Romero’s vision of the dead next door to new levels of scope and intensity.  He later edited three more zombie anthologies, including Mondo Zombie, which won the Bram Stoker Award for best anthology, and Zombies: Encounters with the Hungry Dead and Werewolves & Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beast Within, both published by Black Dog & Leventhal. Skipp is recognized as splatterpunk’s founding father and the elder statesman of the genre. His own legendary horror works include The Light at the End, the Scream, Jake’s Wake and the Long Last Call. He lives in Los Angeles.

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