The American media’s fascination with the Cleveland abduction case reached a climax yesterday evening after it was announced that Ariel Castro – the man who had imprisoned three women for over a decade, raping them on multiple occasions – had hanged himself in his jail cell. This after Castro had been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Several commentators were quick to muse their disappointment, not that such a barbaric character had died, but that his death ensured we would never know the “truth” or the “reasons” behind his diabolical actions. That Castro himself had seemed rather perplexed as to why he had committed his crimes obviously did not detract from the desperate search for answers.
It is not uncommon for ‘lifers’ to commit suicide in prison. Some criminals can adapt to the oft-violent intricacies of prison life but for many an early death at one’s own hands is a satisfying solution to an existence terminated in every sense but the physical.
Harold Shipman, Britain’s most prolific serial killer, hanged himself whilst serving life; Fred West, one half of a notoriously murderous couple, committed suicide before he could be convicted; likewise the Prussian cannibal Karl Denke; in America the list is particularly long.
On each suicide people bemoan the fact that victims’ families will never get answers, that society will not move closer to understanding the flaws which enable such criminality to exist. Yet this overlooks two important points:
1) the actions of the worst criminals are often inexplicable, not driven by any logic, childhood corruption or societal ill;
2) if the criminals in question do have particular motives for their actions they are often unwilling to divulge them or are liable to lie and fantasise to attain or deflect attention as the case may be.
On the execution night of serial killer Ted Bundy in January 1989, pro-death penalty activists outside the prison were interviewed by national news channels. Why, they were asked, did they want the death penalty for Bundy when he could rot away in misery in a vile prison cell for the rest of his life?
Two of the campaigners were near-victims of Bundy, having been badly injured during a frenzied attack at a Florida State University sorority house in January 1978. The answer for them was simple. If Bundy was dead he could no longer hurt them. Whilst they said it might sound stupid, so long as he was alive, even locked in maximum security, they could not sleep at night. He was still out there.
This explanation is crucial. Why mourn the passing of a monster? Who cares if we cannot unlock their deepest secrets? After all, why should we believe what they say? These people are manipulators, cheats and liars. You will not gain the ‘truth’ from them.