The 21st century has seen the concept of the serial killer achieve near mythical potency in popular culture. Never have they been more charismatic, more intelligent, artistic, even poetic. They're played by the best and brightest of the acting community, seeking to make them more than human, their insanity recast as some form of super-sanity designed to mesh better with the hopeless, deviant mess that the human condition has become.
Mads Mikkelsen portrayed Hannibal Lecter as a Byronic, Luciferian creature, the Devil in an exquisitely tailored three-piece. Michael C. Hall's Dexter Morgan is a ruggedly handsome killer-of-bad-men, the unsavoury aspects of the serial killer displaced onto his foes. James Purefoy played Joe Carroll, leader of The Following, as a hunky college poetry professor (and the show's narrative was so clumsy that they actually had Carroll be a hunky college poetry professor before his capture). The Joker is regularly depicted as a kind of savant, a terrible force of nature with a clown's leering face.
Real life serial killers are terrifying men and women, it's true: but for the most part, they're also hopeless creatures, bent and broken by their environments; damaged, evil little children acting out fantasies. There's nothing charismatic and devilishly charming about real serial killers yet still we know their names, buy coffee table books about their crimes, pore over the details of their lives over and over and over again.
We want to know about the monsters in our midst. Whether it's to put them on some form of warped pedestal in popular culture, or to obsessively learn all we can about them in real life, the monsters have a kind of power over us.
10. The Real Life Dexter Morgan
Pedro Rodrigues Filho was a Brazilian serial killer who might be classified as less a random murderer of innocents and more a vigilante. Filho specifically chose his victims from amongst the criminal community. He saw his victims as requiring a kind of rough justice.
That' not to say that Rodrigues Filho was some kind of South American Punisher: he was as damaged and warped as any other serial killer. His first attempted murder was an impulse decision, when he tried to shove a kid into a sugar cane press. He was thirteen years old.
His next victim was the vice-Mayor of Alfenas. Rodrigues Filho's father had been falsely accused of theft and fired by him so his son reasoned that the vice-Mayor deserved to die. Determining who the most likely culprit really was, Rodrigues Filho then murdered him, too. That wouldn't stop him from killing his own father, though. When Rodrigues Filho Sr. killed his mother with a machete, Rodrigues Filho returned the favour, tearing out his heart and eating it.
Going on the run, Rodrigues Filho's next victim was a random drug dealer. Then, the woman that he was living with was killed by gang members, sending him on a vicious killing spree until hed found and butchered all the men responsible.
Rodrigues Filho was still a teenager. He'd violently murdered at least ten people before he was eighteen years old.
Rodrigues Filho was finally imprisoned in 1973: convicted of seventy-one killings, he was sentenced to thirty years, the maximum sentence possible. This would only serve to increase the bodycount. While in jail he managed to murder another forty-seven people. Well, they'd locked him up with the scum of the earth - what did they expect?
Due to be released in 2007, Rodrigues Filho has barely been heard from since. He may have reformed or he may simply be a little wiser about disposing of the evidence these days.