Inside the mind of the Moors murderer, Ian Brady.
Dr Raj Persaud
The press have reported Ian Brady is providing his first public explanation for why he murdered five children in the 1960s, in evidence to a mental health review tribunal. In 1985, he was diagnosed mentally ill and transferred to a secure psychiatric hospital. The tribunal was considering his request to be moved from hospital back to prison. Incarcerated for 45 years, Brady is currently the longest serving prisoner in England and Wales.
Brady, it is reported, has requested the transfer to be allowed to kill himself by starvation. But is he truly bent on suicide, or is this all a charade to get media attention?
Serial killers do have a higher rate of suicide. A recent study of 483 serial killers, by David Lester and John White, published in the Journal ‘Forensic Science International’, found that 6.2% committed suicide. Those who killed themselves were found, in the study entitled ‘Which serial killers commit suicide? An exploratory study’, to come from more dysfunctional homes. Their sexual behaviour in the murders appeared more deviant, involving more bizarre sexual acts and more often the taping of the murder.
This fits the Ian Brady case in terms of his background, and the way he carried out his crimes. Also, he has confessed to reaching under the settee looking for his loaded revolver, when the police first arrived in his home. He had apparently resolved to shoot the officers, and then himself, but discovered he had misplaced the gun.
Yet the fact is that Brady has been on hunger strike since 1999 – this could be less an act of suicide and more a need to control those around him – causing problems for the authorities at Ashworth Hospital, asserting power in the only way open to him. At the heart of his crimes were issues of control over others.
Mental health review tribunals are never held in public, and Brady fought a court case to become the exception. This won him the public platform, which he has been using this week to have his views splashed all over the media, a self-justification and a proud exposition of his personal philosophy.
This is part of a consistent pattern of behaviour on his part – not a new departure. Brady published a book in 2001 entitled ‘The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and Its Analysis,’ in which he analysed other serial killers.
David Schmid, an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Buffalo in New York, has published an in-depth analysis of Brady’s book, in a chapter entitled ‘A Philosophy of Serial Killing: Sade, Nietzsche, and Brady at the Gates of Janus’, from the volume ‘Serial killers: Being and killing’, published by Wiley-Blackwell.
David Schmid argues that to properly understand Ian Brady you need to grasp how numerous books from his personal library (including volumes on Nazism, torture, and the Marquis de Sade’s novel ‘Justine’) were introduced as evidence during the original trial.
At the time, the books by de Sade were touted by the prosecution barristers during Brady’s cross-examination, as evidence of pornography – they were referred to merely as ‘dirty books’. But, David Schmid maintains they are much more significant than that.
Perhaps de Sade’s central concept is that the individual who transgresses society’s rules is a rebel, in search of freedom and pleasure — a ‘transcendence’ — which society, in its ignorance and repressiveness, denies him.
In ‘The Gates of Janus’, Brady argues that the fact he knows that he will die in prison, actually confers greater freedom upon him than most so-called free people. This is because, according to his analysis, ‘no hellish circles of social graces and ersatz respect bind me to censor beliefs. I am not under the least obligation to please by deceit any individual whomsoever.’
The Marquis de Sade (1740 -1814) was a French erotic writer and prose stylist, from whose name the words “sadism” and “sadist” are derived. De Sade himself was incarcerated in various jails and an insane asylum for about 32 years of his life. Just like Brady’s book, many of de Sade’s were written in prison.
The heroes in De Sade’s books are, like Brady today, addicted to self-justification. At the slightest provocation, they will pause in the midst of their debauchery and undertake the most exhaustive (and repetitive) justifications of their actions.
De Sade was probably more exploring ideas, not advocating the killing of people. But Brady adopts his ideas at face value, and mixes them into a hotch-potch of theories from nihilistic philosophers and right-wing extremists. He topped this off at the tribunal with a dose of moral relativism, describing himself as a ‘comparatively petty criminal’ alongside ‘global serial killers and thieves like Blair or Bush’.
David Schmid contends that a characteristic of de Sade’s heroes shared by certain sadistic serial killers – awareness of repugnance from others – is one of the sources of pleasure to be derived from their acts. David Schmid’s belief is that Brady derives a perverse pride from being the most hated man in Britain. When The Daily Telegraph recently splashed the headline: ‘Public are obsessed with me, like Jack the Ripper, says Brady’, it sounded like the newspaper was reporting a complaint, when in fact, it was probably more of a boast.
Brady is reported to have told the tribunal that his killings were ‘recreational’. He enjoyed them – and enjoyed perverting a young woman into becoming his accomplice. Whether or not the beginnings of psychosis played a part, his crimes are those of the sadistic psychopath – enjoying dominating others to the point of extinguishing them, with little capacity to appreciate the feelings of others or to experience guilt or remorse.
Sensationalist reporting invokes the religious concept of ‘evil’, and those with a fondness for psychobabble talk about the deprivations of his childhood. But the fact is, some people are born like that. That is the way their brains are wired.
Brady is not saying anything new at the tribunal about his actions or motivations, yet he still finds a large and rapt audience in the media and among the general public, who hang on his every word nearly fifty years after his conviction. Brady understands this fact and plays his role accordingly.
Perhaps, the worst punishment that could be inflicted upon Ian Brady is to stop paying attention to him. Yet, although he lost his case at the tribunal this time, he theoretically retains the right to appeal again in the future.
The circus could come back to town.