Thursday, November 12, 2009

Our very own serial killers

The News, Feb 8, 2009


Our very own serial killers

By Omar R. Quraishi

The picture that you will find accompanying this week's column was sent to me by a reader. He says he is from Swat and knows someone who took this and wanted it published in a newspaper. (And given the number of such beheadings that have taken place there it was only a matter of time that someone would actually take a picture and send it to the media). The reason for publishing something like this would be to probably stir people revulsion and hatred for those who are involved in such atrocities.

The man who sent me the picture also sent a couple of others showing similar scenes. Those pictures were far gorier and probably could not be published – much less seen. However, if you notice this particular picture, you will find that there are ordinary people (and by that I mean men and boys because women and girls apparently are no longer to be found on the streets of Swat) walking by this beheaded body of the man. The body is hanging upside down from the side of an electricity pole and I am told that this was taken in Matta. Some readers may feel disoriented but that is because the poor man's head has been placed between his feet, on his groin as if to further desecrate his dead body.

The fear among the local population is such that no one dare even take down the body and give it a proper burial. One cannot even imagine the psychological damage that such wanton acts must be having on the local people especially children who are growing up witnessing this monstrosity.

These are the kind of images I would have expected to see in a museum for serial killers in the US, since America is often considered to be the land where the term originated and which, for some reason, has had the most recorded cases of serial murders. But it seems that Fazlullah and his men – one should actually them beasts or, as a letter-writer recently said in this newspaper, "handmaidens of the Devil" – have outdone any serial killer that ever lived. Three of the most notorious serial killers in history ought to be mentioned here for our Taliban may well be on their way to outdo them.

The first is Liu Peng Li, recorded by Chinese historian to be a cousin of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty (156-141 BC). Liu was made king of a local region and was known to be "arrogant and cruel." It is said that he and dozens of his slaves (most of whom were criminals hiding from the law) would go out on what were called 'marauding expeditions.' During such 'expeditions' people were murdered for 'pleasure' and their belongings were looted by Liu and his slaves. Since this happened so many centuries ago, the exact number of victims is uncertain. Chinese historians say that Liu and his horde of slaves killed at least a hundred people. The killings caused much fear in the local population and people either shifted to safer provinces or simply stopped going out of the house. Liu stopped only when the son of one of the victim's complained to Emperor Jing who banished Liu to another county.

Next we have Gilles de Rais (1404-1440), who was a French nobleman and soldier and even served alongside Joan of Arc. The number of his victims is between 80-200 – most of them being children who were raped after being inflicted with mortal blows. Rais was finally caught and executed for his crimes. During the course of his trial – conducted by an ecclesiastical court – that he preyed upon chidren who came to his castle in search of food. According to a Wikipedia entry the transcript of the prosecution included testimony from many parents of the missing children and contained descriptions of murders so graphic that some portions were ordered to be excluded from the record. However, some portions survived including the testimony of one of de Rais's accomplices.

A 2003 biography of the serial-killer by French writer and playwright Jean Benedetti documents morbid details of his crimes (almost as much as the picture from Matta). It says that a child would not be killed immediately but gradually and only after first being pampered and dressed in the finest of clothes and given a good meal. Only after that would the child learn of the fate awaiting him\her. The biographer says that this was a particular source of pleasure for de Rais. The biography also quotes the killer's own confession at the trial where he said that when the children were dead he would have their bodies cut open and 'delight' at the sight of their inner organs or that when a child lay dying he would sit on its stomach and laugh, while watching it die.

The third and the last is Hungarian aristocrat Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) whose exact number of murders is not known but historians believe it to be in hundreds. A countess, Bathory was accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women in her castle in present-day Slovakia. She was accused of killing over 600 victims but was convicted for only 80 murders. A legend relates that she would bathe in the blood of her victims – in an attempt to ward off aging.

One wonders, a few decades into the future, or perhaps in the next century, what will wikipedia have on serial killers from this part of the world.

The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.



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