I like to encourage all my students to challenge everything in the law. Certainly, a forensic analysis of all common law cases is essential, in my view and which underpins knowledge and understanding.
In Criminology in particular, I ask students to constantly tag on the word ‘why’ to just about everything. After all, it is the study of crime and criminal (deviant) behaviour. It draws upon the mixed research and work of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, psychiatrists as well, of course, as academics and scholars of law.
Sometimes, though, it becomes very difficult to ever find a satisfactory answer as to ‘why’ when faced with a particular case. It’s difficult to address an issue such as ‘necrophilia’ without instant revulsion. But, as academics, law students (and of course those who have a deep interest in such ‘general’ criminological matters), it is nonetheless very important.
If we cannot at least attempt to understand what drives such acts of depravity, perversion and deviance, we cannot hope to prevent it recurring.
The case of David Fuller (above) is about as monstrous and stomach-churning as they get. The 67-year old former NHS maintenance worker had initially been arrested for the murders of two women 34 years ago. As if that isn’t bad enough, upon searching his property, the Police found a staggering 14 million images depicting a string of highly distressing sexual offences, including the defilement of corpses – and necrophilia itself.
The murders of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce (below) had remained unsolved since their murder in 1987 but, mercifully and thanks to DNA, detectives were able to narrow down their search to under 100 suspects and, ultimately, to Fuller.
As a matter of course, Police searched Fuller’s house when they unearthed a morass of hidden hard drives, CDs and other discs with over 14,000,000 images. They included Fuller having filmed himself sexually assaulting, violating and having intercourse with corpses that had been lying in the morgue. The ghoul had attempted to hide further hard drives but when these were discovered it transpired he had written diary entries about what he had done and to whom and which included victims ranging from 9 to 100.
The most common motive for necrophilia is the possession of a partner who is unable to resist or reject them, rather than explicit psychopathic tendencies. This may seem odd, given that we would assume an element of overt psychopathy must play a part in an act as grim as being drawn to having sexual intercourse with a corpse. Necrophiles – as they are also called – often choose occupations that put them in contact with corpses, as here with Fuller and unsurprisingly. But why do we, as a race, actually find such stories rather compelling? Whilst many will claim to be repulsed (and have possibly even avoided today’s article when they saw the title), others have an interest in matters, not because they themselves are ‘odd’ or ‘sick’ but because the human psyche, behavioural traits and their actions fascinate them.
Netflix only has to utter the names of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer (below) and their ratings soar. We find crime fascinating but there appears to be no parameters to our inquisitiveness. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of us do not engage in any criminal activity at all and even less in deviant behaviour but that does not equate to us not having a bizarre interest in it. Humans are fascinating, almost irrespective of what they do. Literally. We often feel compelled to understand why anyone would carry out such seemingly cruel acts to complete strangers. Because the acts fall outwith our logical understanding, it drives us to find an answer. As indeed we often feel forced to look at an accident we see on a motorway when logically, we should look the other way. In some ways, serial killers like the two Americans below are for adults what monster movies are for kids – scary fun. Although it can sometimes be difficult to admit that one appears to almost derive pleasure from following the films and documentaries on them so intently. They are, for many, literally a ‘guilty pleasure’.
In the case of Bundy, he used necrophilia as the ultimate form of power over his victims, even though they were deceased. Some serial killers and sexual predators insist that such control is exercised over the living (such as Fred and Rose West or Brady and Hindley) but with Bundy, Fuller and Dahmer, the ‘never allowing anyone to reject them again’ syndrome is illustrated by their necrophilia, principally. For those that watched ‘Conversations with a Killer : The Ted Bundy Tapes’ (an excellent watch, incidentally whether you are interested/studying law/criminology or not) – Bundy reflects on what was almost certainly his first relationship in 19723. He appears to have idolised Diane Edwards and to such a degree that his world fell apart when their relationship did. However, he then ‘used’ the corpses of his subsequent victims to ensure they complied with anything he ‘told’ them to do.
Only four days into the murder trial, Fuller changed his plea to guilty. The CPS have commented that the crimes are about as distressing as many will have ever encountered and are unprecedented in Britain. Despite being remanded pending sentencing, it is evident that he will never walk free again and will inevitably die in prison.
Can we ever ‘understand’ why people commit these sorts of crimes? Probably not. Mercifully, they are extremely rare.