An Interview with Vernon J. Geberth,
retired Lieutenant Commander with the NYPD and author of
Sex Related Homicide and Death Investigation:
Practical and Clinical Perspectives
"Pornography is the fuel that acts as a catalyst for fantasy-driven behavior."
- Vernon J. Geberth
In March 2004, Morality in Media published, "The Link Between Pornography and Violent Sex Crimes," an article by MIM President Robert Peters. The article was prompted in part by publication of the book, Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation: Practical and Clinical Perspectives, by Vernon J. Geberth, a retired Lt. Commander with the NYPD.
Geberth's last NYPD position was Commanding Officer of the Bronx Homicide Task Force, which handled more than 400 murder investigations a year. He has personally investigated, supervised, assessed and consulted on over eight thousand death investigations.
Mr. Geberth is now President of PHI Investigative Consultants, Inc, which provides training and consultation in homicide and forensic case investigations for law enforcement agencies. He is also the author of Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics Procedures, and Forensic Techniques, Third Edition, considered to be the "Bible of Homicide Investigation."
MIM spoke with Vernon Geberth. Following is an edited transcript of that interview.
MIM: What prompted you to write Sex Related Homicide and Death Investigation?
VG: What I was seeing in training and consultations was a drastic increase in sex-related homicides. I don't know whether statistical data support my experience. What I do know is the levels of sexual violence in cases I was called upon to review were outrageous.
I realized there was a need to address the type of cases that I was encountering. I had a section in Practical Homicide Investigation on human sexuality and sexual deviance, but it wasn't addressed to the degree it had to be. We in law enforcement needed a frame of reference to address this developing trend. I thought it was going to require an addendum-maybe a 100-, 200-page document. It turned out to be an 800-page textbook.
What I was finding was that many of these pornographic depictions-and I had to go through quite a bit-were actually the road map to the offenses that the perpetrators of sex crimes were committing. In other words, the plan was in the pornography. I've said this before-pornography is the fuel that acts as a catalyst for fantasy-driven behavior. There's no doubt in my mind that pornography plays an important part in violent sex crimes.
When I look at the cases, when I look at the drawings of these offenders, the writings of these offenders, it is quite apparent that pornography is the fuel. If you think of what a sexual fantasy is-a cognitive representation of some unfulfilled desire-it is transitory and short-lived. So how do you solidify the fantasy? Well, you solidify the fantasy by having visual pornography that addresses a specific desire.
There are all types of pornography-it doesn't matter what it is. The bottom line is that there's something for everybody, so to speak. And when the person finds what he or she is looking for, these materials help the individual to enhance a specific sexual desire.
So looking at some of the pornography, and looking at some of the drawings-and they're very specific-this is what the offender fantasizes about doing to a victim, and then implements the fantasy.
MIM: You mention drawings. Are they drawings that the perpetrators do, separate from the pornography they might have collected?
VG: Absolutely. Perpetrators of violent sexual crimes have this pornography, and they want to enhance their "high" by implementing the victim into the pornography.
There are different ways that they do that. One offender went through the pains of drawing very explicit pictures of victims in bound positions, with electrodes attached to the nipples of his women victims, and he also prepared instructions on how to do this. In some cases, they take photographs from pornography magazines and superimpose faces of the victim on the photographs. Or they may have drawn bloodlines on the photographs to create a sadistic imagery. In one case, a person who was heavily vested in sadistic fantasy not only began to draw, but began to script the drawings. Now when they start scripting the drawings, an insidious amalgamation can take place in which the fantasy and the reality become blended.
MIM: When you said "script," what are you talking about?
VG: Words-putting words to the victim. The victim is "responding" in fear, or certain words are used, and in some cases what you have is this offender building into the drawing the actual pleas of the bound victim.
MIM: Sort of like the "balloon" captions in a comic strip.
VG: Right-but not as sophisticated. You'll see things like this. One offender basically had a torture chamber. He sexually tortured and murdered 25 to 30 young women in a series of sex-related homicides-none of the bodies were ever recovered, by the way. But he kept exquisite notes, details, and journals.
What we have today is a readily available supply of pornography-yet it does not fully satisfy the need of the sexual offender to act out their sexual fantasies. So offenders in order to solidify the fantasy, take pictures with a digital camera or videotape their sexual tortures of victims, and then watch the videotapes for entertainment. I've seen many of these videotapes. They're horrible-because you do in fact see people die, and you see them tortured.
I have another serial killer case where the offender subscribed to a Web site, and on the Web was what he was interested in-bondage and torture. He was downloading the material from that Web site and then implementing that in his crime scenes.
When I'm dealing with the folks in the realm of psychology or psychiatry, they always have some sort of an apology for behavior; they'll run to DSM-IV [the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition," a standard reference book for mental health professionals] and explain how this came about. But the bottom line is: there are people in this society who are dangerous. And I can't figure out why these alleged experts can't figure out dangerousness, but this dopey cop from the Bronx can. I have put together some heavy articles on psychopathic sexual sadists, and I use the materials that I have in my files, and the cases that I've consulted on, to validate this.
MIM: How has Internet pornography impacted your work?
VG: The ability to do research and communicate is the blessing of the Internet. The downside is that the Internet has proven to be a definite sexual threat.
Predators use it as a tool to seek out victims. Look at the fantastic work of District Attorney Jeanine Pirro in Westchester County, NY and her computer pedophile unit. Her investigators will go on line, purport to be 14-year-old boys or girls or whatever, and communicate with adult predators to set up a meeting.
The other thing is that the Internet is largely responsible for the proliferation of pornography. Even unsolicited pornography permeates the e-mail system. There are inadequate personalities that do not need to be stimulated by these images. So what happens? Years ago, when pornography was definitely a no-no, it was hard to access it.
When I teach class, I use the example of Harvey Glatman, the serial killer of 1958. This case was reported all over America-it was even presented on the old Dragnet series; it was called "The Lonely Hearts Club Killer." This was the biggest deal in the country. Today, there are Harvey Glatmans all over the place; it's been multiplied.
Harvey Glatman started with pornography. He was buying pictures from a New York City store. At the time, the pictures cost 54 cents a piece. Fifty-four cents was a lot of money in 1958. He had six hundred dollars worth of commercial pornography when he was apprehended. What could you buy for six hundred dollars in 1958? A car or down payment on a house? So here's a guy heavily driven by this. Then he began making his own pornography, in which he would have his models pose, then he would bind them and kill them. He kept all of the pictures that he took of his victims in a toolbox, which proved to be the best evidence against him.
We've always had people with heavy-duty sexual inclinations and perversions and fantasies, but years ago they were out of the mainstream. If someone was a sexual pervert, they were ostracized from society; they were avoided; they were shunned.
Now, all of a sudden, the most inadequate personality, with the most outrageous sexual predilections, can meet online and validate the invalidatable. "Oh, look, I'm not so screwed up. I met a bunch of people like me. We're perfectly normal."
So the Internet proliferates the perversion and sexual homicide.
MIM: How does the Internet make the investigator's job different?
VG: It makes it difficult. Sexual offenders are very clever, and many investigators are not Internet-astute. When predators start "trolling" on the Internet for victims, or for people with like ideas, there's no way for others to know about it. Just look at the serial killer, John Robinson out in Kansas, who advertised on the Internet for women who wanted to be sex slaves, and actually got responses from women who wanted to be dominated. And then he would e-mail them a slave contract, which they would sign, and show up in Kansas to be his sex slave. Many never went back, because they ended up in barrels on his farm in Kansas.
I had the opportunity to examine his pornography collection-he had downloaded from commercial websites-he got ideas from these sites and implemented them with his victims.
I can state, unequivocally, that there's been an increase of sex-related crimes since the explosion of the Internet. There's no doubt about it.
MIM: Do you believe that criminal investigators ought to be required to note the presence of pornography in a crime scene investigation, as one county in Utah recently required its sheriff's deputies to do?
VG: I wouldn't be surprised if somebody in my class in Las Vegas went back to his department in Utah and said, "Listen, this guy Geberth spoke about the significance of pornography in these sex related events." Anybody who sat through my class would have a whole new opinion about the importance of what used to be thought of as a box full of crap. As I mentioned earlier, amongst these materials is the road map. That's what I've been teaching my classes. You're going to have to take the time to go through the material, page by page, book by book, video by video and, all of a sudden, you're going to be surprised to see that your event was predicated upon something in those materials. There's no doubt.
MIM: The former head of the ACLU, Nadine Strossen, wrote in 1995 that "The claim that pornography causes direct harm to women is unsupported by the facts." You have a different take on this.
VG: I would expect that sort of gibberish from the ACLU. As I said earlier, pornography is the fuel that acts as a catalyst for fantasy-driven behaviors. I know this because I have the cases. So when the ACLU touts "scientific data," I talk about and reference actual events. Some folks call my evidence "anecdotal," which means some Ph.D. didn't crunch a bunch of numbers together to obtain it. The bottom line is, I have actual cases and I know what I'm talking about.
MIM: You have said, "We Work for God." Please elaborate.
VG: It's a saying that I've used since the beginning of my police service, because I believe police officers do God's work. We just do it differently. We don't wear collars and we don't preach, but we certainly do God's work down there on the street.
I take my position very seriously. When I was in the NYPD, I probably drove some of them crazy with my insistence that things be done right and that there's no such thing as an insignificant crime. When I was in Iona College, and I told the guidance counselor that I was going into the NYPD, and he said, "What? You're going to become a what? A New York City what?" I said, "It's called a vocation, Brother."
And some people ask, "Where does that expression come from?" You have to remember, I was in the Police Department when we had nine cops killed in one year. Yes, I'm a Catholic; I'm a product of parochial schools. As a young cop with the NYPD, it helped me re-focus. I could say, "Hey, we're the good guys. We work for God."
And you can find references to it in the Bible. Romans 13 talks about "those who do evil need fear the man in authority." I also reference the Policeman's Prayer to St. Michael, and some of the Biblical references to our profession. If you look at my "Oath for Practical Homicide Investigators" in the front of the book, it spells it out. It's a thing I believe in.