Talking to Killers

They plot and plan. They're tricky to interview. They can't be trusted. And they're all psychopaths. Other than that, they're just like you and me.

THERE ARE KILLERS AND THERE are killers. Killers get drunk and blow away their cheating husbands with a shotgun or hire someone to do it. Killers plot, plan, and most of all, enjoy their work. When you read about one, you think, “There but for the grace of God …” When you read about the other, you wonder just how twisted and depraved God permits humans to get.

It’s the second group I’m interested in. I’ve been around these scumbags all my professional life, and I’m always struck by their ordinariness. Whether the subject is a snarling beast like Kenneth McDuff or a smiling shark like Charles Harrelson, interviewing a killer is tricky business. What do you ask a killer? So, how’s your day? Yes, I see what you mean. What’s your favorite color? I should have guessed. Concerning the accusation that you bludgeoned that nun with a crowbar … I take your point.

Beyond the awkwardness, you can’t trust what they tell you. Their motive can be malice, money, or revenge. Regardless, every killer is a psychopath to some degree. Most can fool a polygraph as easily as they can fool an interviewer—or, for that matter, themselves.

The first killer I ever interviewed was Gene Paul Norris, a notorious badass in Fort Worth in the mid-fifties. He had been hauled in on some vague charge and

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