Is Your Roommate A Blood Thirsty Maniac?
It's you new roommate. He is, as we say, a bit odd. He's barely said a word since he moved in -- except for the time he noisily accused everyone of conspiring to repeatedly to steal his toenail clippers. He keeps strange, irregular hours. Sometimes, he disappears for days on end, only to suddenly reappear without single word of explanation. The only people you've ever seen him with are women. And a different woman every time, at that. You never see any of them again.He is definitely weird. But is he homicidal? Are you going to wake up one night and find him looming over your bed with an ax?Impossible, you say? Well, guess again. The annals of murder are filled with the former roommates of killers. The luckier ones who lived to tell the tale were never suspicious or worried. At worst, they thought he was a little odd, but certainly not the killing kind. As for the unlucky roommates, well, they're in no condition to say anything. But it's obvious they didn't get out while the going's good.You have already checked for the obvious signs. No, he doesn't have a perpetually padlocked, industrial-sized freezer or a series of sealed 55-gallon drums in his room. You have verified that that horrible smell that has permeated the apartment since he moved in is, indeed, due to a dead rat in the crawlspace. And those mysterious chunks of meat he keeps in the refrigerator look like they actually came from the grocery store. Is it time to breathe a sigh of relief and throw the weirdo out? Don't be so hasty. Any self-respecting psychopath is a master of the fine art of lying. Glib explanations for those suspicious late-night choking noises from his room are just the first sign that something is wrong.First, the good news. Does he have an extensive collection of lurid, red-on-black true crime paperbacks? Has he offended all the neighbors by quoting Charles Manson at oddly inappropriate times? Does he keep an Ed Gein poster hanging over his mattress? Is his idea of "good clothes" a new Jeffrey Dahmer t-shirt? Well, relax. Buy him a ticket for a slasher movie festival, and while he's out, pile his stuff on the sidewalk and change the locks. He's the last person you have to worry about turning your apartment into 10 Rillington Place. Murder buffs are like middle-aged football fans. They may talk like a middle linebacker, but they'd probably drop dead of a heart attack if they tried to run to the corner store or dismember a roommate. Chances are he faints at the sight of blood!Nonetheless, the first place to check is his bookshelves. By all means, do it when he's going to be out for a while -- killers have been known to deal with "snoopers" rather harshly. Look for a copy of John Fowles's novel, The Collector. The more literate breed of serial killer goes ape over this tender little tale about a "collector" of women -- one even named his entire murder spree "Operation Miranda" after one of its characters. The more well-thumbed it is, the more worried you should be.Look for J. D. Salinger's classic novel of adolescent angst Catcher In The Rye. It's the favorite of maniacs about to explode in a six-victim spree everywhere. Books about Nazis and the Third Reich are also a bad sign, especially Mein Kampf, which only a lunatic would read voluntarily. And there's even a pious breed of killer who finds all the necessary inspiration in The Bible, preferably the King James Version. Never let regular church attendance fool you.The most ominous volume that you can find on the bookshelf, however, is a scrapbook. Murderers are their own biggest fans. As self-centered as the vainest rock star, they love to collect their press notices. A large, well kept collection of newspaper clippings about some unknown killer butchering people in your neighborhood is a very, very big red flag.Keep your eyes open for odd, valueless items like other people's drivers licenses, different colored locks of hair, or women's underwear, especially in assorted sizes. These are a serial killer's idea of souvenirs. If you find a little horde of them, move out immediately. Don't even stop to pack your toothbrush. The bright side, of course, is that you'll be able to buy a whole new wardrobe with the money you'll make telling your story on Geraldo.Unfortunately, murderers can be a cunning lot. Not all are so obvious about their little hobby. Anyone knows it's time to run, not walk, to the nearest exit when someone starts caressing their gun and making like Robert Deniro ("You talking to me?") in Taxi Driver. Yet the less blatant killers can murder you every bit as well. Your only defense is to catch the subtle indications.Consider your roommate's "livability". Is he rude, inconsiderate, and hard to get along with? He could just be a jerk -- or a psychopath. Psychos are generally difficult to live with. They're habitual liars. They don 't like to be touched, and have few friends. They're apt to chafe at the simplest rules of communal living -- doing the dishes, buying the toilet paper , cleaning the bathroom. Your roommate's habit of stealing everyone's milk and leaving the kitchen a complete disaster could be just plain boorishness. Or it could be a silent cry for an excuse to cut your head off.Even the most trivial thing can have deeper meaning. Homicidal maniacs tend to have a special affection for fire. Does your roommate spend a little too much time in front of the fireplace, gazing in fascination at the flames? And has he ever aimed a kick at the apartment cat? He may just not care for animals -- or he may harbor a violent and deadly hatred for all living things, including you.His occupation is another clue. Unemployment, of course, is a bad sign. But a regular paycheck is not a clean bill of health. Surprisingly, the better-organized (and deadlier!) psychopaths prefer jobs where they can help people. They like to play the "Good Samaritan", manning the suicide hotline or working as ambulance drivers or volunteer firemen. A whole subculture of serial killers gravitate towards the health professions, where, as nurses, orderlies, or even doctors, they can kill by the score for years without suspicion. Although generally they keep it on the job, when you think about it, there's nothing stopping them from bringing their work home with them.Appearance can also provide vital clues. Unfortunately, potential murderers have diverse tastes in fashion. Some lean towards conservative suits and neatly knotted ties. Others prefer torn t-shirts, filthy jeans, cheap baseball caps. But one dead giveaway, though, is a fascination with self-mutilation. Years before pierced noses and tattoos became fashion buzzwords, serial killers boldly pioneered the art of body modification. They didn't need neighborhood piercing salons -- they were quite capable of doing their own scarification and branding. Your roommate, with his fashionable collection of "modern primitive" accouterments, may just be following the trend. Or he could be maintaining the tradition.And you're chuckling madly, thinking you have nothing to worry about because your roommate is a woman? Well, wipe that silly grin off your face. You've got to be really careful. True, women are far less likely to be murderers. But when they do decide to bag a few, they're not out there, venting their spleen on the local hooker population. Their preferred victims are friends, relatives, lovers, and roommates, and they're not one bit nice about it.Your typical killer works more or less quickly, if not painlessly: a couple pokes of the knife, a bullet or two, or a few minutes squeezing a neck. Even a real sadistic killer seldom keeps things going for more than a few hours. A good murderess, however, will make you yearn for the tender mercies of a toolbox killer. They like to poison their victims, preferably over a period of weeks. They love to fuss and make a big show of caring. As their victims writhe in excruciating pain while their life slowly ebbs away, they minister to their every want and dutifully prepare special dishes and medicines that just seem to make things worse..In large doses, strychnine taste bitter, cyanide smells like almonds, and arsenic has a metallic aftertaste. Unfortunately, the lethal doses are almost unnoticeable, and there are plenty of other poisons that are, for all intents and purposes, undetectable. It may not be a good idea to do all your own cooking from now on, and keep your food and drink under lock and key.When you get right down to it, it may just be easier to live alone and like it. Then you just have to worry about if your neighbor is insane.