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The House is a Machine for Killing in: The Spaces of Serial Murder

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Rachel Harding
Royal College of Art, UK
Space is the serial killer's modus operandi. In order to commit a murder, he requires a private space in which to perform his ritual, and a public space in which to lure his
victims. It is therefore the dynamic of objects within a space that become the key to catching a killer.
It is often possible to deduce who a serial killer is from the scene that they leave behind, with the crime scene directly leading to the statistical picture of the murderer. Blood splatters, corpse arrangement, method of entry, all of these spacial elements can be compared to a statistical database to determine the likely age, sex, personality and occupation of a killer.
66 percent of serial killers choose to murder in the comfort of their own homes. In these cases, the house becomes a trap constructed with all the careful precision and consideration of an architect. Many killers such as West, Gacy or Dahmer used their homes as a place upon which to project their secrets. They all possessed the ability to distil evil into mundane objects, a kind of murderous Midas touch
Beyond the domestic scale, the murderer's choice of urban environment is also crucial. In fact, many killers choose to operate only in very specific area of the city. In Los Angeles, the city can even be mapped in terms of serial killer territories, for example, the Skid Row Slasher, the Korea town Slasher and the West Side Rapist.
In addition, the location of a serial killer's house has a wider effect on its urban surroundings. Forensic profilers refer to these houses as black holes. Their location can be deduced by a suspicious lack of abductions surrounded by a ring of attacks. The serial killer's house is a dense, imploding place that destroys all who enter. It is at once hidden in mystery and an all to clear crystallisation of our domestic fears, mimicking our image of the ideal home with a psychotic and frightening accuracy.

Rachel Harding

Outstandingly original and well researched investigation into the spatial dimensions of the serial murder and crime scenes. There is evidence here of extensive and well judged research, enabling the author to draw on an impressive range of ideas and influences. The introduction is engaging and clearly establishes the scope of the enquiry. Throughout there is a good, well referenced awareness of the issues relating to the “uncanny” and the ironic juxtaposition of transgression and homeliness. The tempo of the dissertation is compelling and the platform for critiquing conventional modernist notions of the domestic house is well conceived and argued. The illustrations and their integration with the text are exemplary, and the writing stylish and compelling. The section on art practitioners and the mediation of emplaced murderous acts is intelligent and revealing. The bibliography is eclectic and effectively exploited. This dissertation is impressively presented and generously rich in ideas and evidence, it is inventive, entertaining and provocative.

Barry Curtis
Visiting Tutor
School of Humanities
Department of Critical & Historical Studies

Barry Curtis
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