Several years ago I caught the tail end of a radio interview with a Bradford policewoman who had worked the Yorkshire Ripper case in the late 1970’s. She recounted her outrage at hearing the entire male contingent of a working men’s club burst into a rendition of ‘There’s only one Yorkshire Ripper’, to the tune of
Guantanamera. At the time I shared that disgust but there is something strangely comforting in society’s acceptance (I draw the line at celebration) of the mad and bad. As a child growing up in Wolverhampton, shopping trips into town were rarely spared an encounter with the ‘speeding cowboy’. As to the specifics of his madness I was never sure but clearly etched into my memory is the image of him clad in a too small cowboy suit, power walking through the Mander Centre in endless loops. You’d hear the incoherent rant, see the parting of the ways to allow him access and as he passed, his eyes firmly focused on the middle distance, you’d see the anguished expression of a lost and desperate soul. In later years he acquired a ‘ghetto blaster’, which he hefted onto his shoulder and sound tracked his marathon with the hits of Slim Whitman. After finishing university in the mid eighties I moved down south to begin teaching but on one rare revisit I asked a friend what had happened to him. Apparently his mum had died and after ‘accosting’ a female shopper he had been placed in an institution.
My teaching career, spanning twenty years, has provided me with many opportunities to rub shoulders with the mad, bad and dangerous to know… You have a sense when a kid is not quite right, either in the head or in their general moral approach to animals, fellow students, teachers and combustibles. One dear soul set fire to the performing arts block during my last year on the job and although meriting a lengthy sojourn in some maximum-security lock down, there was never anything other than his knowing smirk and a great deal of circumstantial evidence to remove him from my mid week lesson, which had to be held in the dining room, while the block was rebuilt.
A more surprising candidate for the fifteen years he received at her Majesty’s pleasure, was altogether less sinister or seemingly psychopathic. He and his pack of three buddies, who spanned the IQ range from less than an average ungulate to Fagan, formed a triptych of cunning. But none were anything more than belligerent or less than sullen, so when our local garage hand ‘Jon’ was shot dead on the forecourt, I was horrified to discover it was one of this pack. The shooter’s defence was that Jon hadn’t responded in an appropriate manner and he hadn’t thought the gun was loaded.
What I have discovered is that writing about the machinations of psychopaths is considerably more dramatic and satisfying than the sad, tawdry plans of the neurologically and socially challenged, that destroy lives and debilitate communities. My villains concoct grandiose schemes with their soaring imaginations and complex needs that make the intricacies of their crimes a delight to write. The reality is that most crimes are opportunities to satisfy needs that fall short of anything more complex than the need to acquire an extra couple of hundred quid.