"Hang on...what am I doing?!"
April 1, 2008 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Looking for first-hand accounts of acts of genuine evil.

I'm looking for first-hand accounts from people who have done stuff that, at the time or later, is considered to be unspeakably evil. Stuff like abusing children, genocide, mass mutilation/rape. I'm intrigued to know what is going through people's heads as they do these kinds of things.

Suggestions for books, articles, interviews, documentaries are all helpful. Thanks!
posted by greytape to Human Relations (40 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
I was riveted by oral history accounts of upstanding, very loving and nice men doing unspeakable things during wartime in the book Brave Men, Gentle Heroes. The book combines narrative sections with direct transcriptions, and includes reflection on the attempts to reconcile the wartime violence with peacetime values.
posted by Miko at 9:41 AM on April 1, 2008

posted by null terminated at 9:45 AM on April 1, 2008

The Gates of Janus is a book about serial killing written by a serial killer.

"The Iceman" is a mob hitman who has spoken a great deal about his work. (I have found him to be a little unbelievable in the details).

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano wrote a book about his life that includes mob hits. It's a very self-serving book.

Of course, read the end of In Cold Blood.

The Shrine of Jeffery Dahlmer is not first person, but it is drawn from Dahmer's interviews with a psychologist.

Monster by Sanyika Shakur is a Crip autobiography with several murders included.

There was a Metafilter post recently involving the confession of a child-killer, I think.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:47 AM on April 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

For a first-hand accounting of all you mentioned (except the genocide) this book about Carl Panzram ('a detailed memoir and self-analysis") should be of interest to you.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:47 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, here are some more.

Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary about the 80s drug trade that has some interviews with a Columbian (I think) enforcer.

Into the Kill Zone is a book about police officers who have used deadly force and how they deal with it (not that I'm calling them evil).

The upcoming book Aligula is the memoir of club-kid killer Michael Alig.

The book Apocalypse Culture features an essay by Jim Goad called "Roadkill" in which he describes beating his girlfriend. It's an affecting piece.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:01 AM on April 1, 2008

Mein Kampf?
posted by mattbucher at 10:03 AM on April 1, 2008

Tim Cahill's Buried Dreams is a very depressing book that has some interview type material in the closing chapters.
posted by dawson at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2008

Peter Sotos.
posted by TigerCrane at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2008

I wouldn't count Mein Kampf. For one thing, Hitler wrote it before he'd made much of a name for himself in German politics, and for another thing, he personally didn't really do anything particularly monstrous. He formulated horrible policies, yes, and oversaw the ruin of Europe, but other people did the actual killing and so forth. If memory serves, he never actually killed anyone himself. Sure, he's a monster for generating all the ideas, no question, but it's not like he yanked ropes and pulled triggers. His talent was for talking cretins into doing his dirty work for him.

Unlike my evil former roommate, who left the dishes festering in the sink until mould grew all over them. It was his turn to wash! And he never did! That vicious, godless prick-bastard.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:11 AM on April 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

Nathan Leopold (of Loeb and Leopold infamy) wrote an autobiography of sorts called Life Plus 99 Years. I see used copies online that are pretty pricey, but check your public library - that's where I found a copy. Leopold was a highly intelligent and educated man, and he describes his crime with a bit of analytical retrospect, so the book is an interesting read.

Child of Satan, Child of God by Susan Atkins (one of the Manson girls) is written in a very flat and detached manner. The impression she gives is a shrugging, "oh well, this is what happened" attitude. Some passages are unintentionally humorous, such as her indignation that Voytek Frykowski pulled her hair so hard while she was stabbing him that it later fell out in large clutches.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:12 AM on April 1, 2008

Peter Sotos.

While very interesting, Peter Sotos is not actually a child-killer (as far as we know).
posted by Bookhouse at 10:15 AM on April 1, 2008

There are several documentaries of the Eichmann trial, or you can read the testimony online at the Nizkor archive. The bulk of Eichmann's testimony is in Volume 4.
posted by OmieWise at 10:17 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dennis Nilsen wrote an autobiography but it was never published... though there are extracts in this article about it .
There was also a notorious documentary made years ago when they managed to interview him in prison on video.
Killing For Company, although not written first-person is supposed to be one of the classic 'getting into the mind of the serial killer' books and made extensive use of Nilsen's own writing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:25 AM on April 1, 2008

Complicit in acts of unspeakable evil, albeit under duress. Not an easy read.
posted by fire&wings at 10:27 AM on April 1, 2008

Hassan Butt was associated with the people behind the July 7th attacks in London. He now claims to have now renounced his former beliefs and to spend his time working to de-radicalise the people he once indoctrinated.
posted by tiny crocodile at 10:30 AM on April 1, 2008

Wikipedia on him might shed a little more light.
posted by tiny crocodile at 10:32 AM on April 1, 2008

There's a videotape (transcript) of bin Laden sitting around chatting with some friends about the attacks on the World Trade Center. (If I'm reading your question correctly, you're not limiting it to wrongdoers who later admit that what they did was wrong.)

The excellent documentary The Fog of War has segments where Robert McNamara describes his role in military decisions that he seems to believe were deeply wrong in retrospect. Whether any of them count as "evil" is, of course, a matter of opinion.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:36 AM on April 1, 2008

I don't really like to recommend it to anyone but the book published under the title of Death Dealer by Rudolf Hoess, the commandant at Auschwitz, probably qualifies as an answer. It's a collection of things he wrote after he was arrested.

fire&wings alluded to Filip Mueller's famous book about working at Auschwitz. I've gone through phases where I've read a number of these memoirs, and I invariably literally develop nightmares (the sort of thing where my wife wakes me up because I'm talking in my sleep) when I do this. Another particularly chilling and depressing book is A Doctor's Eyewitness Account written by the man who did autopsies for Josef Mengele.
posted by thomas144 at 10:49 AM on April 1, 2008

Don't forget Mai Lai. The wikipedia article has a very good listing of external sources including trial transcripts. Oh hell, don't forget the photos either. Here for Mai Lai References and Further Reading You've got rapes, child killing, adult killing, recrimination, obfuscation and a whole series of pestilential issues.

Here is a link to Rwanda on Frontline with witness and perpetrator interviews.

Oh hell, there is plenty of horrible things that you can pick from.
posted by jadepearl at 10:52 AM on April 1, 2008

The original Winter Soldier film, which just got re-released, has a lot of really insane testimony. You can get it on DVD.
posted by history is a weapon at 10:57 AM on April 1, 2008

Mod note: a few comments removed - please hold off on the bitchy thing someone at work did to you, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:02 AM on April 1, 2008

Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect, which is mostly about the Stanford Prison Experiment, might be an interesting read for you.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:07 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Haruki Murakami's Underground, a compilation of accounts of the Tokyo Metro sarin gas attacks.
posted by avocet at 11:18 AM on April 1, 2008

Survivors, Victims and Perpetrators: Essays on the Nazi Holocaust by Joel Dimsdale

Hatzfeld, J. (2005). Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak (L. Coverdale, Trans.). New York: Picador.

Huggins, M. K., Haritos-Fatouros, M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2002). Violence Workers: Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Lifton, R. J. (2000). The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books.

Ziemer, G. A. (1972). Education for Death, the Making of the Nazi. New York: Octagon Books.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do a little research into the treatment of American Indians, quite a few historical narratives exist. Don't expect to encounter a lot of "hang on, what am I doing?" in any of your research. Mostly you'll see a mixture of disinterest and detachment in the more modern examples, and pride when it comes to killing the Indians... Check out the Baltimore Sun this morning for an example of pure evil


"I know what I did was bad," Castillo told the medics who arrived first, according to police charging papers filed with the court. "I did it. I drown the kids last night around 6 p.m."
posted by Patapsco Mike at 11:33 AM on April 1, 2008

I think the recent child-killer confession Metafilter post Bookhouse was referring to is this one, with the transcript of Kevin Ray Underwood confessing his cannibalistic murder-rape of a 10-year-old girl.
posted by Anything at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2008

There is a Melbourne lawyer who does a show on public access television station Channel 31. The show is called a Life Of Crime and the two hosts interview people about their past criminal activities.

There are two series "highlights" clips:

Series 1
Series 2

A lot of it is fairly mundane, but there are some chilling moments, such as the guy discussing murdering a woman (it was just something that needed to be done).

There is also a book: http://www.mklawfirm.com.au/motvcd/motvcd.php
posted by goshling at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2008

This post on the blue is about a murderer who helps make a serial killer movie, then years later actually becomes a serial killer.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:02 PM on April 1, 2008

I came to recommend Machete Season which nooneyouknow already listed. It's pretty much a perfect match for what you're looking for.

Another good one is Bad by James Carr.

It isn't particularly introspective, but Twenty Years of an African Slaver by Theodore Canot, is a rare first hand view of the life of a slaver.

The Labyrinth by Walter Schellenberg is by a high ranking SS officer and close associate of Heydrich. The author's honesty is certainly questionable.
posted by BigSky at 12:06 PM on April 1, 2008

"The Good Old Days": The Holocaust As Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders, edited by Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen, and Volker Riess.
posted by arco at 12:19 PM on April 1, 2008

Kind of shocking to me how many of these I've read. I'd particularly recommend Eyewitness Auschwitz and The good old days.

Ed Kemper has always struck me as unusually coherent and self-aware for someone who basically went crazy and killed a bunch of people. Unfortunately his extensive confession is unavailable online, at least that I am aware of.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:55 PM on April 1, 2008

Requiem for a Woman's Soul is the most harrowing thing I've ever read.

There's part of me that feels a duty to know what happened during Argentina's dirty war and to always remember what we're capable of as a species. There's another part of me that would excise this book from my memory with a grapefruit spoon if I could.
posted by Failure31 at 1:07 PM on April 1, 2008

The Catholic church during the Spanish Inquisition is right up there with every act of barbarism, cruelty, sadism and perpetrated evil ever inflicted by men upon other men. And women and children. It really doesn't get more sordid than that. They actually were the ones to invent torture.
posted by watercarrier at 3:49 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh. Here ya go. Killing in the name of God.
posted by watercarrier at 3:51 PM on April 1, 2008

Numbers 31 describes the genocide of the Midianites, with murder of women and children, and taking virgins as slaves to be raped.
posted by mullingitover at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2008

James P. Carse defines evil as the imposition of silence, the desire to eliminate evil is the first impulse of evil.
posted by hortense at 10:00 PM on April 1, 2008

Situations that are currently happening:

North Korean torture camps.

This film is more about the immigration to America by Sudanese boys, but their accounts of what's happening there are harrowing.
posted by 1fish2fish at 11:11 PM on April 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

The murders committed by the subjects of Tony Parker's Life after Life vary from borderline-accidents to truly vile, though they don't really compare to some of the 'most evil ever' acts described in the answers above. However, as first-hand accounts they have a gripping ring of truth; there is no discernible prevarication.

It's one of the most affecting books I've ever read, in an understated way. I haven't read any of his other books, but it looks like you might find suitable materials in some of them too.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:23 AM on April 2, 2008

"Killer Fiction by G. J. Schaefer - fiction and very disturbing drawings by a serial killer"-Koobie Kitten

There is Danny Rolling's autobiography The Making of a Serial Killer. Danny, AKA the Gainsville Ripper, co-authored the book with Sondra London, who is one of Gerard Schaefer's ex-girlfriends.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:48 PM on April 11, 2008

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