BURGLARS, murderers, psychopaths. We are fascinated by crime. We wallow in tales of those who hack people to death, poison, drown . . . there seems to be no crime so dastardly we don’t wish to know the details.
We may despise those who steal our money, televisions and self-respect, yet we are more than prepared to give them houseroom, whether on our bookshelves in the form of crime fiction or biography, or on the box in the corner. (Or more often these days, on the wall.)
We love the detail of the bad boy or girl. We’ve long wanted to know what makes them tick, since the days of Jack The Ripper. We wallowed in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
David Wilson’s Crime Files, Spree Mass Killers, (BBC Scotland, Sundays, 10.30pm) is clearly satisfying this lust we have for spending time with our tormentors.
Professor Wilson’s easy manner offers a clear contrast to the gore he often describes, such as this week’s killing spree recalling the Carstairs Escape of 1976.
Three people were killed and countless injured when Thomas McCulloch, who had been locked up after a deranged attack over not having enough butter on his sandwich, escaped with Robert Mone, who had shot a woman in a school.
The pair, assumed to have been lovers, went on to create mayhem. But what do we learn from the programme? Wilson’s interview with former senior police officer Graeme Pearson confirms the pair were brutal and sadistic. No surprise there.
We learn the pair had read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Me before going berserk. What did this explain? That McCulloch was an Alpha male, with Mone subjugated by the stronger will? Perhaps. The show doesn’t expand on this.
But what was the motive? A compulsion to murder? “He didn’t think he’d go back to Carstairs,” said Pearson of Mone. “He’d go to prison and have a date of release.” So were the pair psychopathic idiots?
Wilson proves to be a good storyteller but all too often skims across the surface of psychological analysis.
This is underlined when we move to the next ‘killing spree’, the Dunblane Massacre.
Again we are re-told the horror, but what did Wilson gain from chatting to forensic clinical psychologist David Cooke about Thomas Hamiton?
“There is evidence Hamiton suffered from a personality disorder.”
Well, there’s a surprise. We go on to learn Hamilton suffered self-esteem issues. Ditto. Wilson then speaks to Dr Mick North, who lost his daughter at Dunblane. “I didn’t think Hamilton was evil,” he offered. “He was a human being. We have to understand what he did in terms of being a human being.”
But aren’t the actions of the mass murderer a clear indication that the concept of what we term humanity is linear? Or are we expected to reject the theory that evil, as a determinant force and a mind state, does not exist?
Wilson makes the viewer asks questions of this series; why did these men murder? But here’s the real question; what’s the motivation for retracing these stories? Are we investigating or rewinding?
We aren’t presented with each case long enough to get more than a hint inside the mind which unleashed horror into the world.
Wilson’s programmes, it would seem, try to cover too much territory, teasing us with too little of an understanding of the psychopathy of crime.
Children of 9/11, (Channel 4, Monday, 9pm) We have seen documentaries focusing on the children whose parents died as a result of the Twin Towers attack. But this programme traces the impact on the children who were still unborn when their fathers died in the 2001 New York attack.
How did the families cope? Channel 4 factual commissioner Sacha Mirzoeff said: “They’ve all lived in the shadow of that terrorist event, and many others after, and have unique takes on our world that help define our future. To hear directly from young people today about their views on the multitude of issues they face in this fast-changing environment feels critical.” Worth a watch.
Ladhood, (BBC1, Mondays, 10.35pm and iPlayer) Writer Liam Williams has to be applauded if only for remembering that half the population happens to be male, and the half he focuses on are certainly no strangers to teen angst and adolescent insecurities.
This week, we’re in the noughties and the auto-biographical stories continue with more misery and heartbreak. Young Liam and co find lots of laughs in trying to cope with their exam results, sitting their driving tests and the searing, mind-wrecking, heart bustin’ pain of that first romantic break up.