American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950–2000

Berkley. Feb. 2021. 416p. ISBN 9780593198810. $26. CRIME
More than 2,000 serial killers were active between 1950 and 2000, leading one true crime writer to sardonically label the period “the golden age of serial murderers.” Vronsky (Sons of Cain) calls it an epidemic. Though some believe that supposedly permissive attitudes of these decades gave rise to murderers, Vronsky dismisses this idea, instead emphasizing the importance of childhood histories in serial killer research. These killers were raised by the Greatest Generation: mothers and fathers who were traumatized by war, economic depression, and societal upheaval. Vronsky also blames the media, specifically men’s adventure magazines that converted wartime atrocities into entertainment. The first half of the book builds up to the rise of the epidemic, while the second half focuses on “celebrity” killers of that era as well as the development of the criminology needed to catch them. Vronsky is brusque, combining a scholarly approach with four-letter word summations. He also calls out stupidity where he sees it, even in his own earlier writings.
VERDICT Vronsky’s true crime writing is charged. When his target is ViCAP, it’s brilliant. When it’s university administrative assistants, it’s baffling. Although famous killers and their gruesome crimes get an unnecessary retread, Vronsky’s focus on the society that reared them is fresh
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