I don't mean to second-guess law enforcement (or maybe I do), but if I run a red light in my neighborhood, a camera takes a picture of my license plate and I get a ticket. If I commit a mathematical error on my income tax forms, the IRS and the state of Virginia always see it and either send me a bill or a refund.
Why, then, after 13 shootings, is the"Beltway sniper" getting away so cleanly every time? We have military planes equipped with machines that can supposedly spot a gun being fired from miles away. We have the Secret Service, FBI, state and local police involved. How is it possible that someone can have his own personal shooting gallery, striking down human beings at will and at random like mechanical ducks at a carnival, and no one can find him, much less stop him?
Is the guy that smart? Or is he so evil that finding him would be like tracking down Satan himself? This guy must be a hybrid of Rambo and Jack the Ripper. No Halloween movie or monster could strike as much terror into a region as this killer has done. Osama bin Laden (if he's alive) and his disciples must be watching and concluding that to achieve their goal of damaging the American economy, psyche and resolve, they don't have to go to the trouble and expense of hijacking airplanes and crashing them into buildings. They have only to place a few hundred sharpshooters around shopping malls and start picking off customers as they come and go. They've proven they have at least that many fanatics willing to die for their cause. Maybe this is a test run for just such an attack. Who knows?
It seems no one knows, and not knowing is worse than what we do know. We don't like uncertainty or unpredictability, and this killer has given us strong doses of both.
Typing"serial killers" on my Web search engine provides much material. I learn (from something called"The Crime Library") that the term was coined in 1971, though the practice has been around at least since the recording of history began. In the"A-Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers," Harold Schechter and David Everitt (cq) describe the lycanthropic madmen turned sexual predators who terrorized 16th-century peasant villages. Among the most notorious of these medieval"wolf men," they write, were Gilles Garnier of France and the German, Peter Stubbe, both of whom attacked children, ripping them apart and cannibalizing them. Stubbe even savagely mutilated his own son, gnawing at his brain. And you thought Hannibal Lecter was bad.
Why are serial killers so difficult to spot, a question with which Washington-area police are struggling? In an essay from the same Web site titled"What Makes Serial Killers Tick?" author Shirley Lynn Scott writes that such people are not the obviously deranged we might step over or walk around if we see them on the street. Rather, she says, they are"charming, impeccably dressed (and) polite. They blend in, camouflaged in contemporary anonymity. They lurk in churches, malls and prowl the freeways and streets." One attorney described serial killer and cannibalizer Jeffrey Dahmer this way:"Dress him in a suit and he looks like 10 other men."
The more they kill, the more empowered they feel to kill even more. They feel they can dominate anyone, and each time they get away with it, they begin to see themselves as invincible. That is what makes this killer all the more dangerous. Police keep looking for him to make a mistake, but what if he doesn't? How do they find him? How do they stop him?
No one knows, or they would have found him and stopped him by now. It's scary, but unlike the pretend Halloween ghouls, this one is for real. And law enforcement is stumped.