Brian Alan Lane
MIND GAMES WITH A SERIAL KILLER
About the Book
When it was first released, Brian Alan Lane’s genre-bending bestseller “Mind Games With a Serial Killer” was simultaneously hailed and reviled.
Some readers wrote that the book was “personally important and life-changing”, others that it was “the only serial killer book with a sense of humor”, and others that they wished the author dead or worse.
One would-be serial killer in the US midwest found the book to be a touchstone of truth, a shocking Ghost of Christmas Future which led him to contact author Lane and killer Bill Suff for guidance on how to turn away from the path of darkness to which he was bound.
At the same time, the son of one of Suff’s victims held on to the book as life-preserving testimony to the goodness of his fatally flawed mother and the possibility that his own redemption would eventually be in his own hands.
Meanwhile, TV series and movies continuously derive episodes and plots from the unique details of the murders and the spiraling psyches of the characters as laid out in the book.
“Highly recommended: the creepiest book of the year… A surreal portrait of a murderous mind.” (
“This book is an amazing piece of work—it’s like Truman Capote on LSD.” (Geraldo Rivera on
“A masterpiece… that needs to be sought out and savored by all those with a truly macabre sensibility… A post-modernistic objet trouvé… that could have been concocted by Vladimir Nabokov.” (
“A new approach to crime… absolutely riveting, utterly terrifying.” (
AUTHOR’S NOTES ON THE 2015 EDITION
In a corridor outside the “greenroom” of a network TV studio in Manhattan, a shrieking wraith of a woman attacked me, fists all balled up and tears running down her fresh stage make-up and into tissue between her neck and her collar. “All you want is to fuck my sister!” she wailed, “You just want my sister to blow you!”
I ducked, held up my arms to fend off the blows, as producers and stage managers dashed out to grab the woman and pull her away.
This was off-camera, unexpected, and not something that Geraldo Rivera wanted to happen.
I was there to tape his show, to talk about serial killers, to promote my new book “Mind Games With a Serial Killer”.
But, when the woman fell back into the grasp of the production personnel, a young man was revealed in the corridor, another freshly made-up on-air guest, apparently. He was a stringbean teenager, with arms too long for his sleeves, wearing the only sportcoat he ever owned or possibly borrowed. And, despite the commotion, he seemed to draw breath and strength, standing taller as he politely stepped toward me, hand outstretched to shake mine. Behind him, the wraith woman struggled and shot laser beams out of her eyes. She was willing the boy not to speak to me, but he did not look back at her, not even for an instant.
“I want to thank you,” he said, “what you wrote about my mother, it’s true and it’s how I need to remember her.”
There was no need to ask him who his mother was, I knew the instant he spoke.
When I had first finished the manuscript for “Mind Games With a Serial Killer”, I turned it in to my editor, the brilliant writer Lee Montgomery. She had promised not to mess with it, but I still expected some edits, some cuts. Instead, she took me to lunch and, between appetizer and entree, she said “Listen, I love the pieces of the book that are creative non-fiction infused with memoir, there’s never been anything like it in true crime publications, but the book needs more of that stuff. It’s so moving. It’s gold. It’s why people will remember this book. Do one more chapter. And get it to me in two days.”
“But I don’t have anything more to say,” I whined, “what would I write?”
“More. Write more.” she said.
I stared at Lee for a time, and she stared back. Our entrees came. I stared at her some more. Underneath, I knew she was right. I had held something back from the book. I’d justified that choice to myself, but the truth was that I was afraid to write what I knew would have to come next. Only now that I’d faced the fear, and because Lee was unafraid, damn it, I’d have to go home and write.
But, to integrate the emotional ground I’d be covering, I needed a structural reference to specific killings committed by Bill Suff. To linchpin the psychological dynamics that would be explored, I needed one particular murder, one particular victim. This final chapter had to be about a victim, not the killer. After all, there are many among us who harbor evil intent, but they don’t matter until they create victims. There are no heroes without villainy, and there are no murderers without victims.
Yet, when it comes to serial killers, the usual empathetic focus on the victim is vitiated by both the numbers and the disconnect of the motive. So, the focus shifts to the monster instead. Serial killers are vastly more galvanizing than their victims. Indeed, “Mind Games With a Serial Killer” is about my exclusive access to a living, breathing serial killer. His victims are less interesting because they are gone. The killer is the one who tells their tale, the one who knows their final words, their final thoughts. But I was not about to write an extra final chapter about Bill Suff. I had already finished his story. What was missing was a victim’s story, and my tie to it on the basis of survivor’s guilt. I had sold the book by asking “Why is Bill a serial killer and I’m not?”, but now I needed to ask “Why are these people victims and I’m not?”
Interestingly, later I would do many talk shows as a “serial killer and murder expert”, and would always be asked “How do women avoid becoming victims of homicidal husbands or serial killers?”
Easy answer: intimacy requires vulnerability; but neediness will get you killed, emotionally or worse. If you are needy, stay home until you are not. If you are needy, predators will find you. Watch out.
But now, for my final chapter, I needed a victim. So I went back through all the victim case files. And the one that I had previously avoided became the one I had to write about.
The thing about this woman’s case file is that it only had two pages in it. Every other victim had lots of material, but not this one. Because the police had no contemporaneous witnesses as to this victim’s whereabouts on the last days of her life. She was a woman with an ex-husband, a young son, a sister, and a drug problem. And, on a night when she needed money for drugs, she’d offered herself up to the wrong man, to Bill Suff. That was the sum total of her story, there was nothing to report, according to her case file she was a statistic rather than a human being. Even worse, the last person to have seen her—someone who actually knew her—made a very odd and impersonal comment about her, a comment that evidenced his lack of care or concern for her, to him she was just a statistic even when she was still alive. And, finally, by pure coincidence or perhaps cosmic design, this victim had disappeared and died on a date that mattered very much to me and my life.
So I took the memory of this murdered woman into my care, and I wrote about her, and I did my very best to bring her back to life by inference and instinct and emotional connection, to fill out her empty file with what my heart told me had to be true. My ultimate goal: to make her real, to show the battle between her best intents and the fatal flaw of her addiction.
As much as I had spent a year in Bill Suff’s head, I now spent the next days in this poor dead woman’s heart.
And, may I say, it was a much warmer place to be.
But, as we published “Mind Games With a Serial Killer”, I did not know if my truth would ever prove to be the true truth.
And then it was.
There was the gangly young man shaking my hand and thanking me in the Geraldo hallway.
This was the son of the dead woman I’d written about, and he said I got it right.
For a writer and a human being, there can be no sweeter moment. To be connected to one’s thoughts, one’s words, and one’s fellow human beings about whom and for whom the words are intended—wow, that’s what it’s all about.
Shannon Harrison went through his own hell for many years after that handshake—a hell that was as ordained as his mother’s fate—but he’s come through it and out the other side, with his own story to tell, and to which I commend you when the time comes.
Meanwhile, his aunt—the wraith woman—lives in the fetid flurry of guilt and misunderstanding reserved specially for those who care but are le ...