The Killer Question – Part Thirteen

For the first post, click here.

He hasn’t aged well, but his apparent frailty only serves to make him more frightening. If you had sat me in this bleak interview room in front of some hulk-like man, it would have been less intimidating than being surveyed by this particular brand of piercing leer. I try to push the words “Unnatural” and “Evil” out of my head. Beneath the wrinkled skin is a mind that would take pleasure in my destruction, whether physical or emotional. Maybe he prefers the latter, and that’s why he saved me.

“You look less like a librarian than I thought you would, especially after the moth line. Tell me, is that how you deal with men normally? Keep the expectations low?”

I ignore his bait, as I ignored the sorry-looking flower head. I had questions lined up, but I’ve already decided to pull out of the study as soon as I’m home. I’ll make up any excuse, or maybe even tell my supervisors the truth. I’m in trouble already. I may as well say what I want to say.

“I don’t think I’m special.” The words fall from my mouth, but my lips are so numb I don’t feel them. They’re so quiet I can barely hear them. His eyebrows draw together. “You keep saying that I want to know why I’m so special. I don’t. Whatever reasons you had for saving me, they would have applied to any child who was in my position. I’m not different.” I speak more loudly, but in a flat tone.

He smiles and there’s a moment when our eyes connect that I think I know he’s going to break me. Whether it’s through looks, or words, or physical violence, it doesn’t matter. I know that when I leave the room, he’ll have left his mark, something that will never go away.


The Killer Question – Part Eleven

See the first letter here.

I have to pull over shortly before I reach the prison. My hands leave sweat marks on the wheel. I rub them on the rough fabric of the seats and try to keep my breathing even. I can’t decide if I’m glad the road is quiet or not. On the one hand, it means I don’t have to worry about curious passers-by. On the other, the silence means the only thing I can hear is the ringing in my ears. The worst thing of all is the way the fear makes my gut clench.

What am I afraid of? Him? A little, I guess, but security at the prison is tighter than it’s ever been, and the interview will be closely monitored. Am I scared of what he’ll say? He’s just a damaged man, what he says doesn’t matter, especially not now. Those letters, what was I thinking? They’ve invalidated everything I’ve worked for. Even if my supervisors don’t find out, how can I hold my head high while knowing this research is useless? This interview is a sham. I’m only here because my main supervisor thought it would be a good idea. I was too nervous to think of an excuse.

My mother was so proud when I told her I was going to become a PhD student. “We’re going to have a Dr Atkinson in the family!” She was ecstatic. I stayed over at her home last night. She knew something wasn’t right, but I told her I was just tired after the long drive from Exeter. I couldn’t rest in that place, I never can. It’s so different from our old house, but I’m still scared that if you peel back the wallpaper, you’ll find the same dirty kitchen, the same stains on the walls, and then you’ll hear the shouts, the crashes, and the screams…

My father was never a pleasant man, and the arrest was not surprising. Despite the violence we had endured, my mother made sure we visited regularly. She couldn’t just cut loose like I very much wanted her to. I have to lay my head against the steering wheel as I recall that last visit. They called it the worst prison riot in history. There was a well-publicized enquiry. Gross negligence and failure from the prison staff, ill-thought out policies and procedures were to blame. Heads rolled and the media vultures feasted on the carcasses for weeks.

All I remember were the sirens, enough to make a young, foolish girl so hysterical she runs into the arms of trouble.

I start the car. These memories will be painted over.

The Killer Question – Part Nine

The first letter can be found here.

Dear Mr Empwood,

I have no response to your last letter.

However, it would greatly aid the progress of this study if we had a face to face interview.

Either the study can continue as previously described, or you can take part in a face to face interview instead of completing two of the surveys.

How would you like to proceed?


Ms E. Atkinson.

The Killer Question – Part Seven

See the original post here.

Dear Mr Empwood

I am glad to hear that you are willing to take part in the study. The surveys and instructions have been mailed to your prison supervisors. I know that the formalities can be tedious, but they are necessary. The corruptibility of “good” people is exactly what I study, Mr Empwood. There are a lot of factors which influence a person to commit crime. Deindividuation, genetics, their parental models (or lack thereof), do you think any of those factors apply to you? Or do you think that some people, including yourself, are simply “villains”?

I refuse to believe the latter is true in any case. Until we stop categorizing people as good or bad and start appreciating how complex the human mind really is, we will never truly understand why some people commit violent crimes and others do not. More importantly, we can never hope to rehabilitate criminals successfully until we understand exactly what motivates such behaviour.

Your supervisors inform me that you are a model prisoner. I know that the prison has a rewards system in place, is that what motivates you? You have your theories about me, I have my theories about you.

You say Sid’s survival was merely down to luck, but you let him slip through your fingers. You knew where he lived and could have found him again before he found you. Your prison supervisors claim they’ve never had trouble from you since that riot. You prevented me from being harmed by another prisoner.

Are you “repenting”?

Yours sincerely,

Emma Atkinson.

P.S. I drink neither Pepsi or Coke. Just the smell of cola drinks makes me nauseous.

The Killer Question – Part Five

See the first letter here.

Dear Mr Empwood,

I gained both my degree and my master’s in Psychology at the University of Exeter, under the tutelage of the very skilled and able professors who work there.  My interest in Psychology, especially surrounding violent crime, developed during my teenage years. Unless I am mistaken, you met my father while he was incarcerated. It was after his death that my desire to understand the motives behind his crimes began.

You may already know that the Stanford Prison experiment was the very study which highlighted the need for certain ethical guidelines to be compulsory, and its aftermath produced the foundation for the rules we follow today. Let me reiterate, you may withdraw from the study at any time you wish. You do not need to give a reason and your decision will not affect your treatment. Your concerns are taken seriously.

I cannot say I have a “favourite” victim of yours. However, your behaviour after murdering Hayleigh Jones was unusual and inconsistent with your other crimes. Your other victims were simply left in their beds. After strangling Hayleigh, you dressed her in her wedding gown and left her outside the church she was due to be married in three days later.

Was this simply to gain attention? If so, you certainly succeeded. It was the murder which sparked the media frenzy which did not end until well after your capture and imprisonment.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Atkinson

P.S. I’ve always preferred moths to butterflies. They’re much less ostentatious.

The Killer Question- part 4

The Killer Question – Part Four

Colourful imagination with grey thoughts

Previous letter here

Miss Atkinson,

If you wish to divulge more information about yourself, feel free to do so. After all in my mind’s eye you are still that little girl in frilly socks and pigtails, waiting besides me. I wonder if you grew into a butterfly or a moth. I would ask for a picture, but I would never be allowed to keep it. Such things are luxury that society has denied me. Back to business: where did you study, under who and why this and not a BA in English or hairdressing?

Now in regards to your ‘ethical stance’, I have to argue that all notorious experiments all began with the same dribble you just gave me. No one thought anyone would be hurt in the Stanford prison experiment (I assume you’ve heard of it or don’t they teach you anything other than Freudian psychology.) You see morals…

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The Killer Question – Part Three

Read the previous letter here.

Dear Mr Empwood,

Let me assure you that nobody intends to treat you as anything less than human. We have strict, ethical codes and practices which we must adhere to at all times. I am not seeking some kind of power trip and I am not trying to judge you as a person, Mr Empwood. I am trying to understand you, human being to human being.

If your aim is to give the public your side of the story, there are journalists lining up to hear your views. I’m a psychologist, and the wrong person to share your story with the world. If, on the other hand, you are interested in being part of a project that will shape future policy with regards to criminal rehabilitation, your participation will help us immensely.

I’m not going to play games with you and I’m not sure what you want me to tell you.

Would you like to know more about myself and my qualifications?

Yours sincerely,

Emma Atkinson

The Killer Question – Part One

It’s finally September, which means I’ll be back at university in a few weeks time. I’m actually (as sad as it sounds,) really excited about going back. I think it’s going to be a good year. I do have time for one more project before I get busy with coursework and lectures and revision. I’m doing a collaboration with Inkwell Knight, which will consist of a series of letters between a psychologist and a man convicted of several violent murders.

We should be posting every five days, but we’re keeping everything quite flexible as we’re both quite busy.

We both hope you enjoy the project.

Dear Mr Empwood,

I am currently a post-graduate student at the University of Exeter, and undertaking a research project on the topic of criminal rehabilitation, specifically on how perpetrators of violent crime recall their actions. I have discussed this project with my supervisors, your prison supervisors, and with the UK’s board of ethics, who have agreed this project can be pursued with your consent.

You were chosen for this study based on your crimes and your admission of guilt in court not because of anything that occurred after you were imprisoned. The project will involve me asking you for written accounts of the crimes you committed, and also asking you to fill out various surveys both before and after writing these accounts. It will also involve me asking questions related to your treatment and activities within HM Prison Wakefield. This will be supervised by prison employees.

You are not in any way obliged to take part in this study, and your decision will not affect your treatment at HM Prison Wakefield. You may discontinue your participation in the study at any time. All of this information, along with my contact details, is listed on the consent form, which is attached.

Your participation would really help me, not that I expect you’re capable of much empathy after what you did, but then

I think you owe it to society

What was it about me that made you do what you did?

Yours sincerely,

Emma Atkinson.