10 Book Ideas for the Serial Killer on Your List

Books. They're the old standby for holiday gift giving, but let's face it, most of us aren't all that adept at picking out the perfect tome—even for our closest friends and most unestranged family members. But you know whom it would be totally easy to browse the bookstore for? Serial killers. Think about it—they have very specific (one might say obsessive) interests, lots of free time for reading, and they can't really return the gift if they don't find it to their tastes.

1. Mark David Chapman

incoldfear.jpgOK, he wasn't a serial killer per se, but this dude was one literary you-know-what—he was obsessed with JD Salinger's immortal tale of adolescent angst, The Catcher in the Rye, which he said led him to kill John Lennon.

The Gift: Forgo the obvious and pick up In Cold Fear: The Catcher in the Rye, Censorship Controversies and Postwar American Character, by Pamela Hunt Steinle. Everyone likes to see his name in print.

2. Charles Manson

Beatles fan. Bible enthusiast. Scary, scary man.

The Gift:

"¦tell them, "The Beatles Are Your Salvation!" by Diann Venita Bobbitt James. It's got religion and rhythm. More bang for your buck.

3. Richard Ramirez (AKA the Night Stalker)

Satan worshipper, known for his good looks and murderous ways.

The Gift: Paradise Lost by John Milton—the perfect read for anyone who has sympathy for the devil.

4. Ted Kacynzski (AKA the Unabomber)

loners.JPGReclusive genius with a disdain for technology and a tendency to go postal.

The Gift: Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto by Anneli Rufus. Come on, that's, like, too perfect.

5. Zodiac Killer

A man of mystery who killed by numbers.

The Gift: Hardy Boys Secret-Code Activity Book, because every man is—at heart—a scared little boy, even maniacal, puzzle-lovin' killers.

6. David Berkowitz (AKA The Son of Sam)

Went barking mad—claimed the neighbor's dog made him do it.

The Gift: Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog, by John Grogan. Every man needs a best friend—even if it is a hound from hell.

7. John Wayne Gacy

scary-clowns.jpgIt was scary enough that this dude dressed like a clown—he had to be a murderer too.

The Gift: Scary Clowns by Essential Works. Enough said.

8. Jeffrey Dahmer

A man with complicated tastes—mostly for the flesh of other dudes.

The Gift: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Although, I'm pretty sure Dahmer knew where his food came from.

9. Ed Gein

Real-life inspiration for Buffalo Bill, from Silence of the Lambs. Ad Hoc Dr. Frankenstein.

The Gift: Patchwork Girl, by Shelley Jackson. Although the girl-on-girl action would totally wig out his Bible-thumpin' mama.

10. Belle Gunness

A serious black widow—Gunness put out an ad for suitors in the local papers and killed the respondents, feathering her nest with the contents of their wallets. Forget gold digger—this lady was one serious gravedigger.

The Gift: The 10 Commandments of Marriage, by Ed Young and Beth Moore. It probably doesn't say anything like, "Thou shalt not murder thine husband for cash," but it should, right?

Begins and Ends: European Cities
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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