A Study of the Phenomenon

On the night of February 22, 1946, a young couple in Texarkana, Texas, was attacked by a gun-wielding masked assailant while parked on the town’s lovers’ lane. The young man, Jimmy Hollis, was severely beaten with the butt of a pistol, cracking his skull in three places. Jimmy’s young date, Mary Larey, who attempted to run from the attacker, was beaten and sexually assaulted. Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey would survive the late-night attack to recount their horrific story to local sheriff W.H. Presley. The following day, the Texarkana Daily News reported the attack that would herald the beginning of a string of attacks that would leave five people dead and three people injured. The horrifying attacks, perpetrated by a man wearing a white cloth bag with eyeholes as a mask, occurred over a 10-week time period and would stop as quickly as they started. The attacks in Texarkana, although a brief entry in unsolved serial-killer history, became known as the Moonlight Murders. The problem? There was not a full moon during any of the attacks or murders. So why does the moon get blamed for increases in violent crime in America?

The moon has long been the culprit for some of the most bizarre and complicated mental illnesses that have plagued humans throughout history. The first word describing misunderstood mental illness was lunacy. The idea that the moon was the cause of mental problems can be found as far back as the time of Aristotle; however, the first uses of lunacy in speech and writing would not emerge until the late 1300s and early 1400s. Even then, mental illness remained a mystery to those who studied it, and the moon remained the leading culprit. The belief in the moon’s ability to cause mental illness is the primary catalyst that gave rise to such frightening, full moon–dwelling monsters as werewolves and vampires. It would not be until the late 19th century that Wilhelm Wundt, and later, Sigmund Freud, began to study illnesses of the brain, that the moon stopped being the leading harbinger of mental illness.

Law enforcement and trained medical professionals have always testified to the fact that a full moon will bring about increased crime in America. Shootings, stabbings and domestic violence cases are reported, by police dispatchers, to be higher during a full moon, and those cases can soar in number if the weather and day of the week are factored into the equation. A moonlit Saturday night in August can be one of the single busiest nights for law enforcement and medical professionals. Since these brave individuals are on the front lines of violent crime, it would seem that their opinions, observations, and documentation would be a trusted source in the validity of what causes violent crime to rise on a given day. Not so, it seems. There have been many studies linking the full moon to violent crime; however, for every study that says there is an increase, there is a study that posits there is no connection between the effects of the full moon on crime in America. A quick search of the web will give the casual observer, or professional researcher, hundreds of different studies that vary in their opinions and documentation of the subject. These competing studies, documentation, and opinions are a breeding ground for uncertainty, capriciousness, and in many cases, one-sided thinking that takes away from the larger picture. Serial killers kill because they need to kill—the moon has no power change that fact.

As in the case of the Moonlight Murders of Texarkana, the moon has very little to do with what forces drive a serial killer. To say that a serial killer, mass murderer, serial rapist, or spree killer is ruled by anything other than personality, environment, mental illness, or an overwhelming urge to kill is debatable. It is commonly accepted that mass murderers do not just snap. They plan their murderous acts for hours, days, weeks, and in some cases, years. In the cases of the Columbine High School Massacre, committed by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Aurora Theater Massacre, committed by James Holmes, the Sandy Hook School Massacre, committed by Adam Lanza, and even the Mountain Meadows Massacre, committed by John Lee in 1857, the moon was neither full nor played a role in how the attacks were planned. In the same realm with a competing revelation, Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Sniper, who suffered from an astrocytoma tumor, began his horrific attack on the morning of a full moon (August 1, 1966). Whitman planned his attack for weeks prior to the onset of the Texas Tower Massacre and would have been able to anticipate that the grounds of the University of Texas would have been teaming with people on that fateful Monday morning. Hence, the moon may not have played any part in the massacre.

Is it possible that serial killers like Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgeway, Ronald Dominique, Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins, or Scott Lee Kimball, all of whom killed at night and had to dispense with their victims under the cover of darkness, used the moon to light their way in the darkness? The idea is highly probable, and by letting one’s self into the mind of a serial killer it is easy to understand why violent, furtive killers would want the light of the moon (full moon) or the darkness of the moon (new moon) working on their side. Ted Bundy said, “Sometimes I feel like a vampire,” and although his statement leads the casual observer to think that his crimes required a full moon, or new moon, to achieve, Ted Bundy was controlled only by his need to kill.

Another aspect of the serial killer mindset regarding time, place, and victims may fall on the shoulders of the calendar and not the perceived powers of the moon. Herb Baumeister, the I-70 Strangler, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, Ronald Dominique, the Bayou Serial Killer, and Billy Gohl, the Ghoul of Gray’s Harbor, used the anonymity of the weekend crowds to prey on their victims. These killers understood, and planned, their attacks at times when they knew that nightclubs and bars would be full of patrons there to spend their pay from the week and within the crowds, these killers could stay hidden. Herb Baumeister would send his wife, Julie, on weekend trips so he could lure gay men to his house of horrors, Fox Hollow Farms. Almost identical in its delivery, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ronald Dominique would lure gay men from bars and clubs on weekend nights when the crowds could hide their movements. Billy Gohl would use the arrival of large numbers of migrant workers on ships to kill and rob his victims. In most cases, the workers did not know each other, and as a labor union representative, he used his knowledge of the arrivals to lure his victims from the bars of the Yukon Territory straight to their deaths. Lunar phases appear to have nothing to do with when these cold, calculating murderers commit their crimes, and there is no evidence to support the idea that the moon is a not a significant factor in these deeds.

The proficient researcher who searches for trends in the moon, in relationship to crime, will find them. As the evidence shows, law enforcement and medical professionals’ reports do not lie, and in the cases of serial killers, one may be able to find a correlation between murders and the full moon. It will be discovered very quickly by such naysayers that blaming the moon in serial killer cases is futile. The primary reason for this is that serial killers kill because they are driven to kill. Unlike street thugs, wife beaters, and small-time gun wielding assailants who keep law enforcement and doctors busy in jails and hospitals, serial killers lack remorse, empathy, and foresight. That is to say, serial killers will kill until they get caught or killed without any regard to getting caught or killed for they do not possess foresight, or a vision for the future. To say that serial killers are a special breed is an understatement. These killers are, in the classic sense, heartless. They relish in their past deeds, often visiting kill sights, by moonlight, long after the deed has been done, patiently waiting for the inner voice to call out for blood once again. If that happens under the light of the full moon, then the moon was only there to light their way and not as a driving force in their need to kill.