Christina Giscombe reviews SLAUGHTER

This is a blockbuster of a book covering:

  • Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook)
  • Stephen Paddock (Life is Beautiful Concert, Las Vegas)
  • Tsarnaev brothers (Boston Marathon Bombings)
  • Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech)
  • Nikolas Cruz (Parkland, Florida)
  • James Holmes (‘Dark Knight Rises’, Aurora movie theatre, Colorado)
  • Matti Saari (Kauhajoki College, Finland)
  • Beslan school siege, Chechnya


There is also a detailed reference to John Hinckley Jr, would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan in Washington DC, as an example of the use of the ‘insanity’ plea, which James Holmes attempted to emulate by acting ‘crazy’ in court at his trial, with his bright orange hair and faux staring eyes.

nikolas-cruz-mug-shot-credit-broward-sheriff-office-and-instagram-v1We tend to look at these killers as monsters.  The callous disregard and lack of empathy for their victims makes our blood run cold.  The sadism and cruelty involved in the senseless slaughter of innocent concert-goers, high school pupils or cinema goers is incomprehensible to us.

The Columbine killers, Klebold and Harris, not content with planting over 99 bombs, lay in wait for their prey to come running out of the school doors so they could shoot down the fleeing teenagers as they believed they were escaping.  This shows a sang-froid, in that there is an element of deliberate torture rather than a straightforward ‘revenge for all the bullying’.

The Columbine killings happened eighteen years ago, amongst the first high school massacres of modern times, yet still it provides a blueprint for copycat killers today, the most recent being Nikolas Cruz in Florida.  What is it about Columbine that leads to this phenomenon?

Nick Van der Leek gets under the skin of what this is all about, behind the lurid headlines.  Police psychologists at the time claimed it was not possible to draw up a profile of a high school killers from the Columbine incident.  However, many mass murders and school massacres later, Van der Leek would dispute this view, as his intricate analysis of each event, his thorough examination of the psychological, philosophical and moral issues involved, has enabled him to formulate a clear profile.  He sets out a conclusion of what each of the killers has in common with the others.

The author identifies several common factors, which includes the Freudian concept of anal fixation which holds that a person whose development is arrested at this early unconscious level will be obsessed with detail, routine and accuracy to a near unreasonable degree.

There isn’t any psychoanalysis involved in the book, but the term ‘anal’ is a useful shorthand description by Nick of the salient personality trait.  Another is high anxiety levels.  Social anxiety can be particularly acute in adolescence, when rejection by one’s peers can tip an already fragile teen over the edge.  As a society, we have winners, so there are ipso facto ‘losers’.  Van der Leek shows how being a ‘loser’ as all of his examples are, militates as a simmering resentment in the sufferer, like a steaming pressure cooker about to blow its lid,  culminating in a murderous desire to wreak revenge on the perceived popular, successful, happy peers, who are blamed in the loser’s mind for the loser’s ‘reject’ status.


Stephen Paddock in Vegas.

Whilst Van der Leek rejects a genetic factor – Lanza’s features seem to show a congenital problem and Stephen Paddock had a sociopathic ‘most wanted’ bank robber father – seeing this as the easy explanation, instead he tries to pinpoint why each of the most notorious killers has such an apparent lack of humanity. Where does it come from, this cool regard for others as objects that can be picked off like sitting ducks, like a swarm of ants going about their busy lives that can be extinguished with just one stamp of the foot, as it were.  From whence does this cruel brutality emanate?

Van der Leek can supply some answers to these questions by looking at the common memes, the symbology, the ‘manifestos’, stories, videos, texts, social media and wargaming software of the virtual world of outgunning your adversaries online and how the lines blur between fantasy and reality.

We meet Lanza’s dysfunctional mother (whom he shot dead first, before advancing onto the elementary school in Connecticut to commit one of the worst school shootings known).  There is the surreal casino world of the ever-disintegrating inner life of Paddock, who picked off 53 concertgoers from a hotel window in Chicago.


The pious but feral Tsarnaev brothers and their amazing police chase and shoot-out across Boston, a few days after the bombings.  Cho, Cruz and Saari are all shooters considered weird by their contemporaries, and we examine their cowardice, their adolescent quasi-Nietzschean nihilism, through their manifestos, contacts with extreme ideologies and their professed sense of alienation from their fellows.


There is the wealthy Holmes and Hinckley and how their parents try to buy their killer offspring off their murder raps (or attempted murder in Hinckley’s case).  This is underscored by the appalling tragedy of Beslan where hundreds of young children were killed all for the sake of ideological and political terrorism.  Yet, for all the claimed high-mindedness of the hostage takers, Van der Leek identifies the same type of anal-sadism driving the cruel brutal behaviour towards fellow human beings, especially women and children who are innocent civilians in all this.

This book is unique, as I am not aware of another book that has gone into so much depth, outside of the Manson killings or Columbine ones.  If you want to know what makes these ‘monsters’ tick and understand the profile of what personality traits they are most likely to exhibit before they commit their atrocities, or even if you just want a jolly good ‘true crime’ read, this is the perfect interactive Kindle publication for you.

Slaughter can purchased on Amazon at this link.