Arrow Books (2012), 320 pages
Frenzy! Heath, Haigh, & Christie: How the Tabloid Press Turned Three Evil Serial Killers into Celebrities covers the crimes of three of England’s most notorious serial killers. Ostensibly Frenzy looks at the media coverage of the three killers’ crimes but the book is, more or less, a straight retelling of the horrific crimes of three men. Where Frenzy is most useful is juxtaposing the differing motives for the crimes.
Heath, was a fantasist who used Walter Mitty type tails (he was a petty criminal with a penchant exaggerating his mediocre war record and wearing medals he hadn’t earned) and his good looks to attract women. Heath was a sexual sadist whose motive was the pleasure he derived from inflicting suffering and death on his two victims. Heath tried to claim he was insane but was executed in 1946.
Haigh’s primary motive was financial. He killed up to nine people and dissolved their bodies and personal effects in acid. Haigh’s sense of entitlement led to him continually living beyond his means with no way to legally fund his lifestyle. He chose murder as means to keep living the high life. When eventually caught he confessed to the murders but tried to be declared insane at the time of the crimes. He failed in his plan and was executed in 1949.
Christie was perhaps the most repulsive of the three murderers in the book. His cloying self-pity, extreme narcissism, and his willingness to give evidence that led to his neighbour being hanged for two of his murders mark him as an exceptionally calculating killer. He murdered at least eight women (including one baby and his own wife) before he was caught. Christie, like Heath and Haigh, had been a petty criminal before he became a murderer. Following the murder of his neighbours Beryl and Geraldine Evans poor police work and Christie’s testimony enabled Timothy Evans to be convicted. The police failed to find the bodies of Christie’s other victims buried in 10 Rillington Place’s tiny garden, it took them an unnecessarily long time to find the bodies in the wash room, and Timothy Evan’s confession was, at the very least, coerced if it wasn’t fabricated by the police. Although Christie was convicted of his wife’s murder you would have to wonder how much she knew about her husband’s activities (the film 10 Rillington Place hints that she knew about some of the murders). Christie’s narcissism and hypochondria continued until the very end; he kept a photo of himself in his cell and just before he was executed complained his nose was itchy. Ludovic Kennedy’s 1961 book 10 Rillington Place is still the best book on the case and a true crime classic.
All three murderers in Frenzy! began their criminal careers as petty criminals and fraudsters. All three also desired social status even if they could only gain it through lies and exaggeration. Heath pretended he was a decorated war hero, Haigh worked illegally as a solicitor, Christie exaggerated his police work during the war. All three were sociopaths and, like most serial killers, they were narcissistic, convinced of their intellectual superiority, and the only true pity they felt was self-pity.