That man with the epic mustache just off to the left is H.H. Holmes and he was a serial killer. I read a book about him a couple of months ago, The Devil in the White City. He was a terrible person. Holmes is a rather modern-day serial killer, practicing his killing in the 1890s, but serial killers have been around a long, long time. The Grimm’s fairy tales are no exception. They’re just full of serial killers.
Probably the most notorious story about a serial killer in the Grimm’s collection is The Robber Bridegroom, but there are several others. Fitcher’s Bird is another story about a serial killer. The list really goes on and on and on. Serial killers did exist in the days in which these stories were created. Serial killers are still around today, but we usually don’t hear about them until their pattern has become extremely apparent and then they generally sit on death row for years before being executed if they are executed at all. In the Grimms stories, villagers chose something more like vigilante justice. If they found out you were a serial killer, they strung you up right then and there, pitchforks and torches included. Remember the angry mob led by Gaston in Beauty and the Beast? It was exactly like that.
People did not abide serial killers. We don’t now and we didn’t then, although in some aspects serial killers are glamorized in our society. I have never seen the show Hannibal, but I do know it’s about a guy who kills people. People talk about Ted Bundy and Charles Manson like they’re celebrities. In a way they are, but they’re bad celebrities. In some instances people even emulate their favorite serial killers, which is really weird and strange.
Getting back to the Grimms tales…there were serial killers floating around. They probably behaved in the same manner that our modern-day serial killers behave. They were probably manipulative and just the nicest people ever, or so it seemed, but the truth eventually got out. In The Robber Bridegroom the guy is such a manipulator that he convinced his fiance to come to his house in the woods, alone, which I already explained in my post about the story was a big no-no. Women were not caught alone with their men in any such manner if they expected to keep their reputation untarnished. He bullied her into it and there she went. Of course when she got there, things were awful.
The examples go on. Young women find vats full of blood and body parts. Dens of robbers and murderers prey upon young girls repeatedly in the Grimm’s fairy tales. Was this really so common? I know we like to think that the days of yore were somewhat more idyllic. People were nicer. The food was better. Everybody was happy and helpful. I’m sorry to say that this isn’t true at all. As long as we have been human, we have behaved like humans, which also means there have been those of us who behave like terrible examples of humanity. Young women being murdered by robbers and serial killers is nothing new.
This theme in the Grimms tales was reflecting society. This stuff actually happened. Maybe it didn’t happen in every village, but it happened with enough regularity in the region that these stories got around. You’re reading stories that might actually have the potential to be based fairly heavily on true stories, at least for a fairy tale. The reaction is exactly as we would expect the reaction to be.
If you suddenly found out that your neighbor had been murdering young women for years, you would be very upset. You would be upset with them, you would be upset with your other neighbors, but you would also be very upset with yourself and that’s probably what would hurt the most. Here you were living next to this neighbor for all these years and they were murdering people and you never suspected a thing. It makes you hurt because you lose some faith in yourself. Why weren’t you smart enough to know that this guy was bad news? Couldn’t you have been more observant? What about all those poor girls? Little Jessica down the street, you knew her, now she’s gone and it’s all because of the jerk next door.
The people in these stories form a mob to carry out their justice. They’re upset. They’re upset with the murderer(s), but they’re also upset with each other and themselves. As they don’t want to murder each other for being so unobservant and equally as fooled, they band together to take our their frustrations on the actual murderer(s), hopefully; we all know there are cases where the wrongly accused have been killed by mobs.
These days we have death row and prison stays for our serial killers, but it’s just not as satisfying as old-fashioned mob justice. We know that as long as that killer is alive, even if he/she is in prison there is still a chance they might get out and do it again. How will the survivors ever feel safe again? What if he/she comes back for revenge? There are disadvantages to mob justice though. People tend to lose a lot of self-thought when belonging to a mob. You tend to let decisions be made by the mob rather than thinking them through in your head. So you might end up participating in something that weighs heavily on your conscience afterwards. You know this guy was a murderer, but now you’re also a murderer, at least in part; you took part in getting rid of this scumbag, but does your part in the matter make you any better? It’s definitely a difficult place. Leave the murderer alive and leave the possibility of he/she killing again alive, but have a clear conscience, or kill the murderer yourself and live with the fact that you killed another person, even if they were terrible.
All in all, the people of the Grimms stories weren’t really a fan of leaving the murderer alive. They sharpened their pitchforks, lit their torches, got together, and killed a man.