Monday, June 04, 2012

Luka Rocco Magnotta

Canada's most recent lurid murder case appears to have started on May 25. That was the day a Chinese university student in Montreal was killed and his body dismembered. The victim's severed left foot was mailed to Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa, where it was received and opened by a senior party official. There was a note in the package that was described by the investigating police in Ottawa as being the "ramblings of a madman". A second package, containing the victim's left hand was intercepted on its way to Liberal Party headquarters, also in Ottawa. The victim's torso was later found in a suitcase on the street outside the killer's Montreal apartment building. The case dominated the nation's newsmedia for a number of days.

It's difficult to write in depth about a case like this, in advance of more detailed information. But I decided to make the case the subject of today's post because of its obvious link to my two recent posts; one on psychopaths, and the other on serial killers.

Very quickly - this being the age of rapidly disseminated information - a great deal of information (and inevitably some misinformation) about the perpetrator, and about his victim, came forward. One of the principal reasons for the deluge of detailed information is the fact that the killer, one Luka Rocco Magnotta, is in a too-real sense a child of the internet age. Google his name, and you will get a near infinity of "hits". I just did exactly that and got 72,000,000 results in 0.34 seconds.


Some information on Magnotta. He was born Eric Clinton Newman, but changed his name to Magnotta on August 12, 2006. He has gone by a number of other names, including Vladimir Romanov. He was originally from Toronto, but lived in Lindsay, Ontario, where he attended high school. Most recently he lived in Montreal, where he rented an apartment in a working-class district. He has no criminal record in Montreal, but does have a record in Ontario. In 2005, he was convicted on four counts of fraud. He served 16 days in pre-trial custody; after his trial he was given a nine-month conditional sentence, and 12 months probation. He was a self-styled model, and escort - for which, read male prostitute. Reading some of the information on him in the media, he appears to be grossly self-obsessed. The internet is replete with images that he posted himself - including on his own website. He has been quoted as describing himself as "devastatingly good-looking".

He appears to have travelled fairly widely; his website has photos of him in Paris and in Moscow. There are also photos of him in a limousine and in what appears to be a high-end sportscar. On one of his website posts, he claimed to be "...successful beyond my wildest dreams. I travel the world, ride around in limos, have only the most expensive clothing. I've come a long way from eating out of old pizza boxes on the streets." The quote, of course, hints at a troubled life on the streets, a suggestion that seems to relate to a traumatic family situation, and a downward spiral that involved drugs and alcohol. He also claims to have spent time in hospital for a "depressive disorder". He also claimed to have been in an assisted living facility where he was given "the right medication".

Early on in the case, the forensic psychologist who examined the Canadian serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo, Dr. John Bradford, worried that the nature of the crime committed by Magnotta in Montreal suggested that he might well kill again. "If (the killing) is sexual and he has gone to this extreme, then I think the risk of (his) killing again in a serial way goes higher....So that is my worry about this."

Magnotta's history suggests that this might well be true. There is evidence that some years ago he posted videos of himself killing and mutilating kittens. And in fact, he was being tracked by animal-welfare people who wanted him apprehended. There is an established link between killing and mistreating animals and an escalation to killing humans.

Magnotta also posted on the web, on a gruesome site, what was described by the Montreal police as "the stabbing (of) the victim with an ice pick, then dismembering the body....acts of cannibilism and sexual defiling of the corpse."

And Magnotta's victim? His given name was Lin Jun; his "English name" was Justin Lin.

Lin first came to Canada from Wuhan in east-central China in 2010, and setteld in Montreal in July 2011. He was 33 years old, and he was a student at Montreal's Concordia University where he studied computer science. He had a part-time job as a cashier in a corner store. He is described as "always postive, genuine, hard-working and someone who cared for everyone." How he came into contact with Magnotta is not yet known.

The question arises - for me, at least - as to whether Magnotta is a psychopath. The descriptive "psycho killer" has been used in some of the media articles I have read. From some of what I have read, though, I would doubt that he is an actual psychopath, although the lack of conscience and lack of regret for his crime would place him in that category. There are, however, the comments by a former lover that Magnotta was "manipulative, a liar with a short fuse and often self-destructive." The manipulating and lying qualities fit the pattern of the psychopath, but the "short fuse" and "self-destructive" qualities, do not, in my opinion. His posting his crime on the web would also not seem to come under the definition of a true psychopath; rather, they seem to be the act of someone seeking notoriety. As I understand psychopathy, this does not seem to fit. Authorities may eventually find that there is no neat pigeon hole for Magnotta. He may prove to be one of a kind. At least, we can hope so.

Happily - an odd word to use in this context - it seems very unlikely that Luka Rocco Magnotta will ever graduate to serial-killer status. His apparent quest for fame/notoriety has done him in. His use of the internet to broadcast images of himself has proved to be his undoing. For a man who once posted a kind of how-to list of instructions on "disappearing" from view, he made just about every mistake possible. Within hours of his leaving Montreal, he was tracked to Paris, and later he was video-recorded passing through security in a Paris airport. A number of witnesses in Paris called police with reports that they had seen him in various locations.

Earlier today - June 4th - Magnotta was arrested by Berlin police in an internet cafe in an immigrant quarter in South Berlin. Appropriately, when he was arrested, Magnotta was surfing internet sites about himself.

Members of the media stand outside the Internet cafe where Luka Rocco Magnotta was recognized in the district of Neukoelln in Berlin.

I will give Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafreniere the second-last word on the irony of his being arrested
in an internet cafe. "We knew and always said that he used the web to glorify himself. It was also the web that led to his arrest."

And the last word on Magnotta for this post? I will go to Will Shakespeare for that. The quote is from Macbeth, taken from his fatal encounter with Macduff, whose family Macbeth had killed. It does not exactly fit the Magnotta case, but for me it's close enough:

Then yield thee, coward, and live to be the show and gaze o’ the time. We'll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, painted upon a pole, and underwrit: “Here may you see the tyrant.”

P.S. For an interesting "take" on the Magnotta case, and the apparent public fascination with gruesome killings, check out this column in the Globe and Mail:


Susan Russo Anderson said...

Well, Thomas, thank you. I think. Pretty gruesome stuff, this post, but also fascinating. I had not heard of this case: we are so provincial in the States.

Keep in mind I am totally ignorant when it comes to psychopaths and eminently unqualified to comment on your statement ("His posting his crime on the web would also not seem to come under the definition of a true psychopath; rather, they seem to be the act of someone seeking notoriety.")—but ignorance won't stop me, so here goes:

If I were reading a thriller about a serial killer similar to your description of this killer, I would probably find the character totally believable, even though he sought noteriety by posting on the internet.

If he's not a psychopath, what is he?

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