They say to “write what you know.” It’s a piece of advice that should probably be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. However, some renowned writers have been the perpetrators of some pretty horrific crimes.
Before we go blaming artistic temperaments, remember that psychos come from all walks of life. These criminals, though, all happen to be well-known, even celebrated writers. Writer Luis Forte at Top13 shared this chilling list with us. Just in time for Halloween.
1. William Burroughs (1914 – 1997), Naked Lunch; Junky; Queer.
Known for his psychedelic, “cut and paste” style of writing and copious drug use, Burroughs was famous for being one of the main figures of the Beat Generation. He’s also known for the shooting death of his wife, Joan Vollmer Adams. The couple were in Mexico, ironically on the run from justice in the U.S., when they decided to re-enact the famous scene where William Tell shoots an apple off his son’s head. Which is totally something you shouldn’t do if you were stone cold sober…but it’s an especially bad idea if you’ve been drinking to excess. (They had been.) Burroughs used a gun, not an arrow, and naturally Joan was killed. Burroughs spent 13 days in jail until his brother bribed the officials for his release. Though he never served time, the incident marked a significant change in his writing.
2. Anne Perry (b. 1938) The William Monk and Thomas Pitt detective series
Born Juliet Hulme, Anne Perry is now a celebrated detective fiction author. She also partook in the murder of her best friend’s mother when the girls feared their parents were plotting to separate them. She and her friend, Pauline Parker, were of course separated after the murder, serving five years in prison. They escaped the death penalty due to their age (only 15) and were ordered to have no further contact with one another. The 1994 Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures is based on the case.
3. Johann “Jack” Unterweger (1950 – 1994), Fegefeuer oder die Reise ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the trip to prison)
Unterweger, originally from Austria, actually became a writer while in prison for the murders of about 12 prostitutes in Europe and Los Angeles. He was sentenced to life in 1975 for strangling an 18-year-old, his first victim, and while there, he wrote a number of poems and articles that gained him minor celebrity, as well as Purgatory, or the Trip to Prison, which ws adapted into a film. Because he’d gained status for his writing, he was released after 15 years at the behest of politicians and intellectuals who saw him as having been rehabilitated. But old habits die hard (or not at all), and in 1992 he was arrested in Miami for the murders of about 10 more women. The same night, he committed suicide by hanging.
4. Louis Althusser (1918 – 1990), Reading Capital, Essays in Self-Criticism, The Future Lasts a Long Time
This French Marxist philosopher was considered to be at the forefront of the philosophy of structuralism. He was also severely mentally ill. He was diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis, possibly as a result of being in a POW camp for five years in WWII. He stayed in a psychiatric hospital for a time. Then, at the age of 62, he strangled his wife. He was indicted for murder, but it was determined that the murder took place during a psychotic episode, and the case was closed.
5. François Villon (c. 1430 – disappeared 1463), Ballade des pendus
This 15th century poet was actually quite lucky. A frequenter of brothels, he got into a fight with another patron over the affections of a young employee. In a rage, he fatally stabbed his rival. The rival turned out to be a priest, and while priests going to brothels was officially frowned upon, killing a priest was worse. Villon was pardoned, but was later arrested for looting. He confessed to all his crimes and was sentenced to death, but the sentence was lightened to 10 years exile. He left Paris, and was never seen again.
6. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794 – 1847)
This British writer and painter was known for contributing to well-known magazines of his day, including The Literary Pocket-Book and The London Magazine, and his paintings were exhibited at The Royal Academy. He was also known for favoring poison as his way of dealing with unwanted relatives, especially those with lots of money. His victims included his sister-in-law, whose life was insured for £18,000, and his old uncle who left him a house and a considerable amount of money.
7. Maria Carolina Geel (1913 – 1996), The Sleeping World of Yenia; Strange Summer
This prolific Chilean writer was known for her literary works as well as her literary criticism, as well as her controversial life. In 1956, she shot and killed her lover and was sentenced to three years in prison. While there, she wrote Women’s Prison, a blend of fiction and her own experiences. Thanks to some friends in high places, namely Nobel winner Gabriela Mistral, she was granted clemency.
8. Issei Sagawa (b. 1949), Shonen A
Not only has he written extensively about murder, but he’s also confessed to it, yet is, to this day, a free man in Tokyo. Don’t go to his house for dinner, because the last person who did that, a Dutch student, ended up shot dead, mutilated and cannibalized. When captured by French police (this took place in Paris in 1981, when Sagawa was in college), he confessed calmly. He wasn’t sentenced because he was mistakenly diagnosed with encephalitis, and expected to die in a few weeks. That didn’t happen, and he wound up in a psychiatric hospital back in Japan. He checked himself out in 1986.
9. Hans Fallada (1893 – 1947) Little Man, What Now?; Every Man Dies Alone
While in his teens, Fallada’s parents found out about his romantic relationship with another boy. Fallada and his friend decided to commit suicide rather than be institutionalized, which was something that happened in their homophobic society. The plan was undermined by the boys’ rudimentary understanding of weapons, though, and Fallada ended up killing his friend. He attempted to kill himself, but survived, and was sent to a psychiatric hospital. He was declared sane and released, but violent tendencies flared up again when he shot his wife after an argument.
10. Krystian Bala (b. 1973), Amok
This Polish writer was sentenced to 25 years in 2007 for the premeditated murder of Dariusz Janiszewski, his ex-wife’s new lover. He tortured and mutilated Janiszewski and threw his body into the Oder River and, in a fit of either guilt or arrogance, detailed the experience in Amok, which was instrumental in his conviction.
So if you’re thinking of becoming a writer, specifically a crime writer, don’t take your research quite this seriously.