The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and its Analysis by Ian Brady

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book Title:  The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and its Anaylsis

Author:  Ian Brady, with forewords by Colin Wilson and Dr. Alan Keightley, afterword by Peter Sotos

Why I Consider This Book Odd:
  It was written by Ian Brady, who, along with his girlfriend Myra Hindley, kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered children in England from 1963-1965.

Type of Work:  Philosophical treatise, armchair psychology

Availability:  This book is still in print, published by Feral House in 2001.

Comments:  Had this book been a person and it approached me outside of the supermarket, I would have crossed the street.  This book is the crazy man who thinks he is sane and intelligent, raving on the traffic islands about whatever topic is in his head.  It is hard to pay such people much attention and therefore, it was difficult to care about large chunks of this book.

Peter Sotos is the only person in this book who did not come off like a rube or a complete lunatic.  If you are at all familiar with Sotos’s body of work, consider my statement and what it really means.  He is the only one who seemed to understand that in addition to being a violent sexual predator, Ian Brady is also a master manipulator whose word on any topic should likely be taken with a grain of salt, if not completely disregarded.

I wanted to read this book because, in my typical fashion of wanting a book based on just small snippets of information, I thought in some sense that this book would be an explanation of what it was that made Ian Brady become a killer, of what it was about his personality that could have mesmerized Myra Hindley, an otherwise unremarkable woman, into a folie a deux murder streak that set the serial killing stage for similar fiends like Fred and Rosemary West and Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo.  I had long heard that this book was illuminating, a rare look into the mind of a serial killer, and while it is, it also isn’t.

All I learned reading this book is that I still have a sound psychopathometer (though Brady fancies himself a psychotic rather than a psychopath because the former are interesting to him) and that the only real insight anyone would ever have into Ian Brady’s mind is that he is a liar and a manipulator.  He certainly conned Colin Wilson, who seems to think that the information that Brady provides about himself and fellow psychopathic killers, somehow gives Brady cosmic brownie points.

Wilson, with a level of naivety that he should not possess given his age and the range of his career, says:

In a letter of a few days ago, he wrote to me bitterly, “My life is over so I can afford honesty of expression; those with a future cannot.  If I had my time over again, I’d get a government job and live off the state… a pillar of society.  As it is I am eager to die. I chose the wrong path and am finished.”

As this book shows, that, at all events, is untrue.

If you feel that sort of rush of saliva that makes you think you may puke, be aware you will feel it again and again as you read this book.  Part One consists of seven interminable chapters wherein Brady discusses psychopathy, psychotics, and a really inappropriate interpretation of what boils down to Nietzchean superman theories as they apply to killers. But in doing this, he uses dense, at times overly intellectual yet specious language to give himself some sort of authority on his topic.  He creates what he thinks are trenchant observations about the way the media and society handle crimes like the Moor Murders, hilariously implying that we, the law-abiding people of the world, are really to blame for being interested and appalled when such crimes occur.  At no time does Brady truly apply all his analysis to himself, but doesn’t hesitate to share the love in Part Two, where he analyzes the true natures of other serial killers.  Worse, what little that Brady gives away about himself is contradictory, often without, in my opinion, the man even understanding he has done so.

Before I explain why this book was a sickening, masturbatory excursion into manipulative madness, let me share the sobering, sane words of Peter Sotos.  His epilogue should have been a preface, because it could have saved many a reader from entering into this exercise of the damned thinking they would, in fact, be reading honest words.

Here’s a large chunk of what Sotos had to say, and in saying it, he revealed the only truth of the book:

First off, you don’t ask a child molester to write a book on serial killing.  A child rapist.  A child pornographer.  A child murderer.

Colin Wilson, from his introduction:

“Therefore I advised him to do the thing I would have done: to think about writing a book.  Since he obviously knew about serial murder ‘from the inside’, thus this suggested itself as the obvious subject.”

You don’t ask him to do the obvious.  You especially don’t ask him to do what you would do.

Because the child rapist and murderer and pornographer will obviously lie.  And, because he wants to believe you need to hear more, he’ll even start to enjoy telling you he’s lying.  Because it’s the easiest thing to do.  It is the obvious choice.  He can adopt the dime-a-dozen serial killer front of puffed up superiority, all from his tiny cell and serve the typical cold dish of chest beating mental clarity over mental introspection…

Sotos is right, and the reader should know it before they even try to read this miasma of philosophical nothings.  If you want to know the impulse of true deviance, read Sotos or de Sade.  If you want to read the words of a man who has plenty of clarity but absolutely no desire to apply it to his own motivations, who is, in fact, probably lying to you, read The Gates of Janus.

Rest of my analysis under the cut.

It would be a lie on my part if I said that I didn’t hate this book.  Reading Brady’s tortured prose was difficult.  Take, for example the following sentence:

On the other hand, it is mostly to the quiescent company of the atheist, the sceptic, the cynic, the nihilist, the existentialist, those self-absorbed who are content to propose and preach nothing, that we may sometimes escape the excessive demands of synthetic morality, and the jarring irritations of theological presumption.

Or, as those of us who have nothing to hide would say, association with outsiders provides relief in a repressive, priggish world.  This sentence is more or less how this entire book reads. Pomposity without saying much.

What one, after a careful translation of this book, can take from Part one is the following:

  • Brady hates those of us who do not see how it is that he is a mentally and emotionally superior man because he gave into urges to do grave harm, urges that he claims we all as humans have.
  • Brady thinks the salacious media handling of sex and child murders both feeds those who want to commit such crimes and feeds those who wish they could man and up commit such crimes (and here, he may have some points).
  • Brady thinks that the man who lives for a lion as a day (raping and killing children is living as a lion for a day?  Really?) rather than living as a lamb for a lifetime is a morally superior human being.
  • Brady rails against the lack of humanity in the prison system, though one would think that a man who lived as a lion would understand brutality and not, in fact, hypocritically bitch about it when such brutality is applied to him (more on this when I get to Brady’s analysis of Carl Panzram).
  • Brady has a complete lack of understanding of what institutionalized violence versus individual violence really entails, ascribing a sort of hypocrisy to the former.
  • Brady thinks the reason he in in prison is because he did not channel his psychopathy in the correct way, that all politicians are psychopaths, as are captains of industry etc, and decries society as hypocrites from not seeing things in a similar manner.

Again, this book is the crazy man who thinks he is sane, yelling at you as you try to carry your groceries to the car.  There may be some surface sanity to the statements (why yes, many politicians are sociopaths or psychopaths) but the rest is just weird and a little scary. There may have been more to take away from Part One, but my god, it took me two weeks to read this book.  It should have taken two days.  I have not slogged through a book this slowly since I was forced to read Mrs. Dalloway in college.

Part Two is superficially more interesting, wherein Brady turns his supposed powers of serial killer insight onto other killers, but after reading his first analysis, that of Henry Lee Lucas, it was hard for me to take much of what Brady had to say with any notion that he knew what he was talking about.  I know a lot about Henry Lee Lucas, as a Texan and as a woman who at one point in her life knew almost every fact there was to know about American serial killers up until about 2000.  Brady gets too many facts wrong for his psychological profile to mean anything.

For example, Brady says about Lucas:

An abused Charlie Chaplin, Lucas’ alcoholic father, abused him sadistically for years, unwittingly fashioning him into his mother’s nemesis.

An abused child usually does not focus hatred upon the parent who abuses but upon the parent who stood by and did nothing to stop the abuser.  The hatred towards the abuser is effectively regarded as nothing compared to the betrayal of love and trust by the second parent…

Lucas was twenty-three, his mother seventy, when he stabbed, strangled and raped her.  Obviously, the viciousness of this act projected that the hatred for his mother would burgeon into a deep-seated distrust/hatred of the female species as a whole.

Well, all of this sounds well and good to a point (women are not a separate species from men), except for the fact that the facts about Lucas are quite wrong, therefore Lucas does not fit the bill of a killer who turns against the gender of the parent who was complicit but not active in their abuse (and I have a hard time thinking of such a killer, to be frank).

Lucas’s mother was the instigator of most of the abuse Lucas suffered.  She was the one who beat him into a coma, causing him to almost lose an eye, which he later did lose in an unrelated incident.  She was the one who, upon learning Lucas’s love for a family donkey, shot the donkey to death in front of Lucas.  She was the one who was a prostitute, performing sex acts openly in front of her child.  In fact, her aggressive abuse drove her husband to suicide.  If Brady’s bizarre interpretation of serial killer motivations is to be believed, then Lucas should have killed his father.

It is easy to say that in prison, and later a mental wing of a prison, Brady may not have had access to the correct information.  But Brady himself says that he was interested in Lucas because a noted author wanted his opinion on Lucas and sent him information about the case.  Unless that information was really as bad as Brady presents it, it seems as if Brady just twisted facts around to fit a pet psychological notion of his.

Only in two of the criminal profiles and analyses does one get the sense that Brady knows what he is talking about.  Examining Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper who killed prostitutes, Brady’s look into the delusions that led Sutcliffe to murder (God told me to kill hookers) to his current position (I was caught because it was Satan talking to me the whole time) rings true.  But also, aside from Graham Young, the poisoner with Nazi leanings, Sutcliffe was the only man he discussed with whom he spent any amount of time.  One gets the impression when Brady truly understands his subject, he does not have to hide behind the verbiage of someone who wants to sound like he knows what he is talking about.

But it is, ironically, in one of his analyses of another killer that Brady utterly gives himself away.  The American killer Carl Panzram is not a man many know much about today, but he was the textbook definition of a complete psychopath.  He killed for pleasure.  He killed for money.  He killed for sex.  He was a born killer.  Panzram was in and out of prison all of his life, his jail tenure beginning with petty thefts.

Panzram was not an easy prisoner.  He did not submit to rules, period.  When he would disobey guards, they would lash out at him, often with punishments so bad that they almost killed him.  Nothing could break Panzram though, not even treatment that 80 years later would be considered torture worse than anything that happened at Guantanamo.  Panzram escaped from prison twice and was a near unstoppable crime machine during both escapes.  When Panzram returned to prison in 1928, he swore he would kill the first man who gave him grief, and he did, the prison laundry foreman.

For this, Panzram received the death penalty and went to his death taunting the hangman.  His final words were, “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang ten men while you’re fooling around!”

I am not trying to glorify Panzram when I say he was a complete badass.  He was a violent psychopath with no moral compass aside from an almost childlike need to be loyal to those who were loyal to him.  When a warden gave him leaves and he failed to return on time, he decided to stay out and escape rather than face the censure of the man who had believed in him.  In almost all other respects, he was a nihilistic monster.

But Brady recognizes Panzram’s status as a badass, and in this recognition, one can see a longing in Brady’s prose, almost a desire that he could have been like Panzram.  Using Brady’s own definitions, Panzram was a man who did live as a lion, but instead of living like a lion for a day, he lived as a lion his entire life.  Going to prison did not reduce him to a lamb, with all sorts of rules inflicted on him, obeyed out of fear of punishment.  Brady’s imprisonment has been much different, swaying to rules and behaving in bizarre, coy manners, like writing to a victim’s mother and telling her he knows where her son’s body is buried but that the authorities will not let him reveal this information.

Panzram, in his nihilistic rage, would never have resorted to such passive-aggressive methods of revenge.  For him it was the gun, the knife or the fist, and while both approaches are reprehensible, one can see how much Brady idolizes Panzram because Panzram was not a passive-aggressive whiner.  Panzram never bitched about the poor prison standards when he was being hanged by his arms until his shoulders dislocated.  He swore revenge and got it.  Panzram’s very life makes Brady’s pseudo-intellectual and moralistic railings against the modern treatment of prisoners seem weak, and Brady feels it acutely.  His entire ideology of living as a lion for a day versus as a lamb for a lifetime was foiled by the prison system he is too weak to fight.  Panzram walked what Brady talks.

Brady gives away his hero worship throughout the chapter on Panzram, but here are some examples:

Panzram is another prime example of multi-motivational, multi-attributional reprisal. When dealing with authorities of any description, individually petty-minded tyrants, you must never wait for anyone to accept responsibility, for it is against their cowardly nature to do so.  You must without hesitation or pointless consultation, confer responsibility on the obvious culprits, and decide the price you will make them pay, one way or another.

In short, you must act as tyrannically as they do, but solely on your own authority.

Bear in mind, these are the words of a man who preyed on innocent children, who would routinely enter into the prison psych ward, and tried to starve himself to death as a form of suicide.  He has made no one pay, simply exercising his will against the weak until caught.  Not his hero Panzram, whose actions he makes a small attempt to disavow but his words praise regardless.

In Nietzsche’s Also Spake Zarathustra, the pivotal factor is, in my opinion, the Great Contempt, or more precisely, the Great Self-Contempt.  Once a man has achieved, in a praise-worthy sense, contempt for himself, he simultaneously achieves contempt for all man-made laws and moralities and becomes truly free to do as he wills.  Plunging into the very depths, he consequently rises above all.

Do you again feel that sort of nausea that presages sick?  What is worse?  Assigning such a philosophical identity to a psychopath like Panzram, or the slavering, Igor-like “yes master” admiration of and longing to be such a man.  As I read the chapter on Panzram, my sole thought was that Brady loved him or wanted to be him, all the while recognizing that there was a far better example of his own words than himself.

This book was trying, to say the least.  I planned next to review Peter Sotos’s Selfish, Little, but I need to step away from anything to do with the Moors Murders for a bit.  I don’t want to read about the torture and killing of little children for a long while.  I think my next foray into odd books will be bizarro fiction, or maybe some loony new age.  Because this sort of thing wears on your soul if you engage in it without a break.

But let me leave you with the primary reason why I hated this book and find great contempt in anyone who could find redemption in Ian Brady for writing it (yes, I mean you, Colin Wilson):

It is rather significant to note that those members of the lower classes who assiduously adhere to law and prevailing morality usually display a smug self-righteousness, which appears to be based on the patent delusion that their virtuous qualities are inborn, rather than evidence of a servile constitution predisposed to the influence of social engineering.

That’s right, dear reader.  The only reason you have not kidnapped a little girl, recorded and filmed her torture and rape, killed her and dumped her body into a place where it might never be discovered is because you have a servile constitution and  are overly influenced by social law, not because most human beings have a moral core that makes such actions despicable.  This idea is is a running theme in this book and one of the reasons I found it so mentally tiresome.  Your mileage may vary, but you have been warned.

18 thoughts on “The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and its Analysis by Ian Brady

  1. I recently viewed a documentary on Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
    I can’t say that I am generally interested in this sort of thing, but it really caught my attantion. Mostly, I believe, because it involved children, myself tending to read / watch anyrthing to do with, because it is just so shocking.
    I think people (myself included) have a tendency to want to read about “odd stuff” out of pure curiosity and to learn about the human mind and how it can sometimes just be down right wrong.
    After reading your review, I must admit, that yes, I do feel a little sick, and I will not be reading Janus, I can’t imagine anything worse than reading about a murderer who feels somehow justified in committing these crimes.. it actually makes me angry.
    So thank you for the warning.

    1. Actually, if you want to read this book, Brady does not go into depth about his motivations for killing children, or even details of the crime. He has too high an opinion of himself to do that because to have been open and candid about what he and Myra did would, even taking into account his own ridiculous superman theories of living as a lion, paint him as the worst sort of degenerate monster. So there is little detail. Rather, he speaks in circles, aggrandizing his murders in vague detail that don’t show him for the child murdering scum he is.

      I entered into this book knowing most of the details of the Moors Murders so it made what he had to say about himself all the more appalling. But if you don’t know too much about him, it may not sting as much.

      Thanks for reading, Arianna. Sorry for the delay in answering – I’ve had some issues with getting comment notifications.

  2. Why I Consider This Book Odd: It was written by Ian Brady, who, along with his girlfriend Myra Hindley, kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered children in Scotland from 1963-1965.

    WRONG, It was England.

  3. To anyone else reading this lets remember this is one persons opinion and you all should still make your own mind if you buy it or not. As a Dr of Psychology & Criminology I would say this is an excellent book. If you are educated enough to read between lines you will see that Ian Brady does give quite a lot about himself eventhough he states quite clearly from the start that his not a auto-biography or biographical in any sense. For anyone studying the subjects I have at higher level I would strongly recommend it. You could not get a better book on this subject than one written by a serial killer himself and one who IS as intellectually clever as Brady.

    1. Karen, since you’re trained in the psychiatric profession it’s strange to me that you think a book review is an irrevocable fiat that prevents people from thinking for themselves. Did you hie on over to NYT book reviews and remind those readers of bad reviews to think for themselves? If not, why do it here?

      Also I wonder how it is that a professional like yourself managed to read my article so poorly that you failed to notice that I come right the hell out and say that between the lines Ian gives himself away completely.

      And I hate to be unkind in the course of being blunt, but if you genuinely think this load of horseshit is one of the best books by a clever serial killer, I can’t imagine what you would think the worst. Good luck to you!

  4. I haven’t read the book but I am intrigued to. I would have to say from what I can see Brady does provide insight. It’s very true that abused children can be more resentful towards the non-abusing parent for not protecting them, although perhaps not usually a whole gender. Also, I’m not inclined to believe we gave a moral core. Whilst I would disagree that we have a desire to be immoral but slavishly follow rules I do think we are very much socially engineered and a product of our environment. And yes, often evil people srart out hating themselves and then the world, obviously he is putting a good spin on being a psychopath by saying this frees you to do as you please because you are somehow set free from rules by despising other humans and any of their beliefs.

    1. Yes, it’s true kids can be angrier at the parent who didn’t abuse them. The problem is that Brady attributes that hatred toward Lucas’ mother as the non-abusing parent. If Brady was correct, the Lucas should have killed his father, not his mother, as Lucas’ mother was infinitely more abusive than her disabled husband.

      I am inclined to believe most people have a moral core regardless of their culture. The
      almost universal taboos on certain behaviors is what makes me think this.

      But you may well be correct that Brady hated himself and was lashing out, but he was also very self-impressed that he was brave enough to kill children while the rest of us, hung up on some Puritanical trip of delusion, just can’t recognize his relative virtue as a lion in the midst of lambs. He may well have hated himself – his slavering lust for Panzram shows that to a certain extent, there is also never a time when Brady does not think he is the smartest man in the room, if not the world.

      If you read the book, come back and let me know what you think. I’d be interested in hearing your take.

  5. Brady was and is , far from being intelectually superior than any one else,perhaps in his sick mind he is,but after all,he succumed to human kinds primeavel and basic instincts,he was weak, always has been weak and will die that way,the only influence he ever had on anyone was the gullible Myra Hindley.

  6. I haven’t read this book but it is now top of the reading list. It seems strange to me that a man as intelligent (and there can be no no doubt ian brady is highly intelligent would lay down incorrect facts, his pride alone would have prevented him making such obvious mistakes. Brady is a master manipulator and my guess is he knows damn well his facts regarding lucas were incorrect and there will have been a reason beyond trying to fit the case around his “pet theories” I think from what I have read above brady makes a lot of valuable points. Why is it we veiw child murders as “worse” than any other?. The writer of the reveiw seems to have complete respect and almost admiration for panzram. Why? Why are his crimes so much more palatabke than bradys? I do agree most people do have a moral core that prevents them from commiting certain crimes. Not many peolle would take pleasure from the rape and mhrder of children but I think brady makes a point…how many of us woukd be criminals without the fear of a jail cell or worse? Probably best to jot answer that. And that is why I think bradybsees his actions as those of a lion. It has nothing to do with the attributes of his vicyims but of society. Murdering a child is deemed the worst crime a person can commit it is a olace even hardened criminals and the worst of the worst will not go so the man who will, the man who dares must surely be a lion. I wonder jf thatvis why brady chose children not because he had an interest in them particularly (their ages range so dramatically), but because society does. That was the worst thing as a human being he could have done according to ang society and perhaps that is his ultimate point hidden somewhere amongst his archaic prose.

    1. Becci, thanks for your comment. Though I disagree with it, I appreciate your opinion. I entered into reading this book with a similar attitude as yours – a belief that Ian Brady is quite intelligent and that his book would prove to be a fascinating look into the mind of the self-aware psychopath. Sadly, he truly came across as pompous, pretentious little man. And there’s no getting around the fact that he got most of his facts about Henry Lee Lucas wrong. Flat out, he either had bad data, which seems strange if it came from someone who had access to case files, or he just winged and tried to shoehorn Lucas into a pet theory of his.

      I state in the review that I find both Brady’s and Panzram’s violence despicable. I have no admiration for Panzram but it is inescapable that Brady himself adores Panzram to an almost erotic extent and doesn’t realize he’s Panzram’s opposite or he does realize it and is describing Panzram so lovingly that his paean to Panzram is Brady’s tacit admission that he could never be as bold or as honest as Panzram.

      Brady makes a certain point – I mean, if I could rob a bank with no repercussions to me or my family and not hurt anyone in the process, I might do it. But there is no mistaking that only a complete cretin like Brady could honestly conflate the notion of living as a lion with raping children and killing them. Is that what prevents you from raping children and killing them? Fear of a jail cell? Or is it because you are a moral person who does not have to justify your worst impulses by giving them a rebellious and courageous hue? He chose children because he is a violent pedophile, not because he was making a larger statement against society. He chose children or, in once case, a drunken adult, because he and Myra could control them easier than a full grown or sober adult. There is nothing in this book that gives credence to the notion that Brady saw his actions as being a societal protest (doing what society thought was worst) and that reason is two fold: he’s a worm incapable of any sort of “noble” protest and because he was completely dishonest and disingenuous when he wrote this book.

      The only way to reconcile your ideas with the actual book is one that someone presented to me after I wrote this. Perhaps Brady played the role of the insane inmate for so long that he actually became unhinged and this book is proof of it. Worth considering, I suppose.

      Perhaps your opinion will be the same after you read it, perhaps it will change – please come back and let me know what you think when you finish the book. I’m very interested in what you have to say on the topic.

  7. You have not read the book .. only read what is written .. look again an you will see what I have ,. Oh Kenneth Bianchi .. that names reminds me of something .. and also things like
    Janie King .. and a date 23rd November.. that whole book is himself and the things they did areas they used and within this you can find he has added clues to look for the body of Keith .. and others too I bet .. the book Title and the fact he wanted to write under the name Francois Villon.. that is exactly what we have in an area where we are searching and have found many items he left as a pathway to more. The Rest is Silence at the end .. in other words work what is within and leave me to die.. Myra and Smith involved also..

    1. KB .. JK.. ?… in the Hillside Strangler and reference to a LW Lesley called herself Lesley Weston to him .. Read what he says in the front half , on how to profile a killer.. check what brands he uses , books and films he watched and read his hobbies etc .. there is far more hidden within .. the quotes and people he was influenced by in life all there ..

  8. I see you have the expanded edition of this on your 2017 list. What did you think of the extended Sotos afterword? It seems like, to some degree, his original afterword was written with the knowledge that he was going to be dealing with a wider audience unfamiliar with his work and so he mostly restrained himself from going into typical Sotos mode, but the new “Bait” afterword totally leaves that behind and numerous sections left me scratching my head.

  9. Great review. I have one point of contention. While Brady may be inaccurate about the details of Henry Lee Lucas’ life, he is saying nothing new or bizarre about the phenomenon of the abused later lashing out at the silent witness, or complicit mother. Albert DeSalvo fits this profile. It might be a quality more prevalent among sex addicts and sex offenders than serial killers however. The Oedipal archetype often gives way to contempt and abuse of females despite the tyrannical father being posited as the primary source of conflict. I don’t think these men are necessarily without violent thoughts or feelings towards other men, but that they are opportunists and choose females or children as easy targets for their aggression.

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