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Criminologist explains why true crime lovers are obsessed with serial killers

Criminologist explains why true crime lovers are obsessed with serial killers

Dr Honor Doro Townshend appears in Discovery+ documentary The Suitcase Murders.

On 22 March 2009, a suitcase containing a human leg was found in a lay-by on the A507 in Hertfordshire, triggering a murder investigation.

Over the next three weeks, the remaining body parts of the murder victim were found, except for his hands, with each body part discovered in bags which had been hidden near roads.

The victim's name was Jeffrey Howe, a 49-year-old man whose brother described him as 'a jovial, charming character who had a heart of gold and would get on with anyone'.

The police investigation ultimately led them back to Jeffrey's own home and his lodger, a man named Stephen Marshall who'd been living there since November 2008.

While Marshall claimed that Jeffrey had taken his things and left the flat he owned, it transpired that the 38-year-old and his girlfriend had used Howe's money to make a number of purchases while selling off his possessions including his phone, furniture and car.

Marshall was later arrested at Howe's Southgate flat, and would ultimately be found guilty of murder.

Stephen Marshall.
Police Handout

The murder of Jeffrey Howe is one of several featured in Discovery+ true crime series The Suitcase Murders, which as the name suggests focuses on murders where the victim's body was discovered inside a suitcase.

Appearing in the documentary, criminologist Dr Honor Doro Townshend helped provide expert opinion on the case of the 'Jigsaw Killer', as Marshall became known.

A motive for murder

Speaking to LADbible, the criminologist explained that at first glance you might assume Marshall was 'motivated by financial gain' as he did spend his victim's money, but there was more going on regarding the motive.

She said: "There’s this kind of build-up of tension between them because Jeffrey starts to realise that he's being taken advantage of by Stephen Marshall.

"Marshall was being called out, and he's at risk now of essentially losing his source of living because Jeffrey has been providing that for him for quite a time at this point.

"There is somewhat a financial motive, but I also think that it’s an anger at potentially having the status quo disrupted, because he likes what situation he had going on."

Dr Honor Doro Townshend.

"One of the wildest things I've ever heard"

Shockingly, Marshall later admitted to killing and dismembering four more people between 1995 and 1998, claiming to have disposed of their remains in Epping Forest.

However, he provided no more details about his victims, and Dr Townshend called his confession to four more murders 'one of the wildest things I've ever heard'.

She explained that Marshall 'tried to use it in court as mitigation', with the judge saying it demonstrated how warped his mind was that he thought admitting to murdering four other people might soften his punishment.

The criminologist said that trying to understand such a warped mind was one of the attractions of true crime aficionados to serial killers.

"The thing with murderers is I think we're fascinated because we're constantly trying to understand their behaviour," Dr Townshend told LADbible.

"It doesn't follow logic as we understand it"

She continued: "Human beings are always fascinated by extremes of human behaviour, and murder is the utmost extreme.

"So we're always fascinated and trying to work out what's the logic here, and what's the process that this person has gone through."

What would cause another person to murder and stuff their victim in a suitcase? It is perhaps best not to fully know.

However, the criminologist said that in the end you 'don't want to be able to understand' despite the fascination.

She said: "It makes sense why we're also fascinated by it but I think we'll never really, across the board understand criminal behaviour of any type.

"We can come up with these theories and these ideas, I've studied criminology a long time, but I still can't categorically tell you why someone commits murder because it's so varied. It's so contextual. It's so based on the individual.

"But the only people who could really explain exactly what the thought process was would be the people involved because we're all trying to do this with logical brains, and mindsets.

"But often it doesn't follow logic as we understand it."

Dr Townshend explained why serial killers fascinate us so much.
Evie Blackburn

"Guaranteed narcissism"

As for why a string of murderers used suitcases to hide their victims, Dr Townshend said the connecting factor was the killer 'doing everything that they can to get away with it'.

She said it 'indicates a certain level of guaranteed narcissism' that the killer's first thought is how to get away with their crime, though on many occasions it's the attempt to get away with it which ultimately brings them down.

The Suitcase Murders covers a string of real crimes where the bodies of the victims were disposed of in cases, and the criminologist said it turned out to be 'stupid' as it would leave plenty of forensic evidence.

On top of that, she explained that in many of the crimes The Suitcase Murders covered, the killer used a case belonging to them, which then of course pointed the investigation back towards them and helped them be caught.

The Suitcase Murders is available to watch at 10pm on Saturdays on Quest Red, and available to stream on Discovery+.

Dr Honor Doro Townshend appears in the fourth episode, The Jigsaw Killer, available from Saturday 16 March.

Featured Image Credit: Netflix/The Suitcase Murders

Topics: True Crime, Crime, Documentaries, TV and Film