Lessons Learned from Extensive Interviews with Serial Killers: Avoid Any Encounters

“Be cautious of Spahalski, Mr. Morgan,” the prison guard cautioned as I prepared to meet one of New York’s most infamous serial killers. “He is an extremely dangerous individual. He once managed to break free from handcuffs using only his bare hands.” As I tried to fathom the immense strength required for such a feat, Robert Spahalski entered the small interview room. A tall, muscular man, he exuded a quiet and menacing aura.

Spahalski had committed heinous crimes that were particularly disturbing. He repeatedly murdered people, at least four, possibly more, all of whom he knew, including sexual partners and neighbors. These acts of extreme violence were triggered by his victims, and what was most chilling was his complete lack of remorse. He stated that he never gave them a second thought. Law enforcement officers described him as a “psychotic, soulless human being,” and he certainly left an unnerving impression on me, after having spent a decade interviewing some of America’s most evil and notorious killers for crime documentaries.

During our conversation, I asked Spahalski if he still experienced homicidal urges. At first, he denied it, but then warned, “If you push my trigger, you’re done.” It was a moment that required immediate clarification. I asked him pointedly, “Are you saying that if I upset you during this interview, you might feel the urge to kill?” His dark, brooding eyes locked onto mine. “Absolutely.” I had no doubt that he meant it.

The question of what drives people to kill is multifaceted. Expert criminologists have condensed the motives into the “4 Ls” – Lust, Love, Loathing, and Loot. Many of the individuals I have interviewed for my new series, “The Killer Interview with Piers Morgan,” fit into these categories. They include a preacher who killed his wife to be with his younger mistress and an insurance fraudster who killed for financial gain.

However, there are killers like Spahalski who defy rational explanation. They seem to murder simply because they feel like it. One such example is Levi King, who randomly shot and killed five people for no apparent reason, including a family as they slept in their isolated farmhouse. “You are the worst nightmare for any family,” I told him, to which he did not disagree. Their conversation felt as casual as discussing a trip to the grocery store.

Not all serial killers are male. Kimberly Saenz, a seemingly innocent nurse, deliberately killed five patients by injecting bleach into their dialysis machines. The motive behind her actions remains unclear, even after an hour of questioning her. It is crimes like hers that haunt me the most, as they make no sense and could happen to anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Being in close proximity to these individuals, conducting face-to-face interviews in maximum security prisons across America, often sends shivers down my spine. I am always grateful for the presence of the guards, a few feet away, keeping watch over these lethal inmates. Some of them wouldn’t think twice about adding me to their list of victims.

There have been moments during these interviews when I genuinely feared for my safety. During a particularly confrontational conversation with Lorenzo Gilyard, known as the Kansas City Strangler, who killed at least 13 women over a 17-year period, I realized the lone guard had moved further away than usual. I nervously wondered what would happen if Gilyard decided to attack me. Afterward, I asked my producer, “How long would you have continued filming before intervening?” He jokingly replied, “One second before asphyxiation. Though, if I misjudged the timing, it would be great for ratings.”

There was also a disturbing moment when my producer abruptly stopped filming as I sat across from Bernard Giles, a truly despicable man who kidnapped and horrifically murdered five young female hitchhikers near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. My whispered question, “What’s wrong?” elicited his equally hushed response, “I just saw a metal pen sticking out of his shirt pocket.” It was a chilling reminder of the danger lurking in these encounters.

The truth about serial killers, and it may seem obvious, is that they are different from the rest of us. They possess a high degree of intelligence, much like the fictitious movie villain Dr. Hannibal Lecter, which enables them to elude detection for extended periods. They also lack empathy for their victims and are often indiscriminate in choosing whom to kill. When I asked Bernard Giles why he targeted the women he murdered, his simple response was “access.” Serial killers are the most dangerous individuals you hope to never encounter.

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