Written by Alex Cayas
Amanda Howard is a Sydney based true crime author, fiction writer and expert into the history and motivations of serial killers. Her writing and research experience is based on university studies in criminology and psychology. Amanda has written ten books on a wide range of true crime cases and topics with Rope: A History of the Hanged her most recent release.
Amanda has interviewed some of the world's most heinous serial killers over two decades and have collected a vast pool of information on various types of killers, their motives, rituals and what makes them tick. Amanda is bringing all this knowledge and these experiences to The Oz Paranormal and Spiritual Expo taking place Saturday the 24th of September at Casula Powerhouse Arts Center. Amanda will be presenting two talks. One talk will be part of the Expo workshop and talk series which is included in your standard $5 entry and the other is part of the VIP program and will dive deeper into some very infamous and dark cases Amanda has researched.
Your latest book Rope: A History of the Hanged. Has just released this year. What pulled you in to research the condemned?
I have a YouTube Channel where I do a range of videos on botched executions and this book was an extension of that idea. I love historical crimes and this book has many recent cases as well, it allowed me to delve into research on some of the most famous criminals from history that otherwise I may have not had the opportunity to write about. So it that was part of the reason I wanted to write this book. I also wanted to examine a different part of criminology. We often talk so much about the crimes and the butterfly affect but how about that ultimate punishment. We have executed people throughout history (and Rope does give a brief history of capital punishment) and I wanted to talk about what that was like, how we have changed execution methods and how the hangman’s noose is just one type of hanging execution method. I was really lucky that as a part of this book, I travelled to London to visit the very spot where the Tyburn Tree once stood – the massive gallows that was used to hang up to 26 people at a time. To stand in modernity and imagine the roaring crowds, the terrified prisoners and the drunk hangman, it was just an important part of the book’s journey. It gave me that added emotion and passion when it came to writing the stories of the condemned.
Of course I will admit that the title suggests a really dry book, and when I began putting together ideas I thought it would be very dull, but in reality the cases I have brought together are incredibly interesting. From the prisoners who escaped the noose, to those who met tragic and brutal ends to the comical stories and those that bring a tear, the journey takes you through a gamut of emotions that I really had no idea would occur when I first started writing Rope.
What is it about serial killers and true crime that draws people in?
I remember when I first learnt about serial killers. I was about 15, as a fan of Stephen King books, I was already interested in the darkness of the human mind, but then I read Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. The book introduced me to the evilness that is Hannibal Lector and Buffalo Bill. I was hooked from that very first moment. It was like a light went off. I had no idea then that it would become my life’s work but it consumed me from the very beginning. Then fate once again stepped in and within a few weeks, Sydney had its own serial killer hunting the streets of North Sydney.
So what makes them so compelling? I think we see them as a link between the basic human desire and our social and moral compass. We all have desires, we all have those secrets that we keep, the secrets we hide behind our façade yet serial killers enjoy playing in those dark regions of the mind. They create such a complex fantasy world that the rest of us don’t understand. We don’t understand how they can rape and murder, yet still keep up appearances as being well adjusted and in control. We like to think that they are different to us, we WANT to think that they are different to us but interviewing killers for 20 or so years shows me that they are very much like us, they have jobs, they have families, they have dreams and aspirations, but they also have a blood lust that they allow to take control.
It is this wildness- the beast within - that we are interested in as a genre. We want to have that comparison, to know that we are ok, that though we may have unusual desires, in comparison to a serial killer our moral compass remains pointed in the right direction.
Photo credit: Djbarrett Photographer and Graphic Artist)
I read Hotel Cecil (which is well known to True Crime fans and American Horror Story fans) in the description of your Oz Paranormal and Spiritual Expo VIP talk and was very excited by this this idea of exploring infamous cases and people, stories we hear pieces of over and over. Can you take us inside your VIP Expo talk?
I have had a lot of fun putting together my VIP talk for the Oz Paranormal and Spiritual Expo. It was such an honour to be asked to do a second talk and it has allowed me to expand into some amazing topics that I have always been interested in but never had the chance to research. When I first began drafting the talk, I was going to look at all of the usual conspiracies that turn up like JFK and Sept 11. Instead I examined unusual and lesser known cases, I wanted the talk to be different and challenging and perhaps it would provide a springboard for others to look into cases and events that they find interesting.
So the talk will start with a few very strange deaths that defy the explanations given in the official reports. Some are suspicious suicides; others have some strange links to other famous crimes that will make you question the official verdicts. I then look at some bizarre messages left behind by victims – or their killers - that raised more questions than they answered. Some of them remain unsolved more than half a century later. To add to that I had some very creepy coincidences and some strange occurrences that will bring chills. I will also be showing a few videos related to missing persons that will make you wonder ‘what happened next’.
The Hotel Cecil has also been included, and I ask can a place be so full of death and darkness? Hotel Cecil has connection to many famous crimes, serial killers, suicides and even a ghost. It is an amazing story, that the more you research the more you find.
The talk is titled Conspiracies, Coincidences and Creepy Crimes? Can you share with us the wildest or craziest coincidence you've come across that screams conspiracy to you?
Absolutely there are some bizarre cases out there where I don’t understand that there wasn’t an uproar when it was closed. As I said earlier, I didn’t go into the conspiracy of JFK’s assassination, but one of the cases I do look into has so many links to the case that it makes you wonder how many other deaths were linked to the President’s murder. I’d love to say more, but I will wait until the talk. It is very interesting and screams conspiracy and makes you wonder… what were they hiding?