Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Southeast Asia's Serial Killers (part seven): The three faces of Ryan, the "Smiling Serial Killer"

Have a look at Very Idham Henyansyah, aka Ryan, aka The Smiling (or Singing) serial killer. These three pictures illustrate the mind of a murderer who shook Indonesia in 2008 and still creates debate and talk among the population and in the media.

Ryan, the seducer

Ryan, the guiltless

Ryan, the angry

On July 12, 2008, mysterious bags containing a head, a torso and other body parts were found in the streets of Jakarta. The autopsy revealed these body parts belonged to Heri Santoso, a 40 year old businessman. In only a few days, the police was able to link the murder to a man called Ryan, and decided to arrest him. Ryan confessed quickly to the murder. What was supposed to be an easy case to close rapidly transformed in one of the most infamous and most mediatized murder case in Indonesian history.

Indeed, in addition to confessing to Heri Santoso's murder, Ryan also confessed to another 10 murders he committed earlier in his life, when he was still living in his hometown, which put his victim count to 11.

Ryan was born and raised in Jombang, a religious town where most of the people live from agriculture. He had poor relations with his siblings and his parents, and mostly kept to himself. Still today he pretends that he witnessed his parents living their affairs in the family house, and that his older sister was forced to marry a middle aged man that also happened to be the mother's boyfriend. But his parents deny these accusations, stating that Ryan started showing signs of mental distress at age 10. None of Ryan's accusations have been proven until now, and it is in the debate whether he really witnessed his parents having extra-marital relationships in front of him or not. But one thing is sure, is that very early on, Ryan grew increasingly violent, and was also very introverted, having no one to turn to when in need to express his feelings or the emotions he was experiencing.

The fact that he was homosexual and had more soft and feminine features surely did not help. School was the only place where he felt himself and comfortable, but even there he was rejected because he was more "girly" than the other boys. He was a very good student, with good grades and good behavior. But even if he got accepted later on in a faculty of medicine, he had to renounce to his project due to a lack of money and financing.

At the same time, he met a religious leader (who was also an unmarried young man at the time) and Ryan faced another blow when this man entered in a heterosexual marriage. This event certainly increased his frustration and anger to a boiling level, and became the trigger to his future killings. He would kill his first victims within a year of their separation. In only on few months, he would bury 10 victims in his backyard, most of them men aged 24 to 34, and a woman with her 3 year old daughter.

Ryan was diagnosed  as a sociopath with anti-social personality disorder, as he was charming, manipulative (by using a combination of intimidation and sexual seduction), and guiltless. To this diagnosis, I would also add that he presented a certain number of characteristics of a narcissistic personality disorder. I don't know if he believed he was better than the others, or if he fantasized about power, success or attractiveness. But he certainly enjoyed the notoriety that his actions, his book and album gave him, and, when interviewed, showed signs of pride saying that his actions had some positive effects on the people, and might help society change. He definitely shows signs that he thinks he is special, and almost that society should thank him for killing his victims as his actions point out society's dysfunctions.

An other reason for me to think he is narcissistic lies in the center of the debate around his case. He pretended from the start that he killed all these people because they were pressuring him for sex, and would then use hurtful words.
"Zacky and Aksony (2 of the victims) did not only strike me with hurtful words, but their hands groped my vital organs (sex) so that I would date them. I hated their acts. Especially when my homosexuality was used as a reason for them to satiate their lust"
"Most of the victims were gay men like me. They made me feel cheap. I got angry, we fought and I accidentally killed them"
"Not all gay men are promiscuous. Love is very important to me. It makes me furious when people say there's no such thing as loyalty in the gay world"

Now it is not uncommon for men in Southeast Asian to entertain sexual relationships with other men, even when they claim to be heterosexual. At the same time, it happens often, especially in the Muslim communities, that gay men live out gay relationships during their early adulthood, but when the family pressure to get married gets too strong, suppress their homosexuality to become an exemplar Muslim husband and son. But I seems a bit suspicious to me that the same pattern, especially like this one, would repeat itself 11 times other than in his mind and fantasy.

The reality is that we will never know if Ryan was really involved in a relationship with the religious leader, and really was, as he pretends, the victim of sexual advances of his victims, who started being demeaning to his refusal to have a sexual relationship with them. According to Ryan, he killed Santoso after he offered Ryan money and a car to have sex with his boyfriend. Unfortunately, we will never hear the other side of the story.

Do you want my opinion? I think that his claims might be far from what really happened. We have to consider a certain number of elements:

- according to him, it was often jealousy or the unwanted romantic overtures of others that drove him to kill. I have never heard of a serial killer who killed people because they wanted to date him or asked him for sexual relations. However, a more common reason, which makes more sense to me considering Ryan's personality, could be that he was the one who came on to his victims for sex, but got frustrated and angry when his victims would reject him.

- take the murder of Grady Adams, a witness testified he saw Ryan the next day wearing Grady Adam's tee-shirt... this is something you do when you like the person, not because you hate them. I cannot find any other reason to this, especially as Ryan specifically said he had no interest in his victim's belongings, and that he would bury them with the bodies. So he was not wearing Grady's tee-shirt as a trophy, but more as a sign of belonging, to show off and prove that they were having an intimate relationship.

- in a way he reminds me of Aileen Wuornos, who also pretended to the last day that she killed her victims in self defense. I think she really was convinced of it, shoving the real motive of her crimes deep into her unconscious. In Ryan's case, he probably tried to give himself more credit and notoriety by trying to portray himself more like a victim, not being able to cope with the reality of his actions. "It's about disappointments in my life. I'm tired of the shackles in my life, tired of the society I live in, a society full of strict rules. I want to be myself. I want to be the best in my life". A difference though is that Aileen Wuornos, mostly because of her erratic behavior throughout the trial, was not able to convince anyone. Ryan, during his trial, in a way succeeded in manipulating the public opinion (else he would not have gotten a record and book deal) in believing that he committed his crimes because he was first and foremost a victim of society. Moreover, when a person feels like being the victim in most of the situations, it just tends to show the low self-esteem they suffer from.

- his violent behavior might originate from a very low self-esteem and self worth, for which he compensated by creating a new him who would fight to be able to be whoever he decides to be and do what ever he decides to do. But in a way he over-compensated as he did that with a total disregard for others and by expressing his frustration and anger through violent behavior. "It comes to not wanting to be put down and abused by others, and to fight for myself in whatever way I can".

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