Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Edwin Bernard 'Mike' Kaprat and the bad old days of serial killers

Remember William "Billy" Mansfield Jr., who buried the bodies of women he had strangled in the yard of his Weeki Wachee home?

How about Robert Dale Henderson, Bobby Joe Long, Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. or Aileen Wuornos?

All of them were serial killers who claimed at least one victim from the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s or early 1990s.

Look just beyond our region and the list includes Danny Rolling, who killed and mutilated five students in Gainesville in 1990.

Expand the definition of serial killer to those who victimize multiple people strictly for pleasure — though not necessarily at different times — and you can add Oba Chandler, who was convicted of drowning an Ohio woman and her two daughters in Tampa Bay in 1989.

And 20 years ago this month, Edwin Bernard "Mike" Kaprat III embarked on a seven-week rampage in Spring Hill and Brookridge that left five people dead, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. His trademark: After raping and killing elderly women, he set them and their homes on fire to cover his tracks.

He terrorized the community, of course. But back in those days, it was a type of terror that had almost become old hat.

"I call it, somewhat facetiously, the golden age of the serial killer," said Harold Schechter, a professor at Queens College of the City University of New York who studies crime.

I'd noticed the same thing, but thought it might just be the nostalgia of an old cops reporter. Turns out, it's a trend that was reported by Slate two years ago and documented by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

Marking the midpoint of the "careers" of serial killers to avoid overlap, he found that 209 of them were at work in the 1980s, compared with a relatively meager 95 in the first decade of this century.

Better crime-fighting techniques mean criminals are usually caught before they accumulate horrifyingly long, John Wayne Gacy-like rosters of victims, Fox said.

There are far more people in prison now than 20 years ago, and no doubt some of these inmates are would-be serial killers, he said.

And because the murder rate has dropped dramatically, it makes sense that the serial murder rate has dropped as well.

But maybe there is something else at work.

It used to be that serial killers were interesting. We speculated on their motives, delved into their psychology, even romanticized them a little bit. Law enforcement did it, and so did newspapers. Movies such as The Silence of the Lambs made homicidal sadists seem like some of the most fascinating people on the planet.

We still have Dexter, the acclaimed television show about a Miami serial killer who targets only other serial killers. But when I watch it, all I can think about is how quickly he would run out of victims in real life.

"Murder seems to go in and out of vogue," said Ann Rule, a veteran writer of true crime. Now it's all about mass shootings, she said. "But for a while, serial killers were everywhere and got a lot of publicity."

Was it enough to give people like Kaprat, recently divorced and seemingly bored with his job as a machinist, something to strive for?

Maybe.

"I think it was just a lifestyle he decided to adopt," G.Z. Smith, the Hernando sheriff's major who supervised the investigation, said in January 1995 — just before the start of Kaprat's trial and three months before he was stabbed to death at the age of 30 after arguing with fellow death row inmates about a volleyball game.

The downside to such a vocation, of course, was an almost certain death sentence. The upside was the chance for nobodies to become somebodies.

Until they weren't.

As spectacularly depraved as Kaprat's crimes seemed, he was nearly ignored by the national media.

Away from Hernando and apart from the potential victims whom he sent scrambling to buy locks and dogs and guns, he had become the last thing a serial murderer wants to be — a bit of a bore.

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