Interview: Teen-killer expert Phil Chalmers

Phil Chalmers calls himself “America’s leading authority on juvenile homicide and juvenile mass murder.” He is the author of two books on the subject, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer and The Encyclopedia of Teen Killers.

Much of my research is based on interviews with mainstream, non-incarcerated teens and adults who had a deep interest in controversial media when they were teens. I wanted to interview Chalmers to get a better sense of these media and the role they play in the lives of teens who commit violent crimes.

Chalmers was willing. However, as you can see from his responses, he didn’t really address many of my questions. Fortunately, he does back up the idea that for most teen convicts, it was personal and psychological factors — not entertainment — that provided the main impetus for their actions. Chalmers emphasizes that violent media does have its place in these kids’ lives, though. Certainly it came up in many of his interviews with teen killers. Does that mean the general public should be concerned about such media? He wouldn’t say.

In addition, he didn’t address the fact that all types of violent crime among teens are on the decline. In addition, he implied that these rates might be down because more criminals are behind bars, but the juvenile arrest rate is also on the decline. In a second round of questions, I asked him to clarify, but he didn’t respond.

Chalmers gives presentations on the topic of youth killers — and their warning signs — to schools, youth ministries, and other places where kids congregate. On the one hand, it’s important for parents, educators, and ministers to recognize the real warning signs of trouble for kids on the brink of violence. On the other, I’m deeply uncomfortable with Chalmers including media as a warning sign, since I suspect for even violent teens such media serves as a harmless outlet, rather than an instigating factor.

Needless to say, he doesn’t agree.

What made you interested in writing about teen killers?

I spent 25 years speaking to teens on destructive decisions, and because of my interest in juveniles, I kept an eye on teen murder and school shootings, and began interviewing those killers, attempting to find out why they did what they did.

Why don’t we currently have a better understanding of why teens commit violent crimes?

The reason most experts are unsure why teens kill, is they don’t spend the time needed interviewing these offenders. I have spent 25 years getting to know these killers, then picking their brains. Most people, including you, have an agenda, and they try and get these cases and these causes to fit into their agenda. When I do my research, I have no agenda or political bent, I just let the killers speak, and research thousands of cases.

Do you think the lack of information about teen violence makes parents more worried or fearful about their own teens’ potential for violence?

[No answer]

In the introduction to your book, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, you say that teen violence is “out of control.” The United States Department of Justice says juvenile arrest rates for murder, aggravated assault, and forcible rape have been on the decline since the mid-1990s. In what way is this violence “out of control?”

The murder rate may be down, but teens are trying to hurt each other, and trying to kill each other at an alarming rate. Because most police departments are under pressure from politicians, they are downgrading crimes, and making it look like crime is down. Same goes for the murder rate. We have gotten good at saving people, and have incarcerated over 2 million bad guys, so due to these and more factors, the murder rate is down. But that doesn’t mean people are less violent.

You talked to hundreds of teen killers, many of whom told you about the warning signs in their lives. What were those signs?

The warning signs are in my books, and my live seminar. The first 4 signs are bedwetting, animal cruelty, fire starting, and peeping tom. Then there are 25 warning signs in my book, including fascination with deadly weapons, fascination with violent media and porn, obsession with other school shootings, depression and suicide, interest in books like Anarchist Cookbook and Hitler’s book, and many, many more.

What role did violent media play in the actions of the teen killers you interviewed?

Violent media is a pretty large part of these crimes, and almost always a part of the crime. If you read my books and attend my trainings, teen murder is a multiple-cause crime. Which means it can never be one thing, like violent video games, drugs, or guns. But when you have 3 to 6 of the causes, then you run the risk of a violent assault or a murder.

When you interviewed “Matrix killer” Josh Cooke about the murders he committed, he told you that “he committed the crime because of his rage and insanity.” If that was his main motivation, why is his story a good example of the dangers of violent media?

Josh had numerous problems, but his obsession with his favorite movie pushed him over the edge. The FBI reported that this media can push kids over the edge, and I agree with them.

You wrote that school shooter Luke Woodham started listening “obsessively” to Marilyn Manson and other bands before his grades dropped significantly. He told you the music made him angry, even murderous. Do you think the music really had an influence on him – or was something else going on that simultaneously affected his school performance and made him crave angry music?

Luke Woodham had 8 of the ten causes in his life, and violent media was just one of them. If I was to pinpoint to ONE CAUSE, or ONE SIMPLE THING, it would be Fatherlessness. That’s what many of these killers have in common. Luke was bullied terribly, and that was probably the major cause. And he was severly depressed.

You also discuss the Devin Moore case as an example of a killing spree inspired by Grand Theft Auto. Why did you do so, when Moore’s gaming habits were not admitted as evidence in court -– and Jack Thompson’s lawsuit against Rockstar Games, representing Moore’s victims, was dismissed?

I have spoken to Devin numerous times, and he was OBSESSED with GTA. And his crime he committed pretty much mimicked his game. But he had other issues as well. Again, a multiple-cause crime.

In my interviews with average teen gamers and heavy-metal fans, almost all of them said these media were a source of stress relief and enjoyment for them. Do you think games and music serve different purposes for healthy teens and for those who are prone to violence?

That’s funny. So killing people is stress relief. Well, I would say bike riding, exercise, lifting weights, and taking long walks would be good stress relief. But killing people, killing cops, and having sex with hookers before you kill them, and saying that relieves stress, now that’s pretty funny. I would disagree with that, and say that we must enforce the laws of our country, and do our best to help raise our young people in the most positive atmosphere possible.

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14 responses to “Interview: Teen-killer expert Phil Chalmers

  1. Good interview.

    I recently found your blog, when I was writing an essay on D&D’s trouble in the eighties and has since been enjoying reading your posts.

    Especially this comment in the interview is priceless:
    “The murder rate may be down, but teens are trying to hurt each other, and trying to kill each other at an alarming rate. ”

    Wonder what kind of rates he is working with? Tempted to say he is working with imaginary numbers.

    • Well, to be fair, it’s alarming when kids are hurting each other, even if the rate of such acts is near zero. But his statements do seem to imply that such behavior is on the increase, don’t they?

  2. His response to the final question … whoa. I read, and re-read, and I don’t see anywhere where you remotely said, or even slightly intimated, that “killing people is stress relief.” That came entirely from him, so if he finds it “funny,” he’s amusing only himself. I would have liked to see an answer to the actual question.

  3. Pingback: West Memphis Three could happen again | Backward Messages

  4. I read the response to the final question and contextually, I imagined a missing word “pretending” in his answer… “(pretending to kill) people is stress relief…” is how I read that response. Only Beth W can say if within the context of the interview in person if that was a reasonable interpretation of what he said. And if that was his point, I have to say that for me, having played only a view violent animated games, it was fun and didn’t make me want to do any of it in real life. Whether teens are playing violent games or seeking out other violent media or NOT, adults in their lives still need to check in with kids frequently on how they are feeling, what’s going on with them, encourage strong parental or other adult attachments and be vigilant for and with them through a hormonally, emotionally and physically challenging and exciting time in their lives.

  5. You have an agenda and he doesn’t. Hmmm. I think you both have an agenda that revolves around the same sort of thing, but yours seems more geared toward presenting something closer to actual facts. What is frightening Beth is that this guy is passing himself off as an ‘expert’ and I noticed in several places the ‘AD’ is always on. “Well if you read my books, and attend my seminars….” That always turns me right off. I know you have to promote yourself but if you say it more than once and once in awhile then that is all you’re about. He’s cocky and he’s dangerous.

  6. Shame on you Beth, and I smelled you coming a mile away. I should not have done the interview, but was trying to be nice. Now you can see why I don’t, and wont do anymore interiviews with people like yourself. And why I also didn’t respond to your second round of questions. You and your cronies obviously have an agenda, and that is to defend violent media. So be it, and I get it. But to try and discredit my work, and what I’m doing on a national scale is insulting. Let me again tell you, that reading books and attending college classes cannot teach you what you need to learn about violent crime. Instead, like myself and the FBI profilers, you must sit face to face with the killers themselves, and learn the “why” answers. That is what I have done. Not you Beth, but ME! And these kids tell me they are obsessed witih violent media. And for your 5 cronies that read your blog, it is NEVER just violent media that makes these kids kill, it’s 10 causes, and obsession with violent media and violent porn is one cause, and one warning sign. Enough said. I will get back to saving the lives of our innocent children, when 5 teens kill everyday, and you can get back to your biased one-sided blog! Good Day!

    • You just said it yourself: “It is NEVER just violent media that makes these kids kill.” That, Mr. Chalmers, is the only thing Beth is trying to get across. That is her only “agenda.” She’s trying to get parents to understand that JUST because their kids watch or listen to violent media, that alone is not enough to turn them into cold vicious blood-thirsty killers.

      The shame is on you for being so caught up in your own agenda — and yes, sir, do you clearly have an agenda — to be able to see or acknowledge that. I don’t doubt that you believe you are trying to help people, however unless you can find some way to stress this point to concerned parents and adults — that violent media alone does not turn kids into slavering maniacs — you will only continue feeding the frenzy.

      • Furthermore, you are correct that Beth has not sat down face-to-face with teen killers to discuss what made them kill. Instead, she has spoken face-to-face with hundreds of people who had an interest in violent media as teens to find out what made them NOT kill. Perhaps if you compared the five teens who kill every day with the number of teens who for decades have viewed or listened to violent media every day and NOT killed and grew up to be responsible adults who went to college and got decent jobs and got married and started families, you might begin to see her point.

      • Hmm, confusing to say the least… I myself have attended Mr. Chalmers seminar on teen killers, because I too have dealt with these potential killers, face-to-face. It was pretty clear in his seminar that there are a number of variables involved with these killers, if it were as simply as JUST this or JUST that, we could filter these potential killers out immediately… Now the agenda of this blog had to do with violent media, ok… So now is someone going to start a blog about bed wetting and ask Mr. Chalmers if bed wetting means their kid is going to be a murderer?? If you pay attention, you know, or can deduce with a little common-sense that Ohhh, that’s one indicator, when taken into context with other indicators I can start to see a pattern of behavior that could show a potential for a teen killer…. The message isn’t “backwards”, it just requires the ability to put a puzzle together… And Mr. Chalmers has applied this to the topic of Bullying and addressed many schools around the nation.. You keep worrying about your agenda of violent media’s impact, one piece of the puzzle Mr. Chalmers speaks about, and he’ll keep talking to kids about the value of their peers… I might be biased, but I would invest in his impact, not yours….

    • Classy, Mr. Chalmers. Classy. Ms. Winegarner – who’s not an academic, or a hobbyist, but a professional journalist with years of experience in reporting – sent you a list of questions. She posted the answers you gave her. Shame on YOU for throwing a fit on a public blog when your answers don’t get the unquestioning, obsequious response that you’re used to receiving.

  7. “Not you Beth, but ME!”

    He’s obviously in it for the little children, not self-promoting or ego-feeding in the least.

  8. Phil Chalmers is touching and saving thousands of lives across the US…Great job Phil, you are an inspiration to all professionals familiar with your work! We love what you are doing and you have been a blessing in our lives on the Navajo Reservation! Thanks for all you do!!!

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