What’s it like to talk to a serial killer?

Plus: the lonely life of the Pitcairn Islanders and a sizzling new Arthur Miller adaptation on Radio 4

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

24 October 2015

9:00 AM

‘I’ve never met a human being who doesn’t appreciate being listened to, being taken seriously,’ said Asbjorn Rachlew, the Norwegian homicide detective who one afternoon in the summer of 2011 found himself listening to Anders Breivik, who had just killed 77 people in a shoot-out on an island near Oslo. His job, Rachlew explained, was to get Breivik to talk, but not ‘by faking it, through manipulation etc.’. You have to show real concern, he said, to get the information you need, because you have to remember that suspects, too, like Breivik, are also traumatised. ‘Banging the table and screaming etc. doesn’t help communication…’

Rachlew’s frankness, his plain speaking, as he attempted to explain what he went through with Breivik made for gripping radio, a trip inside someone else’s life, into an experience that very few people will ever have, talking at length to a serial killer to find out the facts, build up a case. His interviews with Breivik took place over nine months. A long time to listen. Afterwards, when his work was finished, Rachlew said, ‘I felt I had to cry …I didn’t have to be professional any more. It was nice to cry. It felt good.’

This extraordinary interview (first broadcast on RTE, the Irish radio station) came out of the blue on last week’s Short Cuts (produced by Eleanor McDowall) and was all the more compelling for its unexpectedness. If you don’t know it already, this series, now a Radio 4 staple, ‘showcases’ the best audio from stations in the UK and overseas, ‘brief encounters, true stories, radio adventures and found sound’, the clips interwoven on air by the reassuring Josie Long, who has one of those voices so intimate it just draws you in and keeps you listening even if it’s way past time to leave the house. Last Tuesday, for instance, the theme was ‘The Other’ and the programme also included the brutally honest testimony of a woman who was having an intense affair with a married man, while a poet whose name is John Osborne told us how he’d discovered he was ‘the other’ when someone accused him at a poetry reading of desecrating the reputation of his playwright namesake.

Journey of a Lifetime on Radio 4 on Monday (produced by Neil McCarthy) took us out into the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Chile and New Zealand. Rhiannon Adam was reporting on her three-month stay on Pitcairn Island earlier this year. It’s only two miles by one mile in size, a volcanic plug that’s now home to just 50 people, all descendants of Fletcher Christian, who in 1789 led the mutiny on HMS Bounty and with the other seven mutineers and 18 Tahitians eventually settled on Pitcairn. A decade ago their supposed desert-island idyll was shattered when six men were convicted of assault and sexual abuse.

Pitcairn can only be reached by sea, and even then most ships cannot moor on the island, it’s too rocky. The one shop is only open for a few hours once a week. The internet is very costly and although there are landline phones the exchange is in Auckland, 3,300 miles away. Their only income comes from the home-made souvenirs — carved wood, keyrings, honey — they sell to the cruise ships that come calling on the island of the mutineers. The population, unsurprisingly, is on the decline.

‘I’ve never seen a couple holding hands,’ Adam reported. ‘No one gives a hug freely. Everyone is guarded… There’s very little fun, very few social events… Everyone is busy — as though they are all trying to distract themselves from some truth they don’t want to face.’ It sounds ghastly, yet when the time came to leave, Adam shed a few tears.

The American accents on Saturday’s drama on Radio 4, The Hook, a dramatisation (by Laurence Bowen) of a screenplay by Arthur Miller, took a bit of getting used to. The idea of turning what was meant to be a film (about a union strike in the docklands of Brooklyn) into a radio drama was also a bit odd, David Suchet as the narrator having to describe each scene rather like stage directions. But in spite of this I was soon hooked because once the accents settled down the drama (directed by Adrian Noble) began to sizzle. At a recent radio conference, Suchet explained how difficult it was to act for the radio, ‘Because you can’t see me.’ He made it sound easy.

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  • luke mac

    spree killer not serial killer, the psychologies are different.

    • jp

      Indeed, he didn´t have to get psyched up serially

    • edlancey

      You’d think someone so ill-informed would avoid writing such an article but apparently not.

  • jp

    In fact Breivik is doing what you´d expect him to do in prison. He´s tying up all resources to the extent that other inmates are complaining about their lots.

  • jim

    Hard to stay angry with him,isn’t it.?

  • edlancey

    Breivik wasn’t a serial killer. Ted Bundy was a serial killer. The Yorkshire Ripper was a serial killer.

    ffs do you people have any brains ?

  • The day after Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb outside the office of Norway’s Prime Minister and went on a shooting spree at the Labour Party’s youth camp meeting on Utoya island, information emerged that painted a different picture of the July attacks than the official narrative would have us believe. The Oslo bombing was incongruous with the aims of Breivik, as stated in his manifesto, “Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike.”1

    Why incongruous? Because the month of July is a holiday month in Norway where many are on vacation, and even more incongruous is the time for the bombing…after 3:00 PM (3:26 PM to be precise). During summer months, those who happen to be at work leave for home at 3:00 PM. In other words, Breivik timed the bombing at the near worst possible time if his intention was “to kill too many than not enough”:

    “July is the holiday month in Norway and almost everyone goes on vacation. We have to hope that many people are on holiday. The blast happened after 3.15pm and Norway is on Summer Working Hours meaning people leave work at 3pm. Let’s hope this is the case.”2

    As it turned out, casualties were light in Oslo; eight were killed.3

    Unfortunately for the children at Utoya island, Breivik’s behavior was one of extreme prejudice, no one in his rifle sights was spared, not even those children who managed to get to the lake and swim for their lives. Which raises the question: Why did Breivik ensure he would kill/maim as few as possible in Oslo, yet on Utoya island kill anyone that crossed his path, including children?

    In police custody Breivik changed his strategy for bringing change to Europe:

    “The operation was not to kill as many innocent people as but to give a signal that could not be misunderstood. As long as the Labour party keeps driving its ideological line and mass importing of Muslims then it must assume responsibility for this treason.”4

    If the “operation was not to kill as many innocent people”, then what was the purpose of the Utoya island part of the operation, not to mention its cold-blooded execution? Breivik’s revised strategy for sparking European change does not jive here either, for he methodically went about killing every person he could find on Utoya island, oblivious to whether the target was an adult or a child.

    The reason Breivik’s behavior on Friday, July 22 is so contradictory with his written aims (and his subsequent verbal confession of aims under custody) is because Breivik’s actions were not his alone, but those of the Norwegian security services. Upon close examination of the Norwegian security services initial response to Breivik’s attack on Utoya island, one can clearly discern the hand of the State in both the Oslo and Utoya island attacks.

    This article will not analyze the time it took Norwegian police to get feet on the ground on Utoya Island. That time has been revised downwards by the police,5and this author can’t see within the Norwegian security establishment to discern if the revision downwards was justified or not. However, there are two other points of contention with Norwegian police accounts concerning their initial response to Utoya island that this author can take issue with, where the only conclusion for police behavior is that a stand down order was issued.

    Responding to eyewitness criticism to the slow response of local police at Utoya island, “Buskerud District Police’s head of the operation to capture Breivik tried to fend off criticism last weekend, asking rhetorically, “should we have swum to Utøya?”’6 Buskerud police chief’s quip tells us two things.

    Firstly, Buskerud’s police chief would have us believe that there were no boats in the vicinity that could have been used to safely ferry local police across the lake to Utoya, which is a lie. In fact, there were dozens of worthy boats across from Utoya that could have been pressed into service7 to rescue those trapped on the island, which is exactly what vacationers at the scene did while police stood at the shore. Many of those civilian rescuers came under fire from Breivik, who took shots at the rescuers as they picked up swimmers out of the water. One civilian rescuer saved 40-50 persons!8

    Secondly, Buskerud police chief’s response informs us that standard operating procedure for local police in such a volatile situation was to intervene if boats were available (see next paragraph).

    Not only did the local police lie by insinuating that there were no boats in the vicinity to conduct a rescue to Utoya island with, the local police also violated standard operating procedure when dealing with a mass murderer. Local police officers must intervene immediately when confronting armed mass murderers.9

    Let us now turn our attention to the second Utoya island incongruity in this theatre of the absurd: The mystery of the approximately sixty helicopters in the Oslo region that seemingly disappeared on the afternoon of July 22, 2011 when they were needed over Utoya island.

    Another factor that police claimed slowed their response in rescuing those being hunted by Breivik on Utoya island was the distant location and readiness of the special anti-terrorism unit’s helicopter at Rygge airport, some 50-60 kilometers (31-37 miles, but actually 37 miles) south of Oslo.10 However, four days after the attacks, Chief of Staff Johan Fredriksen made no mention of distance and readiness being the rationales for the helicopter no-show, “We have one helicopter which has very limited flying time.”11 …CONTINUE READING…

    • jp

      The time it took police to respond can be explained quite easily as so many other deaths due to slow response times can also be explained. Health and safety rules deny those who would respond quickly the ability to do so. I don´t believe the answers are any more complicated than that

      • “Health and safety rules deny those who would respond quickly the ability to do so.”

        Huh? What medication are you on?

      • Mary Woll

        HSE regulations and bureaucracy played a significant role. So much so that some Norwegians wonder why we bother having a police force at all; after all, a crucial reason why we pay to keep a police force, is that part of their job description is to confront dangerous situations on behalf of the public. If their HSE regulations prevent them from entering dangerous situations we might as well close them down and resort to old-style clan ways.

        Luckily, there were brave camping tourists nearby – ordinary civilians with no special training who just happened to be there – one of these heroes had an extreme fear of water – who ventured out into the water in tiny boats and fished injured teenagers they did not know out of the water, while bullets were flying over their heads. All this, while trained and armed police officers in full battle gear stood passivly by on the shore, watching the camping tourists’ rescue operation, waiting for their orders.

        The camping tourist heroes were not even invited to some of the events celebrating “heroes” of July 22, 2011.

  • victor67

    Breivik was an avid fan of mad Mel Philips ex spectator journalist.

    • Itinerant

      Reportedly the website Breivek visited most was the BBC, he was also a fan of the PLO and various jihadists.
      You can try to smear these organisations with guilt by association if you want, (a pernicious and noxious notion at the best of times) but it might not suit your narrative.

      • victor67

        He would have regarded these organizations as the enemy while mad Mel seemed to be an ideological influence on him

        • Itinerant

          You can second-guess Breveik if you wish, I was merely pointing out guilt by association is a pernicious notion.

        • Itinerant

          ‘mad Mel’
          She seems perfectly sane and rational- I would suggest it is those in denial, who have mental health problems;

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Anders Breivik, who had just killed 77 people”

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Anders Breivik, misguided, sure. Pure evil, no quesion. But you can see where he was coming from. He wanted to punish the people he felt were responsible for Norway’s misguided immigration policy by killing their children. That would do it.

    • Arbitrary Handle

      “But you can see where he was coming from.”

      Excuse me, what is your point? That anyone who does anything evil for a reason is at least partly defensible for being able to rationalise their despicable actions to themselves? Unless we are dealing with someone beyond the capacity of reason, that will always be the case.

      Do you realise how inane your comment is? Or are you simply sympathising with a racist serial killer?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        I’m saying the Norweigein government’s attitude to third world Muslim immigration was the trigger that precipitated this tragedy.

        • Ray Spring

          Many Europeans, actually White people, view the systematic destruction of the Nation State with horror. I was born in England, lived in Birmingham. I heard Enoch Powell speak in 1963 and the politically correct reaction to that speech. I left, with my family soon after. I am so pleased I did. Birmingham is now a multi-racial Hell-hole. We cannot just demonise the Muslim immigration, it is immigration at unheard of levels that is wrong.
          Birmingham in 1960 had very few coloured immigrants. It had lots of European immigrants, who promptly became English, having escaped from WW2 and Joe Stalin.
          I can see exactly where Anders Breivik came from. I do not support what he did, but I do understand why.

          • Sean L


          • Ray Spring

            Sorry Sean, the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was made in 1968. Enoch spoke at The Midland Hotel, New Street or Corporation Street. I lived in Hall Green, Birmingham. When I lived there Aubrey Jones, Conservative, was always elected. I wonder who the present MP is? I wonder what race he comes from? The English have been ethnically cleansed from Brum. Very fortunately I was warned by Enoch and left.

        • Arbitrary Handle

          Again, telling us that Breivik had his own motivations for his actions is absolutely useless. Breivik could have gone on the rampage as a result of the government’s policy on the price of fish. Breivik, a lonely obsessive, was the trigger for his actions.

          A democratic government’s policy is not responsible for the actions of a single lunatic. It’s like blaming tidal waves on skipping stones. Who else was “triggered” in Norway? No-one.

          Could you see where the Lee Rigby killers were coming from, too?

          You’re sympathising with a racist mass murderer.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Of course if he’s shot up mosque he’d have been the hero of Europe and beyond.
            Pick your nights, Handle.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “The American accents”
    Dialects. Check your dictionary, Kate. Or can I call you +uckwit?

    • EUSSR 4 All!

      Can I call you a creep?!

  • red2black

    ‘Anders Breivik, who had just killed 77 people in a shoot-out on an island near Oslo.’
    A shoot-out. Who returned fire?

  • Rocksy

    Breivik is a mass murderer not a serial killer.

  • greggf

    It Will happen again ………. already it’s happening now,
    How wake up young lefties – look at the middle east……..

  • Innit Bruv

    A serial killer with views not unlike those expressed by many Spectator readers ( just check out the some of the posts after any of Rod Liddle’s or Douglas Murray’s articles; indeed one could even say they incite this type of knee-jerk xenophobia).

    • Sean L

      Knee-jerk means sudden, automatic, involuntary. This was planned and premeditated. Totally idiotic remark.

      • Innit Bruv

        I was referring to the readers, you f@ckwit.

        • Sean L

          You conflate what you call “knee-jerk xenophobia” with a mass killing which was anything but knee-jerk.

          • Innit Bruv

            A premeditated mass killing carried out by someone with views not unlike those expressed in this publication, by some of the columnists and by some of the readers.
            You obviously do not wish to acknowledge the fact.

          • Sean L

            Yes he killed people at a Young Socialist rally, his political opponents, on account of their endorsement of multi-culturalism, and by extension Islamisation. That’s not in question. But it’s an interesting point that political murder implicates not just the murderer but also those who share comparable views. Because the numbers killed in the name of the Prophet and Marx, for example, murders sanctioned by texts their adherents regard as sacred, can be counted in their millions. So if you’re arguing that advocates of political views in whose name murder is committed ought to renounce those views in order to prevent more bloodshed, and I can’t see any other point to what you say, then I think it’s a marvellous idea in principle. But just a little disengaged from reality since it would entail the extinction not just of Marxism and Islam but of every belief system on whose behalf blood has been spilt – which doesn’t leave much. John Lennon expressed a similar sentiment in his nauseating dirge Imagine.

          • Innit Bruv

            Not arguing not advocating, merely making an observation , an observation that obviously bothers you otherwise you wouldn’t have felt the need to respond with such a lengthy post.
            I wonder why that is….

          • Sean L

            I enjoy an argument innit.

          • Innit Bruv

            Nothing wrong with that…

  • Sean L

    You don’t even know what serial killer *means*.