When I’m not rereading Harry Potter and doting on my plants, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about serial killers. (I know, I’m a catch. My husband is so lucky to have me.) I researched serial killers extensively when I was in high school for a large paper and presentation, and I am happily one of those people who is fascinated by them. I know a lot about them — specific serial killers, what most of them have in common, the trifecta that presents itself when they’re young— I even have a favorite. (Ed Kemper. When he was featured on Mindhunter I lost my cool.)
I reread the sixth book, The Half-Blood Prince, for around the fourth or fifth time while I was doing my serial killer research in high school. And boy howdy was Tom Marvolo Riddle primed to be a serial killer.
One of the most fascinating parts of the sixth book is diving into the memories that Dumbledore has collected about Voldemort and his past. They only show one in the movie, which is a shame, but the one that they do show is Dumbledore meeting Voldemort for the first time when he’s 11 and telling him that he’s a wizard. In the book, we learn from Mrs. Cole, who is in charge of the orphanage where Voldemort lives, that Voldemort is troublesome in a very serial killer-like way. He is cruel and callous and does not see the other children who live with him as entirely human and worthy of his time. (You can read a fascinating article about callous children in here.) They are called callous children because psychopathic is too strong a word for children, but it is what they are — they are children who are psychopaths. Tom Riddle is one of these children and Mrs. Cole, as well as Riddle himself, make it glaringly obvious.
All before the age of 11, Riddle has hung another child’s pet rabbit, psychologically tortured and scarred two other children, and stolen important objects from them. He admits to Dumbledore that he has a lot of control over his magic and that he uses it to control others, to punish them, and to hurt them. He does not have any friends and prefers to operate completely alone, declining Dumbledore’s invitation to accompany him to Diagon Alley to get his things for school. He hates everything about himself that is common — he believes that he alone is unique and special, which is a classic sign of psychopathic narcissism. And most poignantly, he collects trophies when he does a rather unpleasant bit of magic against someone else, which is a precursor for his Horcruxes.
Serial killers often keep trophies. Ed Gein made belts and lampshades out of human skin. Jeffrey Dahmer had 12 heads, an entire skeleton, and a bowl full of disembodied hands in his apartment when he was arrested. Ed Kemper buried his mother’s head in his garden. Trophies don’t necessarily have to be body parts of the people that serial killers have killed. Trophies can be something else with which to remember the murder, and if killers don’t collect trophies, they tend to go back and visit the scene of the crime, wanting to relive it. As an 11 year old, Riddle is not killing people, but he is collecting trophies to remember the ways in which he has hurt others with magic. After his first murder, which is the murder of his Muggle father and grandparents, he takes Marvolo Gaunt’s ring and once he has figured out how, he uses it to create his first Horcrux.
A few years ago, Netflix came out with a documentary on Ted Bundy, and the internet was ablaze with people who were confused by how attractive they found him. “I can’t believe that I think a serial killer is hot!” Ted Bundy is not the only serial who is attractive, and he is not the only serial killer who is persuasive, flattering, and easily able to blend in. Most serial killers do not go out and actively hunt, they lure. If you want to lure someone to your house to kill them, you’d have to be at least moderately attractive, have good social skills, and be flattering. Jeffrey Dahmer lured over ten men to his apartment, picking them up at bars. Voldemort possesses this quality as well.
When he leaves school, he is incredibly handsome and he has figured out how to act to get what he wants. His first job outside of school is an unusual one but it fits him perfectly; he makes house calls for Borgin and Burkes and makes people part with their treasured possessions. As a serial killer, Riddle is primed for this job. He is able to flirt, to flatter, to enter people’s homes and charm them into giving away priceless treasures to him, much the way that serial killers charm people into going to their places or into their cars. It is in doing this that Voldemort commits another murder for personal gain; to get the locket of Slytherin that he believes is rightfully his, as well as Helga Hufflepuff’s cup. These two also become Horcruxes, trophies of his murders. All of Voldemort’s Horcruxes are created after a particularly important murder, and they are all created from important objects.
It is very interesting to me that Voldemort just didn’t become a notorious wizarding serial killer. He has all of the traits and he is good at it. Even 50 years later, no one relates him to the deaths of his father and his grandparents and Hepzibah Smith. He could have continued killing for his own personal gain and just because he wanted to, and creating Horcruxes and keeping trophies. We know that he wants to make himself immortal because he believes that he should not have to suffer the indignity of death. This quest, which he sets out on after he murders his father and his grandparents, is what sets him the path to being a true serial killer. But at what point was killing and making Horcruxes not enough? At what point did he decide that he wanted to overtake the wizarding world and control it for his own? He knew that that the birth of Harry Potter would make him vulnerable. He could have killed Harry, Lily, and James and been done with it. He did not need to rise to power first. If he hadn’t, killing them would have been easy; there would have been no need for them to be in hiding under the protections of the Order of the Phoenix. He wouldn’t need to be sending henchmen into pubs to listen to prophecies. Voldemort could have been a regular man, mostly immortal with his Horcrux trophies, and he could have killed the Potters without his reign of terror.
I still don’t know why Voldemort chose the eventual path that he did. There is nothing about his quest for immortality that dictated that he must rise to power and usher in a wave of fascism. His predisposition for being a serial killer certainly helped him ascend to power and to keep it until the curse backfired, and it allowed him to rise to power again. But it just wasn’t necessary. It’s necessary in the grand scheme of the series — of course the entire plot of the series is for Harry to overthrow him and save the wizarding world from the greatest threat it has ever known. But if we take Harry out of the picture, Voldemort could have just been a serial killer, happy to make his Horcruxes and collect his trophies.
I sometimes like to think of him this way, living alone with his Horcruxes, friendless the way that he wants to be, happy with his immortality and working alone to push magical boundaries. Had he done this, there would have been no prophecy about him and Harry. He would just be living in a quiet village, making appearance to maintain his cover like Dennis Rader and John Wayne Gacy. It would have been a good life for him, a simple life, uncomplicated. It is a life that I would like to know more about, to read about.
Maybe if I were into fan fiction I could make this a reality. But instead I’ll just think about it.