ALICE HUNTER on Behind The Serial Killer’s Daughter

Written by Alice Hunter

The Serial Killer’s Daughter, while not a sequel to The Serial Killer’s Wife, does continue the theme of a murderer within the family and the effects this has on a particular member. In the first book I looked at how being married to a killer turned the wife’s world upside down, and asked the question: did she know? 


For The Serial Killer’s Daughter, I’ve focused on the daughter of the man dubbed The Painted Lady Killer by the media and how this impacted her childhood and later years. When we meet Jenny, she’s living a happy, normal life having shielded herself and her family from her past by changing her identity and keeping the fact her father is a convicted serial killer a secret. Of course, secrets are hard to keep, so when a crime echoing her father’s rocks her tight-knit community, we soon discover that Jenny is hiding more than just her true identity. In this novel, the question is: did she kill?


Since studying psychology, I’ve been fascinated in the nature vs nurture debate: are a person’s characteristics and behaviours genetic or learned? Contemporary experts believe it’s a mix of the two as opposed to being down to purely one or the other, but the question ‘is a killer born or made?’ is still one that is asked today. Having worked with offenders in a male prison, it’s also the one I’ve come across the most and so this was the driving question behind The Serial Killer’s Daughter.


In preparation for writing this novel, I looked at various articles written about the offspring of murderous parents and found one about the daughter of a serial killer who’d initially kept her father’s twisted past a secret. It wasn’t until much later that she confided in her husband and spoke of how the family had struggled to cope with the fact her father raped and killed eight women. This background information helped when writing from Jenny’s point of view and enabled me to consider the reasons why Jenny buried her past. Another article spoke of living with the stigma of having a parent who’d committed murder, how friends, the media and strangers all passed judgement and there was an element of ‘toxic fame’ they forever felt associated with. For Jenny, I added in additional layers of conflict to bring a sharper focus on these issues and how, as the story unfolds, she has to deal with her own suspicions and that of her husbands, colleagues and villagers.


The story is largely told through Jenny’s point of view, with some chapters from her husband, Mark’s. Jenny is somewhat an unreliable narrator, suffering from night terrors and blackouts that mean she’s not always certain of her actions during them. In creating her character, I drew on personal experience in this area. My son suffers with night terrors, as did I when I was a teenager. The impact on us as a family was huge: night after night he would wake screaming and running from his room, convinced someone was in there. This occasionally led to him leaving the house, sometimes via the bedroom window, in attempts to escape the perceived threat. These episodes could last minutes or sometimes hours, and in the morning he had little recollection of what had happened. As an adult, he still experiences these episodes and currently has a fractured femur as a result of a night terror. 


For Jenny’s character, I didn’t want her to have this extreme type of night terror, more a case of experiencing loss of time because of ‘blacking out’. I did some further research into how blackouts, and acting without conscious awareness, would affect someone and how possible it was for them to carry out complex actions and have no recollection of them afterwards. This type of dissociative amnesia (sometimes known as fugue state) is often linked with overwhelming stress and can be triggered by past trauma. There have also been associations made between dissociative amnesia and criminal acts, with offenders claiming memory loss or lack of awareness during the offence and this is something Jenny fears during the unfolding story. I also researched PTSD and its effects because for Jenny, her early traumatic experience was the trigger for her blackouts.


Another key element to The Serial Killer’s Daughter is the father himself, whose crimes are explored through the eyes of someone writing The Painted Lady Killer biography. Infiltrating the mind of a serial killer, even a fictional one, wasn’t the easiest task! To build his character, I drew on my experiences when I was facilitating offending behaviour rehabilitation programmes. I worked with a number of men who were in prison for murder and they shared details of their upbringing and factors that they believed contributed to their behaviour, including the challenges they faced in making and maintaining healthy relationships and how their emotions led to risky behaviour. This unique insight into their thoughts and motivations is something I hope lends an authenticity to my writing.


Avon; Pbk21 July 2022, £8.99


Alice Hunter

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