What the Killer Sees: Willi Borgsen

Welcome to “What the Killer Sees”, a new fortnightly column for Back to Frank Black. Each instalment will consider one of the antagonists from a Millennium storyline and offer a brief exploration of their psychology. Part profile, part examination of the investigation and wider story told involving that character, it will delve into the disturbing details of the crimes that Frank Black investigates and the very insights into their grisly detail that are his defining gift and curse.

Be sure to check the blog on alternate Fridays from now on for a new profile, and please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

This opening profile is perhaps an apt one for the column’s premiere as we explore the very genesis of a killer...

Killer: Willi Borgsen (Van Quattro)

Episode: “Broken World” (2 May 1997)

Writers: Robert Moresco & Patrick Harbinson

Director: Winrich Kolbe

Quote: “His only source of feeling alive is his urge for sexual pleasure. His paraphilia has now defined it. It intoxicates and terrifies him. He's standing at an abyss and he's hesitating.” --Frank Black

Profile: Willi Borgsen becomes a psychosexually motivated killer before our eyes. We quickly learn that he has killed over twenty horses in the space of two-and-a-half years. It is a well-established pattern that many killers will have abused or killed animals in their formative years; this displays characteristics such as a lack of empathy or remorse that form part of a cluster of traits that define their psychopathology. We will begin to understand, though, that Willi Borgsen’s repeat attacks upon horses hold a far deeper significance.

Borgsen’s assault on Sally Dumont represents an escalation in his activities, since for the first time he has held a person within his power. He chooses not to kill her, but writes “HELP” at the scene in blood, plus semen is found in a nearby stable stall. Frank and Peter Watts explain that he would have been both excited and terrified by this encounter, hence these contrasting reactions. He also takes Sally’s bridle from the scene and Frank surmises that he fantasises using it on her. As such the removal of the bridle represents a souvenir to Borgsen: a reminder of the experience and a signature element of behaviour that hints at his motivation. A souvenir of this kind is distinct from a trophy, which is more of a symbol of true victory or conquest.

It is also noted that this close call will act to expand the sexual fantasy of Borgsen. His first kill, though, is borne more out of necessity to prevent his detection, which then turns to frustration and rage; his victim is of the “wrong” gender and there are no horses involved and hence it does not satisfy him. It is not uncommon for serial killers to refine their methods and explore their own desires in this way through their early kills. The next time, though, Borgsen gets it "right".

His victim is Mary Ann Wright, a local woman known to him. Here he finally gets to act out his fantasy, recognising his paraphilia – a term for an obsessive mode of sexual expression dependent upon a socially unacceptable stimulus – for what it is in the process. Borgsen this time scrawls the words "THANK YOU" on a wall at the scene and goes on to contact Frank Black by phone. He asks him what may happen next, signifying both a growing confidence as a killer and yet a lack of full understanding of quite who he is and of what he is capable.

The link to horses seems to be one of jealousy of the attention that women bestow upon them. The suggestion is that horses are a girl’s “first love” and that they have thus cut him off from sexual intimacy with women, however we never come to know for certain the full details that might explain the genesis of Borgsen’s psychopathology and thus drive his behaviour.

Kills: 2

Investigation: Frank Black first becomes involved in the case due to concern that this criminal has moved from solely hurting animals to injuring a person and will escalate further from there. He sees this as a unique opportunity to prevent the killings before they start. The spate of horse killings are soon linked by their geographical spread and a common modus operandi.

Frank attempts to reach out to Borgsen, hoping that the revulsion that he still feels at this stage towards his own actions and desires will prompt him to make contact. Peter Watts’ fears are borne out, however, since the ensuing phone conversations ultimately serve only to validate and empower Borgsen and he soon kills twice.

From an examination of certain aspects of his modus operandi, Frank determines a likelihood that the killer works in a slaughterhouse and used to live on a farm that bred horses. Cross-referencing the first horse killings with the closure of the Borgsen farm leads the investigation to Willi, narrowly preventing him from killing a third time and an extended career of sadistically motivated murders.

10 Responses to "What the Killer Sees: Willi Borgsen"

Terri said... September 24, 2010 at 5:05 AM

This ep always reminded me of the play "Equus."

TL said... September 24, 2010 at 7:48 AM

Fascinating read Adam! Well done! I look forward to more from you and Brian!

Dixon said... September 24, 2010 at 10:28 AM

You're spot on, Terri. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, "Equus" was the working title for the episode when Robert Moresco and Patrick Harbinson first drafted the script.

Joselyn Rojas said... September 24, 2010 at 5:50 PM

First of all I ADORE AND LOVE THIS IDEA!!! OMg Yes! To get inside the minds of a killer is not an easy Job and to be able to achieve such intense episodes the writers must have had excellent outsourcing, not only for them but also for Frank!!!
OMG Yes!! Adam this was amazing!
can´t wait for the next one!

Adam Chamberlain said... September 26, 2010 at 4:06 AM

Thanks very much, Joselyn and Troy - glad you enjoyed the column! Dixon has something very engaging for you from next week too, which from the sneak preview I've seen will complement this column whilst offering a completely different perspective in its approach. So I hope you'll continue to enjoy the alternating Friday columns from here on.

It's interesting, Joselyn, as going back and studying these episodes so closely in this regard has made me think about how carefully some episodes must have been researched in the writing process, albeit often compressing timelines in order to fit the show's format (an approach I know Lance was keen to change in order to be more true to life in the investigations).

I studied psychology myself and very nearly went on to an MSc course in forensic psychology - I just took to heart some advice given by someone close enough to me to know what it was likely to do to my psychology in turn (and of course as evidenced in dramatic fashion by Frank's own back story). I'm still fascinated by the subject, though, albeit from a comfortable distance.

The "Equus" comparison is an interesting one, Terri. I've never seen the play, only read a little about recent productions, and whilst the psychology behind the protagonist there is quite different - based in a sexual attraction towards horses that developed in his childhood, if I understand it correctly - it's an interesting comparison since the links between horses and power, sexuality and so on is clearly a recurring theme and one embedded in our animal husbandry with them throughout history.

Joselyn Rojas said... September 26, 2010 at 3:50 PM

I know what you mean Adam. Profiling, forensinc psycolohy and psychiatry are very very VERY interesting areas of expertise but have a very thin red line. The subject is very interesting from a social, environmental, genetics and molecular point of view.... and it all surrounds a simple question: "what makes you a killer? what makes you repeat the killing? what drives you?"
This deserve a very good chatroom! hahahahah!

Terri said... September 26, 2010 at 4:49 PM

Dixon, that’s interesting to know. :-D

Adam, while both have at their cores a paraphelia involving horses, in “Broken World” it is the typical evolution of a serial killer. Killing/torturing animals before moving on to humans. The horses are Willi’s beginning.

In “Equus” the horse’s become Alan Strang’s religion. He worships them. And when they witness them having sex with a woman – betraying his religion – he blinds them. The horses are Alan’s end. The play mostly deals with the question of what is considered normal/sane, and is the doctor killing Alan’s soul/passion by “curing” him.

Adam Chamberlain said... September 27, 2010 at 2:10 AM

Nature or nurture, Joselyn: it's a debate that comes up all the time in psychology, of course, and a really interesting one too. I always took the middle ground in that it has to be a combination of both: a disposition towards certain behaviour that is inherent in our physiology somehow amplified by social and environmental conditions. It always seemed to be that human behaviour was too complex a thing to simply park it in one or the other camp. It’s certainly a rich subject matter – this is our chat room for it right here!

Thanks for the extra detail on “Equus”, Terri. You’re right, of course, in terms of both Strang and Borgsen (which sounds like a type of audio equipment manufacturer, for some reason) being paraphiliacs, and it’s an interesting point to note that one begins their “career” with horses whilst the other ends with them. I would argue that Borgsen’s path through killing and torturing animals is atypical to most killers in that the horses are a continuing part of his ritual whereas with most serial killers it is simply a phase in their early adulthood and less directly linked to their human kills, but it certainly is typical in the way around that he does it! Thanks so much again for the insights.

James McLean said... September 27, 2010 at 6:55 AM

I've always liked nurture over nature - particularly in TV where TV likes to respond to the simplistic whims of the viewer - to be told who is good and who is bad with no need to try and look beyond the simple story façade. Season 1 did a lot of this, trying to look at what makes people what they are and this study into the line that's crossed that makes you into a serial killer is fascinating. Great article.

Adam Chamberlain said... September 27, 2010 at 5:25 PM

Thanks, James, and an interesting point about a recurring theme of Season One. It's interesting too as I always thought the purported presence of Legion often argued for evil by nature, although I guess that's debatable too. It's doubtless a theme this column will explore more in upcoming entries too, and so a discussion to which we will return!

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