Dean Possey In ‘To Catch A Killer,’ Explained: What Pushed Him Off The Edge?


We often ask ourselves, “What pushes a man off the edge?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question. It could be a million things slowly piling up in our minds. Or it could be just one small incident that triggers our insanity. And when it does, the end result is quite horrifying. In To Catch a Killer, we come across a man who was born into an ideal society, but over a period of time, things changed. If a healthy society has the ability to shape a person’s behavior, then a toxic one can ruin it in unimaginable ways. Hence, we want to ask why Dean Possey, a man born to the most normal parents, became a ruthless killer. Was it his family, the society he was living in, or something else? To Catch a Killer gives us the answers in bits and pieces, and thus we would like to connect the dots to understand what motivated him to pull the trigger 29 times on a fateful New Year’s Eve.

Spoilers Alert

During the initial investigation, Officer Eleanor Falco stated that the killer was not looking for something as simple as destruction. Instead, he was looking for relief. Eleanor was able to understand the chaos inside Dean Possey’s mind because she herself had been suppressing her feelings, most importantly her anger, since childhood. We don’t know with certainty what happened to Eleanor when she was 12, but indeed, it could be some sort of trauma that pushed her to make multiple suicide attempts. It could have been an abusive father or an absent mother, or maybe she was bullied in school. We don’t know exactly what it was, but the point here is that, like Dean Possey, Eleanor too, had been trying to suppress her true feelings, which made these two individuals anti-social, aggressive and violent. In Eleanor’s case, the aggression and violence were directed at herself, as she tried to slit her wrists multiple times.

For many people, addictive substances become an easy escape from their own chaos. It helps them numb their feelings, and hence, they find relief in addiction. This was true in Eleanor’s case, but Dean Possey felt relieved when he pulled the trigger on society. His hatred for society was the root cause of his anger. Hence, violence became his expression of anger. But why did Dean hate society so much?

As per Dean’s mother, he was accidentally shot twice in the head by his father when he was just 6 years old. The doctors removed the pellets from his head, but the injury left him with a deformity. Dean was bedridden for an entire year, and he was never the same after that. According to his mother, Dean started hating school because the kids made fun of the odd scar on his head. It was the first instance when Dean was rejected by the society. His mother also stated that he spoke less after the incident, and it was a sign that Dean kept things to himself. Until now, Dean was traumatized, but he didn’t have any medium to express his feelings. He was a smart, quiet kid who needed therapy, but instead, his father handed him a gun. He trained him to defend himself. Sergeant Arthur Jules Possey wanted his son to join the army and serve the nation, unaware of the chaos inside his mind. We don’t want to stereotype here, but we all know that army officials don’t take mental health into serious consideration. For them, therapy is one of the greatest frauds of the 21st century. Dean, on the other hand, refused to accept the toxic military environment and had no reason to pull the trigger on another human being. But then, what changed?

Dean Possey was left with very little prospect in a civil society. He didn’t finish school and was rejected by the army, so he started working in a slaughterhouse to earn a living. He didn’t talk to anyone and kept mostly to himself. Things were quiet until Dean started asking himself questions. One night, he went to the lake, from where the cows were picked up, and the sight in front of him was peaceful. He wanted to hold on to the peace he felt, but reality struck him as soon as he realized what was going to happen to those creatures. They were going to be slaughtered for food because society had been formed that way. Perhaps it was just the beginning of such introspection. However, what pushed Dean off the edge was when a fellow co-worker named Alonso bullied him relentlessly. According to Dean’s senior, Dean had killed Alonso to silence him forever. The word “silence” has been constantly used throughout To Catch a Killer because it was the unwanted noise that had been bothering Dean Possey since he was 6 years old. The first noise that he couldn’t forget was the sound of the gunshot fired by his own father. Similarly, the noise of his bullies and hatred of his father added to that chaos, and Alonso was one of those voices in a pile. Maybe after killing Alonso, Dean realized that the only way to silence the noise inside his head was to silence the society that created it. Again, it is important to note here that Dean stopped firing on New Year’s Eve when the fireworks stopped. He wanted to send out a message to human society that not everyone on the planet likes to celebrate the change of the calendar through loud fireworks, and that includes animals and plants as well. A loud noise during a traffic jam could make a normal person crazy. Imagine what the situation could be inside Dean’s head, who had carried the burden of his trauma.

Dean Possey always wanted to live somewhere peaceful, but in the modern world, every patch of land is already owned. Most of the forests have been chopped off, and no matter where you go, the sounds of machines, be it an airplane or a drone, will follow you. Dean had applied for a permanent transfer to a psychiatric facility in the 2000s, but his request was duly rejected. Additionally, his mother had stated that Dean felt happy again during the nationwide lockdown because it had restored balance in nature for some time, and thus, it isn’t difficult to conclude at this point that Dean was just looking for some peace in life, but human society failed him miserably.

After killing some 200 people, Dean Possey had also become paranoid. Even if he had been admitted to a psychiatric facility, it would have been impossible to cure his paranoia. During the 2000s, when Dean was first arrested, there was still time to save him, but in 2022 or 2023, it got a bit late. His aggression had taken over his conscience completely. Dean had found relief in killing people, and once a predator tasted blood, there was no turning back from here. Additionally, Dean didn’t want to work anywhere because wherever he went, someone or something would try to bully him because of his head injury. He refused to do jobs to earn green paper that would buy him food or clothes. He used to steal clothes and eat green vegetables from the leftover food on the customer’s plate in the mall. A point to note here is that Dean became an herbivore after working in the slaughterhouse for years.

After the incident at the mall, where Dean Possey ruthlessly shot ten police officers, he realized that he couldn’t survive like this anymore. The perfect human society wasn’t made for people like him, and he didn’t want to end up in a prison cell where he would be bullied further, and at that place, he won’t even be able to stop those noises. It can be speculated that after the incident, Dean returned to his mother’s cabin to spend the rest of his life there, but Lammark and Eleanor found his whereabouts, which spooked him further. He didn’t waste a moment in shooting Lammark, and at this point, nothing could have stopped Dean if his mother hadn’t shot herself. It was the last thread of humanity that was left in Dean’s life, after which he just wanted to die.

Eleanor sympathized with Dean Possey because she could understand the chaos in his mind, but even she felt helpless because Dean had become paranoid. He believed that there wasn’t any place left on earth where he could live peacefully, so it was better that he die instead of killing more people. During the last encounter with the police, Dean didn’t lift the gun to shoot any policemen; instead, he wanted to give them enough reason to kill him and not arrest him. For Dean, the entire world had turned into a prison, and the only way to find peace was to rest forever.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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