Is John Kramer Based on a Real Serial Killer?

Serial Killer John Kramer is the central antagonist in the horror film franchise, ‘Saw,’ who devises elaborate games of death in which he tests people’s morality and conscience. The character establishes himself as a cold-blooded killer with numerous appearances across the series. He has a simple but brutal approach to his methods, letting his contraptions and tools handle the punishment he deems necessary for the rule-breakers in society. Driven by a compulsion to uncover the bad things his victims have done in their lives, his game effectively serves justice to those he believes deserve to be hurt because of their inability to confess and repent their actions. As a result, Kramer’s genesis becomes a worthwhile exploratory task due to his unique methodology, mindset, and ruthless point of view.

John Kramer’s Origins as a Fictitious Serial Killer

John Kramer, a.k.a. The Jigsaw Killer, is a fictional character first introduced in the 2004 film ‘Saw,’ directed by James Wan with Leigh Whannell as the screenwriter. Over the years, numerous other filmmakers have added to his character, as Actor Tobin Bell reprises his role in several installments within the series. In the story, Kramer is an aging man whose efforts have been focused on building elaborate designs to punish a group of people with a murky past. By ordering them to play the game, he forces them to confront their wrongdoings and repent for their mistakes. Only if they feel remorse and wish to change their behavior does Kramer cease his game.

This presents a layered picture of the serial killer, who, rather than being obsessed with killing, is more concerned with offering a chance of redemption – albeit in a brutal manner. The inspiration for Kramer came to Leigh Whannell during a period when he was having painful migraines at age 24. Worried about his health, he visited the hospital, where he was asked to go through several tests. While undergoing the ordeal, Whannell was struck by the notion of a serial killer who was diagnosed with a serious disease that was killing him. He said, “Instead of a doctor telling you— you have a year to live, make the best of it, this guy would put people in a situation and say— you have 10 minutes to live. How are you going to spend those 10 minutes? Are you going to get out of it?”

John Kramer is a Pragmatic Executioner Who Plans For Every Possibility

While John Kramer may be fictional in his conception, his deliberate actions lend him a sense of genius and mastermind status. He always prepares for several contingencies should one or the other fail. The meticulousness of his work showcases his attention to detail and obsession with toys and tools that serve a gruesome purpose. However, despite his cold streak and overall detachment from his victims’ sufferings, Kramer doesn’t think of himself as a bad person. Creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan wanted to present the serial killer as a sophisticated man cut from a cloth similar to Hannibal Lecter – although not the same. In his personification, he is more akin to a vigilante than a serial killer.

The intelligence hidden behind Kramer’s surface is essential to his psychological makeup as he isn’t just a frenzied murderer looking to indulge in bloodlust for no reason. In a Q&A, Tobin Bell, who plays Kramer, described Kramer as a man on a mission with very specific goals on his task list. He said, “I think that Jigsaw is an engineer. He’s a scientist. He thinks very specifically and very pragmatically. So that’s the way I think about him. I don’t think in tremendous emotional terms or get wrapped up in the effect of what he does, and I don’t think he does either. He has a whole laundry list of complaints, as we all do, about life and human beings and how we approach each other, and so I just try to make it as specific as I can, given the information I get in the script.”

The Real-Life Counterpart to The Jigsaw Killer

The murders committed by John Kramer are a grisly aspect of the character’s drive to seek justice. Tragically, a real killer akin to the Jigsaw Killer was uncovered in 2009, when a British businessman named Jeffrey Howe was murdered by Stephen T. Marshall, a resident in Howe’s flat in Hertfordshire, England. After killing Howe, Marshall dismembered his body into several pieces and scattered them across Hertfordshire and Leicestershire. Police found the body parts and launched a murder investigation, which resulted in the apprehension of Marshall and his girlfriend, Sarah Bush. In the aftermath, Marshall was nicknamed The Jigsaw Man or The Jigsaw Killer because of the way he disposed of his victim’s body.

Stephen Marshall and Sarah Bush//Image Credit: Channel 5/Entertainment Daily

Although Kramer and Marshall may share similar pseudonyms, their modus operandi differ. The latter was looking to avoid suspicion when he dismembered his victim. In the case of John Kramer, he terrorizes his victims in his tortuous games to gain insight into their moral fiber. The on-screen killer’s severe attitude towards justice and restoring the scales of balance is an altruistic drive that leads to the death of many on the path to salvation. Although his methods are spine-chilling, they provide the thrust to the narrative as he engages his victims in deadly rounds of sport where they either confess their sins or find themselves horrifyingly maimed in one of his concocted traps. Therefore, despite any potential resemblance to real-life criminals, John Kramer’s origins as a serial killer remain fictitious.

Read more: How is John Kramer Still Alive in Jigsaw?