Essay on Jim Jones and Ted Bundy

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Criminals tend to view all information before committing a crime. Therefore, because they believe that the risk does not outweigh the rewards of said crime, they go through with it. In criminology, we call this Rational Choice Theory. “The view that criminality is a product of abnormal biological or psychological traits, is known as Trait Theory” (MindTap, Chapter 5). “This theory can then be subdivided into 2 important categories: 1) Those that stress biological makeup and 2) Those that stress psychological functioning” (MindTap, Chapter 5). These two theories give insight into the varied reasons why people commit crimes. The documentary, Crazy Not Insane, shows a variety of cases in which these theories can be applied. Some of these cases involved people like Arthur J. Shawcross, Max, Sam Jones, and Theodore “Ted” Bundy. There is a common theme among the cases shown in the documentary. Abuse and violence contributed heavily to the acts that were committed hurting them. The documentary shows viewers how both Rational Choice and Trait Theories apply to these high-profile cases.

Rational Choice Theory explains that criminals think rationally or calculate crime before choosing to go through with it. The theory gives a better look into why criminals choose to commit crimes. Criminals evaluate the risks of the crime by weighing risk and reward. They will commit a crime if the reward outweighs the risk. Rational choice theory contains roots in classical criminology which was “developed by Italian social thinker, Cesare Beccaria” (MindTap, Chapter 4). Cesare's practicality has lasted for more than 100 years and has had a great influence on the criminal justice system.“The theory’s main explanation of crime states that if risks outweigh the rewards, criminal behaviors can be controlled” (MindTap, Chapter 4). For example, fear of the consequences of punishment or damaged reputations because of crime, can deter criminals” (MindTap, Chapter 4-2a). This is where the basic principles of the theory come into play. Criminals are “decision-makers who spend time calculating profit and risk” (MindTap, Chapter 4-3e). If they think they can get away with illegal behaviors because the rewards outweigh the risks, they will. Two examples of theories that developed from rational choice theory are offense and offender-specific crime. Offense-specific is when an “offender reacts to characteristics of a criminal act” (MindTap, Chapter 4-2b), like the value of a target. Offender specific is “offenders evaluate their skills, motives, needs, fears before committing a crime” (MindTap, Chapter 4-2b).

Contrary to rational choice theory, trait theory states that “criminality is a product of abnormal biological or psychological traits” (MindTap, Chapter 5). Modern trait theorists find that crime is committed when both “interactions of personal traits and environmental factors are involved” (MindTap, Chapter 5-2a). The theory explains how people have different traits that can influence criminal behavior. For example, if someone has a parent who is involved in criminal acts, the child is more likely to commit a crime later in life. The major theorist of trait theory was “Italian physician and criminologist, Cesare Lombroso” (MindTap, Chapter 5-1). “Lombroso and his colleagues conducted the first “scientific” studies of crime” (MindTap, Chapter 5-1). His explanation of crime was that biological causes could result from an environment or upbringing. Lombroso focused just on biological factors and crime rather than both biological and psychological factors. Therefore, Lombroso and his colleague’s efforts were “regarded as historical curiosities, not scientific fact” (MindTap, Chapter 5-1). The basic principle of trait theory can be broken down into two categories. The first is things “that stress one’s biological makeup and the second are things that stress one’s psychological functioning” (MindTap, Chapter 5-1). As a result, this makes a direct link between a person’s traits and crime. Id, ego, and superego are three examples of theories that developed from trait theory. “It is a person's unconscious biological drives, ego is what controls the id, and superego is like the `` saying ''no you cannot do that” (MindTap, Chapter 5-4a). Without ego and superego, a person would only rely on their id like in the Shawcross case mentioned in the documentary. Attachment theory is another theory developed from trait theory. It is the “ability to form an emotional bond with another person” (MindTap, Chapter 5-4a). In the documentary, Bundy was neglected by his family, so he did not have that emotional bond, which contributed to his actions.

The difference between the two theories is that rational choice theory looks at how criminals consider the risk and reward of crimes. Criminals think about the value of their target and whether the reward is worth the risk or not. They also evaluate their skills, needs, and fears before committing a crime. Trait theory looks at how biological and psychological traits influence a person to commit a crime. A criminal’s impulse to murder or rape is done by rational thinking. It is also influenced by personal characteristics like biochemical makeup and genetic code and by one’s social environment. For example, abusive or neglecting parents, peers, schools, and the neighborhood that a person lives in can contribute to criminal behavior. The difference between rational choice and trait theory is that rational choice theory explains that criminals think about risk and reward before committing. Trait theory explains that a person’s rationality is not present therefore they cannot control their behavior based on their own biological and psychological factors.

The first case of the documentary tells the story of Arthur J. Shawcross. He killed eleven women in the Rochester, New York area. In 1987 he was released on parole after serving fifteen years for murdering two children. Shawcross had a temporal lobe cyst which triggered abnormal electrical activity causing animalistic behavior. Dr. Dorothy Lewis explained that “the cyst excited the limbic system and put it out of whack.” Shawcross also had scars on his frontal lobe. He suffered from a dissociative disorder where he would have a different identity. Bessie, his mother, is one of his different identities. Shawcross’s mother was an abusive and punishing person which turned Arthur into a seriously disturbed person at an early age. His mother’s abuse contributed to him creating an alternate identity within himself.

Trait theory explains the behaviors of the perpetrator because of the cyst in his temporal lobe, the scars on his frontal lobe, temporal lobe seizures, and his rough childhood with his abusive mother. Since his cyst affected his temporal lobe and he had scars in his frontal lobe, Shawcross produced animalistic behaviors. For example, in one part of the case, it was mentioned that Shawcross killed and ate a woman’s genitalia. He also experienced dissociative states, where he would hear his mother nagging him to kill his victims since they were not good enough for Arthur. Dr. Dorothy explained that he would murder his victim, wake up and say “Uh oh I did it again.” Trait theory would supply better treatment for people like Shawcross. Sending him to an institution to learn more about his condition and how to help him will work better than rational choice theory treatment. In this case, rational choice theory will guide ineffective punishment while trait theory guides effective punishment. This is because punishment through fear would not help Arthur’s situation and it might negatively trigger him.

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The second case in the documentary was about Max. He was brought to the prison ward at Bellevue because it was the second time he tried to kill a lover. Due to his mother’s horrible treatment and torturing him as a child, he developed a multiple personality disorder. Kalki and Jabreel were the personalities living inside Max. Kalki was this strong, often cruel version of Max who committed the murders. Kalki was god-like in the way he spoke and acted, while Jabreel was this old Zen monk who served as a comforter for Max. In some of the interviews, he would hit himself and talk about suicide. He had some insight into what was going on inside of his mind but ultimately, he could not control himself.

Trait theory best explains the behaviors of Max. This is because during his childhood he was tortured by his mother in different ways. He was scratched by his mother’s long nails which she would dig into his skin. In one instance, Max broke something, and glass was scattered on the floor. His mother pushed him on the floor to clean it up, cutting his knees. As a result, he created two new identities, Kalki and Jabreel. An example of this multiple personality disorder is when Max met Robert De Niro. At first, Max seemed puzzled about who this man in front of him was; even though he had watched Taxi Driver, a movie that De Niro starred in. Dr. Lewis then tells Max to let Kalki talk to De Niro and at once Kalki comes out and says, “You were fantastic in Taxi Driver.” Like the Shawcross case trait theory would be able to guide effective treatment. Putting Max in an institution would help to understand what is wrong with him and how to cure him. Rational choice theory would guide more ineffective treatment. It also will guide ineffective punishment because like the previous case punishment through fear or jail time would either not do anything or trigger Max. Therefore, trait theory guides more effective treatment.

The third case was about Sam Jones, a traveling executioner paid by the state. Whenever an execution was scheduled to happen, Jones traveled to whatever state the execution was at and delivered the execution. At the time of the documentary, he had executed twenty men in Louisiana. Dr. Lewis explains that he has no insight into what the executions are doing to his brain. This is shown in the video when he tells Dr. Lewis that he does not care about killing anyone, man, woman, or child. Dr. Lewis also finds out that Jones comes from a very violent past where he got hit by his father. Jones also paints after the executions where he explains he feels nothing while painting. Each picture he drew looked increasingly psychotic and violent according to Dr. Lewis.

Both theories could be applied to explain Sam Jones’ behaviors. Jones is rational in the fact that he knows what execution is and is doing the job of his own free will. Yet he also does not know the psychological impacts of what each execution is doing to him. The drawings he drew are significant signs of the psychological effect the executions are having on him. At the same time, he is still rational in the sense that he does this job willingly. The theory that would provide the best treatment would be trait theory. Just like the previous cases, Jones can receive help from getting help instead of being put in prison or left the way he is now. The same applies to effective punishment. Trait theory would give the best punishment to make him realize that what he is doing is messing with his brain.

Ted Bundy is the last case of the documentary. Bundy was a sexual predator during the 1970s where he committed thirty homicides, all young women. After killing these women, he would then save their skulls in a collection. Bundy was born through a failed abortion attempt, and according to the documentary it is not supposed to be so good for a young child. His father was known as his grandfather and his mother was his sister. Growing up Bundy’s “father” was a disturbed man. He exposed Ted to pornography and pulp fiction comics that depicted sex and crime. Bundy also had a sexual encounter with one of his sisters and put kitchen knives around his aunt when she was in bed. Ted suffered from a dissociative disorder and he would switch to the entity, which is his grandfather Sam. The entity is the person who killed and committed all these violent acts. Bundy was executed on January 24th, 1989, in Starke, Florida.

Trait theory best explains the behaviors of Bundy. As a child he was exposed to porn and pulp fiction comics, he was abused by his grandfather, born because of a failed abortion attempt, and neglected by his family. All these things played into why Ted acted the way he did. Bundy also had a bipolar disorder where his highs were too high, and his lows were devastatingly low. The documentary states that maybe his grandmother's depressive disorder had something to do with the way acted as well. This all contributed to his dissociative identity, the entity, that he said committed all the homicides. In his love letters to his wife, we can see the switch between the entity and Ted based on the handwriting. Trait theory would guide effective treatment. The reasoning behind that is supported based on what Dr. Lewis said in the documentary, that we could have learned and maybe cured what was going on in his brain. Trait theory would also guide effective punishment. This is true because even though Ted was competent enough to know what he did and what execution meant. He still could have been put in an institution to further increase our knowledge to help treat him effectively.

By applying both rational and trait theory one can understand why crimes are committed. Rational choice theory is when criminals weigh the risks and benefits of a crime, while trait theory is a view that criminality is influenced by biological or psychological traits. In the documentary, the application of these two theories is present in cases like Ted Bundy, Max, Shawcross, and Sam Jones. In each case the theme of abuse and different psychological problems are clear. The theories give insight into why these people committed crimes and how mainly trait theory influenced their actions.


    1. Chapter 4, MindTap - Cengage Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https: ng.cengage.comstaticnbuievoindex.html?eISBN=9781337557726
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