What makes a serial killer? What drives them towards sadistic murder? What are the roots of their cold-blooded brutality? Is it a result of an abusive childhood or were they born with it? This has been a question for hundreds of years. Is a Killer Born or made? Serial killers may appear to be just your average joe, maybe even your next-door neighbor, but they are actually far from it. What all serial killers have in common is a ravenous thirst for murder without remorse. Some of the most infamous serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy; Binding, Torturing, and Killing is their number one motivation. They get gratification from it, a need for control, and a need for dominance.
When the question “ What makes a serial killer?” comes up in our heads the first answer we come up with is “they were just born like that”, but really that is not the case. Research shows serial killers dealt with significant abuse as children spanning from psychological, physical, and even sexual abuse which points to a serial killer being made not born (Mullany, 2018). Why a person is evil is a combination of things and there are many reasons why a person can end up being evil. A study by the Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (Brogaard, 2012) shows that psychopathy is 60 % heritable which shows that being a psychopath is more likely to do with DNA than upbringing (IBID, 2012). Another study by the University conducted brain scans that revealed that psychopaths had decreased connectivity between the amygdala and the Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). When the connection between the amygdala and the vmPFC is low, negative emotions aren’t felt which makes sense because serial murderers show no remorse when they kill and if caught they share no guilt (IBID, 2012).
In the 1960s Forensic psychologist, J.M MacDonald came up with the “ MacDonald Triangle” A.K.The “triad of homicidal personality which familiarized three behavioral red flags that serial killers often suffered as children bed wetter, firesetter, and animal abuser/killer. The triangle often applied to most serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy ( Katsavdakis in Serio, 2018). Unfortunately, the research became outdated as research moved on and the population started assuming that everyone that fell into the triad was a homicidal maniac. Unsurprisingly, no one really knows the answer to the famous question “Born or Made? The most reasonable explanation is that the majority of serial killers are genetically born with some sort of “murderous” gene and then are raised in an environment that is toxic and cultivated hate towards a specific group of people.
Ted Bundy; one of the most infamous serial killers, had a healthy childhood but, had a strained relationship with his stepfather and was frequently bullied at school. During his teenage years, he recalled walking down the street looking for any type of pornography or any open windows to peek inside. He was also very antisocial and had a very lengthy criminal record. Bundy eventually turned his life around and graduated from college seeking law but quickly and ironically killed his first victim in 1974 as well as 28 other young women from 1974-1978. Now those 28 victims are the only ones accounted for but it’s estimated that he is responsible for hundreds of young, innocent lives ( Jenkins, 2019). I believe in this situation his environment affected him negatively and lead him to kill.
As well as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer had a similar situation; normal childhood, but as he got older he became “withdrawn and uncommunicative” and began to close himself off from the world and turned to examine dead animals bodies and heavy drinking (Crime Museum, 2017). During the summer of 1978, his parents were in the middle of a divorce and Jeffrey was all alone, he manifested those dark thoughts into the real world and committed his first murder when he was just eighteen ( I.B.I.D, 2017). Whenever Dahmer was killed he drugged, raped, dismembered, and ate his victims. Experts believe he did so in order to remember the experience as much as possible and he wanted his victims in such a powerless state so they could never leave. Eventually, his fantasies became something surreal, at one point he tried to pour muriatic acid in a hole he made in the victim’s head to create a zombie- someone who would never leave him and do as he pleases ( Eloise, 2017). I believe Jeffrey was born with the serial killer trait because he became very distant as he got older, which is weird since he did have a normal childhood but I think something triggered his actions; the trigger which should be his parent’s divorce led him to become an alcoholic and become closed off which lead to those “dark thoughts” being developed and making his fantasies a reality by murdering 17 males.
Another example of a prolific serial killer is John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was abused as a child by a family friend, he grew up in a house with a very strict, totalitarian father. Gacy seems to have wanted to demonstrate to his father that he was worthy
Sexual sadistic offenders tend to exhibit more arousal behavior to control and dominate their victims. Dr. Kostas Katsavdakis ( Serio, 2018) explains that what is most arousing to them isn’t the pain they inflict it’s in fact that they can engage in such violent acts ( Katsavdakis in Serio, 2018). Neuroimaging studies looking at the difference between a normal brain and a psychopaths brain shows that an impulse killer; someone who beat someone up till death has a lot less function in the prefrontal cortex- which controls behavior but, a serial killer actually has a high functioning prefrontal cortex but has a low functioning amygdala which is shrunken by 18 % ( Serio, 2018).
There are 6 phases of a serial killer, the first of the “Aura phase” which starts off as the killer begins to fantasize so much on an idea playing out in their head that they lose grip on what’s real. As they become more and more closed off they become antisocial as the fantasies become violent then he turns to drugs and/or alcohol drawn from a childhood experience. The killer eventually gets to a point where he needs to act out said fantasies and he enters into- The trolling phase, where the killer searches for a victim; someone that specifically matches the very well dreamt up fantasy. During this phase, they will start looking for different locations to find their victim as well as a place to kill the victim and to hold them, hostage, if needed. After that phase the murderer moves into- The wooing phase, where the victim is finally captured and once he has said victim he moves into- The capture phase where the victim is entrapped. Now that he has passed the wooing and capturing the killer reveals who he is and potentially kills, locks up the victim, or makes them unconscious (Inside the Criminal Mind, 2018). Most serial murderers will stay with the body after death and usually may engage in sexual acts with the body after death; necrophilia (Katsavdakis in Serio, 2018). After the victim is killed the offender steps into- The totem phase which basically is that the killer gathers mementos from the victims sometimes even body parts in order to hang on to the feeling of empowerment he had to hold off ( Inside the Criminal Mind, 2018).