Psyche Of Sexual Serial Killers

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Serial killers are traditionally known as people who have committed a series of two or more murders usually driven by a psychological force. Individual killers often have their own ‘trademark’ pattern of killing that consists of similar actions taken upon each victim. These actions essentially result in moral evilness within these individuals and the reasons as to why these killers withhold this evil and others do not is unknown. Most people are not capable of committing these types of heinous crimes because of their psychological roots have embedded these morals in their psyche since early development. The few that are capable of committing these crimes intentionally inflict harm upon innocent victims because their psychological patterns were disrupted during their childhood development, but there are also other valid theories regarding loneliness and mental disorders. This yields the question as to why some people grow up to become serial killers and others grow up to be innocent citizens.

The term ‘evil’ is not used by some psychology researchers specifically because it is not scientific. Others do not use the term because it can be linked to religious connotations. Though, if the term is separated from its religious meaning and ‘evil’ is defined in the context of psychoanalysis, evil consists of the premeditative destructive aggression and pain inflicted upon individuals (Knight).

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In an article written by psychologist Zelda G. Knight, serial killers that are sexually motivated, such as Ted Bundy, typically are diagnosed with some type of mental disorder, commonly schizophrenia, narcissistic disorder, or paranoia. Sexually motivated serial killers fantasize about their actions before acting them out upon their victims with similar levels of aggression and brutality as fantasized. However, not all people who have sexual fantasies become serial killers which suggests that there is an underlying psychological link to evil that only some individuals withhold (Knight).

However, there is a correlation between serial killers and issues within their child development. For example, Theodore Robert Bundy was delivered at a home for single mothers in Vermont, where his mother debated putting him up for adoption, though his father did not approve. His mother moved in with her parents who were also Bundy’s grandparents. This led to him believe that his grandparents were his actual parents. Growing up, Bundy had thought that his mother was actually his sister, causing a cascade of social and developmental issues underlying his psyche. He also grew up without a father figure (Dobson).

Bundy’s grandparents wanted him to think that they were his parents to avoid the social embarrassment of his real mother having a child at a young age without a consistent father figure. Though, Bundy’s grandfather was known to be incredibly violent and his grandmother was known as being very obedient (Dobson). These patterns are also present in the way that Bundy enacted his killings. He killed his victims to make them not be able to give verbal consent to sexual activities therefore forcing them to be obedient. This allowed for Bundy to have complete control in his violent sexual encounters. Though his grandfather did not commit these kinds of vile actions, the pattern of violence and obedience are consistent between Bundy and his victims.

Also, the issue with thinking his grandmother was his real mother led to discrepancies within Bundy’s Oedipus complex. This term is used to describe the sexual attraction of a child to the parent of the opposite sex. This is seen within almost all male and female children around the ages of three six years old and is a normal feeling to have at that age. Though, around this time in Bundy’s psychosexual development, he believed that his mom was his sister. In this stage of development, children are focused on developing a sense of self as well as learning emotions such as affection and sympathy (James). Because Bundy experienced trauma in his relationship with his mother during this time, his development of these traits and characteristics may have been interrupted.

In Ted Bundy’s final interview by psychologist Dr. James Dobson, Bundy admitted that the “most damaging kinds of pornography are those that involve violence and sexual violence.” As a young teenager, he came across pornography books that exposed him to these kinds of violence and “brings out a behavior that is too terrible to describe.” Though this kind of pornography were not the cause his vile actions and murders, they did most likely contribute to the molding of his thought processes behind his actions and also crystallized his sexual entity to result in a violent nature of crime.

To support the idea that these actions stem from barriers in child development, serial killer Jeffery Dahmer also experienced childhood trauma. Dahmer’s parents were divorced in 1978. Though, the issue stems mostly from his confusion about his sexual identity. Records show that Dahmer admitted to his probation officer that he was homosexual. While in high school, he would fantasize about raping men that he saw, which gives reason to believe that this is why all of his victims were men (Imrie). Similar to Ted Bundy, Dahmer also craved domination over his victims. These fantasies soon overcame him and turned into real actions only three weeks after his high school graduation.

Dahmer’s confusion about his sexual identity made him feel guilty about who he was and this confusion led to complications in the development of his psychosexual self. Ted Bundy also experienced this same type of stunt in psychosexual development and his Oedipus complex when finding out his sister was actually his mother. They both also experienced vivid sexual fantasies that became reality as they both got older. Bundy and Dahmer led their victims to believe they were innocent before inflicting brutal pain on them. Essentially, these two serial killers are not as different as some think and their actions stem from the same type of childhood development.

Both of these serial killers experienced sexual gratification in mutilating their victims to their point where they become unrecognizable. These actions coincide with a psychological disorder called sexual sadism disorder. Jerrod Brown, a Forensic Behavioral Health specialist defines this disorder as an obsession with inflicting pain and fear on non-consenting individuals for sexual gratification. In the 1970s and even today, there had been little to no research and it is commonly misunderstood by even most health professionals (Brown).

These types of sadistic murderers receive so much media attention because humans have a natural tendency to withhold fascination in rarities. In the 1990s, there were only twenty-nine films surrounded by the idea of sexual killers. Now, there are over two hundred-seventy (James). In recent years, two Netflix films about Ted Bundy alone have become popular amongst the public. Both Bundy and Dahmer could be described as “intelligent, manipulative, methodical, and sadistic individuals who attack their victims during their daily activities” (James).

Though there are direct links between stunts in psychosexual development and these two serial killers, a counterargument suggests that their actions instead stem from the connection between sadism and loneliness (Martens). The loneliness one feels result in feelings of powerlessness and self-loathing which then lead to the sexual fantasies that both Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer experienced. This day dreaming stems from lack of social contact during their daily routines. When a child does not experience the social aspects of development, they make up for it by fantasizing in their heads. As a child gets older, these fantasies become less innocent. They begin to be based on sexual occurrences and then develop into full blown sexual dominance fantasies. These in turn fuel the minds of sexual serial killers and influence their abusive actions towards their victims (Murray). Both Bundy and Dahmer experienced this progression in their own fantasies, though the difference being that Bundy’s victims were women and Dahmer’s were men.

The evidence for this theory is proven in an article from the Journal of Sexual Aggression. Three different scientific studies were analyzed that dealt with loneliness and sexual aggression. All three of these studies were compared and it was found that loneliness and anger are much more prevalent in sexual killers than sexual aggressors. Though these findings only establish a correlation, not a causation (Stefanska), it still provides another theory as to why the psyche of sexual serial killers differ from other humans.

Lastly, a more recent theory introduced about what makes a serial killer suggests that sexual killers perform these actions because they have untreated mental disorders. Mental health disorders that are commonly associated with sexual killers and rape offenders include schizophrenia, hypomania, alcohol abuse, and personality disorder (Sarkar). Dahmer specifically suffered from personality disorder, necrophilia, and yet it was never diagnosed or treated and he was considered to be biologically sane during his trial (Palermo). Psychopathy specialist Hervey Cleckley officially diagnosed Bundy as a psychopath, which according to the University of Kentucky is a 'social predator who charms, manipulates and ruthlessly plows their way through life, completely lacking in conscience and feeling for others” (Piercy). Psychopathy falls under the category of personality disorders, thus meaning that Bundy and Dahmer both suffered from similar mental disorders.

Though theories are known to commonly contradict each other, the reasons behind what makes a serial killer has no definitive answer. It is not a question of which theory is correct, but instead the question of how these three theories work together to create a serial killer and which factor may influence the psyche of these killers more than others. Both Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer show similarities in all three of these categories which gives substantial evidence that all three theories are things that make sexual killers different from the rest of the population.

Issues in psychosexual development, loneliness, and mental disorders all contribute to creating sexual killers, but how much of each factor influences them most? It is different in each individual killer. As any answer regarding psychology, the answer is not finite like it is in subjects related to math and chemistry. There are many different variables that need to be accounted for. Though these theories are the top factors that make a serial killer, there are so many other factors within individual killers that make them different from one another. These specific factors discussed in the research are consistent between Bundy, Dahmer, and so many other killers, but not all people that suffer from these factors become sexual killers.

The simplest way to define the difference between sexual killers and innocent citizens is remorse. Though it may not be based on scientific research done by psychologists or criminologists, I have noticed throughout my own research a common theme among all of the serial and sexual killers. I have concluded that these criminals simply do not feel remorse for their actions and this is what makes them different from others. Most people in society could never fathom the idea of themselves or anyone they know killing someone, but these killer’s psychodynamics are wired to not feel remorse for their actions. Both Bundy and Dahmer never felt bad for their actions. Bundy did not even admit his crimes until just days before he died and argued on his own behalf that he was innocent for months during his trial. These killers are capable of committing these crimes because they are incapable of feeling remorse.

After being arrested, Bundy told investigators, “I don't feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt” (Goodreads). This quote proves the lack of empathy and lack of remorse for his actions. Dahmer once said before he was killed in prison, “I've always wondered myself why I don't feel more remorse” (Berry-Dee pg. 148). These two quotes are very similar and prove that both struggled to feel guilt or remorse for their actions. Essentially, psychosexual development, the effects of loneliness, and mental disorders all work in tandem to create a person incapable of feeling remorse. This then leads to murderous and sexual actions that are repeated over and over because there is no psychological force driving them to suspend their actions, thus creating an evil sexual killer.

Works Cited

  1. Brown, Jerrod. “Sexual Sadism Disorder: An Introduction for Mental Health Professionals.” Concordia University, St. Paul Online, 4 June 2019,
  2. Bundy, Theodore Robert. “Ted Bundy Quotes (Author of The Only Living Witness).” Goodreads, Goodreads,
  3. “Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-Eating Murderers.” Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-Eating Murderers, by Christopher Berry-Dee and Victoria Redstall, Ulysses Press, 2011, pp. 148.
  4. Dobson, James. “The Childhood of a Serial Killer.” Youtube, commentary by Theodore Bundy, 27 October, 2009, xaOjCIm0.
  5. Imrie, Robert. “Police Records Show Dahmer's Family Didn't Report Alleged Abuse of Son.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 1 Aug. 1991,
  6. James, Jonathan, and Jean Proulx. “A Psychological and Developmental Profile of Sexual Murderers: A Systematic Review.” Aggression & Violent Behavior, vol. 19, no. 5, Sept. 2014, pp. 592–607. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.avb.2014.08.003.
  7. Knight, Zelda G. “Sexually Motivated Serial Killers and the Psychology of Aggression and ‘Evil’ within a Contemporary Psychoanalytical Perspective.” Journal of Sexual Aggression, vol. 13, no. 1, Mar. 2007, pp. 21–35. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13552600701365597.
  8. Knight, Zelda G. “Some Thoughts on the Psychological Roots of the Behavior of Serial Killers as Narcissists: An Object Relations Perspective.” Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, vol. 34, no. 10, Dec. 2006, pp. 1189–1206. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2224/sbp.2006.34.10.1189.
  9. Martens, Willem H. J. “Sadism Linked to Loneliness: Psychodynamic Dimensions of the Sadistic Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer.” Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 98, no. 4, Aug. 2011, pp. 493–514. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1521/prev.2011.98.4.493.
  10. Murray, Jennifer L. “The Role of Sexual, Sadistic, and Misogynistic Fantasy in Mass and Serial Killing.” Deviant Behavior, vol. 38, no. 7, July 2017, pp. 735–743. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01639625.2016.1197669.
  11. Palermo, Mark T., and Stefan Bogaerts. “The Dangers of Posthumous Diagnoses and the Unintended Consequences of Facile Associations: Jeffrey Dahmer and Autism Spectrum Disorders.” International Journal of Offender Therapy & Comparative Criminology, vol. 59, no. 14, Dec. 2015, pp. 1564–1579. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0306624X14550642.
  12. Piercy, Lindsey. “UK Researcher Unravels Serial Killer Ted Bundy's Mental Health.” UKNow, 4 June 2019, bundys-mental-health.
  13. Sarkar, Jaydip. “Mental health assessment of rape offenders.” Indian journal of psychiatry vol. 55, no. 3, (2013): 235-43. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.117137
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  15. Stefanska, E. B., et al. “A Systematic Review of the Literature Comparing Male Non-Serial Sexual Killers and Sexual Aggressors: Examining Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Characteristics of These Groups.” Journal of Sexual Aggression, vol. 22, no. 3, Nov. 2016, pp. 323–341. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13552600.2015.1126657.
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