The Peculiarities Of Psychology Of The Serial Killer

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Can you imagine killing one person? How about 50? Now that I have your attention, I want to direct your attention to the mind, act, and emotional state of a serial killer. My goal is to get you to understand the various reasons why certain humans decide to commit these horrendous acts. There are several different aspects that affect the minds of serial killers that play a huge role in why they do what they do. Researchers and law enforcement attempt to delineate complicated questions such as…. How does a person become a serial killer? Are they born, or made? Can anyone become a killer/criminal? The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines serial killing as the act of murder involving at least four events in separate locations and are separated by a “cooling off period.” “The context of serial murder is presented, with a redefined definition of sexually motivated serial murder” {Social Behavior & Personality: an international journey} Serial murder has occurred throughout the span of history. One of the earliest documentations of serial murder involved a Roman woman named Locusta. She was hired by Agrippina the Younger to poison several members of the imperial family. Documentations of serial killers’ span from England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, etc. Murders are usually performed in a distinctive pattern with a signature that is easily distinguishable. There are several concepts that have been proposed as to what makes a person become a serial killer.

This research will examine the psychological roots of seral killers and why they do what they do. It will also look at the differences in sociopathy and psychopathy as well as the typologies of serial killers. The field of psychology has explored the mind of criminals. In the United States the question of the state of the criminal mind as been particularly notorious since the 19th Century. “Understanding the human mind has often been based on the M'Naghten rule, which is based on a case in 1843 involving the rules of insanity” {} It is crucial that serial killers be understood. Society fundamentally makes, empowers and obliges their psychological state as research has recommended. This is the reason psychology and sociology have had the option to take advantage of attempting to give truth and thinking to why the serial killer does what he/she does.

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Are Serial Killers Born, or Made?

Are serial killers born, or made? This is an old age questions that continues to resurface every time the public gets a glimpse inside the mind of a serial killer. Evidence that has been gathered from books such as ‘Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers” and “Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, both written by Katherine Ramsland, provide information and evidence that killers are in fact made, and not born. Psychiatrists have been researching serial killers who are on death row that have committed some of the most heinous crimes. This research has a significant role in why people believe killers are made, and not born. An argument is that there are a set of factors that lead people to killing which are; neurological damage, abuse, and paranoid thinking. There was a study done by Lisa Marshall and David Cook that shows the differences between the childhoods of psychopath criminals and non-psychopath criminals. The two used the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and the Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse to show how the environment you are surrounded in as a child affects your adult life. They studied the results of familial factors such neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse, etc... but they also studied societal factors such as negative school experience and negative school performance. The results showed that “Inadequate or incompetent parenting leads to insecure attachment bonding that forecasts low levels of empathy, compliance, cooperation, and self-control.” (Lykken, 199) Though this research has truth, the concerns for establishing a relationship between an individual’s criminal behavior and their biological structures moved towards genetics, which then lead to the theory of chromosomal aberration. One of the most interesting findings of this theory was the chromosomal abnormalities detected most frequently in criminals, are in relation to the sexual chromosomes. This research established that the frequency of this syndrome among criminals is ten times higher than among the general population. It was also observed that the excess of X chromosomes doesn’t result in only criminal behavior, but it fits in abnormal personalities that are difficult to explain from the psychiatric point of view.

Of course, this is not the only biological difference in criminals, but it remains to be one of the more prominent anomalies. Psychiatric terminology classifies serial killers as either psychotic or having psychopathic or sadistic behavior depending on the facts of the crime. According to Vernon J. Gerberth’s experience, killers are rarely psychotic. Usually, they are sexual psychopaths with a deep criminality, and most have a good connection with reality. The term psychotic killers suggest that they kill because their psychosis urges them to kill while a psychopathic killer kill because they simply like to kill. How can anyone explain this type of behavior? Psychopathy is described as a personality disorder highlighted by distinctive behaviors and by certain personality traits. Psychopaths lack a conscience and feelings for others, taking what they want, and doing what they like without having a single trace of guilt or regret. This term, “psychopath” is used when the biological, genetic, and psychological factors as well as the social influences and childhood experiences helped to develop the syndrome.

Scientific studies of human behavior show that emotion is learned and as human, we are social creatures. By integrating these two ideas, it indicates how much we, the human race, are influenced by others as well as the environment. In 1961 an American psychologist conducted a study of children between the ages of three and five. Each child was placed in a room with an adult and multiple toys including a bobo doll which is an inflated doll, soon after the adult would hit, kick and scream at the doll. The psychologist used his theory of social learning to emphasize the importance of observational learning, imitating, and modeling. The adult would later leave the room while the child would stay there. They observed what the child did to the doll after seeing how the adult treated it and of course, the child did exactly what the adult did. Humans cannot control their behavior because it is learned along with the emotions that come with it. Children that are brought up in unloving, abusive, and neglected environments are later in their lives emotionally scared for life and unfortunately are more likely to become psychopathic killers. However, this is not true in all cases. For example, Andrei Cicatello who is a serial killer and also a cannibal was simply made into the monster he turned out to be. There was no abuse, neglect, or bad upbringing he had to endure. Andrei had a normal life, went to school, but soon turned into a sexual predator and molester at a young age. A common judgment people say is that there are multiple reasons and explanations for a serial killer to become what they are. These reasons are not because of neglect, abuse or ridiculous accusations, but because they are born the way they are. It is all in their genetics. Personally, I believe serial killers are both born, and made.

We have discussed on what causes someone to become a killer. Through a combination of factors such as environmental stressors, self-esteem, and self-control couples with social skill issues, the person retreats into serial killer mode. The killer, at that point, believes that they can correct their problems through killing. Studies explored the validity of the classification of organized/disorganized serial killers and the four typologies (visionary, mission, hedonistic, and power/control.) The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a three-stage analysis of how to categorize these criminals called profiling. The first stage of their analysis is within type consistency. If the crime scene behaviors belong to the organized or disorganized classifications co-occur for different murders, then this would provide evidence of specification of crime scene behaviors within these typologies. The second stage of their analysis is considered ‘between-type discrimination.’ The two classifications are cross compared for co-occurrence. In the third stage of their analysis, they consider any overall patterns of crime scene behavior co-occurrence. The potential problem is that the FBI organized/disorganized dichotomy to some extent relies on the notion of offender leaving evidence behind that can be used to determine the method of committing the crime. So, let’s take a step back to examine the classifications and typologies of serial killers. Without doubt, all killers have a compulsive need to commit murder.

Some serial killers are focused on the act of killing while others are focused on the process of killing. Organized crimes are premediated and carefully planned, so little evidence is normally found at the scene. Organized criminals according to the classification scheme are antisocial, often psychopathic, however they know right from wrong and are not insane and do not show remorse. Organized killers are likely to have an above average intelligence, attractive, married, or living with a domestic partner, employed, skilled, orderly, cunning, and controlled. They have a degree of social grace, can be charming and often talk and seduce their victims into being captured. There are typically three separate crime scenes: where the victim was approached, where the victim was killed, and where the victim was disposed. Organized killers are extremely difficult to apprehend because they go to great lengths to cover their tracks and are often forensically savvy. In contrast, disorganized crimes are not planned, and the criminals typically leave evidence such as fingerprints or blood at the scene of the murder. There is no attempt to conceal the corpse. Disorganized offenders may be young, under the influence of drugs, or alcohol, or mentally ill. They often have deficient communication and social skills. They likely come from an unstable and/or dysfunctional family. Disorganized killers will often “blitz: their victims – that is, use sudden and overwhelming force to assault them. It is also important to note that a murder case can also be a mix of organized and disorganized. This usually occurs when there are multiple offenders of different personality types involved in the killings. It can also occur when an offender is going through a psychological transformation throughout his/her killing career. Visionary serial killers suffer from psychotic breaks with reality. They sometimes believe they are another person or are compelled to murder by entities such as the Devil or God. David Berkowitz, more famously known as “Son of Sam” was a visionary killer. He pleaded guilty to eight separate shooting attacks. He claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the for of a dog belonging to his neighbor, “Sam.” Mission-oriented killers typically justify their acts as “ridding the world” of certain types of people perceived as undesirable such as the homeless, ex-cons, homosexuals, drug users, prostitutes, or people of different ethnicity or religion, however they are generally not psychotic. Joseph P. Franklin, former member of the Ku Klux Klan, was convicted of killing 12 young black males whom had white girlfriends. Hedonistic killers seek the thrills and derives pleasure from killing.

There are three subtypes of the hedonist’s killer: list, thrill, and comfort. Sex is the primary motive of lust killers, whether the victims are dead or not. Fantasy plays a huge role in their killings. The sexual gratification they receive depends on the amount of torture and mutilation of their victims. They will typically use weapons that require close contact with their victims. As lust killers continue with their murders, the time between killing decreases or the required level of stimulation increases, sometimes both. The primary motive of a thrill killer is to induce pain or terror in their victims, which provides stimulation and excitement for the killer. They seek the adrenaline rush provided by hunting and killing victims. Thrill killers murder only for the kill; usually the attack is not prolonged and there is not sexual aspect. Material gain and a comfortable lifestyle are the primary motives of comfort killers, Usually the victims are family members and close acquaintances. Jeffrey Dahmer was an American serial killer and sex offender who committed the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 boy and men from 1978 to 1991. Many of his murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, and the permanent preservation of body parts. The main objective of a power/control serial killer is to gain and exert power over their victim. These killers are sometimes abused as children, leaving them with feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy as adults. Ted Bundy kidnapped, raped, and murdered countless young women and girls during the 1970s. Bundy would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability. At the heart of criminal profiling lies these ideas that the serial killer can be classified as either organized or disorganized and then further analyzed into the typologies.

With the numerous studies and research that has been done on serial killers there should be warning signs before it gets to the point of killing. Distorted images of serial killers have been spread throughout time. What is that distorted image? That killers live among everyday life, that are the one who creep into someone’s life unknowingly to torture and kill them. The serial killers that are on the movie screens, Norman Bates, Michael Myers, the evil master mind of SAW, these characters are just that, characters. They have been made up as the exaggerated fictional characters from the Hollywood imagination. The unfortunate truth is that serial killers are real. They kill innocent people every day for no reason. This society is made of many different levels of humanity and not all people pay close attention to family and friends. If society became involved and made sure that each person was loved and treated well, many lives would be saved in the future. As if modeled directly from the deepest depths of nightmares, both fascinating and terrifying. Serial killers hide behind plain and normal existences. They often can escape being caught for years, decades, and in some cases, an eternity. You never know who could end up as the next Dahmer, Gacy, Bundy, Geins, or Holmes.


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