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Serial Killers A Psychosocial Analysis by Adele Austin What Is A Serial Killer? The definition of a Serial Killer, is in individual who commits three or more murders with a need to sadistically dominate the victim, who are often strangers. Serial Killers also have a ‘cooling-off’ period in-between their crimes. The term Serial Killer was coined by FBI agent Robert Ressler, in the 1970s. It was widely used during the mid-seventies due to the much publicized crimes of Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz. Characteristics of Serial Killers • Abused or Bullied as a Child • Performed poorly in school • Anti-Social Personality or Behavior • Lack of Emotions • Emotionally Unstable • Possess a ‘Mask of Sanity’ • Unstable Families • Sexual Sadist • Zoosadist • Pyromaniac Although Some Exceptions Apply Types of Serial Killers • Organized/Nonsocial Offenders: The organized nonsocial murderer is self-centered and egocentric. Usually of high intelligence . They plan their crimes methodically, killing them in one place and disposing them in another. These offenders have difficulty respecting the rights of others and disregard social order. In addition, this type of perpetrator harbors resentment for people yet makes no attempt to avoid being put in social situations. Some killers of this type include Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Coral Watts. • Disorganized/Asocial Offenders: Are often of low intelligence and commit their crimes impulsively. They are less meticulous than the Organized offenders and murder on opportunity, rather than having a specific target. They also engage in ‘rituals’ such as cannibalism, necrophilia or mutilation after having killed their victim . Typically an introvert, the asocial offender is often socially inadequate. Serial Killers of this type include Jack the Ripper, and Ed Gein. Different Categories Of Infamous Serial Killers Categories of Serial Killers • Masterminds • Spree Killers • Cult Leaders • Partners in Crime • Cold-Blooded Killers • Unsolved Cases Masterminds • Henry H. Holmes • Theodore Kaczynski A.K.A America’s First Serial Killer A.K.A The Unabomber Crime Span : 1893 – 1895 Crime Span: 1978 – 1995 Number of Victims : 27-230/250 Number of Victims: 3 fatalities/23 Injuries Holmes Kaczynski • Bullied as a child • Contracted meningitis as an infant • Was forced to a doctor’s office to and had to be quarantined for view and touched human months. skeletons by schoolmates, but to • Was verbally abused and bullied their amazement, he was in school. fascinated by them. • Proved to be very intellectual at an • Acquired a medical degree at the early age, with an IQ of 167. University of Michigan in 1884. • Was extremely antisocial, and had • Forged documents of his patient no friends while growing up. to receive their money allocations. • Psychology Student at Harvard • Viewed killing as a lucrative University, he was traumatized by business. an interrogation experiment. • Opened a Hotel in the suburb of • Lived in a cabin, completely Englewoood, where he later killed isolated from any form of human all his victims in order to fabricate interaction. skeletons models to sell to • He was later deemed medical schools. schizophrenic by a psychologist • Confessed to 27 murders, but who was assigned to study him speculations believe there could during his trial. be up to 250 victims. Spree Killers • Charles Starkweather • Seung-Hui Cho Crime Span : 1957 – 1958 Crime Span : April 2007 Number of Victims : 11 Number of Victims : 32 Fatalities/25 Injuries Starkweather Cho • His family suffered from the impacts of • As a child, he was extremely quiet the Great Depression. and shy. • Performed poorly in school, due to • Was bullied and teased undiagnosed myopia. throughout Middle School and • He was the subject of bullying, High School. because he had a small stature, a speech impediment and bowed legs. • His relatives thought that he was • Developed an obsession with James mentally ill. Dean, and emulated his look. • After a few remarks made by Cho, • Dropped out of school at 16, and took threatening to kill his classmates, a job as a garbage man. his parents sent him to a • Became involved with Caril Ann psychiatrist. Fugate, who was 3 years younger than • He was fascinated by the he was. Columbine attack of 1999, and • After announcing their engagement to allegedly wrote about repeating her parents, he was thrown out of their Columbine. home. • As a result of this rejection, Starkweather and girlfriend Fugate murdered her family and remained in the house days after having committed the murders. • They both enrolled on a spree, killing in total 11 victims. Cult Leaders • Jim Jones • Charles Manson Crime Span : 1978 Crime Span : 1968-1969 Number of Victims: 913 Number of Victims : 8 Jones Manson • Founded a religious cult known as • Born from a 16 year old prostitute, The People’s Temple who was also an alcoholic. • Possessed a paranoiac • He was later abandoned by his personality and severe insecurity. mother, and lived on the streets. • Tried to impose his will on others, • While homeless, he committed as a young man. petty crimes and was incarcerated for 17 years. • Had an obsession with tyrannical figures such as Stalin and Hitler. • Was described by probation reports as suffering from a • Disavowed God for allowing ‘marked degree of rejection, poverty and injustice to exist, instability and psychic trauma’. threatened to commit suicide if his wife, Marceline, prayed. • From 1958, he was in and out of jail, generally for passing stolen • Despite a seeming compassion for checks and ‘pimping’. others, he possessed a pathological belief in his own • Formed ‘Helter Skelter’, a cult superiority. where he influenced teenagers into ingesting illegal substances • Suffered from an extreme fear of and condoning in sexual activity. abandonment • Was never directly implicated in the murders he is accused of. Partners in Crime The Moors Murderers • Ian Brady • Myra Hindley Crime Span : 1963 – 1965 Crime Span : 1963 – 1965 Number of Victims : 5 Number of Victims : 5 Brady Hindley • Born of a single mother, was given • Had a relatively stable upbringing, up at four months. until the death of a close friend at • Was adopted at an early age. the age of 15. • He was a lonely and difficult child. • At 17, she became engaged to a • Slow to integrate with his peers local boy, but later called off their and was prone to several temper engagement. tantrums. • Met Ian Brady in 1957, upon his • At 16, he began a fascination of release from prison. Nazi Germany and the writings of • As a first date, Ian Brady took Nietzsche. Hindley to see The Nuremberg • He was incarcerated at the age of Trials. 17, following a series of minor • Brady encouraged her to read crimes. books by Hitler and de Sade. • In 1957, after his release, he • The couple killed a total of 5 distanced himself even more, and children, burying them in a hillside met his accomplice Myra Hindley known as Saddleworth Moor. in 1961. Cold-Blooded Killers • Ted Bundy • Gary Ridgway Crime Span : 1974 – 1978 Crime Span : 1982 – 1998 Number of Victims : 36-(over 100?) Number of Victims : 48 Bundy Ridgway • Born to a single mother, at the • Raised in a deprived neighborhood, in Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Seattle. Mothers. • He was a poor student, and was sent • His father’s identity was a mystery, to Vietnam after high school. and lived with his grandparents. • Although fanatical of his religion, he • He grew up believing his mother was was also obsessed with prostitutes. his older sister. • He specifically targeted runaways and • In 1967 he fell in love, while at the prostitutes. University of Washington, with • He later confessed to 60 murders, but Stephanie Brooks, who later had an was found guilty of 48. immense impact on his life. • Brooks ended their relationship in 1968. • He became obsessed with Brooks, and is believed to have picked his victims due to their physical similarities to her. • Confessed to 36 murders, but some believe there could be over 100 victims. Unsolved Cases • The Black Dahlia • The Zodiac Killer Crime Span : 1947 Crime Span: 1963? - 1969 Number of Victims: 1, Elizabeth Short Number of Killings: 5 fatalities/2 Injuries Black Dahlia Zodiac Killer • She was one of the most • In the late 1960s, a serial killer publicized and puzzled-over operated in Northern California for murder victims of the 20th century 10 months, sending a series of • Short, thought to be an aspiring confessional letters to police and actress better known as the Black the press until 1974. Dahlia, was a victim of a • These letters were signed 'Zodiac' gruesome and unsolved murder at and also included symbols and age 22. Her body and face were four intriguing ciphers (codes), mutilated. three of which have never been solved. What Makes Them “Tick” ? • Serial killers have tested out a number of excuses for their behavior. Henry Lee Lucas blamed his upbringing; others like Jeffrey Dahmer say that they were born with a "part" of them missing. Ted Bundy claimed pornography made him do it. Herbert Mullin Santa Cruz killer of thirteen, blamed the voices in his head that told him it was time to "sing the die song." The ruthless Carl Panzram swore that prison turned him into a monster, while Bobby Joe Long said a motorcycle accident made him hypersexual and eventually a serial lust killer. The most psychopathic, like John Wayne Gacy, turned the blame around and boasted that the victims deserved to die. • Many of their psychological traumas can be traced back to childhood abuse, abnormal behavior or neural/mental disorders. The most underlying factor is believed to be insanity. Yet serial killers prove to be calculating and rational. As Dennis Nilsen once quoted” a mind can be evil without being abnormal”. Some killers are not only affected psychologically, but also socially, through bullying, rejection and poverty-stricken households. Most serial killers come from single-parent households, where the father is absent. The Case of Jeffrey Dahmer Unlike most serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer grew up in a relatively stable environment, with loving parents. Deviating from normal behavior, he became one of America’s most notorious and gruesome serial killers, involving in cannibalism, necrophilia, dismemberment and rape. Dahmer brutally murdered 17 men and boys, from 1978 to 1991. At is trial he pleaded “not guilty by reason of insanity” on 17 counts of murder. He was found sane, by the court and guilty of 15 counts of murder, for which he served a 15 life sentence imprisonment, totaling to 957 years of prison. After his sentencing, Dahmer expresses remorse for his actions and even advocated his own death. He died incarcerated, in 1994, after a violent attack by a fellow inmate. Jeffrey Dahmer, is exception to the typical Serial Killer profile, and proves that such gruesome acts are not limited to individuals of unstable backgrounds and violent past. A serial killer could be anyone, a doctor, a police officer, a schoolmate, even a best friend.
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