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Psychology of Serial Killers
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Psychology of Serial Killers

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  1. Psychology of Serial Killers

  2. “The Mask of Sanity” • A serial killer is someone who commits three or more murders over an extended period of time with cooling-off periods in between. In between their crimes, they appear to be quite normal, a state which has been called call the "mask of sanity."

  3. Types of Multiple Killers MassSpreeSerial # of victims 4+ 2+ 3+ # of events 1 1 3+ # of locations 1 2+ 3+ Cooling-off period no no yes

  4. Serial Killer Frequency • Hickey (2002) • 337 males and 62 females in U.S. from 1800-1995 • 158 males and 29 females in U.S. from 1975-1995 • Gorby (2000) • 300 international serial killers from 1800-1995 • Radford Data Base • 1300 serial killers • U.S. and International

  5. Motivation • motivated by a variety of psychological urges • primarily power and sexual compulsion • often have feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness • often suffer humiliation and abuse in childhood • seek a sense of potency and/or social revenge • that their actions terrify entire communities and often baffle police adds to their sense of power

  6. Prevalence • According to the FBI, there are approximately thirty-five active serial killers in the United States. • John Wayne Gacy – convicted of the rape and murder of 33 young boys and buried them in the crawl space under his house

  7. What makes serial killers tick? “It was an urge. . . . . A strong urge, and the longer I let it go the stronger it got, to where I was taking risks to go out and kill people--risks that normally, according to my little rules of operation, I wouldn't take because they could lead to arrest." -- Edmund Kemper

  8. General Serial Killer Profile • Male • Kraemer, Lord & Heilbrun (2004) study of 157 serial killers: 96% • White • 80.2% of all serial killers 73% of male serial killers • 93% of female serial killers • Average intelligence • 107 IQ • n = 71

  9. General Serial Killer Profile - Childhood • Birth Order • Only child 16% • Oldest child 33% • Middle born 28% • Youngest 23% • Adopted • Adopted 14% • Birth parent(s) 79% • Other 7%

  10. General Serial Killer Profile - Childhood • Unstable home (37%) • Absence of loving and nurturing relationship • Physical ailments and disabilities • Head injuries • Triad

  11. Effects of the FamilyChild Abuse

  12. Born Bad? • As a child, Ed Kemper was beheading his sisters dolls and once remarked that he wanted to kiss his second grade teacher but he’d “have to kill her first.” • Albert DeSalvo was sold of as a slave by his alcoholic father. • If there is no parent-child bond a child may grow isolated.

  13. The Boston Strangler “Instead of developing positive traits of trust, security, and autonomy, child development becomes dependent on fantasy life and its dominant themes, rather than on social interaction." - Special Agent Robert Ressler

  14. The Father • Many serial killers have sadistic disciplinarian fathers • DeSalvo’s father would bring home prostitutes and beat his mother • Sold his children off as slaves • Gacy’s father was a violent alcoholic who told his son he was a “sissy” and “queer” • Shot the boy’s beloved dog to teach him a lesson

  15. Gary Heidnik • At 3 years old father hung him by his feet out of a 3rd story window for not cleaning room properly • Diagnosed as having a schizoid personality disorder • Enslaved and tortured 6 women and murdered 2

  16. The Mother • For many serial killers it all starts or ends with their mother • Henry Lee Lucas launched his career by murdering his mother • Ed Kemper ended his by killing his mother • Ed Gein’s mother was a religious fanatic who believed women were vessels of sin and disease • Heidnik’s mother committed suicide when he was 23

  17. Henry Lee Lucas 3 years old • Mother forced him to watch her have sex with strangers • Spent 3 days in a coma after mother hit him with a plank of wood 7 years old • Mother made him go to school dressed like a girl until he was in the second grade • She beat him when his teacher gave him a pair of shoes 10 Years old • Mother shoots a mule he was given as a present by a family friend Murdered mother at age 24. Convicted of 11 murders. Linked with 213.

  18. Adoption • An unusually high percentage of serial killers are adopted raising the question of nature versus nurture • May undermine sense of identity during a fragile youth • Makes the child prone to fantasizing • Creates a sense of rejection • David Berkowitz was devastated when his biological mother wanted nothing to do with him • Ted Bundy’s emotional development stopped when he was 13 and found out he was illegitimate “It was like I was hit by a brick wall.”

  19. The MacDonald Triad Animal Cruelty/Bed Wetting/Pyromania • Secret compulsion seen as the seeds of greater mayhem “Violent acts are reinforced, since the murderers either are able to express rage without experiencing negative consequences or are impervious to any prohibitions against these actions. Second, impulsive and erratic behavior discourages friendships, increasing isolation. Furthermore, there is no challenge to the offenders' beliefs that they are entitled to act the way they do.” – Special Agent Richard Ressler

  20. Animal Cruelty • Red flag and often seen as “practice” • Ed Kemper buried the family cat alive after it showed his sister more attention, dug it up only to decapitate it • Dahmer routinely tortured and mutilated stray dogs • Berkowitz tortured his mother’s parakeet

  21. Bed Wetting • 60% of serial killers wet their bed post-adolescence • Ken Bianchi

  22. Pyromania • Often sexually stimulating for the arsonist • Destruction of property feeds the same perverse need to destroy a human being – thrill of destruction • See humans as objects and can easily make the leap from setting fires to killing people

  23. Bad Seeds Blossom In Bad Environments • Environment alone cannot explain deranged behavior • Yet we do not see entire families of serial killers • Some genetic tendencies to bad behavior • Ted Bundy

  24. Heavy Metals • Research has indicated that serial killers have a higher than normal level of heavy metals (lead, manganese, copper) in their systems • Lowers the level of dopamine and serotonin which increases violent behavior • James Huberty – murder 21 people and injured 19 in a shooting spree in a McDonald’s Restaurant in 1984. • High levels of cadium

  25. Brain Defects “After I am dead they are going to open up my head and find that part of my brain is black and dry and dead.” - Bobby Joe Long who murdered 10 women in an 8 month span in 1984

  26. Strange Brains • Brain defects and injuries have been linked to violent behavior. • When the hypothalamus, the temporal lobe, and/or the limbic brain show damage, it may account for uncontrollable aggression. • The hypothalamus regulates the hormonal system and emotions. • Physical closeness of sexual and aggressive centers within the hypothalamus cause sexual instinct and violence to become interconnected for lust murderers.

  27. Brain Injury • Leonard Lake • David Berkowitz • Ken Bianchi • John Gacy • Carl Penzram • Albert Fish (pictured) • 54% of confessed serial killers had suffered some type of brain trauma

  28. Lust Killers • Ultimately a quest for power • Sexual domination represents an expression of that power • Drawn to authority figures in fiction/history • Fascination with law enforcement • Often identify with perceived sources of power

  29. Ted Bundy “I wanted to be master of life and death. Possessing them physically as one would possess a potted plant, a painting, or a Porsche. Owning, as it were, this individual.” • Bundy raped and murdered at least 37 women.

  30. Organized vs. Disorganized • FBI has categorized serial killers into two different types • Reflects killer’s emotional and psychological state • A significant number of serial killers show certain aspects of both categories • Descend from organized to disorganized as killing continues and need to feed compulsion grows

  31. Organized • Highly intelligent and plan crimes methodically • Kill victims in one place and dispose of them in another • Lure victims by appealing to their human nature (e.g. Bundy’s plaster cast) • Choose a victim to hunt • Maintain high degree of control over the crime scene • Knowledge of forensic sciences which enables them to cover their track • Closely follow crimes in the media taking great pride in their accomplishments • Usually socially adequate with close friends, lovers, spouses, and children

  32. Disorganized • Often of lower intelligence and commit crimes impulsively • Will kill when an opportunity presents itself • Rarely disposes of a body • Rarely cover tracks, but will evade capture do to transient nature • Socially inadequate with few friends and often have a history of mental problems

  33. Homework Read pages 93-99. Read the case study on page 94 entitled Clifford Olson. Answer questions 1 and 2. Read the case study on page 95 entitled A Tale of Two Sociopaths. Answer Recap question number 3 on page 99. Based on what you have read and learned, do you believe the media’s depiction of serial killers is accurate? Explain your answer.