Forensic Psychology. Serial Killers. The odds. The odds of meeting your end at the hands of a serial killer in the UK are….. 1 in 1 million (Hicky 1991) The odds of winning the lottery are 1 in 13 million
1 in 1 million (Hicky 1991)
1 in 13 million
Michael Ryan, killed himself after shooting 30 people, 16 of whom died, in Hungerford in1987
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 at Columbine High school in April 1999
Cho Seung-Hui injures seventeen and kills thirty-two people at the Blacksburg, Virginia campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
The number of serial murderers in existence at any given time is obviously difficult to estimate. In the USA, Jenkins (1988) has suggested that there has been a rapid increase in their numbers since the 1950's.
Defining a serial killer as someone who has killed 10 or more people, there were only two cases between 1950 and 1970. Since then there have been over 40 such cases.
In the UK the picture is less clear. It has been estimated that any one time there are probably about four serial killers active in the UK (Gresswell and Hollin, 1994).
In the period between 1982 and 1991 there were 196 victims of serial killers in England and Wales (estimated).
In the UK there has been a gradual increase in the proportion of murders attributed to serial killers (why?).
In the forty five years between 1940 and 1985 only 1.7% of all murders in England were the work of serial killers.
However in the later years of this period, 1973-83, 3.2% of all murders were committed by serial killers.
It should also be noted that in 1997 the Serious Crime Bureau was set up to investigate some 200 unsolved murders of women.
Early results suggest that some of these murders are likely to be the work of serial killers.
Andrei Chikatilo was a Russian cannibal who was convicted of killing 52 people, both males and females. Chikatilo became a killing machine who was found guilty of 52 murders on Oct. 15, 1992. He had mutilated and eaten parts of most of his victims. The females were missing their uteruses and nipples and the males were missing their genitals and had their tongues bitten or sliced off. He was sentenced to death and was executed by one bullet to the back of the head on Feb. 14, 1994.
The killer clown……During a three-year-period in the late 1970’s, Gacy went on to viciously torture, rape and murder more than thirty young men, who would later be discovered under the floorboards of his home and in the local river.
Between 1974 and 1978 is was estimated that Ted Bundy had mutilated and killed up to 40 young women. The exact number will never be known
During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s Pedro Alonzo Lopez, was responsible for the murders of over 350 children. He confessed to killing at least 110 children in Ecuador, over 100 more in Colombia, and another 100 in Peru.
He was released from prison in 1998…his whereabouts are currently unkown.
The couple were tried for the killing of Edward Evans, 17, Lesley Ann Downey, aged 10, and 12-year-old John Kilbride in 1966 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Dennis Nielsen was known to have killed at least 15 men and boys between 1978 and 1983 in and around the Muswell Hill area of London.
He was discovered after a drain cleaning company found a flesh like substance blocking the drains.
He had been cutting up the bodies and flushing the pieces down the drain.
On Friday, 2 January 1981 the Yorkshire Ripper's five-year reign of terror came to an end. In the previous five years, beginning in July 1975 with his first attack, he had killed thirteen women and left seven others for dead.
He is presently serving life imprisonment for these crimes.
In January 2000 he was found guilty of 15 murders, mainly his elderly patients. It is known that he was responsible for at least 215 other murders and this therefore makes him the most prolific serial killer ever found in the UK.
He hanged himself in January 2004 at Wakefield prison.
In February 2008, Steve Wright was convicted of murdering five Ipswich prostitutes. The case was unusual in that all the killings took place during a 10 day period in December 2006. This made it the most intensive murder spree in British criminal history.
Probably one of the most disturbing aspects of the serial murderer is that they are often so ordinary; indeed it is this ordinariness that allows them to continue with their killing without being detected.
e.g.Peter Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper" was married to Sonia and had friends and family none of whom initially suspected.
In the USA, John Wayne Gacy was a respected member of the community with his own building company, he also tortured, raped, and killed more than 30 men before and burying their bodies under his house.
Statistically, we know who serial killers are likely to be, they will be white males in their late twenties or early thirties, if they are employed it will probably be a blue-collar job, i.e. semiskilled or skilled.
Unfortunately this stereotypical description also accounts for a major part of the male population and therefore is of little practical use.
A more thoughtful insight into their motivations and behaviours is required before any useful profile can be constructed.
It is possible to categorise serial murderers into different type or typologies based on various criteria (Harrower, 1998). These typologies are often based on motivation or modus operendi, i.e. the specific methods used by the killers. Holmes and DeBurger (1988) suggest four types of serial killer:
Visionary .......... these people kill for some "higher" reason, perhaps a religious belief, of because voices tell them they should. These types of killers are often considered to be mentally ill, suffering from a psychotic delusion.
David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, shot 13 people and killed 6 because he was told to by Satan in the form of a black Labrador dog.
Mission-Orientated .......these people see themselves as having a mission in life, usually to rid the world of some particular group of people, e.g. prostitutes or children; Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper is an example.
Power/Control.... types are people whose murderous behaviour may have a sexual basis but who also have a strong need to exert control over others often to the point of death. Fred and Rosemary West appear to be of this type, often binding their victims to make them totally helpless before torturing and killing them.
Hedonists .... are killers who derive some form of pleasure or satisfaction from the murders. The pleasure may be direct as in the case of those who have sexual or sadistic motives,or it may be indirect, e,g, they may gain financial benefits from those they kill, e.g. John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer who killed six people and dissolved their bodies in a bath of acid, believing that without a body murder could never be proved.
Obviously the criteria used to form typologies will vary with different researchers and there may well be overlaps between the typologies developed.
Hickey (1986) focused on the mobility of the serial killer and identified three types on this basis:
1. Those killers who have very little mobility and therefore choose their victims from their immediate locations, i.e. their own homes, places of work or surrounding streets. The victims of the Moors Murderers all lived within a few streets of the killers.
A moderate degree of mobility allows the killer to venture further afield, although in the case of this research this was restricted to the home state of the killer. In the UK, John Duffy the "Railway Rapist" would be an example of this. He murdered three women and raped 18 more. His victims were all found close to a railway station. John Duffy worked for the railways. He was caught following the intervention of David Canter, a Forensic Psychologist who produced an offender profile that predicted the murderer would live or work close to a railway line.
The highly mobile killers are those who will travel across states (in the USA) as they kill, and who for this reason are often difficult to catch.
Hicky (1986) suggests that the highly mobile killer is probably in the minority with only 32-35% of all victims being killed by this sort of murderer.
In the UK Robert Black, a convicted child killer, was a van driver who spent a lot of his time driving from London to Scotland. The bodies of his victims were found close to the route he used to take.
Profiling, according to Jackson and Beckerian (1997) can take several forms:
Offender profiling is the collection of empirical data in order to collate a picture of the characteristics of people involved in certain types of crime, e.g. is there a typical rapist or serial killer?
Crime scene profiling uses information from the crime scene, this may include forensic evidence or statements by the victim or witnesses, to build a picture of the offender.
Psychological profiling uses standardised personality measures sometimes coupled with interviews to examine the extent to which a suspect might fit the personality type of a particular type of offender, e.g. rapist.
Another method of developing typologies was devised by Ressler, Burgess and Douglas (1988) who were working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). After extensive research using FBI files on serial killers they came to the conclusion that two types of serial killer could be identified:
The Organised Killer
The Disorganised Killer
The Organised killers were described as being socially competent and intelligent, they were often married and had skilled occupations.
They would plan their murders, usually targeting strangers, who after restraining they would often have sex with before killing them.
After the killing the body is usually hidden and any weapons or evidence removed.
Their crimes often involve the use of a vehicle to transport the victim or move the body.
They may return to the scene of the crime and are likely to anticipate the sorts of questioning they may have to deal with.
The Disorganised murderer was described as socially immature, they have a poor work history, are sexually inhibited and may level alone.
They may live or work near the crime scene and the victims are often known to them.
The murder is often spontaneous with a great deal of violence.
Use of restraints is minimal and any sexual acts are likely to occur after the death of the victim.
The crime scene will show clear evidence of the murder with the body and other evidence simply left with no attempt to hide it.
They show no interest in the crime after the event, e.g. won't follow progress of the investigation in the media.
The FBI suggest a four stage approach to profile generation:
This is the collection of all data relevant to the crime.
It will include forensic evidence, photographs, witness statements, police reports, modus operandi, and the psychological signature of the offender, i.e. data that might indicate something about the offender psychological state, motivations, fantasies, etc.
Crime Scene Classification:
Examination of the crime scene according to the criteria described above in order to determine if it should be classified as organised or disorganised.
Crime Scene Reconstruction:
There is a need to understand the dynamics of a crime scene, e.g. how was the victim killed, did they know the killer, what happened prior to the attack, did the victim know they were to be attacked, did the victim admit the killer into their home or was there a forced entry, was there an attempt to conceal the body, any evidence of mutilation or necrophilia (sex with the corpse). By attempting to reconstruct the crime scene a fuller picture of exactly what occurred can be obtained.
Initially the profile will be a series of hypotheses that can be tested against the available evidence. These hypotheses may be demographic, e.g. was the killer male, what social class, occupation; lifestyle questions may be asked, e.g. does he live alone or with someone, does he have many friends; what personality dynamics may be involved, e.g. any evidence of neurosis or psychopathology.
One of the objections to the FBI approach raised by Canter(1995) is that after acquiring all this information there doesn't appear to be a great deal of systematic analysis of the data in order to arrive at the profile, it appears to be an art as much as a science and there appears to be heavy reliance on the experience and intuition of the profilers.
Canter suggests that when a criminal interacts with his environment and people within that environment, they leave subtle clues. These are not the clues that forensic scientists typically have to deal with, e.g. a strand of hair, traces of bodily fluids, or perhaps even a finger print. The clues a forensic psychologist has to work with are far more subtle than this. They are concerned with the behaviour of the criminal, what do they do to their victims, do the say anything, are they controlled in their behaviour. How does the crime fit in with everyday patterns of behaviour?
By looking at the patterns of rape and murder in the John Duffy case, Canter was able to conclude that he must have the type of job that allowed him to be "missing" for periods of time without arousing suspicions or indeed attracting a rebuke from his employers.
The pattern of attacks also revealed that the person responsible would have to have a good knowledge of the railways system around North London.
The crimes were carefully planned so the criminal was probably reasonably well educated, perhaps had a skilled or semi-skilled occupation.
The various sexual acts committed revealed that this man was sexually experienced, perhaps even married or with a partner.
John Duffy was not unknown to the police at the time of these crimes, indeed he was 1500 on a list of possible suspects. What Canter was able to do was move Duffy up the list, to make him a much more likely suspect for the police to investigate. And this is all offender profiling can really do...........it will not provide names or addresses of suspects, but by using the methods of psychological science it will allow practitioners to tease out the details hidden in what Canter calls the "criminal shadows".
The UK approach to profiling uses systematic methodologies, derived mainly from psychological research, to examine a crime scene.
The UK system places heavy emphasis on the use of statistical techniques in the analysis of a crime scene.
What information is available at a particular crime scene? can this information be classified or clustered with data from other crime scenes?
Does this data reveal anything about the psychological or other features of the offender?
Do individual offenders leave evidence of consistency in their behaviour at a crime scene?
Is this consistency stable across different crime scenes or over time?
It is the existence and coexistence of particular features of the crime scene that the statistical approach seeks to identify.
In describing this process Howitt (2002) cites the example of rape in which many features are common, e.g. vaginal penetration, removal of clothing, and an element of surprise.
Other features are less common, e.g. oral sex, apologising, torture.
Yet other features may be associated with other types of criminality, e.g. theft of money or belongings of rape victim, or extreme violence.
Through the statistical analysis it is possible to identify these types of features and thereby produce a profile of the rapist.
Of particular interest might the co-occurance of features that would not normally be expected to occur together. For example sodomy and theft from the victim rarely go together, so when they do this suggests that a particular type of rapist is being sought.
Or in a series of rapes if theft was a common feature, then statistically, this would suggest that the rapist has probably committed acts of petty theft before and almost certainly has a police record. This sort of information can help to narrow down the list of potential suspects.
Geographical profiling is another statistical technique that uses algorithms based on the movements of serial offenders to attempt identify the likely location from which they operate, i.e. from home or perhaps their place of employment.
Canter's description of his techniques used to help in the capture of John Duffy explains how, by looking at when and where the victims were found he was able to determine that Duffy probably had some connection with the railways or lived near a railway.
In fact, Duffy was a carpenter working for British Rail, and who had an intimate knowledge of the railway system around North London where he lived and where he found his victims.
Static, localised or geographically stable serial offender;
Commits crime within a confined area;
Bounded by psychological barriers and landscape features;
Operates within his/her awareness space;
Likely to have an anchor point (the haven) from which to operate;
Offender's haven lies within the distribution of crime sites.
Mobile dispersed or geographically transient serial offender;
Commits crimes over large areas;
Cross cultural and psychological boundaries;
Most offences occur outside the offender's awareness space;
Involves complex hunting strategies;
Hunting area lack a definable anchor point.
The distinction between typologies and profiles is often blurred.
Offender profiles are often thought of as a means of identifying specific individuals whereas typologies are more concerned with the general characteristics of offenders.
There are elements of truth in both these statements but it is probably more correct to say that at present, it is traditional police work that catches individual offenders, profiling may offer pointers or help to reduce the number of suspects.
The techniques of offender profiling are a long way from being able to identify specific individuals.
Focusing on the early developmental years of serial killers has proved a promising approach to explaining the behaviour of these people.
A common feature among sexually motivated multiple murderers is the failure to bond or form an attachment with the parents or primary carer, resulting in a child that appeared to be emotionally detached (Burgess et al, 1985). Jeffrey Dahmer who by the age of 14 was already having fantasies about killing men and having sex with their corpses, may be cited as an example in this context.
Other examples of disturbed childhood behaviour found in the backgrounds of sadistic serial killers include enuresis, starting fires, and torturing animals.
One difficulty with this theoretical approach is that there are many examples serial killers who have apparently come from quite "normal" respectable backgrounds.
Jenkins (1988) found that of the 12 English serial killers he studied, six of them seemed to have quite ordinary childhoods.
Similarly, Stone (1994) who looked at 42 serial killers, found that while a history of abuse and neglect in childhood was common, 30% of his sample had no such history.
Thus it seems that while a disturbed upbringing may be a sufficient condition to predispose certain people to multiple murder, it is rarely a necessary condition.
Violent adults very often will have suffered abuse as children, but only a small proportion of abused children go on to become violent offenders let alone serial killers.
Are serial killers mentally ill? Surely for a person to commit random acts of multiple murder they must be suffering from some sort of mental illness.
Whilst this may seem a tempting theory, the evidence suggests otherwise. Henn (1976) looked at the psychiatric assessments of 2000 people who had been arrested for murder between 1964 and 1973. Of these, only 1% were found to be psychotic. Mental illness is probably more likely in mass murderers rather than the serial killer and as we have seen, these people are more likely to kill themselves.
One way in which some people cope with severe childhood abuse is to adopt alternative personalites, this is known as a dissociative disorder and often results in the individual having multiple personalities.
In the case of Kenneth Bianchi, one of the hillside stranglers, he claimed in his defence that he was suffering from this disorder.
Under hypnosis another personality, Steve Walker emerged who was described as cold, and vicious and was responsible for the murder of 12 young women. Kenneth Bianchi himself, came across as a very pleasant individual, a kind loving husband and father, but he did have a history of abuse by his mother.
However, something about Bianchi's behaviour suggested to the examining psychiatrist that he might be faking the disorder in order to get a lesser sentence. This was later found to be the case.
A psychopath is usually defined as someone who exhibits a variety of antisocial behaviours, including violence, and who shows no hint of sorrow or remorse for their behaviour.
To a casual observer, the psychopath may appear quite normal, indeed in some cases even charming and this of course is why they can be so dangerous.
Psychopaths seek total control over situations and individuals and if this control is threatened in any way they may become violent and even murderous.
The fictional character Hannibal Lector would be a good example of a psychopath.
Explaining psychopathic behaviour is extremely difficult.
Attempts at finding a physiological or genetic component have produced inconsistent findings (Raine, 1989).
There is some suggestion that psychopaths may be less receptive to facial cues of distress, but whether this is a cause of the condition or simply a symptom remains unclear (Blair et al, 1997).
Seto et al (1997) have also observed that psychopaths are far more likely to use deception, regardless of the situation they find themselves in, and even when it isn’t really necessary.
For many serial killers murder alone is not enough, they need to degrade, torture, and humiliate their victims....an expression of their need for control.
For this reason there is often an element of sexual sadism in the way they kill their victims. Sexual sadism is an example of a paraphilia and is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV as "acts in which psychological or physical suffering of the victim is sexually exciting, including domination or torture".
Paraphilias are usually described as unnatural sexual acts or perversions and include necrophilia (sex with corpses), zoophilia (sex with animals) and paedophilia (sex with children.
It is not uncommon to find multiple paraphilias within the same individual.
Brittain (1970) suggests that the sadistic murderer often feels inferior to others, may find it difficult to form relationships with women and has an almost uncontrollable desire for power over others.
This type of killer will use fantasy to help him cope with feelings of inadequacy and ultimately may act out these fantasies.
They are likely to feel sexually aroused as a result of the fear expressed by their victims.
Fred and Rosemary West are good examples of the sexual sadist.
Their victims were rendered helpless by tying them very elaborately with a variety of ropes. Their heads were wrapped in cling film with a thin pipe allowing them to breathe.
They were then systematically tortured before being murdered.
It has been suggested that sexual sadism may result from a fixation at the psychosexual stages of development (Kline, 1987).
Degradation of females is an example of reaction formation against the incestuous desires for the opposite sex parent (Oedipus and Electra complex).
By subjecting females (mother substitutes) to violence and degrading acts the sadist is refusing to acknowledge the sexual feelings that they have for their mother.
Anal fixation which is a result of inadequate toilet training can result in buggery, a common feature of sexual sadism.
Gallagher (1987) suggests that a dysfunctional parent-child relationship will lead to the child becoming fixated at an immature stage of development.
The case of Ed Kemper who had a difficult relationship with his domineering mother is often cited as an example.
As a result of the feelings of frustration and ambivalence which stemmed from this relationship, by the age of 15 Kemper had killed both his grandparents.
After his release into his mother's care, and despite the fact that his psychiatrist though he was making good progress, he was in fact murdering female hitchhikers, cutting them up, saving various body parts and cooking and eating others.
Finally he decapitated his mother before having sex with her corpse. he later claimed that this final act had a liberating effect on him so that he no longer felt the need to kill other women.
Ressler et al (1988) have suggested that negative life experiences give rise to aggressive and sexual fantasies which help the individual restore a sense of control in their life.
When they interviewed 36 convicted sex murderers (USA) 25 of whom were serial killers they found that 42% had been sexually abused as children and 32% as adolescents. 70% of them felt sexually incompetent and relied heavily on pornography.
Prentky et al (1989) compared serial sex murderers with single sex murderers and found that 86% of the serial killers fantasized prior to the killings compared with only 23% of the single murderers.
The amount of fantasy was also found to be correlated with the planning and organisation of the murders by the serial killers.
Gresswell and Hollin (1997) go so far as to suggest that fantasy is an addictive process and that serial killers use it to try and regain the sense of euphoria that accompanied the killing of their victims.
Fantasy alone however is never enough and so the serial killer has to seek out further victims.
Fantasy may also be used to try out new features, i.e. ways of torturing or killing the victims, before the actual event.
Based on interviews with 20 serial killers between 1982 and 1991 it was concluded that multiple murder may well be an addictive pattern of behaviour like any other addiction, i.e. serial killers are addicted to killing.
This has been a very brief random selection of some of the most notorious serial murderers.
Unfortunately, a quick trawl through the Internet will reveal a much greater number.
There is no simple way to explain serial killing, it is almost certainly complex and multifactorial.
In the UK alone, there are currently 35 serial killers in prison.
We don’t know how many more there might be still at large, who have not yet been caught……and who might still be going about their “work”.