October 30, 2018
Issue 12 2018

Inside the mind of a serial killer

Let's talk serial killers, the very monsters that have sparked both fear and interest within the public for centuries. Now days, the closest we get to these creatures is (hopefully) through televised shows and movies such as Dexter, Hannibal and and Silence of the Lambs, which offer a deep and personal look into the minds of notorious and rampaging killers. It doesn’t take much to figure out these people are far from normal, yet despite years of research the causes of psychopathy and what drives people to kill remains slightly unclear. The question of whether a murderer is made at birth, or turned into one through the influence of their surroundings is still a highly debated topic, yet I believe what differentiates a good societal Samaritan from a formidable killer lies in both their upbringing and genetic make-up.

Firstly, let's talk about the importance of early childhood and how easily it can influence our later life decisions, or more specifically, how the environment in which someone is raised can contribute to the making of a cold blooded killer. It’s important to understand that a serial killer is not the definite outcome of the fore mentioned factors and are merely theories proposed by crime researchers. A common characteristic among most serial killers is subjection to childhood trauma. Seventy-four per cent of the world’s most notorious convicted serial killers including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Robert Hansen were exposed to incidents such as violence, poverty, rape and bullying as children. Infancy and childhood are crucial for the development of an adult’s personality, being one of the biggest influencing factors for the development of emotions such as remorse, empathy and affection. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why serial killers lack any type of compassion and mercy towards their victims, having experienced the pain they are now able to inflict on others.

As children, most serial killers have also suffered from learning disorders, weight issues and stutters, resulting in being the victim of violence and bullying. Mental disorders combined with subjection to tyrannizing behaviour can be linked to the “secret aggressive fantasies” that many serial killers begin harbouring at an early age and later emerge as violent acts, projecting the pain and brutality they once suffered onto a victim. The motivation for serial killing is usually varied, yet the majority of the time falls into a category of gaining a sense of power, trying to get rid of the worlds evildoers, experiencing a thrill or in some instances to obtain money. Most often serial killers attack during times of stress or to feel temporarily relieved which indicates that they are unable or unsure of how to control their emotions or relieve their temper without resorting to violence, hence why they do what they do.  

Now lets talk about how the genetic make-up and psychological disorders that could fall behind the possibility of serial killing. It is important to recognise that a serial killer itself is not a diagnosis. Everybody’s brain develops in a distinct and individual way, affecting the likelihood of certain behaviours occurring under different circumstances, in this instance serial killing. The low orbital cortex of the brain is responsible for emotions such as empathy, attachment and belonging. Many neuro-scientists and forensic psychiatrists have recognised that people with low activity in this brain region are either free-wheeling or sociopathic people, typically unable to empathise for their victims and surpress behaviours such as rage, violence, sex and drinking. Although they are capable of feeling physical pain, they are typically unable to suffer any emotional pain. Most signs of chromosome, brain abnormalities and homicidal tendencies begin to show at puberty. Strongly felt emotions such as nervousness and embarrassment are usually absent, especially when committing a crime or doing something bad. One of the most widely recognised mental disorders that has been linked to serial murderers is an Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). The FBI, as well as many other criminologists and neuro-scientists have recognised that characteristics such as manipulation, charm and intimidation have also been connected to traits of a serial killer. Not everyone with these traits and disorders turn out to be serial killers and the majority are most likely very nice (but maybe slightly strange) people.

Despite all these factors that potentially contribute to the making of a serial killer, it still remains a hot topic and unanswerable question as to whether these people are born destined to kill, or raised in such a manner that sends them spiralling down the wrong path. Either way none of these previously mentioned factors are a certified diagnosis but merely just a part of Serial Killer statistics and criminology research so if you know somebody, or are the person that can relate to these symptoms – there’s (probably) nothing to worry about.