One might say that serial killing differs from other kind of killing, but what are the most common reasons for killing? People can have very different reasons and motivations' for making the drastic action of killing. We will discuss 7 reasons for killing, and we will look at some examples of serial killers. We will also discuss the relation between serial killing and mental disorders.
2.1.1. Serial killing as distinct from other kind of killings
When hearing about people taking other peoples life, one might spontaneously react with a feeling of contempt for the killer. People have, however, very different reasons and motivations’ for making the drastic action of killing. It does seem like one can argue that there are 7 different circumstances where killing takes place:
(1 What is meant by the term motivation is the conscious or unconscious purpose that decides the behavior of an individual (Hansen et al., 1999, p. 264)).
||Ted Bundy, one of the worlds most known serial killer. He was a psychologist and a politician and is referred to as a charming and intellectual man. Raped, bit and killed at least 28 and perhaps over 100 women during a 7-year period (Newton, 2000, p. 25).|
||A 30-year old man shot and killed three persons and wounded two others in Farsund, Norway in 1988. When asked why he did this, he answered:”I thought it was war, and I had to defend myself!”|
||A patient is incurable sick, suffering a lot of pain. He is begging his doctor to help him die. The doctor assists the patient by placing the medication in the patient’s hand, helping the patient place the medication in the mouth, and allows him to drink fluid and swallow the lethal medication.|
||A stranger approaches a person on the street that pulls out a knife and threatens to kill. The person being attacked takes a hold on the knife and kills the attacker in the battle.|
||Drug addicted person who has no money, robbing a store and realizing he has to kill someone to get a hold of the money.|
||A person has lost several members of his family as a person has executed them. The person takes revenge and kills the executer.|
||Thousands of people in Germany took part in mass extinction and execution of millions of Jews during World War II.|
These 7 circumstances can be seen as somewhat simplified, and they are often somehow mixed together. But they do tend to give insight into what kind of motivations that are present, and what motivation that is the prominent one when the action of killing has been made.
2.1.2. Examples of serial killers
One of the most known serial killers of all times is probably Jack the Ripper. He murdered and incinerated five prostitutes in Whitechapel, London in 1888. Among other things, he placed the organs in different spots around the victims and claimed to have eaten some of them. What has caused these murders such a crucial role in criminal history is probably the fact that the murderer has never been found despite dozens of theories concerning the guilty killer.
In the US there has recently been an important event in relation to serial killers. A long-lasting hunt for a serial killer has finally ended. It all started in January 1974 when three young children arrived home from school in Wichita, Kansas to find their father, Joseph Otero, mother, Julie Otero, and their two siblings Josephine (age 11) and Joseph II (age 9) strangled to death in their home. Joseph was found lying face down on the floor with his hands and feet bound with a cord that had been ripped from a Venetian blind from one of the rooms. Julie was found in the
bedroom, lying on the bed, bound in a similar manner. After this, during a 12- year period, six girls in the twenties were found in the same ways. The killer wrote several letters where he claimed responsible for the killings and included detailed descriptions about how the murders had been made. The letters were signed BTK which was a shortcut for “bind them, torture them and kill them”. This however, did not result in any significant leads to the killer. Recently, 31 years after his first crime, Dennis Rader has been detected and has pleaded guilty to most of these killings (Online crime library).
2.1.3. Some epidemiologic considerations
It is to be stated that serial killing has a rather rare occurrence. A total of 357 have been identified as serial killers in the U.S. between 1960 and 1991. However this number makes a total of 3169 victims (Mitchell, 1997) and does indeed seem to request a need for investigation upon the existence of this behaviour.
The vast majority of serial killers are men. Female serial killers do, however exist. But they only count for approximately 12% of the serial killers in the U.S. 2 An example is Aileen Wuornos that was arrested in 1990, for having killed 7 men (Newton, 2000, p. 241). (A recent movie called “Monster” is based on her story).
Most of the literature and research on serial killings are made in the US. This is however, not peculiar, as the U.S., with less than 5% of the worlds’ population, have produced 84% of all known serial killers since 1980 (Newton, 2000, p. 1). It is also found in a cross-cultural study of David J. Cooke (2003), that there are significant differences in occurrence of psychopathy (measured by PCL-R) in European countries than in the US. Despite the indications found for a difference in the prevalence of psychopathy across cultures, Cooke also states that the evidence available indicates that psychopathy occur in most societies and at all eras. He refers to a statement of Robin et al. from 1990, that claim that antisocial personality is not a product of a “modern ‘sick’ society” (Cooke, 1995, p. 14).
But opposite views also exist. Kirsner (2003) can in this connection be mentioned, as he states that it is associated with the postmodern society to feel uninvolved, split and afraid, and that this is making it almost impossible for people to trust themselves, other people or the general environment (p. 167). Karterud (2001) also states that feelings of ones sense of self is, in the postmodern human, must change in a rapid speed with the rest of the world and people around, forcing changes upon beliefs and perceptions that the self already has (p. 13). Thus, they will argue that the (post-) modem society probably has an impact on the development of mental disorders and personality disorders in general.
2 As for this majority of men as serial killers, and also as the case in this paper is a man, the naming “he”, will in this thesis often be used. This is mostly to avoid writing he/she consequently, which will such make this easier to read. It is still to be noted that, this does not mean that females are excluded from an understanding.
2.1.4. Serial killers and mental disorder
The widespread assumption that all serial killers have one of the antisocial diagnoses, like psychopathy or antisocial PD, does not seem to be an underestimation. On behalf of their own research and with references to other studies, Geberth and Turco (1997) states, based on a study, that all most serial killers have an antisocial PD and that nearly all are psychopaths. Beasley (2004) has also made a case study of serial killers, where he, based on a qualitative analysis of seven serial murderers, has found that there is a substantial presence of psychopathic traits among them (measured with PCL-R). They are among others, poor behavioral control, shallow affect, callousness, lack of empathy, pathologic/chronic lying, manipulations and lack of remorse and guilt. It can also be argued that the nature of the serial killing actions is indicating a presence of one of the antisocial diagnosis. This way, one can argue that the actions are speaking for themselves. However, to shed further light on the personality of serial killers, the following is a selection of statements they have made. This is to illustrate the psychopathic symptoms: 1) shallow affect: 2) Failure to conform to social norms, callousness and lack of empathy and 3) impulsivity.
1) “There are emotions- a whole spectrum of them- that I know only through words, through reading and in my immature imagination. I can imagine I feel these emotions but I do not.” (Jack Abbott in Hare, 1995, p. 105).
2) “I am looking for whores and I will not stop ripping them up until I get caught. The last job was a great piece of work. The lady did not even get the chance to scream a single time”.
(Jack the Ripper in Abrahamsen, 1992, p. 53. My translation).
3) “…I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t plannin, I was just doin'”.
(Gary Gilmore in Hare, 1999, p. 58).
As there seem to be a link between serial killers and psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder, serial killers will, in this work, be used interchangeable with the terms criminal- psychopath or antisocial personality. This is not suggesting that all psychopaths or individuals with antisocial personalities are serial killers or that absolutely all serial killers are psychopaths or have an antisocial PD, but as serial killers are often found to characterize to these disorders, and there are substantially more literature and research about criminal psychopaths/antisocial PD, these terms will be relevant in relation to serial killers. In this work, the term antisocial behaviour will also be used, when referring to appearances of several of the traits in those diagnoses, when it is not specified whether it is clear presences of any of the diagnoses.
This apparent relation between serial killing and one of the antisocial diagnoses is what in a great extent has been the motivation for this work. As it can seem like serial killers are suffering from a severe form for psychopathology, one might wonder if psychiatric help would not be a more correct intervention, than punishment. However, psychopathy and antisocial PD are not the only mental disorders that are linked to serial killers.
Other mental disorders
Attached to serial killers, a great variety of DSM diagnoses are often seen. Mood disorders, drug and alcohol dependencies and also exhibitionism, voyeurism and transvestism have been found often present (Meloy, 2000). Geberth and Turcos’ (1997) study is also indicating that a majority of serial homicides are sexually motivated and that there is most often a presence of sexual sadism. This diagnose is, they claim, together with antisocial personality disorder, the most frequent one, in serial killers. As D.B. did not involve sexual acts in the killings, these other diagnosis will not be specifically considered in this work. However, as narcissistic personality traits are also very often seen related to serial killings (Meloy, 2000) and as narcissism and antisocial behaviour are often linked to each other, like mentioned in the introduction, narcissism will, in addition to antisocial PD and psychopathy, often be referred to in relation to serial killers.