Literature Review on Underlying Causes That Can Create a Serial Killer

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Literature Review on Underlying Causes That Can Create a Serial Killer

Literature Review on Underlying Causes That Can Create a Serial Killer

Sayrey-Sothea El

University of Houston

Dr. Bravo

Serial killing or serial murder involves the murder of more than one person, usually with a “cooling off” period between the murders. These crimes usually have no apparent motive and involve strangers who are murdered over extended periods of time. The U.S. has a higher percentage of serial killers than any other country in the world, with nearly 25% of all serial killings worldwide taking place in America (Pace, 2019).

Based on FBI investigations, many serial killers suffer from a combination of personality disorders which are often inconspicuous. The three major categories of personality disorders include Paranoid, Schizoid, and Psychopathic. Many psychologists believe that serial killers fall into the last category. Psychopathy is a mental disorder in which a person has an antisocial, sadistic or psychopathic disposition with poor impulse control. A person who suffers from a form of psychopathy may display superficial charm and intelligence while hiding deep-rooted problems with their behavior and emotions. According to the FBI Behavioural Science Unit, serial killers have an innate ability to manipulate others, give them someone to talk to, and trust them with sensitive information.

Serial killing is one of the most complex and challenging forms of crime to investigate as there is rarely any forensic evidence left behind in cases that do not involve sexual assault or armed robbery; police rely heavily on knowledge about typical patterns to link cases together and identify likely suspects for questioning.

The standard theory is that serial killers share a long term obsession with violence, however few cases of serial homicide have been directly named as such, some of which include: John Reginald Halliday Christie (killed at least 12 people); Charlie Lyke (39 victims); Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole (17 victims); Aileen Wuornos (7 victims) (Deepak & Ramdoss, 2021). Theories about the “Mackenzie painting” are based on the observation that all five of the known cases of serial homicide involve small town American males that were around 20-30 years old.

In the United States, there has been a slight increase in the number of serial killers since the mid-1990s. The increased publicity and media coverage of these cases may be responsible for this increase. Additionally, in areas that have experienced serial killings, such as the so-called ‘killing fields’ along Route 40 near Green River, Utah and Nevada, it has also become more likely that there will be a killer or killers available to police before any bodies are found.

The first notable US serial killer is usually considered to be H.H. Holmes, who killed 11 people over 18 months between 1896 and 1897 in Chicago. Holmes is also believed to have had a hand in the highly publicized murder of his own wife, who disappeared from the home the couple shared. Holmes was never tried for his crimes due to a hung jury, and later escaped from jail. He was eventually captured, confessed to his crimes and was hanged in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896.

The United States has produced many notable serial killers, including Richard Trenton Chase (“The Vampire of Sacramento”), David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), Patrick Kearney Mitchell (“The Milwaukee Monster”), Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos. Some killers have become infamous because of the gruesome circumstances of their crimes, the total number of victims, or the length of time during which they eluded capture. Others, such as those who have committed mass killings or those whose crimes have earned them a place in popular culture, are noted for their fame. Some serial killers have even been researched and written about to such an extent that they have become synonymous with murder itself. Theodore Robert Bundy is one example. He was a serial killer who was active in several states throughout the 1970s and confessed to killing thirty women. He once said that he could “go out and kill anybody between one day and six months from now.

One of the best-known cases involving a string of serial murders was that of Ed Gein. Gein was convicted and executed in 1957 for the murder of a total of two women and a teenage girl. He was known to have been obsessed with the concept of body parts, particularly skulls and femurs, which he would retain from his victims. Another local man, Driver Ed Kearney (a pharmacist) confessed to Gein that he had killed two women and an illegitimate son for insurance money, but later recanted the confession. Another man also confessed to killing several people in a similar way but later recanted as well.

Also of note is Ottis Toole who murdered five females in Florida between 1974-1976. Toole was a drifter who worked for victims and stole their money, jewelry, and personal effects. He kept the skull, skins, bones and hands of all five women. He was arrested in 1977 after police traced a stolen money order from one of his victims to his mother’s home in Fort Myers (Toates & Coschug-Toates, 2022).

Many serial killers move from area to area to find new victims. Some are quite organized in their efforts to find new victims or avoid being caught by the law. Some killers perform violent acts to attract their victims, while others choose a method of killing that is less personal. Most serial killers are male but women are also known to be serial killers and some have been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. We know what causes a person to become a serial killer but how many of these individuals will commit serious violence and murder? It’s estimated that there are around 400-500 active serial killers in the United States alone and they kill approximately 3000 people every year (Call, 2019). This number is based on the FBI definition which is any person who has killed three or more people within a year or killed one victim up to four times during the same time frame.

References

Call, C. (2019). Serial entertainment: A content analysis of 35 years of serial murder in film. Homicide studies, 23(4), 362-380.

Toates, F., & Coschug-Toates, O. (2022). Understanding Sexual Serial Killing. Cambridge University Press.

Deepak, S. A., & Ramdoss, S. (2021). The life-course theory of serial killing: A motivation model. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 65(13-14), 1446-1472.

Pace, A. N. (2019). Serial killers in popular media: A content analysis of sensationalism and support for capital punishment.

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