As police walk into an abandoned house, a foul stench overtakes them. The room is dim and looks as though no one has been here for months. They walk further into the house and begin to see spots of blood on the floor. They follow this trail down the stairs into the basement where the smell becomes overwhelming, causing some of the officers to gasp and run back up the stairs. In the basement, they find the remains of several young boys who have been molested and badly mutilated. What could cause someone to participate in such horrendous deeds? What sort of person is able to perform such wicked acts?
Serial killers always have aroused the curiosity and concern of the public. People seem to be both fascinated and repulsed by their horrendous crimes. The stories make newspaper headlines, and their gruesome murders are the subject of popular movies and best-selling books. In this paper, I will discuss what causes a human being to become a serial killer. Although social scientists have developed many theories to explain the mind of a serial killer, the scientific evidence supports the theories of sociopathy, psychopathy, sadistic fulfillment, childhood abuse, and genetics.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a serial murder as the killing of several victims in ten or more separate incidents over an extended period of time (Dietz 483). Serial murderers are often classified into specific categories. One category is motive; motive killers are sexually sadistic killers or spree killers. The psychology of the killer is another category used to characterize these criminals. These types of killers are classified as sociopaths and psychopaths. This paper will focus mainly on killers of the psychotic and sexually sadistic kind, for these are the ones on which the public and media tend to focus.
According to James Fox and Jack Levin (19), serial killers are most always Caucasian males who are in their twenties or thirties. Although there are reported cases of female serial killers, the field is predominantly composed of males. There are two key characteristics of a serial killer, one being the presence of sociopathy or aggressive antisocial behavior. It has been estimated that nearly three percent of males in our society may be sociopaths. Most socio-paths are not violent: they may lie, cheat, or steal, but rape and murder are not necessarily appealing to them. This mental illness can lead to violent outbursts, which are difficult to control without therapy; and without therapy, rape and murder can be attractive to those with this condition. The second key characteristic of most serial killers is an overwhelming need for control. Women and children are often targeted because they are seen as weak and easily dominated figures. Killers will tie their victims up with ropes or chains and watch them helplessly struggle to free themselves. They may also torture them and watch as their pleas for freedom fall upon deaf ears. Many killers are demented and exhibit signs of future violence at a very early age. Society often turns to the upbringing of the killer for answers. Many killers speak of their childhoods being full of sexual abuse, torture, and mayhem (Scott). In his book Serial Killers, Joel Norris speaks of violence as something that cycles from generation to generation: "Parents who abuse their children, physically as well as psychologically, instill in them an almost instinctive reliance upon violence as a first resort to any challenge. Childhood abuse not only spawns violent reactions, but also affects the child's health, including brain injuries, malnutrition, and other developmental disorders" (49 50). Violence early in life may lead to these undesirable tendencies to abuse and kill. Parents often believe that strict discipline will help the individual grow up to be strong, but it, in turn, creates a gap between the child and the parents. The child...