Before we can discuss what serial killers do, we must first define what a serial killer is. Some people might place serial killers into the same group as mass murderers. This would be incorrect because they are two totally different types of killers. While both of these individuals may kill many people, the difference lies in the reason they kill and the period over which they kill their victims. An event or a build up of circumstance triggers mass murderers and causes them to act. This may be the result of a stressful situation or frustration either at work or in their private lives.
For whatever reason, they may choose to use a weapon and kill people that they feel are responsible for their problems. They may also kill total strangers in a bid to get even with whomever or whatever they feel wronged them. Whatever their reason, they are usually cooperative and quite often docile if they survive the episode. It seems that this one-time outburst of violence, once enacted, puts an end to any future events of this type for that individual. While the mass killer may kill many people in one attack, when the attack is over, their mission is complete.
The mass killer’s victims may not be chosen for any other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Serial killers are a totally different and more dangerous threat to society. They may not kill many people at one time, but they may kill for many years without being detected. They are able to kill again and again without being caught because they are careful in their choices of victims. They typically pick victims who are vulnerable and un-able to defend themselves such as children, the elderly or women.
They also pick victims who will not be missed by society, such as migrant workers, prostitutes, hitchhikers or homosexuals. They may even pick victims based on specifics such as physical build or hairstyle. Because of the fact that many serial killers may be mobile; similarities in crime scenes may go undetected by law enforcement agencies. The nation’s police departments often lack the modern equipment and technology needed to track and recognize connections between cases. It is generally accepted that many cases of serial murder have not been reported because of lack of evidence or the person murdered is never noticed to be missing.
The U. S. has had more than 150 documented cases of serial killers since 1800. Retired FBI analyst John Doug-las believes that at any one time, there may be from 30 to 50 serial killers active in the U. S. Good locations for serial killers include any city or area large enough to support prostitution, drug cultures, runaway children or street people. They can and do operate successfully in rural areas. Serial killers were once considered a rarity. Even though reports in Europe go back as far as the fifteenth century, only a few were written about prior to the mid twentieth century.
One of the most widely written about was Jack the Ripper, who claimed only 5 victims in a three-month period. This would put him in the bottom of the class by to-day’s standards. During the past twenty years, serial killings have become more frequent. We have even seen up to a half dozen of their cases on the news simultaneously. Cases such as San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer; New York City’s Son of Sam; Atlanta’s child murderer, Wayne Williams; Los Angeles’s Hillside Strangler; and Milwaukee’s own, Jeffrey Dahmer for example. Many times, they fit into a pattern, but sometimes there is no pattern.
The phenomenon is world-wide, from England’s Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe’s killing of 13 women prior to 1981, to Russia’s Rostov Cannibal, Anderei Chikatilo, who slaughtered and partially consumed at least 53 men and women over a 12 year period prior to 1990. It is hard to predict whether a person will become a serial killer. A set of childhood characteristics believed by many to be symptoms of violent behavior has been named the “McDonald Triad”. Named after psychiatrist John M. McDonald, it speculates that three factors in a person’s childhood may determine violent behavior.
These three factors presumably linked to homicidal behavior are bedwetting, setting fires, and torture of small animals. There is evidence that many serial killers have some or all of these factors in their past. The fact remains, there are many people with symptoms of the McDonald Triad who do not become serial killers; unfortunately some do. One of the Hillside Stranglers, Kenneth Bianci, had a bedwetting problem and had killed a cat before as a prank. The Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, had set many fires, kept a diary and even nicknamed himself the “Phantom Fireman”.
Alaska’s Robert Hansen, murderer of at least 17 women, was convicted of arson as a youth. An important fact is the “McDonald Triad” is not believed to be a cause of violence, but only a set of symptoms. The typical serial killer is a white male in his late 20s or 30s and murders his victims by beating or strangulation. He may appear cold, show no remorse for his actions and might deny responsibility for his crimes, but psychosis or severe mental illness is rarely present. Only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of serial killers are women. Males are much more likely to use extreme violence such as bludgeoning, beating, strangling, or torture.
Women on the other hand favored poisoning or smothering their victims. Where men would normally stalk their victims, the female se-rial killer would lure her victim to their death. Researchers Anne Moir and David Jessel believe that serial killers lack the voice of conscience that prevents most of us in doing things we should not. Their research made them to believe that serial killers usually have a sexual motive and an inability to appreciate the feelings of others. They only survive because they are able to conceal their identities and appear to be normal. Most unexpectedly, in back-ground, in personality, and even in appearance, the mass murderer is extraordinarily ordinary. This may be the key to his extraordinary “talent” for murder: After all, who would ever suspect him. ” Dr. Donald Lunde, a psychiatrist who studied 42 murderers over a 5-year period, determined that there are two types of mentalities involved with these types of crimes. The first of these is paranoid schizophrenia which may be characterized by an aggressive, suspicious demeanor, hallucinations (usually, hearing voices in their minds), or delusions of grandeur or persecution.
The second type is sexual sadism, which is distinguished by killing, torturing, or mutilating victims for achieving their own sexual arousal. These killers view their victims as objects or life-size dolls or enemies of normal people. A good example of the paranoid schizophrenic murderer is David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the Son of Sam. He said he killed because a man named “Sam” told him to through demonically possessed dogs. A look, growl, or bark from the dog would tell him who and where to attack. During one instance, the signal was a sign of crossed dog feces on the ground that set him off.
He left notes for the police and even corresponded with a newspaper, rav-ing that he was the “Duke of Death. ” Some believe Berkowitz is only making excuses for his behavior and we may never know the whole truth. For whatever reason, he held one of the most powerful cities in the world, New York City, in a state of fear. Even the heads of several organized crime families were reported to have sent out their soldiers to find him. His rampage ended in August of 1977 and left six dead and nine wounded. The classic example of the sexual sadist type of killer is the six foot nine inch, 280 pound, Edmund Kemper.
At the age of fifteen, he shot and killed both of his grandparents resulting in his being committed to a maximum-security hospital for four years. This was only the beginning for Kemper, and upon his release he shot, stabbed and strangled to death six coeds as they hitchhiked from college. He also severed their heads and limbs, attempted to have sex with the corpses, and devoured their flesh. He kept their heads preserved so that he could use them for his sexual fulfillment. He later murdered his own mother and her good friend. He then decapitated his mother, tore out her larynx, and threw it down the garbage disposal.
That way, in his opinion, she could never gripe and yell at him again. From childhood, he had displayed signs of psychological disorders. Kemper was fascinated by weapons and had cut the head and hands from one of his sister’s dolls. He also tortured and killed the family’s cat, which was beheaded and cut into pieces. He often fantasized about killing girls and later explained, “if I killed them, you know, they couldn’t reject me as a man. ” It is highly likely that the rise in reported serial killings is due to the increasing law enforcement ability to recog-nize the patterns.
There has also been a real increase in the rate of serial murders, and this may be due to a decline in law enforcement’s ability to capture the murderers. This makes solving the murders difficult because often the motive is missing or not obvious. It is accepted that many serial killers were probably caught early in their careers, before their becoming experts. The nationwide rate of cleared homicides before 1966 was 92 per cent. This rate hit 64 per cent in 1992, meaning that unsolved homicides increased to about 8,400, which is almost as many as the total number of murders in 1965. This is further explained by the fact that more and more murders are being committed by and against strangers. In the past most violent crimes and murders were easy for police to solve. They usually involved or resulted from greed, anger, jealously, profit, or revenge. The serial killer differs in that he does not stop until he is caught. He gets better at his crime each time he performs it and continually perfects his style. Jeffrey Dahmer, killer of 17 young men over 13 years, would likely have been stopped after his first killing had the police been able to pursue a search of his vehicle.
Dahmer was driving with body parts of his first victim in garbage bags, on the back seat of his car in the early hours of the morning. Two officers who thought he might be smuggling drugs or stolen goods stopped him. They asked what was in the bag and he replied that it was just garbage he was taking to the dump. They did not pursue it any further and Dahmer went on to kill for thirteen more years. Then there is the case of Coral Eugene Watts, who outsmarted prosecutors and beat the system in spite of his I. Q. of only 75. At the age of 21, he strangled two women, and although he left them for dead, both survived.
Five days later, he stabbed a 19-year-old college student 33 times, killing her. Although identified as a suspect from the non- fatal assaults, Watts heeded the Miranda warning and hired a lawyer. He then had himself committed to a mental hospital. One year later, Watts bargained prosecutors to drop an assault charge in return for a guilty plea on one charge. For this, he received a one-year sentence. Immediately following his release, Watts killed six people in Michigan and possibly another in Ontario. When the police suspected him again and put him under surveillance, he moved to Texas.
The Michigan cops notified the Texas cops but it was too late. Within a few days, Watts had killed a jogger. He knifed two women to death in one-night six months later. In the spring of 1982, he killed six more in six weeks. Watts was finally captured while fleeing an attack on two women in their apartment, where another woman was found strangled in her bathtub. Declared legally sane by psychiatrists, Watts was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with a pathological hatred of women. He supposedly struggled against the evil he saw around him.
He was not tried for homicide because he agreed to a guilty plea on burglary and assault charges, receiving a 60-year sentence and parole eligibility in 20 years. For this he confessed to 14 Houston homicides and led police to three more bodies. Investigators believe his actual body count is at least 22. Due to his plea bargain, he does not have to serve 20 years before becoming eligible for parole. He had a parole hearing in 1993 and another in 1996. Currently, his release date is set for 2007. Psychiatrists, along with the FBI crime analysts have taken the lead in getting into the minds of serial killers.
Psychiatrist Shervert Frazier interviewed 42 murderers, including seven serial killers that had killed 3 to 13 victims each. They also interviewed families, teachers, friends, police, and probation authorities. Most of the serial killers were cooperative. Frazier found that many of them had been subjected to brutal treatment as children. Many were beaten repeatedly or sexually abused as children. They became more confused as adolescents and adults, suffering from gender confusion, cross-dressing, and abnormal sexual behavior. They suffered from hostile and murderous emotions, but were also organized enough to plan and execute several murders.
Probably Chicago psychiatrist Helen L. Morrison conducted the most extensive interviews with serial killers. She is the director of Chicago’s Evaluation Center and performed her first interview of a serial killer in 1975 out of pure curiosity. Dr. Morrison interviewed Richard Macek, the Mad Biter, known for the bites he left on the young women he tortured and killed throughout Illinois and Wisconsin. She was surprised to find that instead of an intimidating person, Macek was a short, stocky man, who discussed his activities with her openly.
He had committed rapes and murders that included stabbing, drowning, strangulation, mutilation, biting, and necrophilia. Dr. Morrison studied 45 serial murderers around the world and interviewed their wives and relatives. Most of these killers had murdered between 10 and 30 people each. She found that they chose their victims carefully and that many of the victims of a killer resembled each other. The killings also were similar. In her words, “They are basically cookie-cutter people, so much alike psychologically I could close my eyes and be talking to any one of them.
They are phenomenally alike in the way their psychology is set, the way they function, and how they’re misdiagnosed. ” She believes that the psychological development of serial killers stops at about six months of age. Although she does not understand what stops the development, she believes it is fixed in the first year of life. Dr. Morrison does not believe serial killers ever reach individuation, where the infant realizes that he is separate from both his mother and his surroundings. The serial killer can not distinguish himself from others, and cannot distinguish a human being from an inanimate object.
Dr. Morrison’s goal is to work towards early recognition and apprehension of serial killers. She stresses that serial killers are incurable, and when put into prison, they must never be released. The FBI became interested in interviewing imprisoned serial killers after two psychiatrists, James A. Brussel and David G. Hubbard, showed the crime-solving advantages of understanding the behavior patterns of compulsive criminals. Brussel had amazed the law enforcement world with his profile of Manhattan’s Mad Bomber, George Metesky.
He was so specific that he even accurately predicted what the bomber would be wearing when arrested, a double- breasted suit, neatly buttoned. Hubbard helped put a stop to a wave of skyjacking during 1968-72 by inter-viewing every known skyjacker in captivity. He designed techniques to psychologically take them apart and shut down their fantasies of power and control. Hubbard then assisted the airlines with a training program that helped the airlines by enabling pilots and flight attendants to abort 42 consecutive skyjackings and put a stop to the fad. The skyjacking rate fell from 7 or 8 per month to zero.
This occurred six months before installation of metal detectors in the nation’s airports. Their successes led the FBI to create a Behavioral Sciences Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This later evolved into the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). The FBI’s agents began inter-viewing imprisoned assassins and serial killers in 1978. It is noted that most of the killers were often very happy to talk about themselves and what they had done. During a six year period, 38 of the nation’s most notorious murderers were interviewed including: Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam),
Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein, a murderer cannibal who was the main inspiration for the movies “Psycho” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. ” To date the FBI has studied more that a hundred serial murderers, a multitude of serial rapists, and dozens of se-rial arsonists. They found a connection between arson and murder in a study of 36 murderers. They noticed that 58 per cent set fires as children, 52 per cent set fires as adolescents, and only 8 per cent set fires as adults. The FBI believes that they made a choice to move from arson to murder because it gave them more enjoyment.
An example of this is David Berkowitz, who set 1,412 fires and switched over to killing because it gave him more excitement and power and got him newspaper and TV coverage. A leader in the field of understanding and profiling serial killers has been FBI Agent, retired, John Douglas. He has learned that serial killers all leave signs at their crime scenes and that their behavior reflects their personality. The method chosen to kill, the position of the body, the type of victim, and the entire scene all speak out to the pro-filer, just as symptoms of a disease speak to a doctor.
Douglas learned how to pinpoint the personality and traits of a specific murderer by using and understanding this information. He became incredibly accurate. A superb profile of Alaska’s Robert Hansen led to the end of 17 year long murder spree. The Anchorage police contacted Douglas in 1983, when their state troopers had Robert Hansen as a suspect. The bodies of several women were found on the Kenai Peninsula and around the Anchorage area. Many strippers and prostitutes had also simply disappeared over the years and no evidence had been found. Because of the transient nature of these women, it was hard to prove anything had happened to them.
The problem was that their suspect did not appear to be the type of person who would have committed such crimes. Hansen was a respectable man, married with a family, and a pillar of the community. Hansen also had several bow hunting big game world records and was well known in the sports-man communities. The police described the crimes over the phone to Douglas and he described their suspect specifically. He described a suspect in his 40’s, a well-respected member of the community, a man who stuttered, a former shoplifter and arsonist, and a person of above average intelligence.
This profile alerted the police that Hansen was most likely their man. They immediately put him under 24-hour surveillance and used the profile as behavioral evidence to justify a search of Hansen’s home. This search gave them the evidence they needed to put Hansen away permanently. The evidence found included the Mini 14 rifle used in many of the killings, personal belongings of some of the victims, and an aviation map marked with Xs where some victims were found. Hansen assisted the police with finding the bodies of his missing victims and confessed to the murder of 17 women and the rape of more than 30.
The authorities believe he killed many more. They also believe he flew his victims out into remote areas of Alaska, where he raped them and turned them loose so that he could hunt them down and shoot them from the air. In February 1884, Hansen was sentenced to 499 years plus life, without parole. Profiling has definitely become a valuable tool in helping police departments capture serial killers. John Douglas does not believe that serial killers are born that way but instead are created. His belief is that crime is a moral problem and that it can only be resolved on a moral level.
He further says that he has never seen one of these killers come from a good background, with a supportive and functional family. In his opinion, the vast majority of violent offenders is responsible for their behavior, makes their own choices, and should face the consequences. There still is no real explanation for serial killers. Many young men match the family backgrounds and emotional patterns of some of our most infamous serial killers, but they have not become killers themselves. Statistically, only a few make the transition to murder. It is likely that serial killers have been around as long as man has been here.
It seems that the only way to stop them is for law enforcement to learn to think like them. When they do catch them they should be put away. Death penalty abolitionists propose three main points: that capital punishment is legalized murder; that death sentences are unfairly dealt out to minorities; and that an innocent person might be executed in error. In the case of serial killers, these arguments do not stand up. Joel D. Roberts challenges these points by making the distinction that executing murderers is no more the equal of murder than incarcerating kidnapers is the equivalent of kidnapping.
In the first case, both people die, while in the second case, both lose their freedom. The second point of race can not be claimed a factor because most serial killers are white. The question of executing an innocent person is not a factor because normally the question is not if, but how many they murdered. There is good sense in interviewing serial killers to understand why they do it and to capture and prevent others from doing the same. I believe that once we interview them and study them briefly, justice should be swift.
The death penalty may not necessarily be a deterrent, but it is a means of administering justice. When John Wayne Gacy was executed for the murder of 33 men and boys, his former prosecutor commented that the death penalty would deter Gacy from killing again. I believe that Joel D. Roberts says it best when discussing Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker (On Death Row for 19 murders); “Speaking of questions, I have a few of my own How many lives does a man have to take before we deem him undeserving of life? How much of our money does he have to consume before we resolve he’ll consume no more?
How God-awful does a human being have to be before the American Civil Liberties Union will pronounce him beyond pale? How many death sentences must a murderer receive before the first is carried out? The answers to these questions are far from imminent. They, like the Night Stalker, will linger at length. Meanwhile, the Satanist who gouged out the eyes of one of his victims – was she alive or dead at the time? – watches TV, piles up pentagrams and attends to his correspondence with fans. He’s apparently happy, his health is robust, and we’re told he needs no medication to sleep. “