Serial murder is an example of the most extreme types of behaviour we see in human beings. It can be defined at a person who kills three or more people in a short space of time. But what really is a serial killer? Is it the way we were brought up that can lead to us becoming a serial killer? Or is there a serial killer gene? No, there is not a killer gene (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007). What causes a person to commit such crimes and is it solely caused by psychological errors in one’s mind?
Brain injury is one example that could explain how somebody becomes a serial killer. In the 1970‘s, John Wayne Gacy killed 33 young men across Chicago. There are of course some ‘logical’ explanations for these prolific murders which spaced over 3 years. Firstly, anger towards his father that led him to capture and murder young boys. He knew their weaknesses as young men and used them to his advantage. It was his inability to defend himself from his father’s attacks that led to this rampage of murders. It could have also been as a result of Gacy’s shame of being homosexual. He did not indulge in his sexual preferences and took the shame out on the young boys he took as his prey. Gacy soon became addicted to the manly power he possessed when taking his victims’ lives. Some theorists however argue that an injury that occurred in Gacy’s childhood contributed to his behaviour. When he was 11, he was struck in the head with a swing which caused a blood clot in his brain which was left undetected until he was 16. It is possible that this brain injury could have contributed to his change in behaviour and his hunger for power. A counter argument for this is Ted Bundy. It was thought that by the end of his life had killed over 100 women in a tri-state murder spree. Bundy had parental issues as he grew up believing his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister, he also never knew his father which some theorists argue to be a factor which contributed to Bundy’s sadistic tendencies. After his first love ended their relationship because she believed he didn’t have a real future because he was ‘shy’; he suffered from depression and dropped out of school as a result. This emotional and psychological trauma may have led to a change in personality as around this time he discovered the truth about his family. Bundy however suffered no psychical brain injury that could explain his rampage.
Nature vs Nurture is the on-going battle to explaining what makes somebody a serial killer. Serial murderers, like all human beings, are the product of their heredity, their upbringing, and the choices they make throughout development (Critical Incident Response Group Federal Bureau of Investigation). Meaning that somebodies personal development is a result of their genes and upbringing. But do these elements combine to create a psychological issue which is the main cause of producing a serial killer? It is hard to find a concrete answer to the million dollar question within this topic; what causes someone to become a serial killer? Is it to do with a terrible upbringing with abusive parents who rejected them? Or is it because they were born ‘crazy’? It is thought that all serial killers are psychopaths which would suggest that their psychological state is the main cause for their murderous actions. However, even though all serial killers are psychopaths, not all psychopaths are serial killers.
Psychopaths all share common traits such as violent behaviour, genetics, personal experience and environments. Research into psychopaths and serial killers show that there is no one cause for violent behaviour which makes it very difficult to come to a conclusion with regards to the psychology of the serial killer. Serial killers are most often males who are driven by a sexual or aggressive drive to exert power and control by killing another living, breathing thing (Osterburg and Ward, 2004). Serial killers are...
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