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What makes a serial killer? Looking back at some of the most prolific serial killers from the last 100 years and how advances in policing have made it harder for a serial killer to remain at large.
Table of Contents:
- Chapter One- Introduction……………………………………………………………………….
- Chapter Two- Justification for the study………………………………………………………
- Chapter Three- Literature Review…………………..……………………..……………………
- Case Study of Fred and Rose West……………………………………………………
- Advances in policing techniques………………………………………………………
- Chapter Four- Methodology……………………..……………………………………………….
- Chapter Five- Results and Discussion…………………………………………………………
- Chapter Six- Recommendations and Conclusion……………………………………………
- Chapter Seven- Bibliography…………………………………………………………………….
The purpose of this research study was to explore the existing theories which have been put forward as to what makes a serial killer. There have been a number of studies into the making of a serial which include biological, psychological and sociological approaches. What became apparent was the difficulty in defining a serial killer. The term serial killer means different things to different people, therefore this limited this research study. A theme which has been apparent throughout is the conclusion that no single theory or approach can be used to answer the question ‘what makes a serial killer?’. This is because of the often overlapping factors which are derived. Each serial killing case is different to the other, and no serial killers commit their crimes the same.
- Chapter One Introduction-
The term ‘serial killer’ has been defined as “a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behaviour pattern” (Oxford Dictionary 2016). The killings are said to be carried out over a period of 30 days or longer. Between 1888 and 1891, ‘Jack the Ripper’, infamously murdered 8 prostitutes, and this is where it is said that the public’s obsession with serial killers began. As the true identity of Jack the Ripper has never been discovered, it has always remained a reoccurring topic when discussing serial killers. The phenomenon surrounding serial killers has been described as distinctly modern by Haggerty (2009), even though the first serial killer was said to be active as far back as 1861. This study will investigate what it takes for a person to become a serial killer. It will evaluate and explore some of the different approaches surrounding serial killers which are; biological, psychological and sociological. This study will also include certain case studies of some of the most prolific serial killers, which may disprove or support these approaches. It will be made apparent that often, biological and psychological factors overlap, meaning it is harder to distinguish between those two approaches. The development of policing techniques will also be explored, to identify the ways in which they have changed in order to make it more difficult for a serial killer to remain at large. When looking at case studies of serial killers, there is often a focus on their childhood experiences in particular, where they have usually suffered much abuse and neglect. Finally, the argument will be raised that there are a number of factors which contribute to the making of a serial killer, hence there is no sole explanation which can be applied every single serial killing case.
2.0 Chapter Two Justification for the Study:
Serial killers lives are often been played out in many fictional and non-fictional films, TV programmes, books and true crime novels. This is why it is difficult to understand whether or not the public has a clear perception of what a serial killer actually is, as opposed to seeing it through a Hollywood production. The interest in serial killers may stem from the fact that in comparison to other crimes, it has a relatively low crime rate. Therefore, this generates a curiosity among the public. When there has been a serial murder, there is often high media attention. It has been reported that some of these serial killers thrive off the almost ‘celebrity’ like status that comes with their crimes (Haggerty, 2009). Serial killing is described predominately as a media event by Gibson (2006). Another reason why the public are said to be fascinated by serial killers is the fact of their perceived resemblance to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, (Robert, 2000). This is referring to serial killers as just being ordinary people, a neighbour in fact, or someone sat opposite on a train. However, this statement has been argued against and described as an over exaggeration. Holmes and Holmes (2009) claim that a person has a higher chance of winning the lottery than ever coming into contact with a serial killer.
In comparison to the UK, America has had far more convicted serial killers. However, this might simply be because, America is a far bigger country, with a far greater population. Although America has had more convicted serial killers than the UK, on average, in America, serial homicide is quite rare. It only accounts for a small proportion of murders which occur in America. It is said that, according to the FBI, it is estimated that there are between 25 and 50 serial killers who are operating in America, at any one given time (Bonn, 2014). Serial killing is described as the rarest form of homicide (Haggerty and Ellerbrok, 2016).
3.0 Chapter Three- Literature Review:
A number of online databases were used to obtain as much literature as possible surrounding the topic. Databases were used such as; Liverpool John Moores University Online Library Catalogue, Google Scholar and Sage Journals. The Liverpool John Moores University Online Library Catalogue provided a limited choice of literature, but an eBook that was of particular use by Barrow called, ‘Police and Profiling in the United States Applying Theory to Criminal Investigations’, which, provided a good understanding of the different types of theories which have already been published surrounding the making of a serial killer. Also, the book by Wilson and Seaman titled, ‘The Serial Killers. A Study in the Psychology of Violence’ (2007) was of particular use, as it looks at individual cases of serial killers, along with how policing techniques such as profiling have played a major part in the ability to apprehending a serial killer. This next part will explore the different theories which have been presented by academics as to explaining what makes a serial killer.
A biological approach that can be applied to the explanation of the making of a serial killer is the XYY syndrome. This is where a male has an extra Y chromosome. There is a link which has been made between having this syndrome and serial killing. Kraus (1995) suggested that the XYY syndrome leaves a vulnerability to develop such disorders and lead to extreme violence and murder in a few susceptible individuals. However, recent studies have argued against this. The argument that males with the extra Y chromosome are overly aggressive and emotionless is not true. Although males with XYY syndrome do tend to have an increased risk of learning difficulties and behavioural problems, it is argued that they are not overly aggressive, nor is there an increased risk of any serious mental illness (Lenroot, 2012). Also, as this is only present in males, the theory does not account for female serial killers.
Norris (1998), said that some serial killers suffered from a neurological disorder which is a disorder of the nervous system. He believed that this often stemmed from a head trauma as a child. Damages are caused to the brain by a head trauma which leads to aggressive behaviour. However, Norris (1998) also acknowledged that psychological and sociological factors contribute to the making on a serial killer too, even though his main focus was on brain abnormalities.
Pallone and Hennessy (1998) carried out studies on brain abnormalities. They found that in “samples of homicide offenders and other violent criminals, along with persons who had been the victims of child abuse, larger percentages had indications of brain damage than have been found among the general population”. Following on from this, Davidson (2000), carried out a comparative study on a number of people’s brains scans. The scans of those who were seen to be normal and the scans of those who were prone to violence were compared. The findings from this study showed that the brain scans of the people who were prone to violence, who had committed a murder and had an aggressive or antisocial disorder, showed distinct brain activity when compared with the scans of the people who were seen as normal.
Psychological theories are based on the ideas of Freud. These factors are said to be developed in the early years of a serial killer’s life or because of an incomplete cognitive development. The serial killer themselves are not said to be directly at fault or responsible for their behaviour, but their behaviour is blamed on their personality traits such as aggression. Castle and Hensley (2000), reported that some serial killers had experienced episodes of psychosis, neurosis or paranoia. During episodes of psychosis, a serial killer will lose their sense of reality, and therefore, their behaviour becomes more aggressive and violent. Neuroses, however, is less severe and includes many of the behaviours related to personality disorders. Finally, paranoia is where a person experiences delusions such as they are being plotted against.
Another mental health issue which has been associated with serial killers is, dissociative identity disorder (DID), which was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. This is a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in an individual. DID has no direct cause, however, it is perceived to be a result of extreme physical and or sexual abuse, (Lewis et al, 1997). Psychologists believe DID develops as a response to a traumatic experience which occurred in childhood. Therefore, the different personalities are developed in order to try and cope with the pain they are experiencing from the traumatic experience.
A sociological approach to explaining serial killing is Katz (1988), who describes the act of killing as a way of overcoming humiliation they may have experienced, along with a loss of power. The serial killer will use the act of killing as justification for a previous wrong. This theory can only be applied to a serial killer if, the killer themselves recognises that the humiliation is their motive. However, as everybody at some point in their life will experience some form of humiliation growing up, for psychological reasons a serial killer has suppressed the wrong and uses it as a reason to kill. This theory can be applied to the case study of Ted Bundy. Vronsky (2004) described Ted Bundy as the ultimate organised serial killer. His frustration was rooted in the humiliation he met in his life such as socially he felt he was not accepted, despite his good looks and charm. Growing up Bundy felt alienated in high school from his old friends as they had moved on with their lives but he had not. He was failing in his law degree and couldn’t hold down a marriage so out of his frustration he had to ask himself why he was being denied. He felt humiliated by society therefore, the murders he committed was him trying to gain some of the power he felt he had lost.
Myres et al (2006) reported that the motive behind many serial killers is the need for power and control. However this theory is based only on the serial killers who murders are of a sexual nature, therefore this approach to explaining a serial killer’s motive doesn’t account for those serial killers who do not have a sexual involvement in the killing.
Another sociological approach is the social learning theory. Hale (1993), makes the suggestion that serial killing can be a learnt behaviour. The act of killing is seen as justified, by the killer thinking they are restoring a previous wrong. He explains that a serial killer recognises specific signs from the situation where the humiliation occurred with the humiliation. Sometimes, the victim can resemble the person who caused them their humiliation. The humiliation is referred to as a ‘non-reward’ situation, which means that a reward didn’t occur in a situation where a reward previously had occurred. A non-reward, which was present in a situation where there was a reward previously, produces an unconditioned frustration response. The signs which were present during the humiliation become conditioned to produce an anticipatory frustration response. This response also produces a distinctive internal stimulus which then motivates the individual to avoid potentially humiliating situations in the future. Following on from this, Hale (1993) believes that this method of looking at serial killers is often overlooked by the theories that a serial killer is made because of biological motives. This stems from Dollard and Miller’s (1939, 1950) theory of learning.
Vronsky (2004), highlights the fact that some experts say the reason a person becomes a serial killer is because they become addicted to killing. There is no motive, they simply have enjoyed murdering a victim and then feel as if they need to fulfil this need again. They may commit their first murder by accident, but later this turns into an ‘intense cycle’. Also, it is believed that once this addiction is triggered, it is rarely broken. These killing can be described as the only thing that a serial killer gets comfort or solace from. Therefore, this would go against other theories such as a serial killer may have a childhood trauma which therefore results in them becoming a killer. As it is possible to be addicted to a lot of things in life such as drugs, alcohol and sex, it could also be possible that it is the same for a person to become addicted to killing.
Pornography has been seen by the Behavioural Science Unit as a factor that can trigger a serial killer’s violent sexual fantasy, but it is not seen as a cause of the murder which is committed. The link between violent pornography and serial killing was due to an in-depth psychological study which was carried out by the FBI of thirty-six murderers, where twenty-five of them were serial killers. It was found in this study that 43% of them had been sexually abused or assaulted during their childhood, 32% was during adolescence and 37% over the age of 18. Also, most of the people who were involved in this study admitted to having sexual problems in their adult life. Nearly 70% said that they relied heavily on pornography and rated it as the most effective stimulus. Therefore, it displays how a serial killer’s fantasy is to dominate and control and to inflict pain and suffering onto their victims and then this can lead to horrific sex murders (Vronsky, 2004). Holmes and Holmes (2009) argue that this is not the case, as serial killers are not inspired by pornography. A lot of media attention was placed on Ted Bundy. When interviewed he claimed that pornography added to his fantasies and thoughts which already existed in his mind as a serial killer. However, this information was then widely reported as Bundy using pornography as playing an essential role in the formation of a serial killer. Therefore, this information was interpreted falsely.
In 1963, J.M MacDonald first introduced this triad in a paper titled “The Threat to Kill”. As a child, there are said to be three specific characteristics which are; an obsession with fire setting, extreme animal cruelty and bedwetting past the age of five. These are said to be linked to homicidal behaviour. It is said that persistent enuresis, also known as bed wetting, past the age of five can be extremely humiliating for a child. This can be even more humiliating in front of a parent or adult figure. This could then lead to the next two characteristics, animal cruelty and fire setting, as a way of venting their anger. It has been said that 60% of serial killers experienced enuresis after adolescence. It is said that this could be the outcome of neglect from parents and a neglected childhood, which causes emotional trauma which is also linked to characteristics which make a serial killer (Wilson and Seaman, 2007). The link between animal cruelty and serial killers is a topic which has been researched highly. It is thought that the act of killing an animal is a sign that this obsession may develop into the killing of human beings. It is thought that the act of killing an animal is reclaiming what they lost through the humiliation from, for example, their peers. A child may enjoy the experience of dominating something which is weaker and more vulnerable than them. It has been suggested that “future serial killers used animals to vent frustrations because the person causing their humiliation was too powerful for them to handle. These future serial killers felt that they regained some power or control over their lives by torturing and killing animals.” (WordPress.com, 2009). Animals are used because they show fear, they can scream and they bleed, which are traits they share with humans. This trait in a serial killers’ childhood has been displayed in both America and Britain. For example, Ed Kemper, a serial killer from California cut the family cat into pieces with a Scout’s knife and British serial killer Ian Brady used to throw cats from apartment windows (Wilson and Seaman, 2007). Finally the characteristic of fire setting. This is seen as the least severe step relating to a child releasing their aggression. A child may start fires as a way of regaining something that they lost during a childhood of extensive periods of humiliation. Wilson and Seaman (2007) highlight that this type of arson is committed by children as young as five or six years old and its long-term significance depends on the type of arson event. A child who is a ‘disorganised’ arsonist is likely to cause small fires which doesn’t result in a much damage. A child who is an ‘organised’ arsonist, causes fires typically in a building which is occupied by people. Therefore their intent is to injure people along with causing the most damage possible.
Criminologist Hickey (1997) found that although a head injury or brain abnormality could be a factor which increases the possibility of a person becoming a serial killer, the eventual offender responds to traumatisation in the influential years in the negative way of having low self-esteem and increasingly violent fantasies. Traumatic experiences and feelings from the past may be dissociated from conscious feelings. The adult offender may aid an altered state of consciousness by facilitators such as alcohol, pornography, or drugs. Finally, a murder is committed as a way of them regaining control and may initially feel reinforced, however, the feeling of low self-esteem will set in again.
3.4 A Case Study of Fred and Rose West
Wilson and Seaman (2007) discuss the serial killers Fred and Rose West in their book. They give an insight into their lives which, could have had an influence on their horrific murders. Fred West, along with his wife Rose West, murdered at least 12 victims over a 20 year period between 1967 and 1987.Throughout Fred West’s life, he had seen his father sexually abusing his sisters. It was also said that, when Fred reached the age of twelve, his mother would take him to bed. Since it is known that West used to sexually abuse and rape his own children, it brings up the question, had he had learnt that behaviour from his parents and didn’t know and how to act differently, rather than a choice. West may have simply believed that this is what all families did and it was the norm. Along with his troubled upbringing, when Fred was seventeen he sustained a serious head injury when he crashed his motorbike into a wall. After he recovered, his family said they noticed he had explosive outbursts of temper along with often being moody and silent. At the age of nineteen, he again suffered a head injury, resulting in him being unconscious, after a girl pushed him down a platform from a fire escape after he had tried to put his hand up her skirt.
Fred West had also worked as a butcher which could have also played a part in him becoming a serial killer as for example he cut off the fingers and toes of his victims. His obsession with dismembering his victims could have originated from this. Fred West was also a petty criminal, stealing things such as scrap metal. However, he wasn’t exactly a successful thief and was often caught. There have been links made to those who commit serial killings and those who have had a life of committing petty crimes.
However, Rose hadn’t suffered a head injury in her life, therefore it demonstrates you do not have to have had a severe head injury to play a part in such crimes. However, growing up her father mistreated her, and her mother with ruthless harshness and he was also said to have been a paedophile. When Rose first met Fred at the age of fifteen, she was already fully sexually experienced. It was claimed that she and her father had a sexual relationship in her early years. This again supports the theory of a troubled upbringing, especially those who are sexually abused by their parents, can result in the person becoming a serial killer. There have also been some reports that whilst Rose’s mother was pregnant with her, Rose may have suffered a prenatal injury as a result of her mother receiving electro compulsive therapy (ECT) for her severe depression. This may have had a negative impact on Rose in later life. (Crime and Investigation, 2015).
This is an interesting case study to use in particular, as some of the major life changes and experiences that happened in Fred’s childhood and teenage years, in particular, could be an explanation for his terrible crimes. This case study highlights a combination of theories which could explain his killings. His head traumas support the biological theory, the psychological theory is supported by his troubled childhood of being sexually abused and seeing sexual abuse, and the sociological theory could be likened to his time working as a butcher for where his obsession multination arose.
3.5 Advances in Policing techniques-
Vronsky (2004) discusses the FBI’s profiling system. This was where between the years of 1979 and 1983, interviews were conducted with 29 serial killers. During these in-depth interviews, all parts of their lives were scrutinised, from their earliest childhood memory to their motives. Along with this, their families and friends were also interviewed. A study was then carried out on all of their victims such as what they did for a living. This included the autopsies, how they were killed and how their bodies were found. In order for the profiling system to become a successful policing tool and to be applied usefully, there needed to be an organisation where the information was collected, stored and available for analysis. Holmes and Holmes (1996) said that there are three main goals of offender profiling; social and psychological assessment, a psychological evaluation of belongings and interviewing strategies. However, some of the limitations of offending profiling are that as cases of serial killing are rare, it is difficult to analyse effectively as sample sizes are small. Also, as information is taken from interviews, this information is often unreliable. Also, there is said to be insufficient empirical investigation and bias in police analysis. (Holmes and Holmes 1996). A case study to demonstrate how offender profiling was successful is the profiling of the ‘Mad Bomber of New York’ in 1956 (Vronsky, 2004, p 323).
Another development in policing techniques to catch a serial killer is by creating a ‘geographic profile’. Rossmo (2000) discusses the profile which includes the location where the victim’s body was found, where they were attacked, and where the victim was encountered. The patterns and methods are then analysed from a geography of crime perspective. Therefore, from this, there is a possibility to outline where the offender is residing. This has been a method which has been used for the capture of the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ Steven Wright, who murdered six prostitutes in the Ipswich area in 2006.
- Chapter Four Methodology
The ultimate aim of this research study is, to try and understand what makes a person become a serial killer by, analysing and criticising existing literature and theories. This will include the debate of nature vs nurture, meaning is a serial killer born or made. What has been maintained throughout this study is the evidence that no serial killer is the same. This is what makes it more difficult to try and begin to understand the makings of a serial killer. As serial killing is said to be a fairly recent phenomenon, theories surrounding serial killing are fairly recent so, there’s a certainty that there will be further research to aid theories in the future. Also, this study will explore the ways in which policing techniques have changed throughout the years, making it not only easier for the police to arrest and convict a serial killer, but harder for a serial killer to remain at large.
This study will not include any primary research as it wouldn’t have been possible for the author to interview a serial killer, who is either serving their sentences in a prison, or in a secure hospital. It also became very clear that those who have had the opportunity to interview a serial killer, have felt that they have fabricated the truth. A serial killer is known to often be lying and deceiving, along with being very manipulative. Therefore getting any credible information, for even a trained police officer or a psychiatrist, is difficult. Furthermore, there would be many ethical problems with this, along with it being rather dangerous to interview or have contact with a convicted serial killer. Only a person highly trained in dealing with such a situation would be able to carry this out and be able to gather some understanding. However, it could be argued that a questionnaire could have been prepared and given out to members of the public in order to hear their opinion on serial killers. However, this would not have aided in the quest to find out what makes a serial killer.
The methodology used in this study will be qualitative. At times, quantitative methods may be referred to in relation to studies and statistics. Using qualitative data from other resources poses methodological problems. It is said to be especially difficult when studying ‘serial murderers’. Being allowed contact with any person who is currently being detained in prison or a psychiatric hospital is restricted. This may be simply as the person would not wish to cooperate or it is restricted by the institute they are residing in (Hinch 1998). Along with the problems that arise from interviewing, there are problems with the reliability. As mentioned previously, serial killers can be exceptional liars and find no issue with fabricating the truth, therefore, highlight that any information given by a serial killer could be unreliable. However, it is not fair to say all serial killers are incapable of telling the truth.
This study will recognise there is no single answer or explanation as to what makes a person become a serial killer. There are so multiple views and opinions on what the cause is, and this study will determine a range of different theories. A literature review will provide a framework for this study. The review has allowed for a critical evaluation of other research, and existing knowledge surrounding the issue of the making of a serial killer. This will be carried out by identifying and highlighting any strengths or weaknesses in previous research. It assesses the methods of these studies, summarises the key findings, identifies the different reasons for different findings and gives limitations of current knowledge.
The study was going to focus solely on serial killers who were born in Britain and who had committed their crimes in Britain, but upon gathering literature to review, there wasn’t enough which only focused on Britain and ignored other parts of the world. Therefore, it will focus on both countries by looking at some of Britain’s and America’s most prolific serial killers. Certain case studies will be included in this study in order to demonstrate and support some of the theories which will be explored. However, although these are rich in descriptive data, the sources which they have been gathered by may be misinformed and fabricated. This, therefore, leads to questionable reliability. Yin, (1984) describes case studies as having a lack of rigour. Also, as case studies are based on a single person, it is not possible to then use it as a generalisation.
- Chapter Five- Results and Discussion:
What has been apparent throughout this study is the difficulty with defining a serial killer. It has been said that often, there is much confusion with trying to find a definition of a serial killer, as there are conflicting opinions on the amount of murders that need to have been carried out and the time frame that they were carried out in. Egger (1984) suggested that there are six indications of a serial killer. They are said to be that there must be at least two victims. The victim and killer must not be known to each other or connected in any way. The murders are committed at different times and do not have a direct connection to any previous or future murders. The murders must occur in different locations to each other. Their murders are said to not be carried because of an ultimate goal of material gain. The final indicator is said to be that all of the victims must hold similar characteristics to each other. However, Grover and Soothill (1999) claim that this definition is too restrictive. To support this, they give the argument that serial killers such as Fred and Rose West murdered people who were known to them, their own children, and they are still considered to serial killers.
This study has shown that serial killers are influenced by an array of factors that lead them to kill. This next chapter will critically discuss the theories which have been put forward in relation to the research question, showing that often the factors overlap. Haggerty (2009) highlighted that almost every major social, biological or psychological factor which has been put forward as playing a role in causing crime, has been innovative as potentially contributing to the behaviour of serial killers. He goes on to say that focusing on the biography and ‘etiology’ of a serial killer is not sufficient enough to fully understand serial killers. He claims that serial killing is a modern crime and therefore the social, cultural and historical context have been widely ignored.
Biological approaches to serial killing are described as being in their infancy. Lee (2014), explains that many medical experts have put forward the argument that an individual who has an extra Y chromosome can result in them being an unremorseful and emotionless personality. As serial killers often show signs of having no remorse for their killings and being emotionless, this supports this theory.
Both psychosis, neurosis and paranoia provide arguments supporting the psychological approach of the making of a serial killer. The argument which is given surrounding environmental factors and traumatic events, which are extremely common in the childhood of serial murderers, is the strongest. In particular, psychosis shows a clear link to the typology of the visionary killer, so future research looks promising in terms of developing this link. Neurosis can be best understood in relation to serial killing in terms of the killer wanting to face a phobia and therefore take control. However, studies put forward by Warren et al (1996) and Henn et al (1976) show that only a very small minority of serial killers are suffering from a mental illness. In particular, the study by Warren et al (1996), only 1 out of the 20 serial killers who were used in the study was suffering from psychotic behaviour. Fox and Levin (1998), reported that most people who commit crimes are sane as they are able to distinguish between right and wrong. In terms of serial killers, it is argued they are capable of controlling their urge to kill, however, choose not to.
The FBI (2017) report that research has shown that in those offenders who are psychopathic, scores on the Psychopathy Check List-Revised vary. Scores range from a high degree of psychopathy to some measure of psychopathy. However, not all violent offenders are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are violent offenders. If violent offenders are psychopathic, they are able to assault, rape, and murder without concern for legal, moral, or social consequences.
The MacDonald Triad puts forward a substantive theory in terms of the link between serial killers and childhood maladaptive behaviours. Through this piece of research, it has become clear that it is a common assumption of law enforcement agencies that those who partake in animal cruelty as children ultimately end up exhibiting such behaviours onto humans. Following on from this, the link between enuresis and serial killing is much more challenging to explain. Enuresis is a nonviolent act that happens on an unconscious and involuntary basis. Therefore, it becomes hard to begin to link it to violence and especially, serial killing. The relationship between fire-setting in childhood and violent behaviour in adulthood is well recognised in terms of literature. The Triad shows clear links to social learning theory as early behaviours learnt are imitated in later life. Ultimately, those who possess the characteristics of the MacDonald triad do not always go on to kill. However, Holmes and Holmes (2009) argue that, not all serial killers have abused animals and have set fires as children. Also, there are people who, as children, were abusive to animals and showed interest in fires, who have not gone on to become a serial killer. What the Macdonald Triad does show is that the victim often becomes the victimiser, causing pain because of pain, due to often a childhood of neglect, trauma and abuse. However, Holmes and Holmes (2009) argue that not all serial killers come from abusive backgrounds. Whilst they say it is true for many serial killers, however, there are cases where it doesn’t stand true. For example, although Ted Bundy was a child of illegitimacy, there are many other people born into this family background who do not resort to serial killing. Also, Bundy was not subjected to any abuse by his mother growing up, yet still went on to commit multiple murders.
Social learning theory provides a comprehensive understanding in terms of ‘learnt behaviour’. In terms of the making of a serial killer, Bandura’s theory supports the idea that serial killers are made through the idea that children recognise behaviours and later mimic them. In this sense, it is understandable as to why those who have witnessed violent acts and victimisation would go on to commit the same behaviour. Fundamentally, social learning theories suggest that the experiences and their perceptions and beliefs will form the basis of their knowledge, habits, desires and actions. Nevertheless, although it explains complex behaviour, it does not account for a range of other behaviours, such as their feelings and thoughts. The theory fails to explain the rational role involved in serial killing, such as the awareness of the difference between what is right and wrong.
Hickey’s trauma control model is the most influential explanation as to why someone may commit the act of serial killing. It offers a better understanding of the predisposing factors which could potentially lead to their violent crimes. These factors could be such as an unstable upbringing, being exposed to sexual or physical abuse or the death of a parent. These factors can occur during their early years and from this, a relentless behaviour pattern begins. Therefore, it supports the sociological approach to the making of a serial killer. It recognises that there are many paths toward serial killing yet the focus on trauma provides a well-grounded theory. In addition, the model puts forward that traumatic events alone do not constitute serial killing but indeed there are other influences too. It argues that trauma is often aggravated by social and environmental factors. However, there is no direct link between the predisposing factor of head trauma and violent behaviour, in particular, serial killing. Though this correlation should not be ignored. The idea of ‘dissociation’, whereby the act of killing may be committed in a changed state of consciousness, is supported by the mental disorder psychosis whereby someone becomes detached from reality.
6.0 Chapter Six- Recommendations and Conclusion:
What this study has highlighted throughout, is that no two serial killing cases are the same. Different killers have had a dissimilar life and their motives behind their killings are different. This is why it is so difficult to try and understand, why a serial killer will go out and do what they do, with sometimes even no remorse. Often, it could be due to a combination of factors which has resulted in them committing their crimes. This study has shown that, in particular, both biological and psychological approaches often overlap. There is no definite answer to what specifically makes a serial killer, however, this study shows that it is more likely a person becomes a serial killer through events which happen to them throughout their life, in their early childhood especially, as opposed to being born a serial killer. There is substantial evidence which is put forward in a number of serial killing cases to support sociological approaches.
Finally, this study highlights the need for more recent studies to be carried out, as much of the research supporting the theories behind serial killers is outdated. Also, much of the literature focuses solely on the serial killer themselves, whereas, there is a need for a focus on the victims of a serial killer. There is little information available as to what makes a person vulnerable to become a victim of a serial killer. It is said that the analysis of serial killers sometimes doesn’t include other factors which could influence them such as the diverse influence of the mass media as well as their tendency to target specific victims from particular walks of life. (Haggerty, Ellerbrook, 2016). These particular victims are said to be either; babies and infants, elderly, prostitutes, gay men or young people who have left home (Wilson, 2011). Following on from this, it has widely been reported that in America, millions of dollars are spent on trying to apprehend a serial killer, but nothing is done to prevent serial killers. As it has been mentioned that animal cruelty and childhood abuse are identifying factors of a serial killer, if the correct authorities were made aware of these factors at an early stage, an intervention of could take place and many lives would be saved.
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