What makes a serial killer different from everyone else? Or more importantly, what makes a serial killer at all? It can not be attributed to a single event in life or defect in ones brain, but rather, more often it is an unfortunate meshing of nature and nurture. This is not to say that single events can’t spark this aggressive and sadistic behaviour, or that brain design and development don’t play an important role. Rather, it is saying that there is no single gene that make sone a serial killer and no set life event in which all people would turn out to be murderers after experiencing it. I’d like to discuss at length the factors that always seem to be present in these most horrific murderers, starting all the way from conception, to into their adulthood, and really see what makes a serial killer different from the rest of society. For the purpose of detail, nature and nurture will be discussed as two different blogs, to allow for a full amount of research and explanation on both sides.
To fully understand such a large topic, it’s important to first be clear on the term serial killer. A serial killer is “someone who commits a series of murders over a period of 30 days or more, with an inactive period between each murder, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.” (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/serial+killer) Now, based on which definition is read, there can be a number of disagreements from source to source. The definition provided here focuses mainly on the fact that to be a serial killer, the murders need to be spread out through a period of time. The time in which the murders take place is an important factor. Someone could slay just as many or more victims, but if it is done in a very short time, they will be referred to as a mass murderer, rather than a serial killer. Lastly, when defining who and what a serial killer is, it’s important to understand that psychopath and serial killer are not interchangeable terms. A psychopath is “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.” In most cases, a serial killer is a psychopath, but it does not act as a two way street, and being a psychopath doesn’t make someone a serial killer. Though both often share overlapping characteristics, they are not the same.
Before diving into the specifics of nature and nurture, we should discuss some of the basic characteristics most serial killers share. In almost all cases, there is a lack of empathy, guilt and emotion behind these killers. More often than not, social norms do not apply to them, and social interactions are far from normal. “I didn’t know what made people want to be friends. I didn’t know what made people attractive to one another. I didn’t know what underlay social interactions.” (Ted Bundy) Despite the lack of emotion themselves, many serial killers have an incredible talent for manipulation, picking up on others emotions and vulnerabilities. In cases like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, most of their victims willingly went with their killers under the intoxication of charm and false trust. It seems to be, that most serial killers live partially in a world of fantasy that they create for themselves. “I made my fantasy life more powerful than my real one.” (Jeffrey Dahmer) It’s believed that many of the fantasies start at an early age, and are often linked to childhood trauma, and while all kids daydream, the difference is that serial killers begin to live in their fantasies, trading them for the outside world. “Serial killers program themselves in childhood to become murderers through a progressively intensifying loop of fantasy.” (Scott A. Bonn Ph.D.) This will be discussed in more detail under the nurture section.
Finally, many serial killers share an overbearing need for power and control. There could be many reasons for this, one of the most popular theories coming from the years of childhood abuse and trauma many killers faced. As children, they had no control over their environment and the abuse, but as adults, they’ve discovered the act of taking another persons life, the act of killing in itself is the ultimate taste of power and control, of which they were deprived of for so many of their younger years. It’s a constant craving for that power, and the ability save themselves all those years ago. When the thirst for power cannot be satisfied with a single kill, it must be repeated over and over to keep that ultimate form of control. “We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid, control life itself.” (Richard Ramirez) Deciding who lives and dies, and feeling the life drain from beneath them is the only power that matters. It is a power comparable to god’s in the eyes of a killer, almost untouchable. “Murder is not about lust and it’s not about violence. It’s about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At the point, it’s being God.” (Ted Bundy)