The Makings Of A Serial Killer – Nurture

In a quick recap, last week I discussed the nature side behind why certain individuals become serial killers. This week, we will be focusing on the nurture side. As mentioned before, there is not ‘one’ single factor, genetic component or isolated incident that causes someone to become a serial killer, but rather they are created from a wider mix of multiple factors.

One of the most common misfortunes suffered by serial killers if often early childhood abuse or trauma. “over 40 percent of the serial murderers reported being physically beaten and abused in their childhoods. More than 70 percent said they had witnessed or been part of sexually stressful events when young…” (Ressler and Shachtman, 1992) Now, it’s important to realize that abuse comes in many different forms. Psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and other various forms of maltreatment. Though in many of these cases the abuse comes directly from a family member, it can also come from outside parties as well, such as children at school. In the case of Carroll Edward Cole, a notorious serial killer largely from the 70’s-80’s, we see abuse from multiple sources, his mother, and his fellow classmates. Teased for his girlish name, Carroll was an angry child, and his mother had no issues joining in, as she would dress Carroll as a little girl, and force him to serve tea to the neighborhood​ ladies. In this specific case, the abuse takes a heavy psychological form, and unfortunately, this story is all too common among serial killers. “I was hated all my life. I hated everybody. When I first grew up and can remember, I was dressed as a girl by mother. And I stayed that way for two or three years. And after that was treated like what I call the dog of the family. I was beaten. I was made to do things that no human bein’ would want to do.” (Henry Lee Lucas)

Another theory comes into play when taking a detailed look at serial killers who feel the need to consume their victims The theory goes, that many of these twisted individuals find comfort in eating their victims on a deep emotional level, simply in the fact that now their victims can never leave them. It stems from serious separation and abandonment fears, often created at a young age. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, many of his problems began during the time of a particularly nasty divorce, sparking the feelings of desertion and loss of control. “The only motive was to completely control a person and to keep them with me as long as possible.” (Jeffrey Dahmer) It’s important to note though, that abandonment was not the only issue Jeffrey suffered from. He was an alcoholic, struggled with personality disorders, and more. Though this is not always the case with cannibals, it does provide a starting point for the psychological reasoning behind the dark behavior​. That being said, many serial killers struggle with abandonment and control issues created early in life, and murder becomes a way to temporarily silence those fears.

The stories of abuse are all too common among these serial killers, some of the more notorious being Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish, Charles Manson, Donald Gaskins, and the list goes on and on. So is there really a connection between childhood abuse and serial killers? In a certain sense, yes. While it is true that not all victims of abuse will grow up to be murderers​, “there is a heightened risk associated with childhood trauma and anti-social behaviors​ for personality disorders and criminal activity in later adult life.” (Fiona Guy) In a 2005 study, 50 serial killers were interviewed and asked about abuse in their early years, and shockingly, only 2% reported having suffered no prior abuse. (Mitchell, H., and Aamodt, M.G. 2005) Compared to the general public, the rates of childhood abuse among serial killers are nearly quadrupled in every category (Psychological, sexual, physical), with the exception of neglect where it was found to be almost even with the general population. (Mitchell, H., and Aamodt, M.G. 2005) So can we conclude that abuse within the early years play an important role into development? Definitely, but it would be an unfair statement to conclude that anyone who is abused at a young age will grow up to be a serial killer, a cannibal or a murderer in general. Like mentioned previously, it is a combination of events, both genetic and environmental that mold an individual into creating such a dark future.


4 thoughts on “The Makings Of A Serial Killer – Nurture

  1. Another very intriguing read! In a literature during the late medieval times, an English romance named Richard Coer de Lyon who held the title character twice eats Saracen flesh. (Saracen is a member of nomadic Arabic tribes). To consume Saracen flesh, was a notion to cure illness, but also it was hard to find pork. This violent act of cannibalism was to mock and anger their opponents. Richard also symbolizes one who shows awareness of food politics, a terminology and phenomenally inherit in medieval humour psychology. This is an aspect that can help bring awareness and help understand the text’s reliance on cannibalism.

    I bring this up because of the curiosity your topic brought up… We know that plenty of violence and what we define as injustice acts, occurred in the violent medieval times. My mind wanders on the thought of how much more prominent and frequent the practice of cannibalism was to people back then- were they seen as people who had psychological problems due to what was happening in society? Or was this an act to show power and intimidation?

    Mayrhofer, S. (2013). “What, is Sarezyns flesch thus good?”: Cannibalism and the humors in Richard Coer de Lyon. EHumanista, 75+. Retrieved from


  2. Very interesting read! This blog reminded me of psychopaths, and how they are able to commit crimes.
    Psychopaths are incapable of creating feelings and can have very little empathy towards other people, but they give off delightful and pleasant characteristics. They very devious, as they can get people to trust them. To express feelings, they actually just mimicking other people emotions, and they emotions come off as normal behaviours. Psychopaths are very intelligent. When planning a crime, they are able to plan out every aspect. They are able to stay relaxed when committing the crime, and leave very little clues for investigators.


  3. this is another very interesting read. the aspect of serial killers being involved in cannibalism is interesting. i found an article about a Brazilian tribe that actually ate their own people after they had died. one person said that they make a distinction that after death the spirit leaves the body thusly it is no longer a person anymore and that it is “game” just like any other meat that they can hunt. Another perspective is that it is a way to honour them and consume a tiny part of them so you will gain their abilities (strength, wisdom, hunting ability). their is many tribes that actually still do practice cannibalism but im sure that their mind set is different from a serial killers.


  4. Nature is such a huge factor in the makings of serial killers. In my research I found that most serial killers register very high on the antisocial personality scale, and one of the main causal factors in ASPD is childhood trauma or adverse childhood experiences. Often, children who are abused end up with either an internalized or externalized disorder. Those who internalize their trauma and emotions may end up depressed or anxious and tend to take their feelings out on themselves (for example by telling themselves they are worthless). On the other hand, some children end up showing externalized behaviors to deal with their emotions. This type of acting out could become severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or a conduct disorder. Conduct disorders are a precoursor to Antisocial personality disorder. Therefore, it is important to recognize these traits early in order to implement a treatment plan and help these children reach a stable place in their lives that they can then maintain.


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