Over the past three blogs, we have taken a detailed look at what truly makes a serial killer the way they are. So what can we gather from this? First, and probably most important, one needs to understand that there is not one exclusive gene or life event that turns someone into a serial killer. Almost all studies would suggest that it is a combination between nature and nurture, a rather unfortunate pairing between genes, personality disorders and traumatic life events. That being said, it must be noted that there is no ‘serial killer personality disorder,’ and although many display antisocial tendencies and disorders, this does not mean that everyone with antisocial personality disorder will be a murderer, in fact, far from it.
One aspect that wasn’t previously discussed in my blogs was what role gender plays in all of this, falling under the nature category, and I’d like to take a quick minute to analyze this. Roughly 90% of serial killers are males, that’s not to say that women haven’t done gruesome things as well, but the majority is made up of men. From 1900-2010, there have been 4200 male serial killers, and only 541 females. (Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database) So it seems to be that being male puts one at a higher risk for some of these tendencies. So why the difference? Again, there is no concrete answer, but some theories do exist. For one, males are typically more aggressive than women, also including sexual aggression. Men also tend to murder strangers more than women in regards to victims of serial killings. It was found that 92% of women knew their victims, while that percentage is much lower in men. (Eric Hickey, Criminologist) So perhaps women tend to kill for reasons of passion or emotion, while men kill more often from lack of connection and empathy. What’s interesting though, is that a large part of the emergence of serial killers often revolves around the trauma they faced as children, as I discussed in the previous blog, so one could easily assume that boys must go through more abuse and trauma than women. But, the US department of health and human services found that “1 in 5 girls” suffer sexual abuse, while only and “1 in 20 boys are victims.” (US Department of Health and Human services) Similar stats can be found for other forms of abuse, mixing between boys and girls. So as we see here, it’s not one hundred percent clear why males are way more likely to become serial killers.
One the topic of childhood trauma and abuse, I mentioned previously that it was a reoccurring theme within the serial killer community. “In one study, 80% of 21-year-olds who reported childhood abuse met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder,” and while all 80% of these individuals won’t become serial killers, this shows the drastic effect that this early abuse causes. (National Child Abuse, 2016) “De Becker quoted Ressler’s research and stated that “100 percent [of serial killers] had been abused as children, either with violence, neglect, or humiliation”” (Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University) “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” (Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University) So while the abuse may vary, it is more than coincidence that almost all serial killers share such dark pasts. “I actually think I may be possessed with demons, I was dropped on my head as a kid.” (Albert DeSalvo)
Finally, we took a look at genetics and found that this can also contribute to the makings of a serial killer. “Possible biological contributions include head injury involving brain damage, brain anomalies, and faulty genetics.” (Heather Mitchell, Radford University)Many personality and mental disorders can have genetic roots, such a schizophrenia or bi-polar, and like mentioned above, antisocial personality disorder seems to be one of the most prevalent between serial killers. In addition, when comparing brain scans of individuals, “those who had been convicted of a murder with aggressive or antisocial disorders showed distinct brain activity compared to those who were considered normal.” (Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin) So yes, it seems that there are certain genetic factors that play into who is more likely to develop abnormally and take on serial killer tendencies, but there is no isolated gene or disorder.
So what’s the take-home message? The development of a serial killer does not happen overnight, and it seems to come from specific combinations of genetics, some level of personality disorders (Sometimes caused by genetics) and different degrees of life trauma and disturbances. But while there is a lot going on under the surface, many of these psychos appear like everyday people, and in fact often have incredible social skills in charisma and manipulation, so I suppose one must always be aware of just who they’re talking to.
Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database, http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Serial%20Killer%20Information%20Center/Serial%20Killer%20Statistics.pdf
US department of health and human services, https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics
National Child Abuse, https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse-statistics/
Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University, The incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers
http://www.aaets.org/article213.htm 2014 The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress