Scientists, psychologists, criminologists, and many other professionals continue to search and work on identifying the drive behind serial killers killing in the way they do. It is clear to this point that their motive is often varied from that of other murderers including homicides. The history of serial killers reveals that these individuals often have a certain drive for their killing. Many of the witnessed cases reveal that their drive is instinctual and also through the desire to kill. Many of them have sexual desires to fulfill and the only way they can do that is through murdering people who are complete strangers to them. Currently, there remain two schools of thought concerning the reason behind serial killers. Just as Rogers asks Are monsters born or are they made? (1030). These are that the individuals are born with certain genes that predispose them to their killing tendencies. Another thought is that they become serial killers due to exposure to certain environmental conditions while they were children. It is, however, hard to reveal the exact reason behind their tendencies to kill. Therefore, professionals continue to work on understanding such individuals.
Available records on serial killers including newspapers, reports from the FBI, from local police departments and the homicide investigation and tracking system (HITS) show various characteristics of serial killers. In most instances, these individuals often target individuals who are complete strangers to them. Up to ninety percent of serial-killer victims are usually strangers while only three percent turn out to be friends. Only one percent of the victims usually turn out to be family. It is the reason why investigative and protection agencies often find it hard to catch these individuals. As Hickey states Serial killers, by contrast, usually make special efforts to elude detection. Indeed, they may continue to kill for weeks, months, and often years before they are found and stoppedif they are found at all (19). Many of the victims usually have no connection with the murderer and it is, therefore, hard to identify the connection and motive behind the murder.
Another source of evidence that involved up to four hundred serial killers revealed that eighty percent of the murderer were male with up to twenty percent of them being of the African-American origin. The study also revealed that the first ever case of serial murder involved an individual who was twenty-seven years old. As Walters et al. state A common serial killer prototype presented by the mass media is of an intelligent white male between the ages of 20-40 who savagely rapes and murders multiple female victims while evading law enforcement and mocking their failed attempts at apprehension (4). There are numerous movies that depict some serial killers as intelligent individuals and in some cases, their IQ is usually above what is normal. However, evidence indicates that many of these individuals do not have such high levels of IQ. In one study, it turned out that the individuals only a small percentage of the participants had gone to college. Of the few who made it to college, only four percent of them had graduated.
As mostly depicted in the movies, the serial killers often disguise themselves in hockey masks. It is, however, opposite of how they present themselves because they often are skillful in their self-presentation and in this way they take away any suspicion that may arise within the potential victim. They are masters at disguising their fantasies and emotions enabling them to blend well into society. Even up to this point in serial killing, the question remains to be why and how do serial killers take their fantasies and desires from this point to reality. Scientists and psychologists show that every individual has a composition of tiny genes that create his or her personality traits thus creating their identity. Therefore there is the belief that serial killers do not just grow into the shell of a serial killer but there are genetic predispositions that predetermine the tendency of such an individual to be a serial killer.
These genes often determine actions, chemical balance within the brain, ideas, and thoughts for the individual. It is the nature aspect that tries to address the originality of serial killing within an individual. When analyzing the nature aspect of serial killers one case in history stands out. The case of David Berkowitz famously known as Son of Sam stands out from the rest. David remains one of the most infamous serial killers in New York. As Brody states David Berkowitz (AKA Son of Sam), is still one of the most known serial killers of all time (52). However, those who knew him described him as an individual who was often quiet and polite. Popularly known as Son of Sam, he committed a spree of murders and crimes that lasted for a whole year starting from July in 1976 to July 1977. During this period, David killed up to six people while injuring eight other seriously. One of the victims became paralyzed for life. Sources indicate that these attacks were random but the thought in everyones question was how the polite and quiet young man turned out to be a serial killer. Davids case was eventually pointed to genetics.
The conclusion to genetics for Davids case came as a result of the analysis of his nurturing. He was raised by adoptive parents Pearl and Nathan who loved and cared for him. The environment he grew up in was conducive and had no elements that would predispose him to mental health conditions. A confession by David himself proved that his adoptive parents treated him with love and cared for him as if he was their biological son. They were supportive towards David in every step of his life. The family was not rich but they were able to provide David with what he needed to grow up healthy. However, the love, care, and happiness were not enough to keep him away from his vulnerability to violence.
The death of Pearl, Davids adoptive mother proved to be the turning point of his mental health and for the worst. His friends and neighbors noticed the difference in his behavior, which was mostly characterized by violence. He seemed confused after the death of Pearl and therefore lacked a place to turn to. He started the search for his biological mother and found out that she got pregnant by a married man who forced her to put the baby up for adoption. There is a lack of evidence concerning the mental health of his adoptive parents and therefore the assumption that his issue was due to nature came through an analysis of his nurturing which proved to be perfect. Therefore, many individuals concluded that it might have been as a result of genetic predisposition.
The case of Nannie Doss best explains the nurture aspect of serial killers. She was born in a family that was not favorable for a healthy upbringing. Her father was strict and would beat up his wife too. Dannie spent her childhood hard labor and had no time for play with other children. As ----After all, James Hazle was the boss and, if rumors are correct, he wouldn't spare the switch on his daughters or his wife to get what he wanted (392). Her childhood and upbringing were one with abusive and she did not receive any love from her parents. Therefore Dannie grew up yearning for love and she was obsessed with the idea of being loved. She eventually got married and the type of environment she was trying to get away from came back to haunt her through her mother in law. She was abusive to her and did not care about how she felt. Her new situation pushed her into having affairs due to lack of love from a husband who was being controlled by his mother.
It is alleged that Nannie eventually poisoned her husband who had previously left and returned with another woman. She also poisoned two of her children and left with the rest to find love somewhere else. She was married severally and many of the times into abusive relationships where she eventually killed her three husbands it may not be clear why she killed her children but it is evident that poisoning her three husbands was due to the harsh treatment she faced during her childhood, which went on even in her marriages.
It is clear that the debate of nature and nurture for serial killers will continue for a while with no definite choice being reached soon. Both aspects of the individual clearly affect the person and may be the precipitating factor for the person becoming a serial killer. In some instances, it may be the interplay of both factors that make a serial killer. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that both genetics and the environment will lead to the creation of a serial killer although one factor may be stronger in some cases while the other in other instances.
Rogers, Randal. "A Monster We Love: Dexters Reproductive Futures." Journal of Literature and Art Studies 6.9 (2016): 1027-1037.
Hickey, Eric W. Serial murderers and their victims. Cengage Learning, 2013. 1-449
Walters, B., et al. "Serial murder: Facts and misconceptions." (2015). 1-10
Brody, Paul. Son of Sam: A Biography of David Berkowitz. BookCaps Study Guides, 2016. 1-502
Harrison, Marissa A., et al. "Female serial killers in the United States: means, motives, and makings." The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 26.3 (2015): 383-406.
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