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The Serial Killer Essay, Research Paper
Traditionally, most murders and violent crimes were easily understood and solved by law enforcement. These crimes generated from feelings we all experience: jealousy, greed, anger, revenge, etc. Once these emotional outbursts were over the crime spree would end, someone would be dead and the police would generally know who they were looking for and solved the crime. But a new type of criminal has come to the forefront, the serial killer, who doesn’t stop until he is caught or killed. He learns from experience and gets better at his craft, constantly perfecting his scenario from one crime to the next. Serial killers have been present throughout history, but viewed as monsters that had to be supernatural. These heinous crimes could not possibly have been perpetrated by human hands. The stories and legends of witches, vampires, werewolves and the like were probably a way to explain crimes so hideous that no one in the past could have comprehended the perversities we now accept as almost commonplace in modern life. The purpose of this paper is to make the public more aware of their presence in society.
OVERVIEW OF THE SERIAL KILLER
SURVEY OF FORENSICS
SEPT 28, 1996
RUNNING HEAD: KILLER
The serial killer is your neighbor, he kills one by one, while leading a seemingly normal life between killings (Cahill 6). To be classified as a serial killer, the killer has to kill at least three people in separate murders with a cooling off period between each murder. Usually there is a sexual component to their murders. They follow a ritualistic pattern by choosing a certain type of victim and they kill them in a fashion that becomes all too familiar with investigators and the media. (DeWitt 3B). Serial killers murder only for the psychological release they receive from the act itself. The majority of serial killers are white males in their late twenties or early thirties and usually begin their murderous sprees when they are at a low point in their lives. Many started as child molesters and were molested as children themselves. They typically suffer from enuresis, are pathological liars, have violent fantasies, chronic daydreaming, tortured animals as children, and were prone to firesetting as adolescents. Serial killers can’t psychologically distinguish between a human being and an inanimate object because they don’t go through the infant stage of individualization, in which they learn they are independent of the environment (Methvin 36). With access to the interstate highway system, serial killers can move quickly and anonymously from crime to crime in several states, making detection and capture extremely difficult.
The FBI has studied more than one hundred serial killers and their uncanny psychological resemblance is extraordinary, which makes previous serial killers a good reference point for catching present ones. Because of that fact, the FBI created the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes (NCAVC) for the Behavioral Sciences Division to examine serial killers, mass murderers, and other violent criminals for use in further criminal investigations(42).
To date, no universally accepted typology for violent serial offenders exists. There is no common language that both the law enforcement community and the mental health community use to describe violent criminal behavior, or to discuss motive and means. Even the best classification efforts, produced by such groups of motivated and respected individuals as the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, have yet to be widely accepted. This is largely because everyone associated with the field has their own idea about the criminal mind, and none of the professionals involved like to be told how to think about criminal behavior by someone else. The progeny of this unhappy relationship between law enforcement and mental health is a lack of mutual understanding and discarded professional respect on both sides of the fence.
Not enough psychologists and psychiatrists have been to a crime scene, and not enough investigators have studied principles of psychology, psycopathology, and human behavior. Each could greatly benefit from the experiences of the other. More importantly, the successful investigation of a violent serial offender often takes skills from both disciplines(Davis 13).
Most of these individuals have long criminal histories and become progressively more violent as they grow older and gain more experience. Their killings are almost always sexually motivated and are part of an elaborate sexual fantasy that builds up to a climax during the actual killing. Many of these violent episodes are directed at women and children, although there are homosexual killers who like to hunt gay men. The victims of choice are prostitutes, male hustlers, drifters, etc, easy prey that wouldn’t be immediately missed. As adults most are substance abusers of one sort or another and all grew up in violent households. Several enjoy necrophilia and cannibalism and keep some sort of trophy from the kill, such as body parts, personal effects, and pictures or video to relive the event over and over again. For some, David Berkowitz for example, just returning to the crime scene or rolling in the dirt on the grave sites is enough to excite them.
John Douglas interviewed Berkowitz in prison and found that he avoided the drivers side, usually male, and would attack from the passenger, usually female, side. He would assume a police stance and fire multiple rounds into the car. The shots, like multiple stab wounds indicate his anger and hatred of women. Armed with a .44 cal revolver he could kill from a distance, thus possessing his fantasy woman without having to personalize her. Out of this study came a system to better understand and classify violent offenders. For the first time, we could really begin to link what was going on in a perpetrator’s mind to the evidence he left at the crime scene. That, in turn, helped us to hunt them more efficiently and catch and prosecute them more effectively. It began to address some of the age old questions about insanity and “What type of person could do such a thing?”(Douglas 144).
When Dennis Nilsen was arrested in London in February 1983, the offenses with which he was charged appeared bizarre, virtually unique in the records of criminal homicide in Britain.
Over a period of four years up to fifteen young men had passed through his door never to emerge again, and nobody seemed to have noticed. While other residents in the house where he rented two rooms went about their business, this articulate, responsible, civil servant was collecting dead bodies. He had strangled his victims with a tie, then kept them as companions, dressing them, bathing them, and talking to them.
Eventually cosigning them to a grave beneath the floorboards. Having finally run out of space, he had constructed huge bonfires in the back garden to burn the remains of his erstwhile “friends”, and later, when he moved to the attic rooms, he had cut three more bodies into small pieces and flushed them down the toilet, boiling the heads on the kitchen stove(Masters 1).
Counsel for both Nilsen in 1983 and Jeffrey Dahmer in 1992 each attempted to demonstrate that the defendant was not responsible for his acts by reason of mental disease. On neither occasion was the plea accepted by the jury, with the result that both men were found to have been perfectly sane when they boiled human heads to remove the flesh, when they slept beside putrefying corpses, when they were capable of making a cup of coffee and buttering a slice of toast in the midst of human debris(3). Ted Bundy used legal maneuvering for years to avoid execution in Florida, most of these appeals were also based on his mental capacity.
Judge Kendall Sharp, white haired, jut-jawed, Naval Reserve, and no-nonsense about him, ruled on Ted’s mental competency on Dec 17, 1987. Sharp was swift, impatient, and firm. Sharp was convinced that Ted had been “fully competent” during the Leach trial. Sharp said this was never more true than in Ted’s arguments against the imposition of the death penalty on the last day of trial, February 12, 1980(Rule 470).
Dr. Park Dietz, who works frequently with the FBI, has stated, “None of the serial killers that I have had the occasiion to study or examine has been legally insane, but none has been normal either. They ve all been people who have mental disorders. But despite their mental disorders, which have to do with their sexual interests and character, they ve been people who knew what they were doing, knew what they were doing was wrong, but chose to do it anyway.”(Douglas 344) Its important to keep in mind here than insanity is a legal concept, not a medical or psychiatric term. It doesn t mean some one is not “sick”. It has to do with whether or not someone is responsible for his or her actions.(345)
For most Americans these killers are a frightening spectacle on the evening news. Although the shocking details of these heinous crimes are not released to the public, the mere mention of a serial killer in the area strikes absolute terror in the hearts of people. Many citizens view serial killers as insane monsters who should be tracked down and shot dead for the animals that they are. However, it’s far more important to apprehend these individuals and study every facet of their lives and criminal activities. Maybe at some time in the future the factors that made these killers what they are could be identified and intervention at the appropriate stage, could perhaps, stop their violent acts before they escalate to serial murder.
In the meantime, once caught and convicted, they should never again be released to vent their rage on society.
Cahill, Tim. “Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of the Serial
Killer.” New York: Bantam, 1986: 6.
Dewitt, Dan. “Serial Killers Feed on Fear and Thrills.” “St.
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