1. Description. The topic that I have chosen to cover for my proposal is serial killers. The term “serial killer” was established in the 1970’s by Robert Ressler (former director of an FBI program). He chose “serial” because these types of murders are crimes in series. Murderers become serial killers after three or more victims with quiet periods of time in between the murders. The US holds 76% of the world’s serial killers. According to the latest FBI study in 2007, there are approximately 400 serial killers in the US and 80% of them have emerged since 1950. Statistically, the average serial killer is a white male with a lower to middle-class background and is usually in his twenties or thirties. It seems ludicrous that serial killers often have families, homes, are employed, and appear to be normal members of a community. There are many myths about serial killers such as, they are dysfunctional loners, they are all white males, they all travel, they can’t stop killing, and that they are insane. My proposal is figuring out what may be true about these serial killers. I find it interesting how something brought into this world as an innocent baby could turn into a serial killer.
2. Guiding Questions.
Here are some of the questions that are the major components behind my proposal. Where did the term “serial killer” come from? What makes a person a serial killer? How many are there in the U.S? Why do they do it? What happened throughout their life? What makes them tick? How do they get caught? I believe that these are important questions that need to be answered, as each one gives us a better understanding as to what makes a person not only murder but murder multiple people over periods of days, weeks, and even years.
3. Research Gathered.
Coming into this, I thought it would be easy to figure out exactly what is going on in these serial killers minds but it’s not. It’s hard to say precisely what is going on in their head and what led up to it without being them but with inside information from interviews with serial killers and interviews with detectives, you get a feel of what made them act the way they do. Profiling a serial killer is important in catching a serial killer. Determining the signature and what the serial killer had to do for the crime are big aspects of profiling. Studies from doctors and information from past murders create the profile along with crime-scene information and witness statements. For instance, if the crime scene shows evidence of careful planning, the killer is likely to be intelligent and older. Not all profiles are perfect but they are usually on point. Serial killers begin to surface around their twenties and once they reach a certain point, there is no going back. Detectives also have to profile the victims because they are the key to catching the serial killer. They were picked because something stimulated the serial killer to do so.
The only way to prevent the becoming of a serial killer is to go back to their childhood and break up the peculiar patterns. Just like all human beings, serial killers are the product of their heredity and the choices they make throughout their life. Their behavior is influenced by life experiences and biological factors. Humans are in a constant state of development from the moment they are born to the moment they die. Behavior is affected by a stimulus that is processed by the nervous system. According to neurobiologists, our nervous system is environmentally sensitive which allows the individual nervous system to be shaped throughout a lifetime. In saying that, failure to develop social coping mechanisms as a child can result in violent behavior. There are important periods of time in which it is essential that kids learn basic rules on how to interact with people and if they aren’t learned during that period of time, it could be impossible to learn later on in life. Serial killers often exhibit three behaviors in their childhood and they are bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals.
They are also likely to come from broken homes and have been abused or neglected. Serial killers act completely normal in front of others and are said to be good members of their community. They are generally intelligent, organized, and some can be very social. The two most common theories as to motives of serial killers include childhood neglect and abuse, and mental illness. Many, if not all serial killers experience neglect and abuse as children. They are often physically and or sexually abused as children or are witnesses of abuse. This pattern of neglect and abuse forces them to grow up without a sense of anyone other than themselves. Mental illness is a big factor in determining whether or not the killer was conscious and aware of his or her actions. Many serial killers try to use the excuse that they are psychotic but only few have been diagnosed.
According to the Diagnostic & Standard Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a psychopath is a person with an antisocial personality disorder (APD). As said in the DSM-IV, a person with APD follows a pattern of “disregard and violation of the rights of others occurring since the age of 15.” This pattern includes seven factors but three have to be met for diagnosis and those are, “failure to conform to social norms, irritability and aggressiveness, and lack of remorse.” Psychopathy is manifested in people who use a mixture of charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others while satisfying their selfish needs. Although serial killers possess many traits consistent with psychopaths, all psychopaths don’t become serial killers. Psychopaths who become serial killers don’t value human life and are extremely callous when interacting with their victims. Along with mental disorders, is brain damage. Damage to areas such as the frontal lobe and the hypothalamus can result in extreme aggression, loss of control, and loss of judgment.
For instance, Henry Lee was a convicted serial killer and was found to have extreme brain damage in both the frontal lobe and hypothalamus which was a result of childhood abuse including malnutrition and alcoholism. After gathering information on the motives and behaviors of serial killers, I realized there is no specific combination of traits or characteristics that all serial killers possess. There isn’t a generic template that determines a serial killer. They are driven by their own unique motives or reasons. Catching a serial killer is difficult because they are just your average looking man or woman living across the street. Serial killers only get caught after making a mistake. Information from the crime scene and autopsy are collected and entered into a date base where similar crimes are matched up by the killer’s signature.
For instance, some killers position the body a certain way or leave them in a certain place. Investigators look at the method of procedure which reflects what the killer had to do in order to commit the crime. The crime reflects their personality and the victim is the key to catching the serial killer. Detectives have to piece together who the potential serial killer may be by matching up victims that are similar in area and most commonly, their looks. Detectives have to know how to spark the serial killers emotions and make them tick. For instance, John Douglas (FBI serial killer profiler) was asked to assist in a trial involving a serial killer because he had manipulated the jury into believing that he wasn’t capable of doing such a thing. John told the prosecutor to physically touch the serial killer and violate his personal space because it will make him think that he isn’t superior and in return, will drive him crazy. He then asked the accused serial killer what it was like to wrap his fingers around his victim’s throat. The serial killer then had a major outburst and went crazy because he was recalling what happened and it excited him.
The jurors finally saw another side to the man and it turned the whole case around. You have to know what makes them tick in order to catch them. 4. Optional Primary Research. I decided to find documentaries on two of the most notorious serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. The first documentary I watched was “Biography: Ted Bundy: The Mind of a Killer (1995).” Ted Bundy was a boy scout, a college graduate, a law student, and a star in Washington State politics. Growing up, Ted was told that his actual grandparents were his mother and father and that his actual mother was his older sister. His grandmother (mother) had health issues such as depression and panic attacks and was eventually introduced to electro-shock therapy and his great grandfather was known to be extremely violent and frightening. His family began noticing at the age of three that Ted wasn’t adjusting well. His first incident happened when he was being babysat by his aunt and she was taking a nap.
Ted’s aunt woke up to him placing all the kitchen knives around her body in an outline with the blades pointing towards her. After the incident with his aunt and fighting with his step-father a lot, Ted was forced to move to Tacoma, WA and it devastated him because he thought of his great grandfather as a father and he didn’t want to leave him. Once in Tacoma, Ted’s peers thought of him as a shy person. He stuttered a lot and didn’t date. He really isolated himself from the crowd and started becoming a peeping Tom. Ted started to consider himself above the law. While in college, Ted met a girl named Stephanie and was particularly attracted to her beautiful long hair that was parted in the middle. Stephanie was wealthy, sophisticated, and worldly; everything Ted wished he was. They were together for a year and in that time, Stephanie had taken Ted’s virginity. While Ted was in love, Stephanie didn’t see a future with him and broke it off because she didn’t think that he was very serious about his future.
Ted became devastated and dropped out of school. He then went to visit his relatives to figure out who he really was and ended up finding out that his so called “sister” was actually his mother. After hearing this news and the horrible break up with Stephanie, Ted became extremely resentful. He felt that his mother and girlfriend destroyed his life and therefore wanted revenge. A couple years later, he met back up with Stephanie and seemed to be a new and improved man to her. Stephanie agreed to marry Ted and then he dumped her right away for revenge but it didn’t stop there. It all began in 1974 when Ted was twenty-four years old. Ted began going to the Washington college pretending to be hurt with crutches and that is how he would lure his victims in. He pretended to drop his books right by his van and while the woman would bend down to pick it up, he would hit her over the head with a crow bar and throw her in the van.
He would then take them to the woods and sexually assault them. Ted was hurt that Stephanie took his virginity and broke his heart so now he was going to sexually assault and kill all his victims. Ted’s ideal victim was a small framed female with long parted hair in the middle and beautiful just as Stephanie was. While still attending college, Ted studied the procedures that the police task force would use to catch him. Ted was eventually caught and admitted to killing more than thirty women. Ted told the court that he felt entitled to ruin women’s lives after two women ruined his. On January 24, 1989 at 7:00 AM, Ted Bundy was granted his electric execution at the age of forty-nine years old. Ted’s story goes to show how something in his childhood led up to factors that would make him a serial killer. It also shows the motive that he had which was killing only women because two women ruined his life and killing women who looked like Stephanie. Ted said he was sorry for killing those women but only he knows if he really is sorry or not. It’s hard to determine what went on in Ted’s head but we can see the correlation he made between the women he killed and why he did it although it doesn’t make sense to us.
The other documentary I watched was “Biography: Jeffrey Dahmer (2000).” Jeffrey Dahmer was the perfect child. He loved playing with other kids and was really outgoing. He had a fascination with animals and was an extremely curious child. He always wanted to feel things and their texture. When he was ten, his mother was hospitalized and treated for anxiety. His parent’s marriage was crumbling and they had to move away. Jeffrey then all of a sudden became socially awkward. He started to become fascinated with what animals looked like on the inside so he began collecting road kill as a young teenager. In an interview, his dad says that he is convinced that everything started going downhill when Jeffrey began collecting road kill and dissected them. Dahmer realized as a teen that he was attracted to men and at the age of fourteen, he started having thoughts of violence and sex.
Dahmer knew the thoughts and urges kept getting worse. One of his fantasies was to lie next to an unconscious man. In saying that, Jeffrey devised a plan to knock out a local jogger with a bat and lay next to him but the jogger never went by that day and it made Dahmer think that maybe he shouldn’t be thinking about that kind of stuff. Dahmer started becoming a heavy drinker and even drank during school. He started going to houses that allowed the exchange of sex with gay men and that is where he found his first victim. After his first victim, Dahmer couldn’t hold in his urges anymore and it was the start of a killing spree. He began meeting men at gay bars and once there, he would drug them with sleeping pills, take them back to his home, and lay there next to them and listen to the sounds of their bodies. After getting bored with listening to their bodies, Dahmer would have sex with them while they were drugged, would kill them, cut up their body, and save their bones or private parts as trophies. At one point, he even started eating his victims saying that “it felt like they were a part of him.” Dahmer was eventually caught because of a foul odor coming from his apartment which was his victims. Dahmer blamed alcohol when he was caught saying that if he hadn’t been so drunk, he wouldn’t have been caught.
He also placed the blame for the murders on his atheistic beliefs and the theory of evolution. He believed that he was equal to the devil. Dahmer stated “if it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God? Can’t I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself.” Dahmer believed that he was above all and the media didn’t help that. He received so much attention from the media that he started getting cocky about it. He once told a detective “when I tell you what I tell you, you’re going to be famous.” Dahmer wrote a 159 page confession consisting of thirteen years and seventeen victims. Dahmer pleaded guilty but insane and was served a 937 year prison sentence. Once in prison, Dahmer decided he wanted to be baptized and get back into his religious state of mind. It all ended for Dahmer on November 29, 1994 when an inmate who called himself “Christ” beat Dahmer with a metal rod from the prison gym and was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.
Once again, I don’t understand why he tortured and killed his victims the way he did but just like Ted Bundy, his behavior drastically changed when he was young and for both men, it is was seemed to be the turning point in their life. 5. Info to be collected, Analysis. I have gathered a good amount of information on how serial killers evolve to the person they have become. From here, I hope to learn more about what triggers different emotions in their brains. The main thing I want to figure out is how they become so violent and how they are capable of committing such horrid acts of violence. I believe the most effective method of analyzing serial killers was reading articles and watching documentaries. The articles were from reliable resources such as the FBI, and gave a lot of good information as to what their motives and behaviors were. The documentaries were a good way of analyzing serial killers because I got to see the way they acted and hear their stories to figure out what led up to the killings and what exactly their motives were. I am going to continue to watch documentaries on not only Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer but other serial killers to see if their behaviors and motives match up somehow.
Although all serial killers aren’t the same and don’t share the same motives, they do share the same urges. The purpose of this would be to see if my explanations of the motives, behaviors, and childhood experiences of these serial killers are in fact true for others as well. This analysis may help me in learning about the brain and how it works. Another interesting explanation as to triggers for serial killers is a chromosome abnormality. Some researchers are starting to believe that there is a change associated with the male chromosome make up. There is an ongoing investigation on if and how the gene changes and why it does. The end point of this assignment for me is to follow up with the study of similar chromosome changes in these men that become serial killers. 6. Timeline. I currently still have some questions as to what other similarities might occur between serial killers such as chromosome abnormalities or brain defects.
I will be continually checking these doctors and researcher’s information gathered from their testing and experiments to hopefully receive new and improved information. One of the most helpful things to do is watch movies and documentaries on not only serial killers but their families, the detectives, doctors, and the researchers. The one problem that I feel I might encounter is not having enough evidence and consistent information to back it up because it is a new study being done. Although I have continuing questions, I believe that I have covered my research topic to the best of my ability and now my own curiosity will keep me wondering and wanting to know more information than what has been given to me.
Freeman, Shanna. “How Serial Killers Work.” How Stuff Works. A Discovery Company. 02 October 2007. Web. 20 March 2014. Mueller, Robert. “Serial Murder.” The FBI. US Government, US Department of Justice. 02 September 2005. Web. 20 March 2014. Bardsley, Marilyn. “Jeffrey Dahmer.” Crime Library. Criminal Minds & Methods. 04 August 1991. Web. 20 March 2014.
Montaldo, Charles. “The Myths about Serial Killers.” Crime/Punishment. About.com. July 2008. Web. 20 March 2014. Rogers, Abby. “ A Terrifying Glimpse into the Mind of a Serial Killer.” Business Insider. 08 June 2012. Web. 20 March 2014. Scott, Shirley. “What Makes Serial Killers Tick?” Crime Library. Criminal Minds & Methods. 04 October 1991. Web. 20 March 2014. Gregg, Allan. “Interview with FBI Profiler John Douglas (1996).” Dark Documentaries. 29 November 2011. Web. 20 March 2014. Montaldo, Charles. “Characteristics of the Psychopathic Personality.” Crime/Punishment. About.com. July 2008. Web. 20 March 2014.