An Analysis of what Causes Individuals (Ted Bundy) to Become Serial Killers

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Serial killings are a different concept than instances of homicide. They are often more violent, brutal, and complicated. Serial killings do not just happen once; theyare murders of two or more people, by the same individualin separate events, over a period of time, and the motive is not precisely clear or rational. That is why it is important to analyze in depth, the makings of a serial killer, and answer the questions of why they are so different from a regular individual or a one-timemurderer, and why they have the urge to kill multiple persons in aggressive manners. In the famous words of serial killer Ted Bundy, "We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow." This quote itself reveals the need to understanding and separating individuals that show an inkling of being a serial murderer, and why they are more distinct and dynamic than normal individuals. Serial killers are integrated in our lives and families without being discovered, functioning as any other person, until bodies are found and until they are caught. Many people believe that serial killers are a product of their home life. In these cases, future serial killers may have experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse in their childhood. In recent studies a new idea has come to fruition. Abnormalities in genetics and brain function, combined with negative adolescent experiences or trauma, are what produce a psychopathic serial killer, among otherwise normally functioning individuals. These are important to analyze together, instead of focusing on one aspect, if proper treatment and aid is to be developed in order to treat individuals who are predisposed to become serial killers.

When identifying a person as a serial killer, or a crime as a serial murder, investigatorslook forcommon characteristics and traits of serial killers, as well as similaritiesin their victim targets. The question yet to be answered is why prospective serial killers exhibit these traits, and why do they resort to violent murders of specific individuals. When searching for suspected serial killers, people must go beyond looking for individuals who are loners, anti- social, or physically different in build and general attractiveness, because these are common myths associated with serial killers according to the FBI (Morton, Tillman, Gaines 7). Instead, they emphasize a focus on an individual's background and victim type. Serial killers are often reported to have a history of violence or criminal behavior in their adolescent and teen years. According to a criminology article on the homicidal behavior of serial killers, most serial killers experiment with fire, that borderlines on arson obsession, and murder small, easily dominated animals such as cats, dogs, and birds, without expressing remorse(Weatherby, Buller, Mcginnis 7). These are indications of psychopathic behavior and the same murderous rage reflected in animals later escalates to a killing spree of humans. These early signs of murderous urges are a red flag for investigators when considering a suspect. In the case of victims, victims of serial killers often share common traits, jobs or characteristics such as hair color, gender, and sexual orientation, which was such in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, whose victims were all young, gay males that he met at night clubs. These are all aspects that are taken into consideration of identifying a serial killer or murder, and are widely accepted bymany researchers and investigators. Despite this consensus, it is still debated what creates individuals who express themselves through this type of violence and constant murder.

The current argument in the origin of serial killers focuses on the belief that serial killers are solely the product of a negative environment. Most serial killers experience some type of abuse or neglect early on in their childhood that leaves them with lingering emotional issues that become difficult to cope with in their adulthood. In a study conducted on fifty serial killers, it was found that sixty-eight percent of them experience some type of abuse in their childhood(Mitchel and Aamodt, 42). Abuse in this study included emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. These types of abuse were found in famous serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy who claimed around 33 victims, Charles Manson who was the leader in 35 killings, and Albert Fish who killed three known, and five suspected victims. All three claimed to suffer through abuse in their childhood, a claim made by many convicted serial killers, and if abuse was the case, neglect was also a factor. Because of the commonalty of abuse in serial killers, it became widely accepted consensus that serial killers killed individuals based on the abuse they experience in their childhood, and when identifying and convicting killers, this is the aspect that many investigators, medical examiners, and researchers focus on.

However, new research has made it to the forefront that indicates that abuse is not the only aspect that contributes to a person becoming a serial killer. One aspect of this research focuses on the genetic traits and abnormalitiespaired with childhood abuse and neglect that leads to a person becoming a serial killer. According to neuroscientist James Fallon, it was found that the X chromosome plays a key role in the development of a serial killerbecause it carries the psychopathic aggression gene or MAO-A gene, which is activated in cases of abuse or emotional distress in childhood (Fallon 86). The psychopathic gene that gives individuals an emotional deficit, and inhibits impulsive behavior, is acquired from and individuals mother only(Schultz et al. 1). Women, have both their mothers and fathers chromosome that has the potential to balance out the psychopathic gene. However in the case of males, the Y chromosome does not balance out the psychopathic gene. This is a logical reason for a majority of males being identified as a serial killer but also the smattering of females that turn out to be serial killers as well. A female can suffer just as much abuse as their male counterpart, but the male is more likely to become a serial killer as a result of the concentration of the psychopathic gene from the X chromosome. Another chromosomal disorder linked with serial killers is having an extra Y chromosome.

Having an extra Y chromosome is associated with "super maleness" and increased aggressiveness, violent behavior, and difficulties connecting emotionally(Dalal et al. 112). In combination with abuse, an individual with and extra Y chromosome is like to express their potential of increased aggressiveness and violence through murder. A key idea to remember is that not all individuals with these chromosomal disorders turn out to be murderers and criminals. However, when coupled with abuse, neglect, or emotional trauma, the way in which an individual handles these abnormalities differs from individuals who suffer from the same disorder. For example, Edmund Kemper who was labeled a psychopathic serial killer, was emotionally abused by his alcoholic mother, and preceded to kill six people before killings his own mother. Having a genetic abnormality such as the psychopathic gene or extra Y chromosome, and an abusive or neglectful childhood, leaves an individual predisposed to being a serial killer.

Discoveries of brain abnormalities in serial killers that were abused have also been linked to the creation of a serial killer. These brain abnormalities have to deal with distinct differences in the parts of the brain that deal with how an individual expresses emotion and aggression. Individuals all express anger and emotion differently, but in the case of individuals with abnormalities or damage in the amygdala or the ventromedial, these things have the tendency to be expressed in a violent or deadly matter. In a research conducted on psychopaths, it revealed that there was less communication in the "ventromedial from the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for emotions and amygdale (located in the emotional brain), which controls levels of fear and anxiety"(Culhane et al. 42). In the case of psychopathic serial killers, they lack a sense of remorse when committing murder because damage to the ventromedial or the amygdale inhibits them from correctly dealing with negative emotions, fear and anxiety, and as a result they turn to murder. As in the case of serial killers, brain damage from abuse, neglect, or trauma leads to a radical emotional response such as murder. For example in the case of Charles Whitman, a mass murder who killed sixteen people with a sniper, a brain tumor invaded the amygdale, and limited his ability to control his emotions or actions. Although, Whitman is not by definition a serial killer, his murder spree still reveals a link in brain damage that results in violent consequence, a consequence a person cannot control by himself or herself.

Despite new evidence, some individuals believe childhood abuse and neglect are more prevalent in the creation of a serial killer. These individuals often argue that genetics and brain abnormalities are present in many individuals who are not serial killersand differences in genetics would not create a serial. This is only true in the fact that genetics alone, would not lead to an individual becoming a serial killer. While a large portion of serial killers identify with being abuse or neglected, researchers ignore the evidence that indicates abuse alone would not necessarily lead to the drastic decision to commit murder. Celebrities such as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Singer Lady Gaga, both admitted to being sexually abused at a young age, yet neither are serial killers. Neuroscientists Jim Fallon, who discovered he himself had the psychopathic gene, and grew up in a loving home, is also not as serial killer. What individuals who focus on the abuse and neglect of a serial killer fail to see is that these abnormal traits and abnormalities" cannot be exposed without a mechanism that triggers these individuals to commit these horrific crimes"(Serial Killers: Nature vs. Nurture 3). The desire to deal with aggression through murder in individuals with genetic and brain abnormalities is triggered by abuse and neglect. Abuse alone would not cause and individual to become a serial killer, and ignoring genetic evidence will not help in providing proper treatment to individuals who are more likely than others to become killers.

Spending time on developing possible treatments is important to considering serial killers unconsciously murder people who remind them of their traumatic past. The idea behind victim targets of serial killers is object relations. Serial killer victims often share common features and characteristics of the abusive or neglectful person in their childhood. A key example of this is serial killer Edmond Kemper who associated women with the abuse he experienced from his alcoholic murder, and as a result killed six women that shared her facial features. Researchers believe that "the victim's body is the site of this displaced aggression and the repeated killing is understood as a distorted way to neutralize the pain of early childhood trauma" (Knight 1201). However once that gratification of one murder is gone, individuals that remind serial killers of their childhood trauma trigger the urge on a constant basis. Serial killers don't simply take one victim. They kill, and kill, for gratification that can't be reached, and are only caught once the victims are already dead. The idea of object relations is an important concept to remember when an individual's wife, mom, husband, or brother could be the target of a serial killer, because the killer cannot separate the abusive figures in their past lives from innocent individuals.

The current evidence that links brain damage and genetics along with trauma to serial killings should be used to provide treatment to individuals who were predisposed to becoming serial killers. In the current justice state, serial killers receive life sentences or death row once they are caught, without their psychopathic states or abnormalities being addressed and considered. However, with the new evidence that implicates abnormalities and abuse in the creation of serial killers, something that they cannot control, simply imprisoning them would not help to treat these individuals or preventing future killings. This is not to suggest that serial killers should not be reprimanded, but rather than giving them lengthy life sentences or leaving them to die, researchers should use this as an opportunity to attempt to develop medications and therapies for individuals that have genetic, and brain abnormalities, and decrease the chances of their inherent aggression leading to murder. While the aspect of abuse is hard to prevent, maybe medications could be developed that would alleviate emotional distress, aggression, and violent tendencies in such individuals, and when abused, it would not lead to the urge to kill. The psychopathic gene, genetic abnormalities, and brain damage can be tested for in young individuals just as they test for any birth defects when infants are born. Treating he genetics aspects and brain abnormalities could prevent possible abuse from becoming a mechanism or trigger for murder. Imprisoning and executing individuals who are predisposed by genetics and abuse is not going help them rehabilitate or find solutions so that other people do not end up in their place.

Serial killers are dynamic and distinctive individuals that have such a personality and way of thinking, that there are years and years of research dedicated to dissecting their mind and life. Knowing how a serial killer operates is key to finding solutions and providing attention in the right areaof focus, which is both inherent genetics, and brain abnormalities along with a traumatic environment. It is a consensus in a wide variety of research that serial killers experience abuse and neglect in their childhood. However, it has also been uncovered that examined serial killers show brain patterns and a genetic makeup that differs from the common person. It would serve individuals seeking a solution well, not to ignore one possibility in favor of the other, because anyone is likely to be the victim of a serial killer, and ignorance will not stop it. Abnormalities presented within the genetics and brains of serial killers are triggered by abuse and neglect experienced during their adolescence. When triggered, these abnormalities within the killer turns into aggression, and a coping mechanism that is expressed with brutality and violence. The combination of both their environment and genetic makeup should be the focus when we search for solutions to deter future killings and provide the proper care, treatment, therapy, and medication to anyone who is likely to be a serial killer. Turning research to focus on both nature and nurtures contribution to serial killers could be key, could bring us one step closer, to figuring out what truly makes a serial killer.

Works Cited

  • Culhane, Scott E., et al. "Self-Reported Psychopathology In A Convicted Serial Killer." Journal Of Investigative Psychology & Offender Profiling 8.1 (2011): 1-22. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Mar, 2016.
  • Dalal, J.S., et al. "A Case Study of Serial Killers." Journal of Punjab Academy of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 9 (2009): 109-13. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.
  • Fallon, James H. The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2013. Print.
  • Knight, Zelda G. "Some Thoughts on The Psychological Roots of The Behavior of Serial Killers As Narcissists: An Object Relations Perspective." Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal SocBehavPers 34.10 (2006): 1189-206. Web.
  • Mitchell, Heather, and Michael G.Aamodt "The Incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers." Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 20 (2005): 40-47. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
  • Schultz, Douglas H., et al. "Psychopaths Show Enhanced Amygdala Activation During Fear Conditioning." Frontiers In Psychology (2016): 1-12. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
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An Analysis of What Causes Individuals (Ted Bundy) to Become Serial Killers. (2022, Dec 11). Retrieved April 22, 2024 , from
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