Serial killers have been around for many generations, and there isn’t a specific reason as to why they develop such violent behaviors. These things can be accompanied by the development of sexual paraphilias and childhood trauma, which can encourage the development of a personality disorder or psychopathy. One of those disorders being Antisocial Personality Disorder. An article written by Bradley R. Johnson, MD, and Judith V. Becker, Ph.D. talks about the case files of adolescents who have expressed fantasies about becoming serial killers. These fantasies would take place between the ages of 14-18 years old and are similar to that of a sadistic serial killer. Johnson and Becker point out that this is also the time in youth where sexual paraphilias develop. A sexual paraphilia is when he/she are sexually aroused by an object that is not normally considered sexually arousing. (Woods, 2018) The question of whether or not we can predict who will be serial killers based on their adolescent years is posed. There are a number of essential components to most paraphilic behaviors, including fantasy, compulsive masturbation, and facilitators (e.g., alcohol, drugs,etc..) which serves to motivate violent and/or deviant sexual conduct. (Arrigo & Purcell, 2001)
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The Sadistic Murder by Richard von Krafft- Ebing highlighted the similarities in the history of serial killers and the teens. From the contradictory feelings for their mother to their personality disorders. They all enjoyed the power and had a history of animal cruelty. It was brought out that having deviant sexual fantasies is normal and that people who experience sexual paraphilia don’t act on their fantasies. If adolescence is having these sadistic sexual fantasies, they should be watched closely but there is no guarantee that they will act upon their fantasies. There are similarities between serial killers and these children but there is no direct connection. (Woods, 2018) In one particular case, H, 18-year-old, white male, suffered from ADHD and chronic depression. He was of below average intelligence with possible learning disabilities. At an early age, he recalled being physically abused by his mother and being sexually provocative, exposing herself to him or watching him undress and making erotic comments. His parents once engaged in sexual intercourse in front of him. At the age of 14, he began to fantasize about having sexual intercourse with his mother, killing her, and continuing to have intercourse with her corpse. He even admitted to masturbating 8 times a day to this thought with the aid of his mother’s underwear. (Johnson & Becker, 1997) Although this instance does not directly connect to future violent actions, it does bring light on childhood trauma and how it can lead to personality disorders.
Other historical factors common in serial killers are abuse, trauma, insecure attachment, loss or abandonment of a parent or caretaker, antisocial behavior, head injury, and low arousal levels. (Labrode, 2007) The diagnosis of a conduct disorder is also given when a child starts to develop antisocial traits starting with animal cruelty and torture. A conduct disorder involves a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior where societal norms are violated. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) According to DSM-5 criteria for conduct disorder, there are four categories that could be present in the child’s behavior: aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules. Paraphilias can occur within the context of Axis II disorders such as borderline or antisocial personality disorders. (Malin & Saleh, 2007) Referring back to the previous case, H was diagnosed with ADHD which is a conduct disorder which could have been influenced by the treatment from his mother. ADHD is diagnosed with a child under the age of eighteen and cannot be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. The criteria are quite different because of the age group but this disorder definitely mirrors that of a personality if the severity increased. One of the points of criteria in Antisocial Personality Disorder, there has had to be evidence of a conduct disorder.
Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior mirrors the criteria of ADHD which brings out that the children will be reluctant to engage in an activity such as homework. The impulsivity of a child with ADHD is that of a person with ASPD and has the potential of meeting all of the requirements for the personality disorder. The DSM brings out, antisocial personality disorder is a persuasive pattern of disregard for…the rights of others that begins in childhood and continues into adulthood. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) In order for the patient to get diagnosed with this disorder, they have to be 18 years of age and has had a history of a conduct disorder around the age of 15. People with antisocial personality disorder lack empathy and can display superficial charm and is more common in males who take over the demographics of serial killers. Since the psychopathy also includes some of these traits, these two terms are seen as synonymous. Scientifically speaking, the amygdala responses to fearful facial expressions (Blair, 2003), which have been found to be impaired in people with psychopathy. Although psychopathic people with ASPD are not psychopathic killers, there is still a chance that they could be compelled to kill. When looking at the criterion, the psychopathy checklist is more relevant when diagnosing a serial killer even though the criteria overlap. (LaBrode, 2007) This type of disorder originates from environmental factors such as family and if there were neglect and abuse.
As a child dealing with abuse or neglect, they develop coping mechanisms to numb or displace their emotions or there becomes an absence of the emotions. As the child grows into adolescence they may act out displacing those emotions into the form of vandalism, theft, and or violence. If the juvenile with an antisocial personality disorder were still exposed to the environmental factors contributing to the abuse they felt when they were younger, it could cause a severe violent reaction, acting as a displacement for the pent-up emotions such as homicidal tendencies with animals and then with people eventually leading to psychopathic behaviors. (Murray, 2018) According to the FBI, the development of social coping mechanisms starts during early childhood and the failure of developing coping mechanisms can lead to violent behavior. Most serial killers eroticized violence during their development, which intertwined sexual gratification and violent behavior. (Johns, Keel, Malkiewics, McNamara, Mellecker, O’Toole, Resch, Safarik, Showalter, and Trahern, 2010) We are going to focus on certain serial killers that meet the criteria of ASPD based on their childhood.
Ted Bundy was a serial killer, rapist, necrophiliac, and kidnapper who taunted 7 states between 1974-1978 by committing 30+ murders on young women. Bundy was regarded as handsome and charismatic, which were traits that he exploited to win their trust. He would then seclude and assault them, and would even revisit the scene to sexually violate the body during decomposition and it was impossible to interact with it anymore. He decapitated 12 of his victims and even kept their heads as trophies. (Wikipedia, 2018) During his childhood, he was essentially raised by his grandparents who posed as his parents while his mother posed as his sister. Bundy respected his grandfather greatly who had a showed his abusive habits towards anyone who questioned his authority which contradicted his grandmother’s obedient attitude. At his young age, he showed interest in women and even went around to peep into their homes and it escalated to watching pornography. He also showed interest in crime magazines which encouraged his sexual violent fantasies. Christina Nixon, a Bundy expert claimed, considering porn magazines view women as sex objects, it most certainly amplified his feelings of hate/disrespect towards certain women. (Hammon, 2017)
His violent urges were sparked by the sudden breakup with his girlfriend, Stephanie Brooks. Similar to how he grew comfortable around his girlfriend then suddenly got dumped, he made his victims feel comfortable and killed them. All his victims had brown hair with a part down the middle which could be assumed to be how his girlfriend looked. Bundy displayed many personality traits typically found in ASPD patients such as the charm he used on the women he abducted and killed. Although there is no direct connection between Antisocial personality disorder and serial killings, there is evidence that the traits of ASPD can influence the actions of one’s sexually violent fantasies due to the lack of remorse and regard of others. Since there isn’t one theory pointing towards the cause of a serial killer’s violent behavior, sexual paraphilias and childhood trauma contribute to the development of a personality disorder. In one particular case, an adolescent, diagnosed with a conduct disorder, developed a sexual sadist fantasy about his mother which ended in her death. This highlighted the connection of conduct disorders during childhood which could lead to the diagnosis of ASPD. This proves the point that these factors could lead to acting upon one’s violent urges which is the impulsivity catergorized in ASPD and CD during childhood.
Serial Killer Behavior. (2019, Jun 26).
Retrieved September 27, 2022 , from
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