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A serial killer is a person who has killed 3 or more people within the space of a month, with a significant period of time in between them. Serial killers kill because of desire and pleasure their sexual desires and the need to fulfill their arousing fantasies leads them to murder, but are they born with this desire or does a bad upbringing cause it? 96% of who serial killers murder are complete strangers which means they have done nothing to harm or upset the serial killer, making it even more cruel as the individual is innocent, but also lacking reason, murderers often kill with reasoning such as revenge, but serial killers do it purely in lust and desire. Serial killers are a rare breed since only 1% of murders are serial killers. There are certain factors which can drive a person to become a serial killer, medical examiners believe becoming a serial killer comes down to three things: childhood abuse as it creates enormous anger, while neurologic and psychiatric diseases of the brain can damage the capacity to stop urges to violence. We can split these into two main factors: their nature of when they were born which includes having a mental illness and brain damage if you were born with them or if they happened in an accident. The other factor being their upbringing/nurture, this looks at the impact that external factors have, in socialisation on that particular indivudual. These factors could involve the serial killers’ family and the way their parents have have brought up the child, which could have resulted in psychological damage and as a result created a person that has different values and normalities to everyone else in society. But which one plays the bigger role, is it their nature or their nurture?
First, I am going to talk about nature, genetic make-up and why that has such a large impact on a person. For example Arthur J. Shawcross had a lesion on the MRI, he had an abnormality in the EEG, which could cause bizarre behaviour, which it did since he committed 11 murders, his medical examiners even said that if he hadn’t had brain damage he wouldn’t have become a serial killer (interview with a serial killer), this means that nature was most likely the cause of him becoming a serial killer creating an argument for serial killers being born ‘evil’. Another example is Jeffrey Dahmer who is one of the most well-known serial killers and had borderline personality disorder. People with this disorder have poor emotional regulation as well as making small things cause overly big reactions, so the likely hood of Jeffrey Dahmer having an aggressive response to something little which his victims had done is very likely. This in turn adds to the strength of this argument.
John Wayne was a serial killer who killed 33 males, it was said he was a perfectly normal boy who was polite and very kind, he had friends and showed no signs of serial killer instinct. At the age of 15, he suffered a blow to the head which had caused a blood clot in his brain, which was only discovered at 16 and he often suffered from blackouts caused by the clot. Many scientists who believe that serial killers become who they are because of nature, believe that Wayne’s aggressive behaviour was caused by the blood clot in his brain, this further proves that serial killers are very much affected by brain disorders, because if John Wayne had not suffered from a clot in his brain he would not have had aggressive tendencies and blackouts.
Another example of a serial killer is Kohlhepp – he killed 7 citizens; A forensic psychologist, says Kohlhepp was troubled from the age of 15 months. He showed odd and aggressive behaviour from nursery school, He hit other children and destroyed their projects. He shot a dog with a BB gun and used bleach to kill a goldfish, there was no information of him ever having a difficult upbringing leading us to think he was born with his anger and pleasure in hurting others. 84% of serial killers are male, this therefore meaning that if you are born female your chances of becoming a serial killer are far less, leading us to believe that nature has a big impact. However, I could name an endless list of serial killers with mental illness and brain damage, but I could also name an endless list of people with mental illnesses or brain damage that aren’t serial killers or murderers, making us wonder what the bigger factor really is – abnormalities in the brain or having a bad upbringing.
The most common trigger for serial killers that we know of, is any form of abuse as a child. Arthur J. Shawcross claimed he was sexually abused as a child by his mom, that she gave him oral sex and that the two had intercourse when Shawcross was 14 years old, right before he ran away (interview with a serial killer) which makes it seem like his childhood could have had an impact on him as well triggering his mental illness. A further example, Jeffrey Dahmer, was said to be a perfectly normal child with no signs of abnormal behaviour, until his family started moving around a lot, and that is when he started torturing animals, this proves that him having had trouble with socialisation and settling into a home could have caused him to have this desire for hurting others.
Willy Pickton is a serial killer in Canada who is estimated to have killed 49 women in Vancouver, he was a pig butcher on his parent’s farm, and he was said to have shown a weird sense of humour since, he would cut off the pig’s penises skin, then use them as a belt as a joke. He then carried on strangling his victims then hanging them up in his barn and gutting them as he did to the pigs, just like he did in his childhood but changed from pigs to humans. Willy Pickton did not have any mental illnesses or brain damage leading us to believe that his upbringing could have been the only cause, his parents both died when he was relatively young causing trauma in his early life, and the fact that he treated his victims the same as the pigs he butchered shows us that what he did in his early life could have caused him to perform these horrendous killings.
Rosemary West is yet another famous serial killer who was convicted for 10 killings, she was said to have had a very terrible upbringing that could be used as a reason for her gruesome murders. Rose’s mother suffered from severe depression, which could have deprived Rosemary of any chance of normal childhood. Rosemary became a teenager and performed badly at school because of her poor attendance, her parents were unbothered by this making Rosemary feel even more unloved. Rosemary’s parents divorced when she was a teenager. She lived with her mother for a while before moving in with her father when she was 16 years old in Bishops Cleeve. But her father was a lot worse as he was incredibly violent and repeatedly sexually abused her. This could very well be linked to why Rose sexually abused her victims before killing them, lacking a moral conscience and accepting this as being normal.
Most of my sources say that what makes a person a serial killer is their brain damage or their mental illness which they were born with, which then is triggered by their childhood, if they have a rough childhood for example abusive parents, if they were bullied or didn’t have any friends, but it is mostly dependent on the parents. At University of Pennsylvania criminologist Adrian Raine finds research to indicate that when children are separated from parents before the age of 3, they are more likely to show signs of a psychopathic personality at the age of 28, and since the average age of a serial killer is 27 and a half years old (National centre for crisis management), this shows that not having proper good caring parents can very much cause you to show aggressive behaviour later on. Proving that avoiding a rough childhood could save you in the later years of becoming a serial killer, making nurture have a larger impact.
In conclusion, my belief is that it is very rare to have a serial killer without either a troubled childhood or a mental illness/ brain damage, as many expert criminologists say, “Nature does choose what traits we are born with, but at the same time these traits cannot be exposed without a mechanism that triggers these individuals to commit these horrific crimes”. But I think the factor that has the greatest impact is the troubled childhood since 94% of serial killers have experienced abuse in the past, most effectively as a child. This is what drove Rosemary West to kill, she was inspired by her father’s sexual abuse, as she did the same to her victims, serial killers often inflict pain on vulnerable victims that resemble their childhood tormentor.
Willy Pickton is one of many other serial killers that was heavily affected by his childhood as his mother was known to be quite strict and he lost her early on to cancer, and not much later his father passed away too, causing him to have a lot of grief early on in life. Pickton treated his victims exactly how he butchered pigs, as a child he hung pigs and gutted them, and then carried on doing the same to his human victims, showing us that his childhood was the factor that made him kill in this fashion, (this was said to be the thing he did with his father) it was even believed he sold some human meat to his customers, treating it as if it was normal and literally using them exactly like pigs.
There is a similar experience with animals with Jeffrey Dahmer as he started out with killing and torturing animals too, when his life began to get hard with all the moving, and Kohlhepp also started killing goldfish with bleach and shooting dogs with BB guns and later went on to kill 7 citizens. This shows the impact a rough childhood can have. It also shows a pattern of behaviour, and this could be one way to recognize a serial killer. A difficult childhood and suffering abuse can lead to damage of prefrontal cortex which is vulnerable and can lead to an individual becoming a serial killer. However, it still has its weakness as not all children who are abused turn into serial killer and not all serial killers have been abused. But only 4% of serial killers have not experienced abuse in the past, meaning that almost every serial killer has. James Fallon is the perfect example of this, he is a neuroscientist and says he was shocked when he examined his own brain scan and realized it contained all the markings of a psychopath. In his book, Fallon admits his shock as he then researched his ancestry and discovered seven alleged murderers in his own family tree going back generations. He believes he escaped a similar fate because of his parents’ devotion toward him. This supports my theory of the main trigger being a rough childhood, and without that you are most likely to have avoided showing psychopathic behaviour.
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