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There’s something about serial killers that makes most people fascinated. What makes them kill? Were they born with that desire? The issue regarding whether serial killers are born or made needs to be addressed because there is not much information known about them since infamous killers such as Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez are either no longer alive to tell their side of the story refuse to tell their story. The nature versus nurture issue regarding serial killers needs to be discussed because society needs to educate themselves, so that people can look out for the signs of a potential serial killer to prevent any future violence.
An article by Johnson and Becker (1997) start their work off by explaining the basis of the movie Natural Born Killers and how it implies that the main characters were bound to end up the way they did. The article looks further into if it can predict if young people will end up being homicidal, the way the researchers go about it is by looking into case studies. Johnson and Becker looked in a total of 9 cases, the first one was a fourteen-year-old white male referred to as L. When asked about how he felt that he was going crazy he told the researchers other thoughts he was experiencing like killing other people and wanting to be a serial killer and admitted to killing several animals with a BB gun. Additionally, he had told the researchers he had several fantasy ideations of killing his mother. The way this study explained nature versus nurture was looking at each of the case studies compared to various types of serial killers. In this article, most of the research done in this article is based on nature. The categories of killers are backed up with reasons behind them. For example, based on the first case in Johnson and Becker (1997) L had a fantasy of killing his mother and it was shown later in the article research has shown sexually sadistic killers have mixed relationships with their mothers, commanding fathers, and having very little social skills. Johnson and Becker (1997) concluded in their research the urge to kill often develops while people are infants and think there needs to be more research to determine what causes those to kill and some to not.
Another article states there is a whole history behind the concept of serial killers stemming from the time of Ancient Roman emperors (Miller, 2013). From a demographic perspective, and looking at the nature side of serial killers, the demographic is primarily white males in their 20s or 40s (Miller, 2013). Additionally, known serial killers when they have been caught have had no prior criminal history but start to commit crimes and exhibit antisocial behavior (Miller, 2013). The article does not go into detail about the beginnings of a serial, but it observes how some of serial killer treat the bodies of their victims and how it is like the behaviors of early societies (Miller, 2013). This article goes with the nature perspective by supporting the idea of evolution being the source of serial killers wanting to hurt others. Miller (2013) states the combination of killing, dismembering, having sex with, and eating their victims goes with the need of survival like the ancestral humans. As well as the article by Johnson and Becker (1997), Miller (2013) narrows down types of serial killers and goes into the characteristics of each category. Their research does not have a conclusion to the question whether it is nature or nurture that creates a serial killer, but it does address the important issue of finding commonality among serial killers to better identify them. Regarding nature vs nurture if someone will become a serial killer is in part two when it goes into more of the developmental factors of serial killers.
When serial killers kill they typically follow a pattern and have motives for killing, according to Scott (2008) killers feel the need to dominate their victims and they often are strangers in relation to their victims. On a nature standpoint, the average serial killer is a white man from a lower class background and typically in their twenties or thirties (Scott, 2008). It is also noted that on the nurture side, many serial killers were abused as children (Scott, 2008). It is known to all, there is no special marker that shows who is a serial killer and who isn’t. Scott (2008) states that it is difficult to spot serial killers due to their psychopathic nature due to their lack of empathy when they kill someone, but so they do not stick out in a crowd, they copy others emotions. Scott (2008) goes into the idea how some may think some children are just born bad or evil but goes into it depending on the child. Scott (2008) uses Ed Kemper as an example of a child being inherently bad, before he even went on his killing spree, he beheaded his sister’s barbie dolls and having the fantasy of killing his 2nd grade teacher. But there is also evidence behind nurture being the cause of making someone a serial killer, for instance, Albert DeSalvo also known as the Boston Strangler, was sold as a slave by his abusive father (Scott, 2008). The perspective in this article is a combination of both nature and nurture being what makes a serial killer. One thing is for certain, Scott (2008) says the majority of serial killers are psychopaths because they kill because it is an urge they want and they do not see their victims as people, they see them as objects to take.
In an article by Pilson (2011), it is shown that serial killers are formed from a combination of both nature and nurture, however, it is primarily nurture that makes people into serial killers. Pilson (2011) uses infamous Jack the Ripper as an example and he became a killer due to the city environment that he lived in. Additionally, the idea of nurture being the cause of what makes a person a serial killer is supported through the idea of the economy these people lived in. Harold Shipman was a serial killer who was also a doctor who killed his patients and then wrote himself into their wills for financial gain. Pilson (2011) acknowledges how both nature and nurture take part in making someone turn into a serial killer in her research, however, she primarily looks at nurture being the main idea of what makes people kill. Jeffrey Dahmer became a serial killer and felt isolated the majority of his life as a young person which was a factor in what caused him to lash out.
Mitchell and Aamodt (2005) acknowledge a contributing factor for serial killers is child abuse. Statistically over 40 percent of serial killers have been abused as children (Mitchell & Aamodt, 2005). Mitchell and Aamodt (2005) observed serial killers’ motive for killing and only considered serial killers whose motive was lust for observation on whether they were abused as children. Mitchell and Aamodt (2005) then compared their data of the serial killers and found that child abuse does not necessarily cause someone to become a serial killer but there is significantly more serial killers who were abused as children than the rest of the general population.
In an article by Mehra and Samavati Pirouz (2012), they take the perspective of mental disorders play a role in why serial killers kill. From a crime investigator’s perspective, it is hard to tell a serial killer’s motive because it is not obvious and those who do have a mental disorder, they may lack responsibility for their crimes. By definition, psychopathy is a mental disorder and many serial killers have. Psychopaths have a lack of empathy, they are impulsive, and they want control (Mehra & Samavati Pirouz, 2012). The article then goes into detail about the characteristics of psychopaths and they are synonymous with serial killers, they are charming, mysterious, and violent (Mehra & Samavati Pirouz, 2012). Due to the nature of being a psychopath, this work is taking the perspective of both nature and nurture because the cause of psychopathy being unknown and research is still being done.
In an article by Stone (2001), discusses the history of serial killers and the origin of why they are referred to as “serial” kills. Killings have been spaced out and isolated (Stone, 2001). This article primarily looks at the nurture perspective of what makes people kill. Stone (2001) recalls from an FBI study the predisposing factors of a serial killer are that the majority of them were being forced to witness sexual activity, child neglect. Additionally, people who later became serial killers were engaged in deviant behavior as children and also killed animals while they were growing up (Stone, 2011). Also injury and illness falls under the nurture category if it happens after a person is born. For example, Stone (2001) uses Fred West who got in a motorcycle accident and hurt his head at age 17 then had started exhibiting personality changes. He was starting to get moody and have random outbursts, he was later found molesting a young girl and later became a serial killer. Overall, this article does not say much about the nature of serial killers but it is informative on factors that can potentially lead people to kill.
Research on the nature versus nurture of serial killers is important because it will better inform society as a whole of potential risk factors that lead people to want to commit multiple murders in a short period of time. Additionally, due to psychopathy being linked with serial killers it can better help people observe symptoms so psychopathy can be treated and less looked down upon. The research done on the nature versus nurture of serial killers is beneficial because it helps the mental health and criminal justice system determine what to look for. Not all people who were abused as children end up being serial killers, however, it is those who have not addressed their issues who do. Even though there is not a clear answer on whether it is nature or nurture that makes people serial killers, the research is helpful because it can help professionals find them before they can commit any murders and treat them for any underlying mental health issues. Further research should focus on psychopaths today regardless if they are criminals or serial killers because psychopaths are often also serial killers and those that are not serial killers they have risks of potentially becoming one due to that lack of empathy.
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