We’ve all seen them, no, not “Serial Killers”; We’ve all seen the movies, TV shows or binge-watched a few documentaries on Netflix. Maybe you’ve read a few thrilling novels that took you down a rabbit hole of twists and turns, ultimately revealing the ever elusive serial killer at the end. Serial killers - or rather - the mind of a serial killer, have fascinated thousands over many years. With the likes of Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy or The Zodiac killer, their names alone provoke the need to know more!
A recent news article reported that “Florida police have said they are searching for a possible serial killer believed to have fatally shot three people over the last two weeks.” This prompted me to ask myself what sort of Mental Illnesses do serial killers have in common?
First, let me start off by saying that 'serial killer' itself is not a diagnosis, but the terminology 'serial murder' has been defined by the F.B.I. as “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s) in separate events.”
Serial killers are different in many ways, in their motivations for killing and their behavior at the crime scene. Certain trait commonalities to some serial murderers include sensation seeking, a lack of remorse or guilt, impulsiveness, the need for control, and predatory behavior. These traits and behaviors are consistent with the psychopathic personality disorder.
Understanding psychopathy and its relationship to serial murder.
The most broadly recognized mental disorder associated with serial killing is Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Personality disorder manifest in people who use a mixture of charm, manipulation, intimidation, and occasionally violence to control others, in order to satisfy their own selfish needs.
The symptoms of APD can vary in seriousness. The more extraordinary, harmful and dangerous behavior patterns are referred to as sociopathic or psychopathic. (There was quite some debate as to the distinction between the two).
Sociopathy is chiefly characterized as something severely wrong with one's conscience; psychopathy is characterized by a complete lack of conscience regarding others.
All psychopaths do not become serial murderers. Instead, serial murderers may have some or many of the traits consistent with psychopathy. Psychopaths who commit serial murder don’t value human life. They are extremely callous in their interactions with their victims and kill without a sense of remorse. However, psychopathy alone does not explain the motivations of a serial killer.
Antisocial personality disorder is more common in males than in females. The highest prevalence of antisocial personality disorder is found among males who abuse alcohol or drugs.
Antisocial personality disorder is confirmed by a series of psychological evaluations. To rule other disorders out first, as this is a serious diagnosis.
It’s also been diagnosed among three of the most ruthless American serial killers:
- Ted Bundy, an infamous killer, and necrophile confessed to 30 murders in the 1970s.
- John Wayne Gacy, known as the “Killer Clown,” raped and killed 33 boys and young men in the 1970s.
- Charles Manson, the leader of the “Manson Family” cult and mastermind behind the 1969 murders at the home of Sharon Tate, was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
Another possible mental illness that has been linked to serial killings is Schizophrenia.
According to WebMD, “schizophrenia—a wide-ranging (and often misdiagnosed) mental illness—lists symptoms ranging from hallucination and delusions to emotional flatness and catatonia”. It is one of the most common mental disorders diagnosed among criminals, especially serial killers:
- David Gonzalez killed four people in 2004 and claimed he’d been inspired by “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
- Ed Gein, gruesome inspiration for fiction’s Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill, and Leatherface, murdered and mutilated his victims often keeping grisly “trophies.”
- David Berkowitz, better known as the “Son of Sam” killed six people in the 1970s claiming that his neighbor’s dog had told him to do it. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
- Jared Lee Loughner, convicted of killing six people and wounding 13 including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
- Richard Chase—”the vampire of Sacramento”—killed six people in California and drank their blood.
So, are some people just natural born killers? What made serial killers this way? How are they different from us? (Please let them be different from us.)
I have a very strong feeling that these are questions that will remain unanswered for quite some time to come. So, could there be any other mental condition implicated in serial killing? We can only speculate.