Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Serial killing motivation

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Serial killing motivation:
What motivates serial killing?

Overview[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The term serial killer is now defined as an individual who has committed three or more murders over a period that exceeds over a month (Tithecott, 1997; Cahill, 2014). The term was coined in 1931 in Germany in relation to Peter Kurten (Wagner, 1932) a serial killer who sexually assaulted and murdered nine people before being caught in 1931. Since then, the term ‘serial killer’ spread around the world. The first time the term was used in America was 1976 in association to the serial killer known as the ‘Son of Sam’ or David Berkowitz. Berkowitz killed six people in New York in the late 1970s (Klausner, 1981). Ever since, serial killer, has been a common phrase and loosely used to describe someone with a compulsion or psychological need to kill multiple individuals.

Serial killers are not common, in fact are very rare in this day and age, due to highly advanced technology used to identify DNA and the amount of video surveillance, tracking capabilities, and all round new equipment society has available (Parker et al., 2013). In this day and age it is very unlikely someone could get away with one murder let alone multiple. Therefore successful serial killers become infamous quickly and their fame lasts for decades.

The motivation behind serial killings is not easy to identify. Serial killers all have different motivators. These range through emotions, psychological issues, biological factors and mental disorders (Fox & Levin, 2014). Fox and Levin research[grammar?] focused on how serial killing often infers a contribution of many motivators making it hard to blame one concept of motivation. This is because serial killers are complex individuals. Motivations or reasons can change as time progresses and therefore it is very difficult to explain one motivation without the consideration of aspects of another motivator, as well as considering underlying motivations that subconsciously make someone more susceptible or predisposed to kill.

Every single serial killer recorded in history has had attributes to a mental disorder or psychological/physical abuse in their past (Allely et. al., 2014). These happenings within their childhood or the imbalance of chemicals within the brain are the main reason they have started to kill and have this ‘need’ to take a human life (Fox & Levin, 2014). Even though their motivations may seem straight forward like hate or envy, a healthy or sane individual who has had the same encounter with the emotion will not even consider killing to get what they want (Frank, 2014). Therefore behind every motivation and explanation a serial killer may blame their compulsion on, attributes of trauma, illness or abuse are often also underlying factors.

Fundamental Motivators[edit | edit source]

Fundamental motivations are the most basic, obvious and shallow reasons as to why a serial killer has the need to kill. These basic motivators may associate with the reason why the crimes occurred but in most cases they are not the sole underlying reason or motivation for the happenings. Basic motivators are mostly intertwined with other more complex factors like psychological or biological issues.

Revenge[edit | edit source]

Revenge is a very common and very effective motivator for a serial killer. Pedro Rodrigues Filho killed a suspected amount of 100 people while on a ‘revenge-seeking rampage’ after his girlfriend was killed by a rival gang (Eddy, 2015). He proceeded to kill every member of the gang, then once in jail killed his own father for murdering his mother. His reign of terror started in 1968, but was caught in 1973. Even incarcerated he killed another 47 inmates, all assumed members of the mentioned gang.

Vanity and Attention-seeking[edit | edit source]

A Jack the Ripper letter from 1888

Vanity or attention seeking behaviour is an emotion that drives people to do drastic things to become ‘infamous’ for years and centuries to come. One well known serial killer, Jack the Ripper, who was never caught, still has people hypothesising about who the killer really was (Keller, 1984; Foreman & Evans, 2005; Cook, 2009). He even sent letters taunting the police (Rumbelow, 2013). There are still tours around London where his crimes occurred and books, documentaries and in-depth research papers are still being written about him to this day, even though his reign of terror over the London district started in 1888. The fame and this continued search for the truth by individuals all around the world has motivated others to do the same thing, such as Dennis Rader, the BTK killer. Rader taunted the police with letters about his killings but he was eventually caught because police traced his letters back to a church computer he had sole access to (Wenzl, 2008).

Money and Greed[edit | edit source]

Money is a key motivator for a lot of people. But in some cases money and greed can motivate someone to extreme measures. Women, particularly in the early 19th century have been recorded killing for profit, earning the well-known title of the black widow (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998). Kelleher and Kelleher describes black widow, the namesake from a type of spider that eats her partner after being impregnated by him, as a women who would marry and kill their new husband in order to inherit his fortune and then move onto their next victim. Daisy de Melker killed all three of her husbands for their money before being hanged for her crimes in South Africa (McAlister, 2013).

The elderly aree often targeted by serial killers, particularly by female killers. Caregiver’s like Amy Archer-Gilligan who ran a nursing home abused their victims' weakened state. She killed at least five elderly people under her care with poison to collect their life insurance money (Hornberge, 2002).

As well as the elderly, children and infants were also targets. Dagmar Overbye in the early 1900s killed over 25 children. She worked as a caretaker, looking after out of wedlock children. The mothers would send these infants to Overby, and every month they would send money for the care of the child. Though once at the house, the child would be killed. Overbye would keep collecting the money sent by the mothers after the child’s death (Pedersen, 2013). She took in and murdered infants and young children for seven years but was eventually caught in 1920.

Emotional Motivations[edit | edit source]

Emotions are what drive everyone in their day to day life. So they are a huge attribute of motivating a serial killer. Although emotions drive everyone in everyday life the majority of people will not even think of murdering one person let alone murdering so many they are considered a serial killer. This means other factors have to be taken into considering when associating these emotions with murder. Psychological illnesses and trauma as well as abuse can manipulate the brain, making an unhealthy individual. Many researchers (Fox & Levin, 2013; Liebert, 1985; Stone, 2001) show evidence that incardinated[spelling?] serial killers all had/have some psychological issues that are the underlying reason they are predisposed to kill. A basic emotion like love or envy can lead to an unhealthy individual’s initial reason to kill; though a healthy and stable person wouldn’t even consider this route.

Arousal and Excitement[edit | edit source]

Albert Fish after his arrest

The idea of killing someone for arousal is disturbing for many people and is thought to relate to deeper psychological issues (Bennell, Bloomfield, Emeno & Musolino, 2012). But arousal is one of the top motivators for serial killers. Many, after they’ve been caught confess the reason they kill is because they get a sick satisfaction and sexual gratification from watching their victims die (Brady & Sotos, 2001). This includes well-known serial killers such as Andrei Chikatilo, Albert Fish, Jerffrey Dhamer and Fred and Rose West, but there are many more confessed serial killers that agree sexual excitement motivates them to killing continuously.

Fred and Rose West, a Serial killing duo killed 12 young women (including two of their own children) for sexual satisfaction. The excitement they would get from torturing, raping and killings these young females motivated them to do it again and again, the more time went on the more brutal and brazen they became with their victims until they were caught in 1994. They even kept trophies of their victims, including bones and teeth to sexually excite them after the victims were dead and buried.

Ted Bundy is one of the world’s most prolific serial killers of the twentieth century. He killed at least 36 people, but no one knows if this was completely accurate. Many have suggested more murders but he died before he could confess to others. Simply put, because of the sheer number and brutality of his killings it is clear he loved taking another’s life (J. Dobson, personal communication, January 24, 1989)[factual?]. The ecstasy and the excitement he felt during those moments motivated him to kill over and over until he was caught and sentenced to death.

Albert Fish killed, mutilated and ate at least three young children that the police found. He mutilated, killed and eventually ate these young children because he got an enormous amount of sexual gratification, admitting in his trial that he ‘involuntarily ejaculated twice’ while strangling his last victim, a 10 year old girl (Brown, Harris, & Daniel, 2014).

Love[edit | edit source]

Deep love is well known as a madness that can encourage and instigate dangerous behaviour (Sounes, 2011). In the case of serial killing, couples may not even exhibit any suspicion or troubling behaviour before meeting and becoming entangled together. Between 1931 to 1934 Bonnie and Clyde, a couple of bank robbers killed a known 13 people. Before the two met, Bonnie loved to write poetry while Clyde was a petty thief. Neither had attempted to kill before they started their love rampage.

Hate[edit | edit source]

Hate is an emotion that drives a lot of everyday people but in some extreme and rare cases it motivates someone to kill. Starting from underlying psychological trauma (which is discussed later) the emotion of hate can manifests within and eventually can lead to serial killing. The Green River Killer, Gary Leon Ridgeway, is a prime example of how hate can manifest to killing (LePard, 2015). He raped and murdered a known 49 prostitutes because of his hate and disgust for their profession, even though he was a regular customer. Gary Ridgeway was a devoted advocate for the church and his beliefs lead to an animosity toward prostitutes (Levi-Minzi & Shields, 2007). This hate manifested to raping and killing to satisfying his sexual urges as well as ‘cleansing’ the world of these subhuman women (Fersch, 2006). He was caught in 2001, and was convicted of killing 49, confessed to 71 but is thought to have killed over 90 people.

Envy and Jealously[edit | edit source]

Emotions of jealously and envy are not necessarily bad or evil motivators. They can motivate people to be competitive and be very successful in their careers (Rothman, 1991). But in some rare individual cases it can lead to serial murders. Rose West, a serial killer who helped in the murders of 8 young women was driven by a lot of different motivators, but in particular, envy and jealously (Sounes, 2011). Her first victim, Rena West, was out of envy (Woodrow, 2011). Rose wanted Rena’s husband and therefore killed Rena so she could marry him. Jealousy motivated Rose after she married. She murdered numerous women who caught her husband’s eye because she felt threatened by them (Flowers, 2013). This even included her daughter Heather, and her husband’s biological daughter, Charmaine. The motivation of envy and jealously are powerful and within the right person, with the combination of issues just as Rose West had these emotions can motivate an urge to kill. (Sounes, 2011).

Biology Motivations[edit | edit source]

The idea of biological markers creating the underlying motivation for serial killers is being widely researched and has shown abnormal aspects within serial killers compared to healthy individuals (Zak, 2013). Ideas such as the ‘evil gene’ have been thoroughly researched but no conclusive evidence has been shown (Rose, 2000). Abnormal brain functioning, including lower brain capacity and defects within the hormonal levels have empirical evidence suggesting they can contribute towards someone becoming a serial killer (Winerman, 2004).

The Evil gene[edit | edit source]

The idea of an ‘evil’ gene within serial killers is widely discussed but no concrete evidence suggests that one exists within the genome (Zak, 2013). Serials killers, such as Ted Bundy, Peter Kurten, and Carl Panzram all showed psychopathic tendency’s at young ages but no evidence suggests that they were evil as a result of a gene they possessed (Rose, 2000). The family members of serial killers, who share genetic markers with these killers also don’t show the violent tendencies like their relative killer, therefore the idea of a particular gene that makes someone more likely to kill is highly unlikely.

Other biological reasoning has been suggested by researchers. Winerman (2004) revealed that high testosterone levels combined with low serotonin levels can lead to aggressive and sadistic behaviour. This means the individual is more susceptible to other motivators that can lead to becoming a serial killer. Winerman also showed evidence that high levels of toxic metals such as magnesium, lead, cadmium and copper have been found in higher traces in past serial killers. These metals cause serotonin and dopamine levels to lower, contributing to aggressive behaviour.

Brain Defects[edit | edit source]

Another form of biological trauma is brain defeats, like lower IQ or head damage at a young age. Michaurd’s and Aynesworth’s research in 1999 showed that 29% of serial killers were found to be accident prone. The idea that brain defects lead to a predisposition to serial killing has been suggested in this study but there is no imperial evidence as of yet, more research should be done into the concept before this concept is sound. Debra Brown, as mentioned earlier was one part of a Serial killer couple. She showed no remorse to the 8 killings she was a part of but due to her low IQ, which had been apparent since a young age, combined with her non-violent history before meeting Cole she was given a lesser charge. It is thought that she was very susceptible to Coleman’s control and therefore she wasn’t explicitly responsible for what she was a part of. Through Michaurd and Aynesworth’s research in 1999 it was concluded that there are links between aggression and impaired executive brain functioning, like lower IQ. Therefore, serial killers such as Brown may just be reacting with neurological damage and basic instinct, combined with the strong control of someone dominant within their life, rather than on pure evil.

Environmental Motivations[edit | edit source]

Childhood trauma has been linked to serial killers. Over the years, statistical significance has supported the ideas that both physical and psychological trauma has a permanent effect on a person (Michaurd & Aynesworth 1999). Research done in 1999 by Stephen Micharud and Hugh Aynesorth concluded that 42% of convicted serial killers suffered from physical abuse as a child while 74% suffered psychological abuse. As well as this, their research showed 35% were witnesses to sexual abuse and 43% were sexually abused themselves, suggesting correlation between sexual abuse and the predisposition of serial killing. This information supports the idea at there are underlying motivation caused by trauma while young.

Emotional and Physical Abuse[edit | edit source]

Emotional and physical abuses are two of the most prevalent issues that a youth can go through during childhood (Mitchell & Aamodt, 2005). But in instances where this abuse is constant and predominantly violent, it can influence a child to adapt serial killing tendencies, such as loosing emotions and being violent towards weaker subjects, like animals, to survive their ordeal. In later life these adaptations can manifest into more violence tendencies such as a compulsive need to kill. This doesn’t mean that every child abused will become a serial killer but just makes these children more susceptible (Becker & French, 2004). 42% (Michaurd & Aynesworth, 1999) of serial killers have reported being abused physically or emotionally as children, including Charles Manson and Peter Kurten, therefore suggesting that there is a correlation between the psychical or emotional abuse and the motivation to become a serial killer.

Sexual Abuse[edit | edit source]

[Edit:[Change sentence to: There has been a strong history of child sexual abuse in Australia, with 70% of prisoner population having reported being sexually abused as a child]?] Child sexual abuse has a strong link to a life of crime, 70% of prisoner in Australia were sexually abused as children (Queensland Children’s Commission, 1997); but majority of these crimes are petty, and small. 43% (Michaurd & Aynesworth, 1999) of convicted serial killers have been sexually abused themselves, which suggests a correlation between sexual abuse and becoming a serial killer. This pattern of abuse is something that can be passed down through generations of children (Ryan, Leversee & Lane, 2011). Rose and Fred West are prime examples of this. Both convicted serial killers were sexually abused by their parents (Sounes, 2011). Fred by his mother and Rose by her father. When they had children their children were subjected to the same abuse. This cycle of abuse got more violent as it was passed down and lead to two of their children becoming their victims (Flowers, 2013). But yet again being sexually abused doesn’t mean someone will definitely be a serial killer but it does give the right influences that if combined with other motivations can lead to wanting or needing to kill.

Psychological Motivations[edit | edit source]

Psychological motivations aren’t the sole influences for serial killers but can provide encouragement for someone to become a serial killer (Fox & Levin, 2014). Psychological illnesses, such as abuse, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, can create an imbalance of hormones which can make someone predisposed to killing (Angrilli, Sartori, & Donzella, 2013). Another type of psychological influence is beliefs, such as religion, and cults. These types of beliefs motivate many people across the world and in some cases their beliefs are so intense and they are so devoted that it can lead to killing (Victor, 1994).

Religion and Cults[edit | edit source]

Religion is a huge motivator for serial killers. This is because they are confident and certain within their own beliefs and may even believe they’re ideals are superior to others (Angrilli, Sartori, & Donzella, 2013). The Yorkshire Ripper, one of United Kingdom’s prolific serial killers was a devoted Born again Christen. He truly believed that he could hear God and that he was on a divine mission (Ellis, 2013). He killed 13 women before being caught.

Cults, similar to religion, are based upon a shared idealistic view. But their underlying devotion to their leader means they’ll do anything to gain approval of the group and be accepted (O’Reilly & Chatman, 1996). O’Reilly’s and Chatman’s simple idea of acceptance within a religious group or cult can motivate people to kill on a large scale to keep either their dedication from falling or their beliefs from being conflicted. The River Falls Cult, in the late 70’s shows what devotion does. Carl Drew, a professed Satanist and claimed son of Satan killed 3 females as blood sacrifices from 1979 to 1980 (Newton, 1996) with the help of two followers.

Mercy Killings[edit | edit source]

The concept of mercy killings is that the person or people are in too much pain, and the killer takes it upon themselves to take the lives of these people who may be sickly, old or very unwell. They believe they are doing good, helping people in need and freeing them from the pain (Sereny, 2013).

Donald Harvey, a serial killer claimed to kill only to give mercy to those under his care that were very sickly. Harvey confessed to 87 murders over the 18 years he worked in the health industry (Fox & Levin, 2013).

Kristen Gilbert, also known as an Angel of Death, killed 3 people and tried to kill two by injecting them with epinephrine while she was employed as a nurse (Field & Pearson, 2010). In Field’s and Pearson’s research it was hypothesized that Gilbert used these emergency situations to show her expertise as a nurse and gain recognition for her ‘saving’ these patients after she had sabotaged them, but she never admitted to this.

Psychological abuse[edit | edit source]

The Likelihood of a student bringing a weapon to school based on risk factors (Adesman & Schapiro, 2011)

Psychological abuse, such as verbal and online bullying is something many children experience in this day and age due to the fact it is easier to be an anonymous bully ( Lösel, & Bender, 2014), but rarely do they become serial killers. The motivation of psychological abuse stems from the deep hatred and anger felt by a child who is suffering constantly from this type of abuse (Pellegrini, & Long, 2002). Tremblay’s (1999) research gives evidence suggesting that only 6% of bullied adolescents actually go onto committing violent acts. But as Adesman and Schapiro's (2011) statistics show, it is more likely that a violent or aggressive outburst will occur when bullying and taunting are present. Serial killers such as Donald Harvey (Fox & Levin, 2013), and Rose and Fred West (Sounes, 2011), stated that they had been bullied in their childhoods either by family members or by social peers. This suggests that psychological bullying is an underlying motivation for serial killing.

Disorders and Illnesses[edit | edit source]

Disorders and mental illness are not sole motivations for serial killers. Not all people with a type of mental illnesses are going to be killers, but the underlying problem behind majority of serial killers is an undiagnosed illness (Frith, 2015). These underlying illnesses are the suggested reasoning and motivations as to why they kill.

Psychopath and Sociopath[edit | edit source]

Brain activity comparing a healthy individual to a known psychopath. The psychopaths brain is lacking activity within the frontal lobe area, where emotions are processed.

Due to media and the entertainment industry, the terms psychopath and sociopath are the most common term associated with any serial killer. Psychopath is the term used to define someone who is suffering from a prolonged mental illness with symptoms including violent and abnormal social behaviour, like having no emotions (Blair, Mitchell, & Blair, 2005). Being a psychopath isn’t itself a motivator for serial killing but is factored into the motivation due to the individuals lack of control and their violence. A sociopath is similar to a psychopath, where the individual is suffering from mental illness but symptoms include extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviours, like lacking a moral code, and not understand local culture (Thomas, 2013). These two types of disorders can make an individual lose control and in some rare instances make one kill, or have a compulsion to kill (Edens, 2013). The lack of control and the lack of either social behaviour or violent tendencies can motivate an individual to do unstable-like activities, like having a compulsion to kill.

Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)[edit | edit source]

Schizophrenia and Borderline personality disorder are both very rare mental disorders, but both have a high prevalence among serial killers (Wilson & Seaman, 2007). Schizophrenia is a very dangerous disorder that can include delusions, disorganized or catatonic behaviour, emotional flatness, and apathy (Frith, 2015), while PBD symptoms include deep feelings of insecurity, impulsiveness, obsessive behaviour and contradictory feelings, and in rare cases psychotic symptoms likes delusions or false beliefs are present (Leichsenring et. al., 2011) These symptoms , combined with environmental influences can create the perfect underlying motivation for a serial killer. Schechter (2012) states numerous serial killers including, David Berkowitz, Ed Gein, and Richard Chase were all diagnosed with various types of schizophrenia (mostly paranoid). Schechter also mentions serial kills that have BPD including Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Kenneth Bianchi and Kenneth Bianchi. The information gathered suggests that these killers could have been unstable at the time they committed each murder, as majority of them were not diagnosed with either schizophrenia or BPD until after their arrest (Sullivan, 2000; Stone, 2001; Allely et. al., 2014; Chesler, 2012). The comprehension of these illnesses gives the fundamental mental state of some serial killers, like the ones mentioned, and therefore gives the underlying motivation behind their actions.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Trying to determine a serial killers sole motive is impossible, as every single serial killer has multiple underlying motives as to why they kill (Hickey & Harris, 2013). Fundamental and basic motivations like greed, love or hatred might be the most obvious layer to their motivation but majority of the time there is psychological, biological issues and environmental factors that can influence and make an individual predisposed to killing.

In summary, the motivation for a serial killer is a combination of vastly different factors such as emotions, psychological illnesses, biological predispositions, and environmental factors affecting an individual since youth (Allely, 2014). No one simple influence actually motivates an individual to kill. But the right combination of basic motivations like greed or religion joined with an unsound mental state and biological predispositions can motivate a compulsion to kill.

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External Links[edit | edit source] - Famous Serial Killers