Unmasking the Truth Behind the Sanity of Serial Killers
The media essentially leads to the common misconceptions of serial killers. The fear of serial killing is intensified by news projections and media coverage. Movie and tv productions play a large role in portraying serial killers as insane and unable to control their actions. The most common misconceptions of serial killers are based on the mental well-being and the makeup of the person behind the killings. The classifications and personality traits of serial killers are often exaggerated to intensify fear and in return, false understandings bloom.
The most prominent misconception is based on the idea that all serial killers are insane and have a debilitating mental illness that causes them to commit their crimes. People often believe that serial killers lose control and cannot control when they kill. It is easy to brush off a serial killer as insane and unaware in order to provide comfort as to why someone would commit such a horrific crime. Anyone who would carefully choose victims and dismember bodies sounds out of their mind insane, right? “Probing the mind of a serial killer” states “When you hear about a serial killing, and see and hear just part of the actual details of these events from the all-pervasive TV network news, your first reaction is that the killer is insane. You’d have to be “crazy” to even think of the things that were done! But, those killings are frightening, horrifying, and, at the same time, somewhat compelling. The media knows this and plays to all these feelings.” The media plays a large role in creating the fear and monster that stems from a serial killer.
Cornell Law defines criminal insanity as referring to when a crime is committed and a mental illness or disease prevents the defendant from understanding how their actions were wrong. Many have tried to use the criminal insanity defense in the past but the decision comes down to a judge, jury, and forensic psychologists who work together to determine the mental state of the defendant during the time the crimes were committed. Those who have been unsuccessful in an insanity plea are capable of knowing the crime they committed and that it is against the law. When a serial killer is in hiding in order to evade detection, he is admitting that he knows the killings he committed are morally wrong and that he will be punished for his actions.
The scary thing is that serial killers are only declared legally insane 1% of the time. The only successful case of the legal insanity defense in the case of a serial killer was Ed Gein. Although their crimes seem insane the killer is not actually insane. The legally insane defense is very hard to prove and not given lightly. Psychology Today in “Serial Killers: Insane or Super Intelligent” states “In an argument, some debate this issue with, “How can a human repetitively kill other humans and not be insane?” While on the surface, that would seem logical, nonetheless, that is not true. The current requirement for a diagnosis of insanity is that the offender did not understand that the murder is wrong in the legal sense when the murder occurred. Because of this requirement, serial killers very seldom meet the criteria.” The certainty of these crimes being caused due to insanity can only be proved when the killer did not know what they were doing at the time of the crime and did not feel what they had done was wrong.
The thrill of the kill can cause serial killers to lose control over what they are doing. But just because the killer can lose control doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know what he is doing. When intense feelings of pleasure build up a serial killer can black out and go into overkill. This happens especially when a serial killer takes a break from killing and then returns to kill again. The repression of these built-up urges causes an intense desire that is unleashed as soon as the kill is executed. This instance would not classify a serial killer as insane. This is because the killer was conscious when they lured their victim and killed them. The killer doesn’t begin to go into overkill until the victim is already dead. Repeated blows to the victim’s already dead body constitutes as overkill. Due to the knowledge and awareness of the killer when repressing these feelings and beginning to kill again, legal insanity can not be concluded from an instance of overkill.
Serial killers largely have a certain targeted audience in which they kill. A serial killer will often have a typology in which he kills and it will be found that all of his victims resemble each other in one way or another. “Probing the mind of a serial killer” explains “In evaluating a ritualistic serial killer with a compulsive personality a well-trained psychologist or psychiatrist can find enough information to show that the individual was aware of the quality in nature of the act they were committing. This is because the rituals and compulsions of these individuals appear to indicate logical thinking.” The behaviors and the nature of the crime can tell investigators a lot about the killer. If each murder was executed the same way or with the same type of victim, it then becomes easy for the court to argue that the killer repeats these actions in all his kills and therefore is consciously aware of the victims he is choosing and how he is choosing to kill them.
On the other hand, it is very common for serial killers to suffer from mental illnesses such as antisocial disorder, conduct disorder, and psychopathy. The effects of these disorders manifest as what seems to look like insanity and can often lead people to believe serial killers are insane. Those who suffer from these illnesses are typically loners who have inept social skills. They lack the essential feelings of empathy and remorse for others. Violent and homicidal tendencies are also often associated with these disorders. The emission of these mental illnesses does not however take away the consciousness of the killer. The presence of illnesses may hold a factor in causing serial killings but plenty of times the killer is aware of the actions he has committed.
Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was notorious for being the most brutal and cruel serial killer alive. He lured in his victims and slowly dismembered them while performing sexual activities with the bodies and later cannibalizing their body parts. Although Jeffery’s crimes were so sickening, he was fully aware of what he had done. There were numerous occasions where he even tried to keep himself from murdering several times. The acknowledgment of guilt disqualified him from being able to be declared legally insane because he knew what he had done was wrong and that he was sick-minded.
The common misconception of serial killers is insane leads to harsh criticism by the public during the trial. Only one serial killer who has pleaded insanity was actually granted this complex sentencing. The coverage by the media has construed people’s opinions and has made others believe that serial killers are insane and cannot control their actions. When in fact, serial killers are the opposite. They are able to hide their flaws very well and present as charming and caring individuals. The ability to mask the truth of their inability to feel empathy and compassion is one that is methodically planned out in order the hide the frightening truth of the capability of their sanity.
Apsche, J. A. (1993). “Probing the mind of a serial killer” –. Eprintedbooks. http://www.eprintedbooks.com/Samplers/Sampler_Probing_the_Mind_of_a_Serial_Kiler-Dr_Jack_Apsche.pdf
Lampley, S. (n.d.). “Serial killers: Insane or super intelligent?” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/captivating-crimes/202006/serial-killers-insane-or-super-intelligent
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