Blood Rage: An Analysis into the Mind of a Serial Killer

The serial killer personality type is complex and is explainable by numerous factors. Those who claim to have a single explanation for serial killings are wrong. Glamorization from the media has allowed people to explain serial murder with insanity, but the frightening truth is that serial killers are of a sane mind. Serial murderers are the opposite of insane and use meticulous plans to hunt and kill their prey. Because serial killers do not qualify to be declared legally, it makes us wonder how a sane person could be filled with so much anger to be able to murder numerous people. Like serial murder, mass murder has never been excused by insanity. This research solely focuses on the reasons behind serial killings to help us understand why they cannot be classified as insane, but comparing mass murder and serial murder is essential to create an understanding of the differences between the two. The complexity of the serial killer’s mind makes it harder to credit one particular reason for the killings.

Mass murderers are not as psychologically troubled as sequential murderers. Noteworthy distinctions between mass killings and serial killings prevail in the nature and timing of the crime. Although not the most common, mass murder and serial murder are the two most exhibited classifications of murders. Mass murderers terrorize the public by slaughtering victims all at once and often at random. Serial killers induce fear by patiently selecting victims and killing in a pattern over a period of time. The fear of murder at random and the large-scale media coverage of these events are what make serial killers and mass murders the most notorious and intriguing killers to the public. We are urged to be alert and fearful, but we are rarely at risk of becoming victims, at least statistically. The odds of winning the Mega Million lottery are higher than becoming a victim of mass and serial murder.

Similar to serial killings, mass murders are methodically planned to wreak havoc on the general population. The systematic planning both types of killers demonstrate leaves no room to question the sanity of the killer. If insanity were to play a role in the killings, at least in a legal sense, the killer would kill without a plan or any knowledge of the crimes they are committing. The sole phenomenon of a killer being consciously aware of their conduct leads to the generated fear of the public.

Mass murderers are defined as those who kill three or more people within a time constraint of twenty-four hours. Mass murders occur more frequently, or are observed more briskly by law enforcement, than a string of serial murders. We are, statistically speaking, more likely to be victims of a mass murder than a serial killing. Most notably, mass murderers typically kill all of their victims at the same time or within seconds/minutes of each other. In some instances, mass murder has been separated by hours, but never days. The mass murderer type is typically a white male whose age ranges from 30s-40s. The victims of mass murder are, in most cases, strangers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The family annihilator is an exception, as their victims are members of their family. The actions carried out by the killer are methodically planned out. The most common cause for these mass casualties is anger or revenge towards a certain location. It is important to note that mass murderers are often confused with serial killers, but they are very distinct in nature. Unlike serial killers, the motives behind mass murders are almost never caused by mental illness.

Park Elliot Dietz in “Mass, serial, and sensational homicides” defines mass murder constraints by stating “surely a murderer who kills half the requisite number of victims at one site and then travels directly to another site where the other half are killed ought to qualify as a mass murderer, as would one who killed a sufficient number of victims while shooting from a moving vehicle or traveling aboard a train, ship, or aircraft. I would therefore ignore location or distance in the definition of mass murder.” With these constraints in mind we are able to establish that although there is a time limit to defining mass murder, the location or the number of locations where the murders take place does not disqualify a string of murders from being defined as mass homicide.

Inside the classification of mass murders, befalls three measured varieties. All three subdivisions operate with a common goal, to inflict maximum damage on a specific group of people or a specific geographic location. The classifications of mass murder are broken into categories: the family annihilator, the psuedocommando, and the set-and-run killers. The difference in these types of mass murders is important to note to help better understand the cause and how we can prevent ourselves from becoming victims in the future. For mass murders, these acts are carried out quickly and can wipe many people out in a single incident. 

The first typology of mass murders is classified as family annihilators. The cause for this typically stems from marital problems and/or mental illness/addiction. This is the only type in which the victims are always people the murderer knows and has a personal relationship with, which goes against the common theme of wrong place, wrong time. The nature of this crime is not often premeditated and occurs most when drugs/alcohol are mixed with a mental illness. Since this crime is not usually premeditated, it could occur because of insanity. This has never been found to be the case, but that should not disqualify it as being a worthy case for insanity. The research paper, “Mass, serial, and sensational homicides” establishes family annihilators as “family annihilators, usually the senior man of the house, who is depressed, paranoid, intoxicated or a combination of these.” He typically eliminates every family member who is present and will even sometimes go as far as killing the family pet. The most notable case of a family annihilator is George Banks, who was a former prison guard in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, that killed 12 of his family members and one bystander. These included his four baby mothers and nine children. George banks killed 8 in his family home before driving down the road and killing four more of his family, as well as a bystander walking past the outside of the home. Although Banks had to travel 15 minutes down the road to kill the other four family members, this case is still considered a mass murder as location does not play a factor. The only circumstance for mass murder is the time interval in which the murder occurs. Most family annihilators kill themselves at the end of their massacre or force the police to kill them, but this was not the case for George Banks.

Psuedocommando mass murderers are those who commit murders using a firearm and ammunition. Psuedocommando killings are typically carried out due to anger and resentment towards those who have physically or emotionally hurt the shooter, or even a location that invokes memories of mistreatment. The anger associated with this type leads him to kill strangers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He typically will execute his massacre at a time when the maximum amount of people are present. The article, “The ‘Pseudocommando’ Mass Murderer: Part I, The Psychology of Revenge and Obliteration,” written by James L. Knoll concluded “research suggests that the pseudocommando is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment, flowing from beliefs about being persecuted or grossly mistreated.” The careful planning and long period of debate before the crime would not classify this case as insanity. These factors prove that the killer had thought about their actions way before the crime was committed, and they had the chance to change their mind. The most relevant cases of psuedocommando murders in the media today are school shootings. This crime is committed after a long period of planning and deliberation. School shooters often exact revenge for the mistreatment they experience at the hands of their peers. An example of this is the case of Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 of his peers and injured another 17. Cruz was said to be a loner and was expelled from school for disciplinary reasons. Nikolas Cruz took the innocent lives of his peers to fulfill his mission of maximum damage.

Set-and-run killers are arguably the cowards of these different classifications. The main cause for these types of killings remains unknown, but can be estimated to be due to anger and feelings of betrayal by humankind. Set-and-run killers employ devices such as bombs to help them execute the kill without being physically present. This method of murder is seen in terrorists, whether they are domestic or foreign terrorists. They will typically set the bomb down and escape to a place where they can admire their work from a distance. Dietz also states other examples such as “those who bomb buildings or vehicles on which they are not traveling, who set arson fires, or who tamper with food or products, as in the Tylenol poisonings.” With this method, the killer hopes to elude the police. The careful construction of a weapon such as a bomb takes extensive research, planning, and building. Due to the time it takes, this method of mass murder also cannot be established as insanity. If a person takes the time to research and build a weapon of destruction, they are obviously capable of grasping the idea that this crime is illegal. Set-and-run killers sometimes have a single victim in mind such as a political official but consider the surrounding bystanders as collateral to be able to achieve the goal they were hoping to accomplish.

Unlike the mass murderer, a serial killer executes his victims over a period of time, with gaps in time between the kills. To define a series of murders, there must be at least four victims. The article “Mass, serial, and sensational homicide” defines serial murder as “Serial murder involves a string of four or more homicides committed by one or a few perpetrators that span a period of days, weeks, months, or even years.” The FBI Bulletin-August 1985 found that most serial killers are predominately white and are the eldest son.

The explanations/factors for serial killings are endless, but some contributing factors are mental illness, physical/genetic abnormalities, childhood trauma, and traumatic brain injury. “Mass, serial, and sensational homicide” states “while every serial killer is mentally disordered, nearly all are psychopathic sexual sadists, and few, if any, are psychotic. Psychotic offenders rarely have the wherewithal repeatedly to escape apprehension.” Most serial killers do not suffer from a serious mental disorder such as schizophrenia, but many do suffer from an antisocial personality disorder, ADHD, and bipolar. In the mentally unwell state, a serial killer stalks his victims until he decides to make his move. Most serial killers pick their victims based on a certain look. This could be because they find them attractive and do not feel like they have a chance with them, or because the victim reminds them of someone who has hurt them in the past, such as an abusive parent.

There are about five defined types of serial killers. Within these types, the way they kill and the motive for the kill differ. All five typologies of serial killers pick their victims at random and kill over time without being noticed by the police. Each type of serial killer, besides the supposed psychotic killer, will not and should not be granted insanity simply because of the number of times they murder. To kill 4 or more people at different times would be impossible to execute and elude detection by police if the person was insane. The only instance where a supposedly psychotic killer would be granted this defense would be if it had been proven by medical experts that this person has a history of psychosis.

The Psychopathic sexual sadist killer murders for mere gratification and pleasure of the kill. Psychopathic sexual sadist murders are typically the most violent, as the killer is aroused by the pain the victim endures. Many serial killers of this nature commit necrophilia, which is having sexual intercourse with a dead body. “No one is born a serial killer” suggests “From Vernon J. Geberth experience, however, the killer is rarely psychotic. They are usually sexual psychopaths with a deep criminality, and they clearly have a good connection with the reality.” This means that the killer is fully conscious of the crimes he has committed and is not suffering from a mental illness episode. The most notable serial killers of this kind are John Wayne Gacy and Jefferey Dahmer.

Crime spree killers are those who commit murder with other crimes, such as robbery. These types of killers enjoy the thrill that they gain from the power exerted over their victims. The book “The People Behind Murderous Crime Sprees” states “There may also be different motives, such as the need to eliminate witnesses, killing to ensure getaway, or the need to kill for killing’s sake.” These killers kill in at least three locations and at three separate times. The most notable case of crime spree killers is Bonnie and Clyde. During the great depression, this couple traveled through the central United States while committing bank robberies and murdering those who stood in their way.

The organized crime functionaries are those who are contract killers. This means that they are hired to take out someone else’s opponent for money. Although their motive for the killing is money, they also enjoy the power and thrill that the killing provides. The most common form of these killers is political assassins and rival gangs.

Custodial killers are often referred to as “angels of death”. These killers kill the person who is in their care. The article “Serial killers: I. Subtypes, patterns, and motives” gives the example of “The most common examples include “angel of death” cases involving nurses in hospitals or nursing homes who surreptitiously murder ill or elderly patients, usually by asphyxiation or medication overdose.” This type of serial killer contains the highest number of female serial killers, which is uncommon. The serial killer believes they are helping the victim in these cases, but they also enjoy the power that comes with holding someone’s life in their hands.

Psychotic killers are those who experience delusions that convince them to kill. These killers may sometimes believe they need to rid the world of a certain type of person. These killers may experience schizophrenia and/or psychosis, which is a severe mental disorder in which one’s thoughts and emotions are so impaired that they lose touch with reality. “No one is born a serial killer” defines the context of psychotic or psychopathy as “this psychopath term is used when the psychological, biological and genetic factors, as well as the social influences and childhood experiences, helped to develop the syndrome.” This type of serial killer is the only type that could potentially receive a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. This is due to alleged delusions these killers experience, which would keep them from knowingly committing a crime. Even in cases of this nature, many serial killers who try are declared sane by professionals. Ed Gein is the most notorious psychotic killer. He killed two people and dug up over 30 graves and used human skin to make furniture, purses, and shoes.

There are many distinct differences between a mass murderer and a serial killer. The most significant difference between the two is the time constraint. Mass murderers commit their murders in large numbers within 24 hours of each other. Many are typically committed within seconds or minutes of each other. While, serial killers commit their murders over days, weeks, or even years. It is not uncommon for serial killers to go through dormant periods where they contain their compulsions and do not kill. Typically, the first murder after the dormant period is brutal overkill to make up for the lost time.

Serial killers are also much harder to capture. Mass murderers are typically present on the scene at the time of the murders, so it is easy to find them. Some mass murderers do get arrested, but a large number commit suicide or force the police to kill them. In contrast, serial killers escape by the time the police learn of the crime. Different locations make it harder for the police to connect the string of murders, and a serial killer can often go unnoticed for years before the police realize they have a problem.

Serial killers are more feared by the public and often cause community unrest. “Mass, serial, and sensational homicide” claims “massacres do not tend to generate the same level of public fear and anxiety. Until a serial killer is caught, he may be on the loose for weeks, months, or years. Citizens are terrified; they want to protect themselves from becoming the next victim. Each newly discovered murder reenergizes the community’s state of alarm. However, a massacre, though catastrophic, is a single event. By the time the public is informed, the episode is over. There may be widespread horror, but little anxiety.” The public has become fascinated and intrigued over the years, thus making them more popular and feared. As stated before, a serial killer on the loose terrorizes the public until he is caught, but not many people fear a mass murder until it happens, and after the murder, people are more shocked than scared of another event.

Although serial killers and mass murderers are diverse, the twain targets the innocent and finds pleasure in exerting power. The different types of serial killers and mass murders represent all the causes and factors that make one kill. Studies are published every day to try and figure out the reasoning behind the peculiarities of mass and serial murder. Not the most common murders, but serial killings and mass murders are found to be the most fascinating and mind-boggling by the public.

Serial killers and mass murderers never sustain a verdict of not guilty due to insanity, but many have tried. This verdict has only been granted in the case of a serial killer one time, and has never been granted to a mass murderer. To qualify for legal insanity, it must be determined that the killer was not aware during the time of the crime that it was an unlawful act. This verdict is difficult to sustain because of the number of times serial killers or mass murderers kill their victims. To truly establish a verdict of insanity, we must first look at the background of the killer and determine what it is that made them kill.

 There are numerous explanations for how serial killers develop, but we may never establish a singular cause. Psychologists and criminologists have made an effort to establish just one cause for serial killings by comparing a number of serial killers, their genetics, and their childhood, but have been unsuccessful in their efforts. If we were to ask a group of criminologists and psychologists, they would each credit a different cause for the reason of serial killings.

Factors that could make a serial killer, when co-occurring with each other, are genetics in which abnormalities before birth that cannot be controlled are present, environmental factors such as abuse/neglect and trauma/mental illness/traumatic brain injury which can occur at any point in one’s life for numerous reasons. The feelings of compulsion and gratification from a kill have been credited by serial killers when questioned on their motive for these strings of serial murders. Researchers have tried linking certain physical and mental conditions to a higher susceptibility to follow the compulsions that lead to killing. Those who have claimed to establish ‘an explanation’  for the creation of serial killers are mistaken.

Gratification is a primary motivation for killing when serial killers are questioned as to why they committed their series of crimes. Gratification is defined as a source of pleasure or the feeling of pleasure from a certain act or object. Instant gratification is given immediately after committing a pleasurable act. This could mean instant gratification from things like food or drinking alcohol. Because the feeling hits instantly, many serial killers prefer this method. For serial killers, the power exerted in the murders of their victims creates immense feelings of instant gratification immediately after the kill.

Delayed gratification occurs when someone exhibits self-control and waits to complete the act that gives gratification. In return, the feeling of gratification is more intense and enjoyable. The deployment of delayed gratification leads to increased impulsiveness and can also off-balance the body’s dopamine levels over time. The article, “The neural basis of delayed gratification”, states “repeated exposure to instant gratification may disrupt this balance, thereby increasing impulsive decisions. These decisions contribute to numerous human disorders, such as addiction and obesity.” The release of delayed gratification is what creates addiction. The more intense “high” associated with delayed gratification keeps the user or killer in this case coming back to achieve that feeling again. Much like drug and alcohol addiction, the dopamine levels in the brain will increase when a serial killer executes their crime. Because of the increased dopamine levels, over time and the more kills the brain is unable to produce dopamine on its own and alternate sources of dopamine must be found to increase these dopamine levels. For an addict, alcohol/drugs increase the body’s dopamine. For serial killers, killing a person produces the dopamine levels that the body needs.

Like the cause of serial killings, the presence of free will in serial killers is often questioned. Compulsion, which is a strong and overwhelming desire to act on what your brain is telling you, is used by serial killers to explain the reason for the murders. The article “What are Compulsions”, states “the individual experiences a sense of resistance to the act, but this is overridden by the strong, subjective drive to perform the action. Most often, the principal aim behind the compulsive behavior is to generate relief (usually only temporary) from the anxiety elicited by the preceding obsession.” Compulsion alone is not enough to blind a killer to their actions. Although the compulsion to kill can be strong in serial killers, insanity does not stem from a compulsion that can be controlled. The obsessive feeling of compulsion and the need to do what your compulsion tells you are seen in serial killers with abnormalities in the temporal lobe, specifically in the amygdala.

Numerous serial killers find it hard to explain why they commit these crimes besides crediting a pulling and nagging feeling to do so. When arrested and interviewed by a psychologist, Jeffery Dahmer pleaded to know why he was compelled to commit these crimes. He wanted to know why he felt these strong compulsions to kill and why he couldn’t contain them despite his best efforts. Like Jeffery Dahmer, many serial killers try to exert free will by retreating into a dormant period where they could go a certain amount of time without killing anyone.

Serial killers often credit fantasizing about the crime as another reason for committing it. Many serial killers claim to experience intense fantasies of brutally killing someone and/or having intercourse with their bodies. The research paper, “Genesis of a Serial Killer,” compares “the serial killer, much like the chronic gambler and problem drinker, is addicted to the use of fantasy. So strong is this compulsion that the serial killer murders to preserve the addiction, in essence preserving his only remaining coping mechanism.” Jeremy Anderson illustrates that like any other addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.), the addiction to fantasy can be so strong and compelling that one must act on the fantasy to fulfill the addiction. As stated prior, like an alcoholic who needs to drink more liquor to fulfill the craving, a serial killer must act on and fulfill their fantasy to feed the immense cravings.

Dysfunction of the amygdala is common in neuropsychiatric conditions. Neuropsychiatric conditions include disorders such as ADHD, bipolar, and major depressive disorder. These conditions are personality disorders, which means they have effects that can impact/alter one’s personality and character. Iona in “No One is Born a Serial Killer” found that “two recent neuroimaging studies have confirmed that amygdala dysfunction is associated with psychopathy… high levels of psychopathy were associated with reduced amygdaloid volume.” These conditions can be caused by traumatic brain injuries, genetics, and environmental factors.

The amygdala, which processes the feeling of compulsion, empathy, and fear, appears to be damaged when researchers have conducted scans. When we fear getting in a car after a car accident, this associated fear is produced in the amygdala. The effect of a dysfunctional amygdala is that its owner lacks the natural human ability to generally process the feeling of fear and empathy, thus creating an emotionally blank person. Dysfunction of the amygdala occurs from damage caused by a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, Schizophrenia, etc. The amygdala itself is not the problem, but the damage the amygdala endured leads to the repression of fear, anxiety, and empathy. A healthy and functioning amygdala is able to process emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, etc. in a healthy way. Due to the processing difficulty of a damaged amygdala, a person with amygdala dysfunction has trouble connecting feelings of empathy and fear to their actions. Ilie Iona in “No One is Born a Serial Killer” states, “the emotional side of their brain is damaged, and the absolute absence of any emotions makes them so dangerous. The more their aggressiveness increases, the more their blood pressure drops, which shows that violence has a calming effect on them… Located in the temporal lobes, the amygdala is responsible for the lack of emotions such as fear and anxiety.” The calming effect of violence produces immense feelings of gratification for the killer.

Antisocial disorder is a psychiatric disorder that is often associated with violence and homicidal tendencies, similar to damage to the amygdala. Research has found that antisocial disorder can stem directly from amygdala damage, thus explaining the similarities in the lack of emotion and feelings for others. The amygdala can become damaged due to traumatic brain injuries and mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, etc. which deteriorate the amygdala over a period of time.

The article “Lower amygdala fatty acid amide hydrolase in violent offenders with antisocial personality disorder: an [11C]CURB positron emission tomography study” found “we suggest that lower levels of amygdala FAAH may impair how ASPD (Anti-social personality disorder) individuals process negative emotional stimuli, such as fearful or angry facial expressions…We speculate that lower levels of amygdala FAAH expression may prevent persons with ASPD from responding appropriately to stress, making them more inclined to engage in reactive aggressive and impulsive behavior.” The term FAAH refers to the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase which is a controlling influence on socio-emotional behaviors like aggression and empathy. This finding supports that damage to the amygdala has been found to reduce levels of matter in the amygdala thus causing a lack of emotional response in situations where it would be appropriate. The decrease in FAAH allows for an intensified response to negative emotions controlled by the amygdala such as aggression and violence.

Those with antisocial disorder lack regard for those around them and are incapable of feeling empathy. The lack of empathy allows them to commit crimes against humanity such as killing without realizing the brutality of such crimes. The American Association of Psychiatry defines Antisocial disorder as “Individuals with antisocial personality disorder frequently lack empathy and tend to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of the feelings, rights, and sufferings of others.”

It becomes easier for people suffering from Antisocial disorder to disconnect from reality. This disconnection leads to traits such as deceitfulness and blaming others for the actions they receive. This blame can be on the victim for doing something or saying something that caused them to get killed.  Again, this disconnection becomes dangerous as the individual thoughtlessly commits crimes without any remorse attached to them due to the nature of the antisocial disorder.

A co-occurring disorder that is more likely to occur in individuals who suffer from antisocial disorder is psychopathy. According to Dr. Rhonda Fredman in “What is Psychopathy”, “some with psychopathy are predatory. They hunt or stalk other human beings for the purpose of: violation, control, the release of perverse fantasies, additions to their collection, sex, image, money, and/or power gratification.” The incidence and purposes of psychopathy go hand in hand with the motivation for serial killers. Dr. Rhonda Fredman states, “individuals with strong psychopathic traits tend to have a dysfunctional reward, morality, bonding, and affective/emotional processing systems.”

Like psychopathy, serial killers enjoy the control of the kill, fulfilling the fantasy and torturing and killing a person, and collecting trophies to remember the kill. Not every person who has both of these disorders is a serial killer, but the chances are increased due to the perceived violent and unempathetic nature of these disorders. Because of the similarities in these actions, we can conclude numerous serial killers are psychopaths. 

Like amygdala dysfunction, neurochemical imbalances in the brain can occur from many factors like genetics and environment and lead to hormonal imbalances that are linked to increased aggression. These traits are seen more prominently in males. Kiran Hayes, the author of “An Exploration of Trauma Markers in the Artwork of Serial killers”, explains “Allely et al. (2014) also found associations between “neurochemical imbalance and aggression” (p. 290), such as low monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) activity, increased serotonin levels in the synapses and heightened levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Furthermore, they assert that, “there may be a complex interaction between pre-existing neurodevelopmental problems (moderators), environmental insults experienced during development such as head injury or childhood maltreatment (mediators) and serial or mass killing.” 

Other physical conditions such as genetic mutations have been linked to increased violence. A genetic mutation in the male XY sex chromosome adds an extra Y chromosome. The mutation of the XYY chromosome. This mutation is often referred to as the “crime chromosome” as it has been found that this mutation is found in criminals with a rate of five to 10 percent higher than the general population. The article, “No One is Born a Serial Killer”, states “A rare genetic mutation in the XYY chromosome has been found in serial killers. This gene controls sexual behavior, violence, and lack of empathy.”

Not only can this gene be linked to criminal behavior, but it also has been found in those who display abnormal behavior and suffer from psychopathy and anti-social disorder. The finding of this gene is present more often in criminals and those suffering from mental disorders can account for the violent and sexually curious history of serial killers.

Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly why one goes on to kill numerous people, evidence suggests that co-occurring physical and mental abnormalities, whether they occurred before or after birth, maybe as close as we will get to an explanation. The closest explanation we have from serial killers themselves is that they were unable to control the intense feeling of compulsion and were unable to fulfill the bottomless pit of gratification that occurs from the effects of the crime.

The media sensationalizes the common misconceptions of serial killers. The trepidation of serial killing is magnified by news projections and media coverage. Movie and TV productions aid significantly in portraying serial killers as insane and unable to control their actions.  The most common misconceptions of serial killers are grounded on the mental well-being and the makeup of the person behind the killings. The classifications and personality traits of serial killers are often hyperbolized to intensify dismay and in return, false dispositions bloom. 

The most prominent myth is based on the perception that all serial killers are insane and have a debilitating mental illness that prompts them to commit their crimes. People often trust that serial killers cannot control when they kill. It is easy to brush off a serial killer as insane and unaware in order to provide solace as to why someone would execute such a horrific crime. Anyone who would carefully choose victims and dismember bodies appears out of their mind insane, but the shocking verity reveals that these killers are fully cognizant of their crimes.

 The media plays a large part in creating the horror that stems from a serial killer’s actions. “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 serves as a constant reminder that a serial killer could be lurking in the dark waiting for his next victim.

Cornell Law defines criminal insanity as a mental illness that prevents the defendant from understanding that his actions were wrong. To be declared criminally insane, the defendant must prove that they were ignorant of the crime committed by their own hands at the time of the incident. 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.” By definition, the killer must not be aware during the time of the crime that it was an unlawful act, which is very hard to prove based on the number of times a serial killer murders his victims.

Most serial killers are well aware that killing is criminal and that their actions are immoral and shameful. The acknowledgment of their crime implicates a killer’s guilty verdict due to them being conscious during the crime. We know this because they hide their crimes and struggle to resist them. 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 if the police were to find him. The efforts to continue the series of murders and evade detection is a clear indicator that the killer is in their right mind and does not want to be arrested. Only an insane killer would not make a substantial effort to evade the police, due to the definition of insanity that they are unaware of the illegality of the crime. The exhilaration of the kill can cause the killer to lose control over their actions, but just because the killer loses control doesn’t mean he is unaware of what he is doing. Proof of insanity is hard to come across, since we cannot simply know whether the person was aware of their crime. Serial killers are notoriously good at hiding the lifestyle they live and often trick the public into believing they are normally law-abiding citizens, so it would be very easy for them to deceive others into believing they were unaware of their crimes.

 The scary reality is that serial killers are only declared legally insane 1% of the time. We may find great relief that it is rare for a legally insane killer to be lurking in the shadows, but the terrifying truth is that most serial killers are perfectly lucid when looked at in a legal sense, which allows them to go unsuspected. In fact, many serial killers lead normal lives that deceive others. The only successful case of the legal insanity defense in the case of a serial killer was Ed Gein. The legally insane defense is very hard to prove and not given lightly. Legal insanity is almost never granted because the criteria surrounding it specifically states that if the killer is aware of the wrongdoings of their actions, then they are in a sane mind. I find this ruling on insanity fair on account of the deceitful disposition serial killers portray in their everyday life. 

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is notoriously known for being the most brutal and cruel serial killer to ever live. 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 and wanted an explanation from a psychiatrist as to why he committed such awful acts of violence. The acknowledgment of guilt and the attempt at trying not to kill disqualified him from being able to be declared legally insane because he knew what he had done was wrong and that he enjoyed the pleasure of the kills.

There were even numerous occasions where Jeffrey claims to try to repress his urges to kill. Dahmer claims to have a disinclination to killing, so much so that he had to drink in order to gain the courage. After his first kill, Dahmer made an attempt to not kill again. To resist the urge to kill, Dahmer tried to stop drinking and go to college. After failing out of Ohio State, Jeffery joined the military, where he remained dormant from killing. After being discharged he was sent to live with his grandmom and that is when the killings began again. The attempt at remaining dormant provides evidence that Dahmer was aware of his actions and knew that he could be convicted for them if he did not try to conceal them.

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. After returning from a dormant period, serial killings often overkill their victims as a sense of relief from the built-up urges and desires. Overkill is the excessive use of force that goes further than necessary in order to complete a task. The act of overkill demonstrates how the killer loses control during the act of murder. What keeps overkill from being defined as insane is that the killer already decided to kill their victim, but the excitement overtook them, causing them to go overboard. The killer was conscious when they lured their victim and killed them. Repeated blows to the victim’s already dead body constitute overkill. Due to the knowledge and awareness of the killer when repressing these feelings and beginning to kill again, legal insanity can’t be concluded from an instance of overkill. 

Serial killers target a specific victimology type in which they kill. It has been found in numerous cases that all the killer’s victims resemble each other in one way or another. 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. “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.”

On the other hand, it is very ubiquitous 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. But, the presence of these illnesses is not the sole reason a person becomes a serial killer. These disorders do not and should not qualify a killer to obtain a guilty by reason of insanity defense. There are many people who have received this diagnosis, but have not gone to the extreme levels that serial killers have. The emission of these mental illnesses does not take away the level of 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. 

The insanity defense leaves us ambivalent about what the right sentencing should be. The media has convinced us that serial killers are insane maniacs that can’t control their actions, but we do not want serial killers to be excused based on a ramification. The courts agree. Only once has a serial killer successfully been granted the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. Serial killers aren’t insane but logical, careful, and well aware of their criminality. They hide their flaws and deceitfulness to gain the trust of the community. Serial killers lack empathy and compassion, but not rationality. If there was a “not guilty by reason of psychoneurotic” then all serial killers would qualify.

From my research, I have been able to conclude that almost all serial killers are sane and aware of the crimes they have committed. Serial killers often go as far as to stalk areas and potential victims. They create plans and decide to attack when they believe they can do so without getting caught. Serial killings have a large sense of premeditation that make it almost impossible for someone to not be aware of their actions before they target and execute their victim. Many serial killers often target a specific victimology type that has similar features which show their consciousness to be able to target and lure a specific victim. Essentially, although their crimes can be viewed as insane acts, the killer himself cannot be declared insane due to the substantial planning and preparation it takes to choose and murder a victim all while going unsuspected by the public.

The ruling of sanity in almost every serial killer leads us back to the theory that genetic mutations, mental illness, trauma/abuse/neglect, traumatic brain injuries, and abnormalities in the brain are the causes of serial killings. After reviewing the types of serial killings and the factors which cause them, we can draw the conclusion that serial killers are sane individuals capable of gruesome crimes without an exclusive reason. The criminal mind of a serial killer is truly infuriating to understand due to the small insight we have on a particular cause.

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. (2022). “Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5-TR / American Psychiatric Association” (Fifth edition, text revision.). American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

Apsche, J. A. (1993). “Probing the mind of a serial killer”. Eprintedbooks.

Anderson, J. (1994). “Genesis of a Serial killer: Fantasy’s Integral Role in the Creation of a Monster“. 

Dietz, Park. (1986). Mass, serial and sensational homicides. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 62. 477-91.

Freeman, R. (2019, January 17). “What is psychopathy? – neuroinstincts: Dr. Rhonda Freeman. Neuroinstincts. Retrieved October 17, 2022.

Gao, Z., Wang, H., Lu, T., Froudist-Walsh, S., Chen, M., Wang, X.-J., Hu, J., & Sun, W. (2021, December 1). “The neural basis of delayed gratification | science advances“. Science Advances. Retrieved October 30, 2022.

Haynes, Kiran M., “An Exploration of Trauma Markers in the Artwork of Serial Killers” (2017). LMU/LLS Theses and Dissertations. 314. 

Ioana, Ilie Magdalena. “No One Is Born a Serial Killer!Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Elsevier, 20 July 2013.

Kolla, N.J., Boileau, I., Karas, K. et al. “Lower amygdala fatty acid amide hydrolase in violent offenders with antisocial personality disorder: an [11C]CURB positron emission tomography study”. Transl Psychiatry11, 57 (2021).

Knoll, J. L. (2010). The “Pseudocommando” Mass Murderer: Part I, The Psychology of Revenge and Obliteration. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online, 38(1), 87–94.

Lampley, S. (n.d.). “Serial killers: Insane or super intelligent?” Psychology Today.

Miller, Laurence. “Serial Killers: I. Subtypes, Patterns, and Motives.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, Pergamon, 14 Nov. 2013.

Ressler, R.K., Burgess, A.W., Douglas, J.E., & Depue, R.L. (1985). Violent crime. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 54 (8), 2 – 31.

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7 Responses to Research-shxrkbait

  1. shxrkbait says:

    I have pieced together my three arguments and adjusted them slightly to flow with my overall paper better. This is a very provisional first draft and it is nowhere near submission. I have many revisions I plan to make. I have not completed all of the revisions I would like to my separate arguments but I plan to work on those as well for the remainder of this week. While I fix the necessary revisions in arguments, I would like feedback on the flow and transitions throughout my paper.

  2. shxrkbait says:

    I would also like to know if the order of my arguments are effective. I have placed my definition first to define the difference in types of murder and why serial killings are important , causal second to explain what creates a serial killer, and then rebuttal to refute any oppositions to the informtion I have provided.

  3. davidbdale says:

    The Introduction for your 3000 words should make the promises that your entire paper will keep. This one says a lot of stuff, but I’m not sure why I should continue. Please speak plainly and clearly to readers to encourage them you have fascinating insights to share.

    Lots of factors, hard to distinguish, endless complexities, difficult to decide . . . not inspiring. It sounds as if you’re trying to apologize in advance for not having much to share.

  4. davidbdale says:

    I see no objections to the sequence of the arguments or the transitions between them. I do wonder who will be motivated to follow the thread all the way from start to finish. Will it be a reader who wants an answer to the question: What Motivates a Serial Killer? or Are they Insane?

    If so, you should be taking every opportunity while describing the several types of serial and mass murders, to editorialize a bit about which is crazy and which is not, WHILE you’re describing them (a subtle blending of Definition and Causal).

    Provisionally graded. This post is always eligible for a Regrade following your significant Revisions, but time is running out.

  5. shxrkbait says:

    Thank you for your feedback! I have taken your suggestions and have directed my paper toward readers who are interested in answering the question: Are Serial Killers insane?

  6. shxrkbait says:

    I would like feedback on my paper. Does my paper illustrate a proper argument against the insanity defense in the case of serial killers? I have applied the feedback you suggest on making more commentary to categorize different types of serial killers based on “likely to receive the insanity defense” and “unlikely to receive the insanity defense.”

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