In today’s information obsessed society we are constantly being bombarded with the brutal actions that mankind is capable of. Serial Killers. Some eating their victims. Some mutilating them. Some putting the victims in underground boxes, controlling their air and food supply.
As you wade through these bits and pieces of reality, one can’t help but be struck by the thought – what causes a person to actively commit such horrendous acts? There have been many different studies done in hopes of finding an answer. For a crime such as serial killing there are two main schools of thought. If you are thinking about having a serial killer character in your work, and in order for you to write accurately and factually about a serial killer, you must know the following.
The first theory is that serial killing is caused by an abnormality in the frontal lobe region of the brain.
The other theory is that serial killers are bred by childhood experiences.
Many serial killers had suffered severe head injuries to the frontal lobe when they were children. To discover why damage to the frontal lobe could be a cause of serial killing, one must look at the function of the frontal lobe of the brain.
The frontal lobe is located in the most anterior part of the brain hemispheres. It is considered responsible for much of the behavior that makes possible stable and adequate social relations. Self-control, planning, judgment, the balance of individual versus social needs, and many other essential functions underlying social intercourse are mediated by the frontal structures of the brain.
Neuroscientists have known that lesions to this part of the brain lead to severe deficits in all these behaviors. Through this information one can conclude that the frontal lobe acts as a conscience.
An example of a serial killer that had suffered severe injury to his frontal lobe is Albert Fish. At the age of seven he had a severe fall off a cherry tree which caused a head injury from which gave rise to permanent problems, such as headaches and dizzy spells.
After his fall he began to display many violent tendencies, including an interest in sadomasochistic activities. At the age of twenty he killed his fist victim, a twelve-year-old neighbor by the name of Gracie whom he cannibalized. It would appear that a damaged frontal lobe is a prime suspect in the causation of serial killing.
Could it be that we are all genetically encoded to become serial killers, and the frontal lobe is the leash that stops us from acting on our tendencies? All of us have at one point or another might have been mad enough to think about killing somebody.
The idea that the frontal lobe is a stop button, or acts as a conscience that stops a “normal” human from acting on their more violent tendencies, is not a new one. Evolutionary biologists point that the frontal lobe evolved with the evolution of man from a beast to purveyor of civilization. The trademark of all social primates is a highly developed frontal brain, and human beings have the largest one of all.
Brain damage cannot be the motivator for all serial killing. Not all confessed serial killers have frontal or general brain damage. The majority admit that they were perfectly aware of what they were doing before, during, and after the crime. Some even confess that they knew what they were doing was wrong, and contemplated ‘giving up’ after the first time. The thrill derived from murder is a temporary fix. Like any other powerful narcotic, homicidal violence satisfies the senses for a time, but the effect soon fades. And when it does, a predator goes hunting.
Childhood experiences are another argument as a cause of serial killing. As children, many suffered through traumatic childhoods, usually being physically, sexually or mentally abused, or a combination of them.
Many serial killers have above average intelligence, and are well employed in high wage jobs. The majority came from middle to high-income families. They are usually neat in appearance, very articulate, and sexually promiscuous. All killers they have a specific trait that they look for in the victims that they ritually kill. Sometimes physical, sometimes age or gender based.
In interviews, many serial killers admitted that the people they killed fulfilled some aspect of a person that abused or taunted them. Carroll Edward Cole killed little boys that physically reminded him of a schoolyard bully that taunted him for having a girl’s name. He later expanded his modus operandi to include young brown haired females that looked like his abusive mother. Under oath, he told a story of childhood abuse inflicted by his sadistic, adulterous mother, giving rise to a morbid obsession with women who betrayed their husbands or lovers. “I think,” he told the jury, “I’ve been killing her through them.”
So, what about the hard and cold fact that the overwhelming majority of serial killers are men? It’s been theorized that men have a harder time expressing their feelings, and as such since they internalize issues, they are more prone to act out their aggression in violent acts, such as serial murder or serial sexual assault.
Now, this point is VERY important – I am only talking about serial crimes here, not the general non-serial crimes of robbery, one time murder, assault, etc. That’s because serial crimes are all about the power and control over the victims. The actual crime of murder, arson, sexual assault and other serial crimes of violence itself is just the manner in which they fulfill their power and control fantasies . . . by turning them into reality with the physical crimes. That is why they use ligatures, knives, or their hands . . . they like the feeling of power and control of the hands-on assault. In fact, one serial murderer told me he loved to practice stabbing potatoes, because the feel of the knife and the sound of piercing the potato was the same as piercing a person’s body. To this day, I can’t look at an uncooked potato and not remember that remark.
Don’t think for a minute that your serial killer should have a scruffy beard . . . be unemployed . . . prior arrests for violence . . . a horribly, nasty-looking snot-dripping fanged ogre. If you fall down that path, you have been misinformed. And misinformed writers lose credibility fast. The competition will be quick to point out your faults, especially with the advent of the Internet. Sorry, it’s war out there!
I have dealt with these killers. Almost all of them were extremely intelligent. Some had jobs that paid more than mine. Several of them were loved by the community as leaders. Many were family men, with wives and children. One used to drive his elderly mom everywhere she needed because she could no longer drive; shopping, the doctor, and to and from her Bingo games at the church. A very nice man. Except in his spare time, he killed and raped and tortured.
Women tend to lean on others to solve their internal conflicts; men are programmed through society not to show emotion, or even cry, as that would be considered weakness. They are supposed to be Superman.
Summing up, it is a good idea to sow the seeds of a serial killer in the childhood of your character, should you be looking to add a one to your works.
Remember, forensics, crime scene investigation, police procedural and criminal profiling are scientific and specialized areas, and you should always obtain your facts and knowledge from persons that have actually extensive experience in these areas. The “real deal” as we say in law enforcement.
Relying on persons who have only read about them and then go on to just regurgitate what they have read will lead you, as a writer, down the path of misinformation. And those misinformed readers, editors and agents, once they learn your facts were wrong, won’t ever read you again. Ever.
So, here’s to you and your fantastic new book chock full of the real deal!