Running Head: the why of serial killing into the Psychopath’s Mind: The Why of Serial Murder

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Because serious school problems can be confused with traits of psychopathy, this can sometimes lead to early detection. When a child commits serious school crimes, professionals are often called in to talk to the child. This leads to finding the reasons behind the problem which are sometimes found to be traits of psychopathy. Likewise the traits that affect parenting stress might be able to help predict cases where psychopathy could be a possibility (Fite et al., 2008). Early home-visiting programs have been helpful in the treatment and prevention of psychopathy. If a professional comes into the home at an early stage of childhood to give advice, it has been found beneficial to the prevention of psychopathic tendencies (Farrington, 2005). However, psychopaths have lying and deceitful behaviors which make them difficult to treat. Such was the case with Mary Bell. Mary is a rare case who was found guilty of murdering two small children at a young age herself. Mary inserted herself in the investigations and avoided suspicion while still bragging to schoolmates about being a murderer (Myers, 2004). Children and adults like Mary are very hard to detect. Any tests for psychopathy in childhood as well as adulthood are not always correct because the participants don’t always admit their true tendencies in a situation. One feeble hope to treat psychopathy hasn’t lived up to expectations. Interventions have been found as a minimal help for treatment (Farrington, 2005). However, the search for a way to diagnose serial murderers has brought some gains.

There is a syndrome pronounced by Claus and Lidberg (1999) that gives somewhat clinical symptoms for psychopathy. The first step is called omnipotence. The murderer kills for the first time and is not arrested. They start to feel all powerful from evading the police. At this stage they are not yet classified as psychopathic because their actions are so primitive. The second stage is having a sadistic fantasy which is a key trait to being a serial killer. In the third stage of Schahriar syndrome, the kills become a ritual and take on a pattern. This in similitude of a signature for that serial killer. The fourth stage is defined as when the victim is seen as a toy in their fantasy and is no longer a human. The final stage includes merging themselves with the victim. The five stages in the Schahriar syndrome may be able to diagnose serial murderer once it has been suspected.

Although many experts disagree on the specifics of what makes a murderer a serial killer, they can all agree that a serial killer is a murderer who has a cooling-off period in between kills (Knight, 2006). They also agree that to be considered serial, the person must have killed at least three people. Serial murder is a rare event that results from a number of environmental, psychological, and biological problems. Psychopathy can take many different forms, including specific classifications such as special personality types. Factors in infancy such as mirroring and idealization can also influence psychopathy. Parenting skills might be an important factor in the nature of serial killing (Fite et al., 2008). The more upset a parent becomes, the worse their parenting and the more the child acts out. Mothers have an important role in the upbringing of children. If a mother or father is too extreme it can have a lasting impact on the children (Knight, 2006). The serial killers mind is a complex machine. It is usually in childhood that the serial killer breaks from reality and focuses on their fantasies. Serial murderers don’t always have the same emotions as others. The murderers can’t always feel empathy so they become cold and without feeling (Dadds et al., 2009). Due to the sinister nature of serial killing, there is no sure way to prevent psychopathy once it has been found. Since serial killers usually are very well versed in deception and the appearance of normalcy, they are difficult to detect and test (Knight, 2006). Serial killing may not yet be preventable or treatable, but if the reasons behind serial murder are unearthed there is still a hope that one day there will be no such disease of the mind like psychopathy.


Claus, C., & Lidberg, L. (1999). Serial murder as a 'Schahriar syndrome'. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry, 10(2), 427.

Dadds, M. R., Hawes, D. J., Frost, A. J., Vassallo, S., Bunn, P., Hunter, K., & Merz, S. (2009). Learning to ‘talk the talk’: the relationship of psychopathic traits to deficits in empathy across childhood. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 50(5), 599-606. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.02058.x

Farrington, D. (2005). The importance of child and adolescent psychopathy. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology, 33(4), 489-497. doi:10.1007/s10802-005-5729-8

Fite, P. J., Greening, L., & Stoppelbein, L. (2008). Relation between parenting stress and psychopathic traits among children. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 26(2), 239-248. doi:10.1002/bsl.803

Knight, Z. G. (2006). Some thoughts on the psychological roots of the behavior of serial killers as narcissists: an object relations perspective. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 34(10), 1189-1206.

Myers, W. C. (2004). Serial murder by children and adolescents. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 22(3), 357-374. doi:10.1002/bsl.590

Yu, G., & Raine, A. (2010). Successful and unsuccessful psychopaths: A neurobiological model. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 28(2), 194-210. doi:10.1002/bsl.924


My gratitude goes to all those that helped in the making of this paper. I’d like to thank David Reeves and Grant Oxenrider for their constructive criticism. I would like to thank the writing center for helping me to perfect my writing style. And I especially have to thank Dr. Combs for pushing me to be better than just average in my writing.

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