Serial Killers: a bio-Psycho-Social Perspective Melina Zahalka Western Washington University Serial Killers: a bio-Psycho-Social Perspective

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While the ideas set forth by Knight appear primarily psychoanalytical and object-relations theory based (object-relations being the offshoot of psychoanalytical theory focusing primarily on relationships and familial ties), her findings and theories also serve to create further evidence for the influence of sociological factors on the creation of a serial killer.

While most serial killers (68%) were abused as children (Mitchell & Aamodt, 2005), almost no children of abuse become serial killers: this indicates that there is more at play in their psychotic nature than biology or psychology alone. While innumerable factors account for why children of abuse continue to be abused into adolescence (indeed, even through their adult lives), one could be the isolation of the child from any networks of support. Without the care or concern of family or friends, a child can go abused for the duration of their home life; often a lack of education is a factor as well, and an inability to adjust to school or structured programs also leads to expulsion, social malady, few to no social networks, and increased time spent alone or in the company of abusive companions.

Discrepancies arise in the social maladjustment theory when comparing “organized” and “disorganized” serial murderers. While “organized” murderers may have unsuspecting families or friends (such as “BTK” Denis Raider, the president of his church), “disorganized” serial killers are often alone, unemployable, and have little to no social support. The difference may also lie in the level of intelligence each killer possesses: “organized” killers, such as Ted Bundy, John Christie, Charles Manson, and Debora Green were enigmatic, and able to procure or maintain followers or friends through manipulation and charisma; their reported IQs were all over 121. Other “disorganized” serial murderers such as Clarence Victor and Jeffrey Dahmer were socially maladjusted, alone, and both with IQs in the 65-75 range (Mitchell & Aamodt, 2005). Whether an intelligent murderer is able to mask his deviance or not, the ability to interact directly influences the creation and operation of the serial killer’s behavior.

Whether charismatic or socially inept, a serial killer operates in terms of manipulation in order to maintain the lifestyle they create and live within. An “organized” killer may have superficial social ties, but they operate in their private lives alone—serial killing is a crime rarely committed in multiples and always in secret. As mentioned by Brantley and Kosky, mental illnesses associated with serial killers are not a psychotic nature—the knowledge that the killings are fundamentally wrong is present, forcing isolation in consideration of protection. Deviant and isolated behavior often creates or deepens social disturbance and mental illness, both of which effectively feed off of one another (2005). The cyclical effects of personal-intrapersonal-interpersonal maladjustment take tolls early on; Brantley and Kosky, Jr., state, “Depression and its collateral side effects are prominent in the histories of serial murderers (2005).” Many serial killers, such as Gary Ridgeway and Ted Bundy (two modularly different killers) sought companionship from their victims prior to killing them.

Society holds its inhabitants in a structure, in hopes of creating accountability. When people operate outside or against society, accountability for the individual decreases. Within his brief article in The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry, Keith Soothill brings forth questions emphasizing the need to look at the how involved in the “who-what-why-when-where-how” method of investigation; knowing how something has happened is a viewpoint that will help to showcase the social aspects of serial killers. The location of the serial killing, the timing, the circumstances in which the killing was done—all of these factors are imperative in creating a clearer picture of circumstances regarding serial murder. When discussing the case of Dr. Harold Shipman (a serial killer and medical doctor), he asserts that the fact that Shipman worked in private practice, all but unsupervised; he even points to the poor record keeping of Dr. Shipman that was noticed but left unchecked—“ Thirty years ago Eliot Freidson stressed that the central issue in the analysis of work is the control of performance (Soothill, 2001).” This is related to the article by Brantely and Kosky, Jr., in regard to the female health care worker “Lucy” and her relatively unmonitored visitations and work with her patients/victims. Lucy was also left to her own devices, and was unable to keep appropriate records regarding medication distribution; this poor reporting continued unimpeded, until the victims’ toxicology reports began more frequently matching those medications which had been missing (Brantley and Kosky, Jr., 2005).

Particular deviant or maladjusted traits in a person—specifically contempt and aggression—lead to isolation of the individual from society. These aggressive-type persons are often in combat in an effort to bat off belittlement as a result of a lack of self-esteem; or, as put by Summers, in a constant mode of defensiveness and isolation as a form of protection (Summers, 1999). Personalities that create distance from others socially often end up feeding the idea of isolated worthlessness; this can lead to a resentfully aggressive (or predatory) nature that is both unchecked and self-perpetuating (Hughes, 1997).

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