Predestined Serial Killers
Predestined Serial Killers
serial killer: a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and usually following a similar, characteristic pattern of behavior. (8)
As participants in today's information obsessed society we are constantly being bombarded with the brutal actions that mankind is capable of. One watches the news and hears about a murder, or reads a book about a mysterious killer. The only time that the New York Daily News has ever outsold the New York Times was when the headline claimed the letters that proved the 'real' identity of Jack the Ripper. 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. The first idea is that serial killing is caused by an abnormality in the frontal lobe region of the brain. Another theory is that serial killers are bred by circumstance. However, I believe that with some analysis the evidence for both theories can serve to prove that serial killers are genetically different. Thus demonstrating that serial killing can find its origins in genetics.
A startling amount of criminals on death row have been clinically diagnosed with brain disorders. A recent study has demonstrated that 20 out of 31 confessed killers are diagnosed as mentally ill. Out of that 20, 64% have frontal lobe abnormalities. (1) A thorough study of the profiles of many serial killers shows that many of them had suffered sever 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 effective social intercourse are mediated by the frontal structures of the brain. (3) Antonio and Anna Damasio, two noted Portuguese neurologists and researchers working in the University of Iowa, have been investigating in the last decade the neurological basis of psychopathy. They have shown that individuals who had undergone damage to the ventromedial frontal cortex (and who had normal personalities before the damage) developed abnormal social conduct, leading to negative personal consequences. Among other things, they presented inadequate decision-making and planning abilities, which are known to be processed by the frontal lobe of the brain. (5) For a long time now, neuroscientists have known that lesions to this part of the brain lead to severe deficits in all these behaviors. The inordinate use of prefrontal lobotomy as a therapeutic tool by surgeons for many mental diseases in the 40s and 50s, provided researchers with enough data to implicate the frontal brain in the genesis of dissocial and antisocial personalities. (6) Through this information one can posit that the frontal lobe acts as a conscience.
An example of a serial killer that had suffered sever injury to his frontal lobe is Albert Fish, better known as the Brooklyn Vampire. At the age of seven he had a severe fall off a cherry tree which caused a head injury from which he would have permanent problems with, such as headaches and dizzy spells. (2) 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. (2) It would appear that a damaged frontal lobe is a prime suspect in the causation of serial killing. However, if you look closer this argument flows over to prove that genetics is the main cause of serial killing. Could it be the case that we are all genetically encoded to become serial killers, and the frontal lobe is the proverbial muzzle that stops us from acting on our tendencies? All of us have at one point or another imagined killing a person because they displayed tendencies that we did not like. None of us went out and killed them in a ritualized manner.
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 in tandem with the evolution of man from a beast to purveyor of civilization. (3) The trademark of all social primates is a highly developed frontal brain, and human beings have the largest one of all. It is a simple jump in reason to understand that, like a dog without its muzzle, the human animal without a frontal lobe is more likely to 'bite.'
Brain damage cannot be the motivator for all serial killing. 46% of all confessed serial killers have no frontal or general brain damage. The majority admits that they were perfectly aware of what they were doing before, during, and after the crime. Some even confess that they know that 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. (1) Caroll Edward Cole commented that after his first kill " I thought my life was going to improve, I was sadly mistaken. Neither at home or at school. I was getting meaner and meaner, fighting all the time in a way to hurt or maim, and my thoughts were not the ideas of an innocent child, believe me." By the end of his career Cole had killed so many people that he could not even remember the names of his victims. At one point during his testimony he remembered a new victim, "This one is almost a complete blank," Cole said of the victim. He didn't know the woman's name, but Cole remembered finding pieces of her body scattered from the bathroom to the kitchen of his small apartment. "Evidently I had done some cooking the night before," he testified. "There was some meat on the stove in a frying pan and part that I hadn't eaten on a plate, on the table." (1) Caroll Edward Cole had no mental illnesses, and was aware that he was committing morally abhorrent acts.
Circumstance is another argument that is proposed as a cause of serial killing. As the study of the profiles of serial killers progresses many similarities in their pasts, and in their recurring actions become eerily apparent. As children many suffered through traumatic childhoods, usually being physically or mentally abused. From this fact, it emerges that all reported cases of abuse committed against serial killers was done by their mothers. Most serial killers kill either for personal gain (revenge, money etc...) or pleasure (usually sexual). Many serial killers have above average intelligence, and are well employed in high wage jobs (engineers, doctors, lawyers etc...). The majority came from middle to high-income families. They are usually handsome/ beautiful, very articulate, and sexually promiscuous. (1) As killers they have a specific trait that they look for in the victims that they ritually kill. In interviews, many serial killers admitted that the people they killed fulfilled some aspect of a person that abused or taunted them. Caroll Edward Cole killed little boys that 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." (1)
Do these disquieting threads of commonality among serial killers make a strong case towards the idea that serial killers are caused by circumstance? It would appear to be true, until you take into consideration the distribution curve. If serial killers give the impression of being linked by similar circumstance it is because the genetic traits of serial killing are all found at one end of the distribution curve (which by chance could be the same end in which a higher probability of certain circumstances occurs). The normal distribution curve is one of the most commonly observed and is the starting point for modeling many natural processes. (4) There are also cases of serial killers that break the thread of commonality. For example, one pair of killers, killed as a form of earning income. In the 1800's William Burke and William Hare poisoned over 200 people, and sold their corpses to medical universities so that medical students could learn how to autopsy cadavers. (1) If there is no commonality of experience between serial killers, then serial killing must be genetic.
An interesting idea comes forward when discussing the commonality of serial killers. Many genetic diseases are carried by a female and become active in their male offspring. For example, the most common form of color blindness, affects about 7 percent of men and less than 1 percent of women. It is identified as a sex-linked hereditary characteristic, passed from the mother to her son. (7) Can the same be said for serial killing? It is observed that their mother abused the majority of serial killers. Following this with the thought that serial killing is caused by genetics, could the mother be passing the genetic trait down to her son? This would account for the reason that serial killers are predominantly male.
In this paper the question has been raised: are serial killers genetically different? This question spawned the idea that serial killing is genetic. To prove this the two main arguments against genetics were looked at, and disproved. The first argument proposed that serial killing was caused by mental illness, or more specifically that serial killing was caused by trauma to the frontal lobe. If you look closely at this argument it actually turns to prove that serial killing can be genetic. The argument generates the idea that we are all genetically encoded to become serial killers, and the frontal lobe (acting as a conscience) stops us from doing so. The argument does not refute the idea that serial killing is genetic. The next major argument towards the causation of serial killing supposes that a serial killer is created by circumstance. To oppose this one can simply say that the apparent commonality of experience among serial killers only demonstrates that since serial killers are genetically different, in general they are at one end of the distribution curve. If there is no commonality of experience, then serial killing must be genetically caused. Maybe our founding fathers claims of manifest destiny and predestination were accurate after all.
1) Crime Library,
This is a web site that houses the profiles of many serial killers, it
also give detailed case history, and modus operandi. It specializes in
hard to find serial killer cases. Especially older ones.
2) AtoZ Serial Killers, Here you will find a psychological profile of serial killers. Has photos, and sketches of the serial killers. Gives profiles of modern, and operating killers.
3) Frontal Lobe Abnormalities, This site provides a very good case for abnormalities in the frontal lobe. It specializes in brain abnormalities, and how that affects behavior.
4) Distribution Curve, Here you will find provided a really simple description of the distribution curve.
5) A Study of Brain Physiology ,This site focuses on the physiology of the brain.
6) History of Psychosurgery, This site looks at the different treatments for brain diseases. It is a historical look at psychosurgery and the effects that it has on the brain.
7) A History of Color Blindness, A basic history of color blindness, and its genetic origins.
8) Oxford English Dictionary, This is the site that hosts the complete Oxford English Dictionary.
Comments made prior to 2007
CAUSE of human psychopathologies was isolated more than 50 years ago by
asking (and answering) the simple question "What is the Great Common
Denominator in the childhood backgrounds of a random sampling of
suicides or psychopaths or serial killers or chronic drug addicts etc
etc." The answer was iatrogenic and quickly concealed and remains
so to this day. It is interesting to see you people here bending
yourselves so far out of shape in your determined effort to contine the
concealment of this CAUSE of psychopathologies. Is it something about
endless grants forthcoming in search of that which is already
known? You say not? Then what is the answer to the above
forbidden question? ... Vern, 12 February 2006
Minor spelling issue which may cause confusion about frontal lobotomy.
A person with a severed frontal lobe has actually had a frontal lobotomy, which would make them have no ambition and unlikely to commit a crime.
I think you mean "severe" when you type "sever" in the various places in this text ... Scott Macmartin, 2 April 2006
In your discussion about serial killers having a genetic predisposition, you write "Can the same be said for serial killing? It is observed that their mother abused the majority of serial killers. Following this with the thought that serial killing is caused by genetics, could the mother be passing the genetic trait down to her son?"
You ask a question but there's no connection. It's possible, but that doesn't make it probably or fact. It may be that some mothers are born with genes that make them abuse their sons in such a way as to produce serial killers. This could produce serial killers without a serial killing "gene." We would have to look at twin studies, adoptions, etc. ... Eddie J, 16 March 2007