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ThE SeRiAl KiLlEr EvOlVes

Updated on November 28, 2010

Throughout time and history they have been the one constant reminder to society as to what we, as an individual could be capable of. They are just like every one of us. They have the same rights, responsibilities, even privileges as the average everyday American.  They teach our youth, they serve and protect, they even issue warrants and life sentences.  Yes, they live among us every day, and too many, go unknown in society. Some members of society even have the misfortune of living next door to them or even worse, falling victim to them. Serial killers have always played a role in society then and now. Perhaps the issue behind it all lies in the thought processes of a serial killer as well as those around them. How do they learn or evolve into the demented beings that society loves to revel in? All members of society are predisposed to evolve whether they want to or not.

Serial killers have become widely popular especially with the media’s and entertainment industries focus on them. Furthermore, scholastically, they have become just as popular especially when it comes to the behavioral aspect and psychological standpoints involved with serial killers. The most common thought process focuses on the mind of a serial killer. What makes a serial killer? Is this learned behavior or is it an inborn characteristic trait?

Edwin Sutherland, a sociologist a criminologists proposed the differential association theory. This was the theory that all crime was learned. He firmly believed that people not only learn how to commit crime; they also learn why it is a preferable course of action. He speculated that it wasn’t the behavior that was the learned, but the cognitions behind it. He felt and believed that individual’s observing criminal actions wasn’t enough. There had to be meaning behind the action itself. (McAvoy 2010)

Sutherland also felt that one could begin to see the favorable side of criminal behavior and cognitions and would ultimately begin to favor or prefer this type of behavior as opposed to non criminal behavior. He went on to reiterate that frequency, duration, and intensity were major psychological focal points in relation to the criminal behavior itself. (McAvoy 2010)

People commit crime for a variety of reasons from jealousy and money to drug and alcohol related crimes. Everyday within society people are arrested for the various crimes they commit.  But how does one learn to commit a crime. There a number of theories on why people commit crimes from economical to environmental (which relates to how an individual is raised) It’s often construed that when someone sees crime as the only way to survive, and their role model is doing it, chances are they will follow in their footsteps.

Children as young as ten years old are serving life without parole in today’s prison systems. Today, children who commit serious heinous crimes are being tried as adults in court. Currently, there are over two thousand children serving a life sentence in the United States. It’s been argued that those who commit the crimes of an adult should be treated like an adult. Crime itself can be learned from childhood. Often times, children are raised in abusive families. Young boys see aggression and hate while many young girls learn that being a victim is normal, and often expected. So in all effect, this is a great example of how someone can learn to commit a crime.

For the evolution of a serial killer, it all begins at home. Experts say that early child hood development and the subsequent later years are great impacts on the developing serial killer. From the unstable home to the rebellious and uncaring behavior exhibited throughout their youth to early adulthood. Many times, becoming a serial killer is unavoidable.

Also, many serial killers have experienced some form of abuse as a child whether they were the victim or the observer, the case is always different. This usually begins the path of isolation, depression, and acting out. Some start off by torturing and murdering animals. Psychologists discovered that there may be some relationship between the activities of children and the activities of serial killers. One example would be the instances of fire starting. Other instances include bullying, retaliation for some form of humility. The reasons vary and are also not always consistent with that of a serial killer. Take a look at one of the countries’ most famous serial killers. He was very smart and very attractive and had a very promising future in politics. He was also one of the most deadly and prolific serial killers in history. Theodore, Ted Bundy. He had the perfect façade that too many women would fall prey to (Montaldo). Furthermore, Bundy professed his innocence right up until the electric chair where it was there that he tried to use his victims to stay alive. It was there that the world got to see Bundy for what he truly was.

So how do serial killers learn to become serial killers? It’s not by chance. It can be said that circumstances affect every outcome of our lives. Two parents with one child can have the perfect life. Then, one parent leaves, maybe they die and one parent neglects the child in order to provide for the child and inadvertently sends the child spiraling down. This may be true in some cases, but what about Ted Bundy? What about the Green River Killer or the BTK killer. They came from stable families and lead stable lives. They married and had children of their own and to the outside world; they seemed incapable of committing these horrific crimes.  Most people will believe that serial killers are suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder and are basically psychopaths or sociopaths.

Serial killers have become a huge part of society. They have been immortalized in pop culture. Take a look at The Silence of The Lambs for which Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for. The actor himself was only in the film for less than twenty minutes yet, his effect won him the award. It wasn’t the actor himself; it was the character that captivated society. Serial killers wears masks, masks of normality so to speak is the common thought. There mannerisms are also different as well. Many times, they are very charming. Basically, they put out a façade that hides their psychosis. Many times, there is a sexual element involved in the killings, although, this isn’t true for all serial killers.

We all live next door to someone. But what happens when the people next door aren’t whom they appear to be. Of all the known serial killers incarcerated or executed, it can be common knowledge to know that those who lived right next door to them were probably in shock. The truth of the matter is a serial killer can literally be anyone from the principal at the Christian school, to the drug dealer in the inner city.

In response to crime, society has become somewhat vigilant in finding ways to keep themselves safe. In this day and age, it’s all about the alarm system on the house. The bars on the windows and the gate over the front door are examples of reactions to crime. However, this isn’t the only growing trend. Now there are gated communities that have security or police detail around the clock. Furthermore, many neighborhoods have established neighborhood watch programs. They are even talking to their children about things such as the buddy system meaning never go somewhere alone. These are all positive steps forward and natural reactions to growing crime trends.

Society reactions will always differ and that is based on environment. When members of society live in what is construed as relatively safe, they have no problem when it comes to reporting crime or perhaps even intervening on what they perceive as a crime. Those victims or potential victims are often lucky. One such victim wasn’t so lucky. Her name was Catherine Genovese and in 1964, thirty seven people heard the cries for help and did nothing as this young woman was stabbed to death. (Gansberg 1964).

Following this incident, psychological studies eventually led the researchers to coin the terms, bystander effect, or Genovese syndrome which describes a phenomenon where an individual is less likely to respond to an emergency if someone else is present. (findingDulcinea Staff 2010) However, this is also just another reaction to crime. Another reaction is when members of society basically ignore or decide they want nothing to do with what is happening to someone else. One such element can be seen in John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween where you see someone screaming and crying for help. The neighbors lights turn on, they see the distress, and turn their lights off. Many people would say this is an example of how selfish society can be to turn away when someone is clearly in need. This is true for domestic violence. One couple sits in silence while they hear a woman screaming next door while her husband beats her. They don’t want to get involve because it’s not their business.

When children are the victims, you see more and more members of society no matter where they live coming out in support. We all want to keep our children safe and we are all willing to take the necessary risks. It’s rather interesting to find that adults won’t help other adults but they all help children. What does that say about our society? It’s not a bad thing because children are the future. Predators have become more and seductive in the last twenty years. Now they have the internet to prey and adults need to be more vigilant.

            Ultimately, each and every member of society has his or her own reasons for choosing to look the other way and they can’t always be viewed as selfish or uncaring. Many people believe they only have one life. How many times has someone intervened on another’s behalf only to be injured, or killed? It’s all about fear. We within our society want to remain safe and protect ourselves and our loved ones. That’s one of natural instincts. It’s also become our natural instinct not to get involved. Communities have learned ways to protect and defend themselves in a variety of ways.

Is there a science behind the madness of a serial killer? Some experts say yes, and some say no. Often, many want to blame the parents. Perhaps too many questions are asked on the why? Often it’s because society wants answers. Is it biological? Meaning, are some members in society just born bad? Is it psychological? Meaning once again are some members born this way or are they turned this way by some outside factor? There has been a great debate on this and it’s also become quite controversial as well especially for those who find themselves victimized and later come to realize their attackers may walk free.

In recent years, some scientists have found themselves in a controversial series of inquiries. Particularly inquiries made about the violent gene. When Dutch scientist Dr Han Brunner claimed he’d discovered the gene for crime, lawyers and convicted criminals jumped at the chance to possibly make excuses for some of the violent behavior enacted by members of our own society. (Huw Davies 1996). Brunner discovered a mutating enzyme within one young man’s cell which in turn altered the chemistry of the brain. This one cell interfered with the way nerves communicate with one another and could push any normal sane person down a violent path of destruction.

            It didn’t take long for several American lawyers to discover this and want their own clients tested. Furthermore, Texas legislature took hold of the gene for use with the prosecution meaning any killer with a genetic tendency for murder would be considered a threat to society automatically. (Huw Davies 1996) DNA is found within every cell of our body. It’s subdivided into 60, 000 genes, genes that carry our inherited material that ultimately distinguishes us. (Huw Davies 1996). This new theory throws out the thought on do villains turn to crime out of free will or will the defense start saying not guilty by reason of birth defect.

There are theories as to why people commit crime. Italian physician Cesar Lombroso (1836-1909) was sure that people were born predisposed to antisocial behavior. (Zarka 2007). His ideas were later disregarded. Hans Eysenck believed that criminal behavior was the result of an interaction between specific environmental conditions and features of the nervous system. (Zarka 2007) According to Hans, extroversion, neuroticism, and psychotics are within the personality of a majority of criminals. He further reiterated that extroverts needed more stimulation, change, and excitement and that would most likely lead to impulsive thrill seeing behavior. (Zarka 2007)

It all comes down to whether or not violent behavior is hereditary. There may be a gene out there that says yes. It’s also been said that a child of rape can in turn become a rapists. This has sparked enormous controversy especially among those who have been victims of rape or are a product of rape. Many believe that the so called violent gene is really just an excuse to be absolved of any responsibility. In Italy, one such man had his sentence reduced because he possesses the violent gene. (Ahuja 2009)

Though science has shown that the violent gene does indeed exist, it’s important to know that they do not automatically turn their owners into killers. There are many people who possess the same gene and have never transgressed. (Ahuja 2009) About thirty percent of Caucasians carry the same gene as well. So, if some people with the gene become killers and some people do not, this whole get out jail gene can get tossed out of the window. Can’t it?         

            The psychoanalytic theory proposes that criminal behavior comes from a faulty identification by a child with his or her parents. The child is subsequently improperly socialized which in turn causes them to develop a personality disturbance that causes them to direct antisocial impulses inward or outward. The child that directs them outward is likely to become a criminal whereas the child that directs them inward becomes a neurotic.(Freud 1961) Cognitive Development Theory approach suggests that criminal behavior results from the way people organize their thoughts about the law and morality.  Lawrence Kolhberg’s formulated a moral reasoning theory in 1958. The theory consisted of three levels, pre-convention, conventional, and post- conventional. He theorized that people who do not progress through the stages could become arrested in their moral development and consequently become delinquents. (Kolhberg 1976) Learning theory appears to be one of the most highly regarded theories because it’s based upon the principles of behavioral psychology.

Behavioral psychology follows to an extent that behavior is learned and maintained by its consequences and reward value. Learning theorists often believe this method can be used to eliminate deviant behavior. Hans Eysenck believed that a child that is punished for the same behavior repeatedly will develop disturbing physiological and emotional responses whenever they consider committing that type of behavior. He further reiterated that there is a wide variability among society in their physiological processes.

Looking at the possible biological and psychological explanations for crime, many people would probably wonder if anyone in society is sane. The truth of the matter is that society evolved from the past. Each member evolves everyday and that is true when it comes to that of a serial killer. They are evolving everyday and getting better and better at perfecting their craft as well.

Every day we grow, we live, and we learn. Every day we mature, we evolve. This isn’t by choice. Society is predisposed to evolve. The good and the bad continue to evolve all around us. Crime is no exception. Murderers continue to kill only they learn from the past. There is no point in trying to figure out why someone became a killer because it won’t help matters. Perhaps its this main reason that communities react to crimes the way they do. Looking for biological reasoning as well as psychological may lead us the right path to possibly identifying current and possibly future serial killers, the truth of the matter is that as we evolve, they evolve and there is nothing we can do about that. For that main reason, it’s important for member in society to know their neighbors and to know their neighborhoods. Be diligent when it comes to explaining and educating our youth and children on the importance of safety. Society reactions to crimes are always going to be different but perhaps making a difference is what life is all about.


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