Serial Killers & Demonic Possession: Is There a Link?
Since time began, people have been fascinated with the darker side of humanity. Throughout history, humans have been intrigued by that which we cannot understand. We buried our most primitive desires and instincts, sublimating them and repressing them. But civilized society gave birth to a new phenomenon: the serial killer. Completely contrary to the way the rest of us live our lives, serial killers exist far outside the norm. They fascinate us, committing acts that most of us cannot even conceive of and existing in a place beyond everything we can imagine. They terrify us because they embody everything we have attempted to suppress in ourselves. We look at serial killers and we want to see a monster but we don't. We see ourselves. This simultaneously captivates and repels us; intrigues but frightens us; pushes us away and draws us in closer. It is all the allure of the strange and all the repulsion of the oh-so-familiar: the darkness in humanity.
What can science tell us about serial murder?
Serial killers have been studied for decades and science has many theories about why they fall so far outside the norm of human behavior. The prevailing theory is that serial murderers are psychopaths. Psychopaths are driven solely by their own desires. If a psychopath wants your money, he will lie, manipulate, hurt, torture or even kill you to get it without thinking twice. Nothing matters to him but what he wants. Psychopathic serial killers fall at the very far end of the narcissistic spectrum; this means they have no conscience, caring only for themselves and what they want - and what they want is power and control over others. They care absolutely nothing for the suffering of others or who might get hurt in their pursuit of what they want. Psychopaths feel no remorse and no guilt. Because of this, they are infinitely dangerous. They have no "internal policeman" to stop them from doing things that are hurtful or wrong. They have no inner voice that says, "That hurts people. Don't do it." This can be very difficult for normal, caring people to relate to; many, many people have been victimized by psychopaths in many ways because of that simple fact. To understand what kind of person this truly is, we will refer to what expert Dr. Park Dietz said regarding the mindset of the serial murderer: "His orgasm is more important than your life."
This is the serial killer.
But how does he become a serial killer? There is a lot of debate about how psychopaths are created. Some say nature, such as genetics. Some say nurture, such as environment. The answer for most serial killers is probably a little bit of both: an abused child without the genetic or biological predisposition to psychopathy is not likely to become a psychopath. Similarly, a nurtured child who does have a genetic or biological predisposition to psychopathy is not likely to become a psychopath, either. This is why two children of the same gender in the same family can receive the same treatment but grow into two totally different kinds of people.
People who are on the narcissistic spectrum (all those suffering from cluster B personality disorders, for example) have received what is referred to as "the narcissistic wound" during childhood. The narcissistic wound refers to a trauma or series of traumas that were inflicted on the child which caused severe damage to the child's psyche, rendering them unable to regulate or experience their feelings normally. In the pathological narcissist, the wound has occurred when the ability to regulate emotions was just starting to develop, rendering them unable to feel empathy normally for other people and making the conscience ineffective in most situations; the narcissist's own feelings simply scream over it. In the psychopath, this wound has occurred before these feelings even began to form. They have no real feelings to regulate and consequently, they have no conscience at all. They are simply an empty vessel. A machine looking for distraction and fulfillment.
All serial killers are psychopaths, but not all psychopaths are serial killers. However, a child who becomes a psychopath has a much higher likelihood of becoming a serial killer if he has learned to connect violence and sexual excitement. This usually occurs during puberty but can happen much earlier.
Let's suppose there is a 13 year old boy who has become a psychopath. No one knows he is a psychopath yet, although he is and there are definitely warning signs. This boy feels very powerless in his own life, because his father beats him and controls him, and his mother - whom he sees as very powerful - ignores and berates him. This makes the boy angry and he wants to feel powerful, too. However, he is small and weak; he can never dominate his father - the person he really wants to dominate. He has been taught very well and very early that the way you become strong is to dominate and hurt things weaker than yourself. After all, look how strong his father seems! He looks around for something smaller than him. He finds a cat and hurting the cat makes him feel better. The boy has all the power. He delights in how this power makes him feel. He feels strong because the cat cannot defend itself. It's weak, compared to the boy. The cat's suffering does not bother him. If he even notices it all, it's considered academic and not important. If he does notice it, it's because it only excites him more. Because his heart is pounding and because he is in puberty, the boy gets excited while he is hurting the cat - or later when he is thinking about it. He notices the excitement. Maybe he does something about the excitement and maybe he doesn't, but the link has been forged. Over time, this will be repeated many times, until what's been created is a person who becomes sexually excited by hurting and having power over another living thing. A serial killer.
But what about the serial killers that science can't explain?
Serial murderers and demonic possession
Science and psychology do a very good job of explaining the phenomenon of serial murder, but what about the murderers who don't have a reason to be what they are? Though there are a few serial killers we could examine for this article, we will look at two: Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy. Let's examine Jeffrey Dahmer first. Dahmer's case is very well-known. Dahmer drugged, tortured, killed and cannibalized 17 young men between 1978 and 1991. On the surface, Dahmer's case seems similar to many other serial killers. But is it? It does not appear to be, upon deeper investigation. Dahmer did not have a traumatic childhood. He had a basically decent family and no greater or fewer traumatic events than anybody else; he certainly had far fewer than most serial murderers generally have.
So why did he become a serial killer? No one really knows. Dahmer himself did not even know - this is somewhat uncommon among serial killers. Most of them do understand why they are the way they are, at least to a point. Dahmer could not come up with any reason at all. It was the subject of great confusion for him, in fact, and he talked about it often. He even donated his brain to science in the hopes that something would be discovered by examining it. Nothing was.
It is less well-known that Dahmer had a large interest in the occult going back to his teen years. There was a séance when he was a teenager, where Dahmer talked about wanting to contact "an evil spirit" that was harassing him and telling him to do things he didn't want to do. He also announced his intention to contact Lucifer. Dahmer killed animals and dismembered them, as nearly all budding serial killers do. However, unlike most serial killers, these dead animals were found in odd poses or with their heads placed on sticks. As Dahmer got older, his chosen victims became people and the more murders Dahmer committed, the more obsessed with the occult he became. He was obsessed with the ultimate power and control of the Emperor character from Star Wars, and with the movie The Exorcist III. His sole surviving victim Tracy Edwards testified that Dahmer was watching The Exorcist III during the attack and that he observed Dahmer rocking back and forth while chanting off and on during the entire time Edwards was in Dahmer's apartment. Edwards described a part during the movie when a preacher becomes possessed as a segment that "really had Dahmer's attention." He stated that when Dahmer told him to lie face down and be handcuffed, he did not comply, saying, "I guess God told me not to let this person handcuff me, so I didn't." Edwards further described a change in Dahmer once the attack began, even stating Dahmer looked different. Edwards was able to escape because Dahmer, engaged in one of his chanting episodes, was not paying attention. "it's like I wasn't there anymore." Edwards actually likened Dahmer to the devil a few times in his statements to police. [Edwards' testimony starts at about 1 hour, 2 minutes into the video below.]
Dahmer also had plans drawn up to construct an altar of sorts using the skulls and bones from his victims. He was already beginning to build it when he was caught. According to an interview he did with Robert Ressler, his intention was to use this altar to "tap in" to something that would bring him success and power. Dahmer was rather vague about the altar, but it's unclear whether this was because he didn't want to talk about it or because he just wasn't sure. Considering how open he was - about everything - it's not likely he didn't want to talk about it. That leaves the possibility that he just wasn't sure. That raises questions: why would he be unsure about the purpose of something he himself is building? Where did he get the idea for it, if he could not even really be positive about what it was for? What was the actual purpose of the altar?
It would be easy to dismiss these questions and the altar itself as just craziness from a crazy guy, except that Jeffrey Dahmer wasn't crazy. In fact, he wasn't even close. He was suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (as many killers of all types do) and probably Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but he was not crazy. What he was, was empty and perhaps when there is an empty space, anything that can fill it will do so - especially if the empty vessel is weak. Dahmer talked about feeling controlled by his desires and being unable to fight them.
That is another thing that sets Dahmer apart from other serial murderers: the fact that he fought his urges. Most of them don't; on the contrary, they revel in the urges. Dahmer was different. He did not understand his compulsions or where they came from and he tried to fight them. He described a two year period where he was able to abstain from any aberrant behavior at all - by going to church. This did not last long, though. It seems that once he gave into his base urges again after this two year stint, Dahmer no longer attempted to fight his urges at all. He claimed that he felt driven to kill but was too weak to resist because of his alcoholism. He surrendered. Indeed, he plunged in with a vengeance and escalated back up to murder in a relatively short period of time. (There is a supposed 9 year gap between his first and second murder, but many people do not believe this to be the truth - especially considering that he was overseas serving in the military for two years after his first murder.) Like other serial murderers who lack an obvious cause such as Bundy, Mullin, Rader and Ridgeway, Dahmer's body count is relatively high. He also started killing at 18, a remarkably young age for serial killers. His first murder apparently took place less than a month after the séance he held.
Perhaps the thing that stands out the most regarding Dahmer is the truly unbelievable number of times he should have been caught but wasn't. He had numerous involvements with the police; there were times they were in his apartment when he had dead bodies dismembered in the bathroom or bedroom and still he was not caught. The police even returned an escaped teenage victim to Dahmer - whom he killed as soon as they left. It's as if he had the luck of the devil himself. And maybe he did.
It should be noted that Dahmer himself stated that every day he lived was "an affront to God" and that he was killed in prison by Christopher Scarver, a man who claimed the voice of God told him who to kill.
Full Trial: Jeffrey Dahmer
Examining Bundy, we see that like Dahmer, Bundy had a basically normal childhood. He did find out that his mother was actually his grandmother, not his true mother but by all accounts, Ted's childhood does not appear to have been the type that creates a serial murderer. Yet Ted Bundy killed 36 women. Not only did he kill them, he brutalized them - both before and after death, just as Dahmer did. But why?
Again, no one knows. Ted did not know. At the end of his life when he finally began confessing, he stated that the compulsion to kill had taken over his entire life and that he was unable to stop. He claimed he was unable to sleep or eat because he was so driven to find a victim. Only after he killed could he find peace for any length of time. One wonders if this is why Dahmer drank so much - to find peace. But what is it that compelled these men so strongly, even to the point of exhaustion? The links from Ted Bundy to the occult are tenuous at best; however, most of the rest of his story is the same as Dahmer's and as secretive as Ted was, if he did have any interest or experience with the occult, it's unlikely anyone would have ever known.
Like Dahmer, Bundy also had the luck of the devil, truly. He was implicated in the disappearances of women early on, but nothing came of it. He was eventually caught and arrested, but he escaped from jail - twice. During the times he was free he continued to kill, just as Dahmer did after his many brushes with the law. Even when faced with immediate peril, they were unable to stop killing. Even with bodies literally piled up on top of each other and nowhere to put more, they were unable to stop.
Both of these men were driven to kill by forces beyond their control, and seemingly had extraordinary luck and success with killing, walking away with victims in broad daylight but arousing almost no suspicion. Indeed, witnesses who did see them could not remember or agree on what they looked like. It's as if there was a cloak over them, obscuring them from the witness's memory. They operated almost totally under the radar; even when authorities were alerted to their presence, they were essentially ignored. Complicating matters more is that both Dahmer and Bundy were chameleons; by changing something very small about themselves - or sometimes seemingly at will - they could look like someone totally different.
The Many Faces of Ted Bundy
When we take a hard look at Dahmer and Bundy, we see that though they may appear to fall under the same category as "regular" serial killers, they do not. There are significant differences between these men and the garden-variety serial killer. It has been posited many times that perhaps the reason these killers were so successful is because they had an accomplice. This is of course possible, but what accomplice was it who made the police turn Dahmer's teenage victim back over to him to be murdered? What accomplice helped Bundy escape incarceration, not just once but twice?
Not a human accomplice, that is certain.
In the end, it is impossible to determine whether either of these men were vessels for something supernatural. However, the argument can be made for the possibility of it, and it has been made here. If science and psychology cannot explain these men, what does?