Is it Nature or Nurture?

GaryRidgeway the Green River Killer

Exploring the Facilitation of Male Sexual
Elizabeth Hall

When exploring the motives of male compulsive killers, all will differ in some way, but have similarities such as sadism, fantasy, and a compulsion to kill (Schlesinger, 2000). Torture, sex, and extreme violence seem also present in almost all cases, leaving researchers to discern whether they murder because of nature or nurture.
In spite of the growing interest in the subject of compulsive murder, there is still much speculation whether the causality of this phenomenon is due the natural genetics of the killer or by the lack of growing up in a functional family environment. During the developmental and teenage years of sexual compulsive killers, it is widely believed among researches that they spend these years isolated by their peers, unable to obtain normal female companionship and building up enormous antipathy for the society that they feel rejected by. Many of those we consider authorities on the subject of compulsive murder believe that the sexual drive of the offender plays a large role in the commission of crimes like these (Douglas & Olshaker, 1999). During these critical years, as the child is developing sexually, because of the social isolation they escape into their fantasy worlds in which they are in total control of others. It is in this fantasy world that sex and violence merge.
It is also common knowledge among researchers that many of these predators have suffered some form of childhood ordeal whether that is abuse, physical trauma, or neglect (Giannangelo, 1996). All human behavior is a result of their hereditary factors, backgrounds (including the way they were nurtured or not), and the individual preferences they choose while undergoing their developmental years (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005). By the time they qualify as compulsive killers by definition and come to light by law enforcement, they have already killed three people on three different occasions (Brown, 2003). By then it is too late to try to rehabilitate this type of offender. In order to reduce crimes and recidivism of this brutal nature, science must move forward yet again and identify a method to reach these offenders before they offend for the first time.
Inevitably, when we find one of these violent criminals in our midst, the questions asked by the public, the media, and officials remain the same. How does someone get to this place in his life? How can someone commit these atrocities without any remorse? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the answer to these questions and others like them, rest in the individual growth of the perpetrator from their birth to the time they reach adult maturity (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005). It is because of this distinction, that the true facilitators of a compulsive killer must lie somewhere in between nature and nurture with more of an emphasis on nurture because in their developmental years, the lack of social skills causes them to have underdeveloped coping skills, hardened emotional reactions, along with distorted views on human relationships and sex.
Defining Compulsive Murder
The consensus that defines a compulsive murderer is that they kill at least three victims during separate attacks where there has been a cooling off period between attacks. This differentiates them from mass murderers who kill multiple people at one location in on attack, and spree killers who kill multiple people at multiple locations with no cooling off period. The compulsive killer has been fantasizing about committing these crimes long before he commits the first kill. Mass murderers and spree killers usually have an event happen to them such a loss of a job that sets the pattern in motion. The fantasies compulsive killers have usually involve sex and rage, which intertwine and escalate in the offender’s mind until they merge fantasy with reality. (Brown, 2003)
Developmental Years of a Compulsive Killer – The Formative Years
When examining the developmental years, of most compulsive killers, whether extremely evident or deeply secretly rooted, there is always something not quite right about the relationships with the people closest to them. This includes uncles, aunts, parents, coaches, clergymen, siblings, and friends. The process of making a compulsive murderer starts with a genetic predisposition to violence, prenatal exposure to drugs and or alcohol, or some kind of head trauma (Giannangelo, 1996). Their formative years are rife with negative parenting, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, and rage building up inside them. The problems these children have do not receive proper attention and counseling; consequently, they develop social issues due to general mistrust of others, a lack of self worth, and feelings of rejection.
Some good examples of these perpetrators are John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Gacy grew up with an abusive father, and had a clot in his brain caused by a swing hitting him in the head. Richard Ramirez grew up with his parents always away at work, diagnosed with epilepsy, and witnessed his cousin murder his wife at the tender age of 12 (Carlos, 1996). Ted Bundy was under the impression that his mother was his sister for most of his young life, and was very distressed to discover the lie. Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents practically abandoned him after they went through a divorce. Had these people had loving relationships with their caregivers, perhaps their victims would not have had to suffer at all (Schechter, 2003)
Sexuality of a Compulsive Killer- The Teenage Years into Early Adulthood
These people begin to fantasize about murder and rape as a form of revenge on the society, or people they feel have slighted them. The fantasy stage dominates the individual’s thoughts and can be enough to sustain them for years (Schlesinger, 2000). Repeated frustration from the social isolation fuels the rage building inside of them. Some of them realize that they are homosexuals or pedophiles, during this time and that factor fuels the fantasy. They often are compelled to masturbate during these fantasies. Eventually they feel the compulsion to act on their fantasy to kill. Generally, in their late teens or early adulthood, their frustration with life, and the growing satisfaction they receive from their fantasy world where they hold all power builds to a point that they make fantasy a reality and make their first kill. (Schlesinger, 2000)
Into Adulthood- Why They Kill
There are multiple factors that contribute to the making of a compulsive murderer. Just because someone is abused or neglected does not mean that he will automatically become a compulsive killer. They are usually loners although some form pairs (Godwin, 2000). They have a very hard time dealing with stress even though they may appear to be functioning normally in society. This is where genetics, and learned behaviors intertwine with personal experiences, choices, nature, and consequences. The individuality of human nature plays a large part in the process. Compulsive murderers are narcissistic in nature, and failure is what inevitably starts their murderous careers. To feel powerful, they feel the compulsion to feed their narcissism with murder, because they are failing miserably in their non-fantasy lives. There several basic needs every human must have to maintain life. The main three are food, water, and sex. Abnormal behavior is considered the direct result of the rules of society, and an inherent human need conflicting (Hickey, n.d.). Taking the life of another human being, or having complete, sexual power over another human being is a very powerful feeling, almost godlike. Whether sexual activity is defined or not, is committed by a male or female, the sexual gratification these people get out of killing makes compulsive murder a sexual crime (Arndt, Hietpas, & Kim, 2004). To put this in another light, one that is easier understood to nonprofessionals, compulsive killers are people who have experienced abuse during their upbringing, whose psyche distorts to the point that their sexual needs will not subside without violence. This creates a dangerous criminal, because one of their basic human needs for survival can only happen with the commission of a heinous crime.
It is because of this distinction, that the true facilitators of a compulsive killer must lie somewhere in between nature and nurture with more of an emphasis on nurture because in their developmental years, the lack of social skills causes them to have underdeveloped coping skills, hardened emotional reactions, along with distorted views on human relationships and sex. Despite media attention, that portrays compulsive killers as inhumane monsters, they are very much as human as anyone else. After the abusive formative years are over, they emerge enraged and ready to wreak havoc on society in a never-ending cycle. It takes a combination of both desire and impulse to allow a human, to savagely, steal the life of another without remorse or any guilt. Their development depends on several factors including but not limited to; “biological predisposition molded by their psychological makeup, which is present at a critical time in their development” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005). They begin life already prone to narcissism, and develop into anti-social adults with anger management issues after enduring childhoods rife with problems. Compulsive killers are not born, but fashioned from a noxious cocktail of genetics, life experience, and learned behavior.
Arndt, W.B, Hietpas, T. & Kim, J. (2004). Critical Characteristics of Male Serial Murderers. American Journal of Criminal Justice. AJCJ; Fall 2004; 29, 1; Criminal Justice Periodicals pp. 117
Brown, P. (2003). Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers. Phoenix Books. Beverly Hills
Carlo, P. (1996). The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez. New York: Kensington Books.
Douglas, J.E. & Olshaker, M. (1999). The anatomy of motive: The FBI’s legendary mind hunter explores the key to understanding and catching violent criminals. New York, NY: Scribner.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2005). SerialMurder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators. Retrieved from: http://www.fbi.gov/publications/compulsive_murder.pdf
Giannangelo, S.J. (1996). The Psychopathology of Serial Murder: A Theory of Violence. Westport, CT. Praeger Publishing.
Godwin, G.M. (2000). Hunting Serial Predators: a multivariate classification approach to profiling violent behavior. Boca Raton. CRC Press
Hickey, E. W. (n.d.) Serial Murderers and Their Victims. Fourth Edition. Mason:
Cengage Learning
Jenkins, P. (1994). Using murder: The social construction of serial homicide. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine De Gruyter.
Schechter, H. (2003). The Serial Killer Files: the who, what, where, how and why of the world’s most terrifying murderers. USA. Random House Publishing Group.
Schlesinger, L. B. (2000). Serial Offenders: Recent Thoughts Current Findings. Boca Raton. CRC Press.

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