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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The thrill of watching serial killer documentaries after the clock strikes midnight has been a guilty pleasure for most of us at some point or the other. An interesting concept to mull over but a heinous reality; serial killers from different eras have found fame in the most horrid of tragedies. When you think about the time when Manson was in the air or when Ted Bundy was roaming the streets or when Dahmer was practically feasting on young men, do you ever find yourself wondering where it all went wrong for these people who were supposedly normal until the mystery of their crimes was uncovered? If yes, then you are at the right place at the right time, as opposed to the victims who sadly weren’t. 

What makes a serial killer?

The most popular perspective that people have is that serial killers or murderers seek thrill in killing, maiming, and assaulting people which could be a plausible theory to attribute to this murderous urge. The thrill is perhaps compelling in more ways than one, as it provides the gratification of not just physical needs but also psychological whims. More addictive than fentanyl, the rush of killing compares to nothing else for a serial killer. 

Despite the plausibility of the aforementioned theory, it is not the only angle that can be used to dissect the mind of a killer. To fully study the psyche of a serial killer and understand the roots of this impulse to kill or hurt, we must start from the very beginning, that is, childhood. Many pieces of research have proven that most serial killers or just criminals of any sort have unresolved childhood trauma. Children witnessing or experiencing violence of any kind are more likely to be violent as adults. This cycle of violence and trauma causes them to exhibit antisocial behaviour as children which later in their life, turns into psychopathic tendencies. 

The lack of control over their lives in the early years is another reason why people choose to participate in criminal activity. The thrill of killing and dominating the victim makes them feel like they’re in control of their lives when in reality, they cannot even control these urges. Add to this the element of feeling little to no remorse and you have a serial killer at your hands. Ted Bundy– being a classic example of the same. Bundy’s issues with his mother and stepfather, predisposition to anger issues and access to pornography at a young age played a pivotal role in making him one of the most notorious serial killers in American history who would later confess to the murder of 30 women. Some say that the actual number was much, much higher. His diabolical charm and eloquence made him look like any other being. But it’s what he did behind closed doors that led him to become a criminal mastermind. Smart enough to represent himself as a lawyer, but an epitome of rage and revenge Bundy was a sore memory for the American trajectory.

While most research literature points to an apparently traumatic childhood in criminals’ lives, some say that it is not a prerequisite for a person to become a serial killer. The example of Jeffrey Dahmer can be taken here. With no signs of any childhood trauma, Dahmer supposedly lived a peaceful life as a child. Upon getting caught, he didn’t make any remarks about his childhood. Dahmer’s crazed murder spree can be attributed to sheer loneliness. This aspect of loneliness can be identified from his statements where he outright said that he felt the need to possess his victims. He would often keep their skulls and genitals as souvenirs with him, he also clicked their pictures during various stages of torture to perhaps remind him of the pleasure he felt when he dismembered, assaulted and finally murdered these people. An altar of the dead, Dahmer’s nefarious collection is a bone chilling testament to the worst possible outcome of loneliness and apathy. 

The role of narcotics and substance abuse also supposedly accelerates the process of turning someone into a criminal. Richard Ramirez, famously known as ‘The Night Stalker’ tortured dozens and was convicted for killing 14 people with no fixed pattern or weapon, was a heavy drug user and a Satanist amongst other things. Psychological disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety and depression are also linked with similar crimes. The levels of hormones such as testosterone, cortisol, serotonin and dopamine also point to the mental stability of an individual. Researches show that men with higher levels of testosterone are more likely to get involved in crimes like rape and murder. 

Physical conditions like poverty coupled with inadequate living facilities and a neighbourhood festering with some crime in every corner can also be held reprehensible for an increase in the manufacturing of killers. Mary Bell, who was born to a prostitute grew up in an environment similar to that and was often tortured by her mother. She tortured and murdered two little boys by the age of 12. 

 I believe that the apathy that stems from all the trauma and dreadful life stories is definitely responsible for the way these people act like adults, but, I also believe that it is not common for every person with similar background to become criminal of any sort. People turn their lives around and make phenomenal progress over time. The criminals, especially serial killers, derive an inexplicable kind of pleasure from torturing, murdering, raping and dismembering their victims. They corroborate the same through pictures and later derive more pleasure from recalling those incidents. They also supposedly view human beings as objects and therefore, it becomes much easier for them to inflict injury on something that they don’t even consider human. The feelings of pleasure, dominance, relief and exhilaration that they achieve from committing these crimes are close to catharsis for them. It can be called ‘cathartic killing’; a phenomenon where people commit crimes like murder to either escape unpleasant thoughts or find any sort of gratification and revel in the stench of crime.

The debates on this topic have been going on for several decades and for a good reason- as controversial as the topic is, the need to arrive at a single conclusion is feverish but not reasonable as it is impossible to attribute one characteristic trait or one psychological or sociological argument to the making of all serial killers in the history. The impulses that they act on are the same impulses that most people ignore or find non-violent ways to deal with.

My concluding remark would be that it is definitely fascinating to study this and look into the minds of these people, but it is surely no reason to validate their crimes. 

It is definitely a complex conundrum but these people are completely responsible for their actions and nothing that gets discovered about their lives can overshadow the fact that they chose to become the worst versions of themselves.

Anjalika Tiwari

Delhi South '23

Anjalika is a student of Kamala Nehru College. She is an ardent believer of the fact that inspiration can be drawn from anything and everything. A dreamer at heart, forced into the pragmatic world, she encompasses an adequate amount of research as well as personal opinions in her articles.
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