Friday 5 March 2010

What makes serial killers kill at random?

Michael Wayne McGray is a Canadian serial killer who has killed at least five people to which he has been convicted and claims to have killed 16 in Halifax, Saint John, Montreal, Newfoundland, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, and Seattle.
On May 23, 2001, police in Halifax, Nova Scotia charged McGray with the murder of a hitchhiker 16 years after her body was found on the side of a road near Digby, Nova Scotia. The victim, 17-year-old Elizabeth Gale Tucker, was murdered in 1985 while hitchhiking to her job at a fish plant. McGray admitted to stabbing Tucker multiple times and dumping her body. This charge followed four previous murder convictions in 2000.

McGray had previously pleaded guilty to stabbing cabbie Mark Gibbons to death in 1987. He's was also convicted of the murder of Joan Hicks in Moncton in 1998. He denied killing Hick’s thirteen-year-old daughter because he knew that if he admitted to that killing, his life in prison would be hell. However, everyone knows he killed her by suffocating her to death because her body was only a few feet from her mother’s body. He also killed two men in Montreal in 1991. McGray has also claimed that he killed a prostitute and a gay man in Seattle over 1995-96, and that he killed three gay men in Montreal. He also claims to have killed a 50-year-old man and buried the body in a Toronto park.

McGray also offered to release the details of 16 murders he claims to have committed over the years in exchange for immunity for his accomplices, immunity for himself against the new charges, and psychiatric treatment for what McGray calls his "demons."

McGray is serving five concurrent life sentences of 25 years in a maximum security prison in the province of New Brunswick. In Canada, it doesn’t matter how many people you have killed in the first degree; you would still be eligible to apply for parole after serving 25 years however, most first degree killers serve at least 28 years before they are released on parole. In McGray’scase, I doubt that any member of the National Parole Board would ever consider releasing this man from prison. The government of Canada is proposing a change in the law that would mean that killers would serve a minimum of 25 years in prison for each victim they kill, and each sentence would have to be served consecutively. Even if the proposed law comes into force, it cannot be retroactively applied to MaGray.

What makes a man like McGray kill people at random?

McGray claims to have been beaten by his alcoholic father and that he was sexually abused in many of the reform schools in which he grew up. He also claims to have killed animals as a child. He claims that these demons caused his 15-year killing spree and has stated that if at all possible, he will murder guards, prisoners, or anybody else to quench his "searing hunger to kill."

Many people have been beaten by their parents and raped in reform schools or other institutions but they never became serial killers so what made this serial killer different than these victims of abuse and rape?

Serial killers are generally described as psychopaths or sociopaths, or in more current terminology, as having adult antisocial personality disorder. Not all psychopaths however are killers but sociopaths are multiple killers. Many such offenders share childhoods colored with demonstrations of behavior consistent with conduct disorder, such as aggression against people and the torturing of animals, forced sexual activity, and fire setting.

Key elements shared by the sociopath, or antisocial personality, and the serial killer are a failure to conform to social norms regarding lawful behavior, physical aggressiveness, impulsivity, lack of regard for the truth, manipulativeness, and most important, lack of remorse or empathy. The latter trait was definitely part of McGray’s psyhic because when asked, he said that he had no remorse whatsoever in killing all those people.

What are the signs one should look for in serial killers? According to the authors of the book, The Psychopathology of Serial Murder, they say that evidence of sociopathic behavior is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 as indicated by at least three of the following:

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior
2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
4. Irritability and aggressiveness
5. Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain work behavior or honor financial obligations
7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by indifference to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

It should be noted, however, it is not enough to simply describe the serial killer as an antisocial personality. The vast majority of the current prison population share this diagnosis, as well as many ‘average’ citizens not incarcerated. Actually, most of us at some time have acted in a manner that could be considered as being antisocial in some manner.

The authors added that the individual is at least 18 years of age and that the occurrence of the behavior is not necessarily exclusive during the course of a schizophrenic or manic episode and that evidence of conduct disorder can occur before age 15.

An example of this kind of behavior are the two ten-year-old child killers in England who tortured a two-year old boy before they placed his unconscious body on a railway track where it was subsequently cut in half when a train ran over it.

A key aspect of the sociopath with respect to serial killers is that their violence tends to be predatory and primarily on a stranger-to-stranger basis. Their violent acts are planned, purposeful and emotionless. This emotionlessness reflects a detached, fearless, and possibly dissociated state, revealing a lower autonomic nervous system and a lack of anxiety about being caught in the act.

What activates the sociopath is to control and dominate another human being and his life history will show that he really doesn’t have any real bonds with others. In other words, he is a loner. I will be quick to add that being a loner doesn’t automatically mean that one will become a killer. This lack of bonding however reflects a lack of emotionality and a diminished capacity for love, which results in their sexual partners being treated partly as objects rather than human beings and for this reason, they are devalued which according to the sociopaths, makes them easy to murder without feeling any guilt.

This disorder includes a defective sense of identity and extreme instability. The sufferer often views the world as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’ This description could relate to the large percentage of female serial killers also who act as ‘angels of mercy,’ who attempt to right the world's wrongs, or who seek revenge and owe the world (or some part of it) a payback.

Though borderline disorder is more often diagnosed in females, it is not exclusively so, as even Jeffery Dahmer (the cannibal who was eventually murdered in prison) was diagnosed by prison psychiatrists as having features of this disorder. Aileen Wuornos, (the serial killer who killed men on the highways in Florida and was subsequently executed for her crimes) was diagnosed by a prison neuropsychologist as meeting all eight of the criteria for borderline personality disorder. The eight aspects of borderline disorder are;

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment 2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized 3. by alternating extremes of idealization and devaluation 4. Identity disturbance; markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense 5. non recognition of self 6. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging 7. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behavior 8. Affective (emotional) instability owing to a marked reactivity of mood 9. Chronic feelings of emptiness 10. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger 11. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Serial killers who had dissociative symptoms were;

Jeffery Dahmer: “He couldn't embrace. He couldn't touch. His eyes were dead”. Ted Bundy: “I looked up at Ted and our eyes locked. His face had gone blank, as though he was not there at all”; Dayton Leroy Rogers: “He seemed to be slipping in and out of a fantasy state while calling the victim someone else's name . . . he was all-consumed by the deep mental state he was in.”; Wayne Nance: He (the victim) looked him (Nance) straight in the eye. He saw nothing: no glee, no remorse, just a dead gaze; and Bobby Joe Long: “It was like a dream me doing it.”

Usually, the process does not appear as a full-blown dissociative disorder in these killers, such as a psychogenic fugue state (state of amnesia) or multiple personality disorder and does not enter into the psychopathology of the serial killer. These disorders have not been documented or confirmed with any frequency (if at all), and are often the basis for an attempt on the part of the killers at malingering or are used as the basis for an insanity defense.
Causal factors in borderline personality disorder include a history of incest or other sexual abuse and a proneness to experience dysphoria, (a chronic feeling of ill-being) as well as abnormal anxiety, discontent, or physical discomfort.

The narcissistic personality is one that has a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), with need for admiration. The pattern begins by early adulthood, and is present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by at least five of the following;

1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. Believes that he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people
4. Requires excessive admiration
5. Has a sense of entitlement
6. Is interpersonally exploitative
7. Lacks empathy
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Another pattern that seems to emerge with serial killers is the presence of obsessive-compulsive traits. Obsessive compulsive disorder can manifest in obsessions, defined as recurrent and persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses, or images, experienced at least initially as intrusive and senseless ---- for example, a parent's repeated impulses to kill a loved child.

Behavior patterns on a smaller scale (obsessive-compulsive personality disorder) feature a number of ongoing life patterns, such as over-perfectionism; preoccupation with details, order, and organization; the unreasonable insistence that others follow his or her way of doing things; indecisiveness; over-conscientiousness; and inflexibility. A restricted expression of affection, miserly hoarding of money, and a reluctance to delegate tasks or work with others. Obsessive-compulsive people often have problems expressing aggressive feelings and so they stifle them, causing an implosion of emotions which explains why some serial killers kill their victims in an act of frenzy.

These killers who are usually male and are often children of parents with obsessive-compulsive disorder or personality disorder themselves, often have a history of stress. The obsessive-compulsive condition often precedes the onset of depression which also leads to suicidal thoughts.

An aspect of this kind of problem is the actual process of completing compulsive acts. First, there is the cycle of discomfort and anxiety, followed by the act (which relieves the tension), followed by a period of guilt and/or a reliving of the act. This process mirrors the apparent cycle of a serial killer's activities: the urge, the act, and the ‘cooling-off’ period. The process can also include post-offense behavior, such as reliving the fantasy that has become reality, getting involved with the investigation, or returning to significant locations. In 1924, Leopold and Leob where two young men who murdered a 14-year-old boy. They thrust themselves into the investigation and that’s one of the things that tipped off the police that they were the murderers. Once in custody, both Leopold and Loeb like McGray, showed no remorse and confessed in great detail to the crime to the authorities.

Another condition to be considered is post-traumatic stress disorder. Such a person has experienced an event outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone. The essential feature is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor resulting in the person suffering from a markedly reduced ability to feel emotions especially those associated with intimacy of a fellow human being. But millions of people have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and they haven’t turned into serial killers or for that matter, even killers.

There is definitely the possibility that serial killers are psychotic, insane, or simply mentally ill. This may be an issue of semantics, as many will say that anyone who commits atrocities such as savage rape, torture, murder, dismemberment, or cannibalism, surely must be crazy. The idea is that, for one to be able to kill and handle dismembered body parts, the person must be insane. This is commonly referred to as the res ipsa loquitur argument ---- the act speaks for itself.

Generally, the legal test is whether, at the time the crime was committed, the defendant was suffering from a mental defect that made him incapable of telling right from wrong. Some states also consider whether a defendant's mental illness impaired his or her ability to control his or her actions. The Dahmer case hinged on this ‘irresistible impulse’ defense.

It is often assumed that the defendant must at least be suffering from a psychosis rather than a personality disorder (i.e., antisocial personality disorder, which is usually specifically excluded as a defense), to qualify for an insanity defense. However, a key point to remember is that even the presence of psychosis is not enough. Merely being schizophrenic does not automatically exculpate one from one's actions. It must be proven that the accused's mental condition was the reason for him or her not being able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions or be unable to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law However, this is an issue the courts have to decide, mainly because the concept of insanity is purely a legal one.

I have always had a problem with this kind of defence. Both the prosecutor and the defence bring in their own psychiatrists who have examined the defendant and when their opinions are in conflict with each other, the jury of plumbers, clerks, taxi drivers etc must make a decision based on what they have heard from the psychiatrists. That is akin to asking them to compare the rational of atheists and Christians on the existence of God.

It has been suggested that there is an apparent biological link other than the aforementioned heredity. One hypothesis is there are communication difficulties between the brain's frontal lobes and its basal ganglia, buried deep in the lower part of the brain. This creates problems of integrating sensory, motor, and cognitive processes, and results in persistent unwanted thoughts and involuntary actions. Such a person would really be insane if he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong. However, the fact that many serial killers hide the bodies of their victims, they therefore had to have known that what they had done was wrong and therefore, they are not insane. Admittedly, they are mentally ill but not legally insane.

It is possible that someone may suffer irreparable brain damage and suddenly or even gradually have a desire to kill human beings. But when you consider that possibility, consider what happened to a man working on a railway in the 1880s. A dynamite explosion sent a crowbar flying in the air and it struck the man in his head and went through his head with both ends sticking out of his head. It was surgically removed and he lived for many years after that. Admittedly, he had a personality change but he didn’t kill anyone.

Serial killers were a bit of an anomaly up until the 1980s but they began to emerge at least one a month. It has been suggested that there are at least a hundred of them currently roaming the United States. They seems to come from the lower and middle classes of people probably because the rich have far more to lose if they are sentenced to prison for their crimes.

I wish I could tell my readers what to look for in serial killers so that they and/or their family and friends won’t fall victim of these monsters. Alas, there is no real way in which you can be forewarned. The Canadian colonel in the armed forces who recently was charged with murdering two women in two separate locations is an example how a serial killer can live amongst us without anyone knowing that he or she is or was a serial killer.

I could suggest that you be wary of strangers but that would be wrong advice. If we ignored strangers, we would be living a life of loneliness. Unfortunately, serial killers realize that there are a great many people who are lonely who welcome the friendship of strangers. McGray was that kind of killer. He befriended his victims and even killed them in their own homes. Jeffery Dahmer (the cannibal) did the opposite thing. He made friends with his victims and then he invited his victims to his own home and killed them. I think that would be rare because the killer is faced with the problem of disposing the bodies of his victims. Serial killer, John Gacy in Chicago had no problem disposing of the bodies of his young victims. He buried them under his home.

Don’t invite strangers into your home unless you really know them well. Years ago, when I was conducting group sessions in a detention centre in Toronto, one of the men in my group told us how he was invited into the home of a woman living alone because he had no place to sleep. In the middle of the night, he went into her kitchen, grabbed a knife and entered the sleeping woman’s bedroom and stabbed the woman in the back for no reason. He was sentenced to life in prison for that crime.

What I can suggest is if you are having a relationship with someone who appears to have many of the traits I have included in this piece, it would be in your best interest if you break off the relationship. There are a great many decent people in this world who respect others and have no desire to do them wrong. You can do no wrong by being friends with them. Fortunately, my wife and I and our daughters chose our friends carefully and we have not suffered for this.

In summary, don’t think that because someone looks evil, he or she is going to harm you. Looks can be deceiving. Unfortunately, it is the one whose looks are benign who may want you to be his or her next victim.

1 comment:

madashell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.