Serial killers usually turn out to be those nice, quiet, unassuming people who live next door. Wonderful actors, they put on a mask of humanity and humility that's as seamless as it is horrific.

In America, the media and the public seem to have a fascination with the grotesque monsters that the culture produces. Serial killers are perrenial favorites, celebrated in books, films, and even trading cards.

Why Do People Become Serial Killers?

What causes people to become so psychotic that they must hunt down other human beings for pleasure? There are many different theories as to why serial killers become the way they are, but none can singly explain their behavior. Some of these theories include severe child abuse, genetics, chemical imbalances, brain injuries, and perceived societal injustices. While none of these theories will necessarily produce a serial killer, one can examine them, and try to piece together what makes these monsters real.

Many serial killers were violently abused when they were young, either sexually, physically, or mentally. The "Boston Strangler," Albert DeSalvo, was actually sold into slavery by his abusive alcoholic father. This harsh method of parenting can create a lack of love between the parent and child and leave the child with no one to trust during his childhood years and later on in life. This can lead to isolation, where intense violent fantasies become the primary source of gratification. When the children grow up, they do not develop compassion toward other human beings and look at others as flattened-out symbols upon which they should enact their violence. In looking to the parents for an explanation, the blame usually falls on the mother, who is either too controlling, too distant, too sexually expressive or too sexually repressed. Ed Gein's mother was a fanatical Catholic who mentally abused her son and claimed that women were carriers of disease and sin. Gein twisted this around to justify his sadistic practices of literally making women into vessals, using their skulls and bodies to make bowls and other household items. Ed Kemper's mother was notorious for locking him in the closet when he was younger; when he grew up, he beheaded her, shoved her vocal cords down the garbage disposal, and raped her headless body. Bobby Jo Long's mother had frequent sex with men in the same room that Bobby Jo slept in, usually in the same bed. According to him, the victims he chose were "whores, sluts, anyone that reminds me of her."

Another theory on the makeup of serial killers is that they are just born bad, or have something genetically wrong with them. As Carl Panzram wrote: "All of my family are as the average human beings are. They are honest and hard-working people. All except myself. I have been a human-animile (sic.) ever since I was born. When I was very young at 5 or 6 years of age I was a thief and a lier (sic.) and a mean despisable (sic.) one at that. The older I got the meaner I got." Since many abused children grow up to be law-abiding citizens, a common belief is that there are certain genes that make them killers. Yet we do not see whole families that turn to such violent tendancies. Some ways to explain why certain people become violent may be high levels of testosterone, combined with low levels of serotonin, high trace levels of toxic heavy metals, such as manganese, lead, cadmium, and copper, and brain defects of the hypothalamus, the temporal lobe, and/or the limbic system, all of which control hormones and emotional balance. If these systems are damaged in any way, they can lead to highly aggressive behavior and can be connected with lust murders (where the killers murder because it gives them a sexual thrill).

Another theory as to why abused or mentally unstable people turn to murder is that something will push them over the edge, causing them to kill again and again. These stressors, or personal problems, include financial problems, marital problems, conflict with a parent, legal matters, physical injury, or conflict with females. However, these stressors can be mere covers for the real underlying hatred that causes a crime. For example, Ted Bundy killed only college-aged women with long brown hair-- the same characteristics of his girlfriend who had refused his marriage proposal. Joel Norris, a clinical psychologist, describes this process: "The killer is simply acting out a ritualistic fantasy... but, once sacrificed, the victim's identity within the murderer's own fantasy is lost. The victim no longer represents what the killer thought he or she represented. The image of a fiancee who rejected the killer, the echo of the voice of the hated mother, or the taunting of a distant father; all remain vividly in the killer's mind after the crime." Since this memory is not erased, it causes the killer to go back and kill again, thinking that each time will erase his past. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

So what makes a serial killer what he is? There are many different theories, but no one behavioral factor can create a serial killer. The best assumption is that they are the black holes of humanity. Before they are caught, they are so quiet, so invisible to the rest of society, that they terrify us when they ARE caught, with their ability to imitate normal life in such a cold-hearted manner. Many killers themselves say that they have a piece missing, something dead inside, or just a big empty void. Killing others is not a way to fill the void within, but to spread it, and make others into the lifeless object that the killer perceives as himself. Whereas we might never know what REALLY drives these killers to such cold-hearted tendancies, we can study their behavior, and hope that we know enough to spot a serial killer and stop them before they murder again.

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