Are Serial Killers Born or Created

We have been looking at the Nature vs Nurture debate in psychology and how it can be applied to Serial Killers. In class we also looked at the ways nature and nurture effected how Colin Jackson and found that it was a combination of the two arguments. I believe that it may be similarly a combination of both sides of the argument that lead a person to becoming a serial killer. The nature argument towards people’s behaviour is that traits such as intelligence, personality, aggression and sexual orientation are encoded in a persons DNA.
This would suggest that Identical twins would have the exact same levels of intelligence, personality and aggression. It also suggests that identical twins would both have the same sexual orientation but as we saw in a psychology lesson there were two identical twins where one showed very masculine traits for a male such as playing with toy guns and cars and the other showed very feminine traits like playing with barbies even though they were identical twins which suggests that not everything can be only down to your genetic makeup.
The nurture argument is that even though they do believe genetic tendencies exist they do not actually matter in terms of a persons personality etc. This is because they believe that behavioural aspects originate from environmental aspects such as a persons upbringing. Studies done on this have been supportive as they have found cases where identical twins were separated at birth and grew up in different environments and developed very different personalities, intelligence and aggression. At the same time this also goes against the nature theory because it means that they haven’t been affected by only genetics.

The opposite end of this argument would suggest that Fraternal Twins would act in exactly the same way and have exactly the same attributes as they will have both been raised in exactly the same environment under the same conditions. In this piece I aim to discuss whether a serial killer becomes a serial killer due to Nature or Nurture or due to a combination of the two. 1. Power & Control This type of serial killer experiences complete sexual gratification from the domination and humiliation of the victim. This killer is a true sociopath and lives by his own personal set of rules and guidelines.
Many of the famous serial killers we have seen in history would fall under his type of serial killer. 2. Visionary This type of serial killer is compelled by voices or visions they experience and are considered psychotic. These voices and visions compel them to kill certain kinds of people. 3. Mission This type of serial killer feels a “need” or duty to kill certain types of people or “class” of people such as religious or racial groups or prostitutes. This type of serial killer is not considered psychotic. 4. Hedonistic
This type of serial killer makes a strong connection between personal violence and sexual gratification. This type of killer can also be described as a “lust” or “thrill” killer. This killer receives pleasure from the act and has eroticized the experience. They generally take the time to torture or mutilate their victims. I found this whilst I was doing some research about the serial killers that I have chosen and have tried to use reports of serial killers from a range of these 4 classifications of serial killers in order to make a wider and better rounded summation.
I used Crime Library to do my research as I believe it is a reliable source of information on the serial killers and found four case studies that I can use; Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein and Charles Whitman. Firstly I read Ted Bundy’s page and found that in the early years he was brought up by his grandparents who he was told were his actual parents and his natural mother was his older sister so that it would protect her from being judged as having a child before she was married.
For the first 3 years of Bundy’s life he lived with his grandparents who raised him as their son, this means that he will have formed an attachment to them both and seem them as his mother and father figure throughout the critical period of his life in terms of Bowlbys theory of Maternal Deprivation. This would then have been disrupted when he was told that it was all a lie and that the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother. This may have caused Ted Bundy to change his cognition about how lying is acceptable within society as he has been lied to throughout his whole life.
This may have led to him being unable to form secure attachments with anybody again and it was later reported that he became a petty thief which may have been a direct consequence of him being lied to about his parents. It was reported that soon after this he began to develop psychopathic tendencies and changed from being a shy person to someone that was very driven and dominant. This is a suggestion that Ted felt he had been betrayed by his family and those around him leading him to have a warped perception of loving which may have influenced the way that he acted.
I did some research and found a website that actually had reports of old x-ray’s and other tests on his brain which found there were no abnormalities which suggests that everything causing him to become a serial killer came from the nurture side. Bundy’s favoured method was to first lure victims to his car by pretending he had a broken arm and needed someone to take his books to his car then gain control usually by bludgeoning with a crowbar he kept in his infamous Volkswagen Bug. The murders he committed at the sorority house in Florida he used a piece of wood he had found right outside the house.
After being hit over the head the victims were strangled as they were raped by Bundy. Teddy also had the peculiar fetish of necrophilia, returning sometimes weeks after dumping a body to have sex with it over and over again. (‘Crime Library’) This may have had a direct link with what Bundy’s childhood and the way that he was nurtured when growing up. For example when his parents lied to him for large periods of his life it may have led him into believing that it was acceptable for you to lie to people in order to benefit him which is exactly what he was doing when leading women back to his car before beating them.
The fact that Bundy also returned to have sex with his victims bodies after weeks after dumping the body means that he was in control of his actions and reinforces the fact the there was no nature argument towards him being that way. However I am unsure what in his upbringing would have led him to act in this way as there were never any reports of any sexual abuse towards him that would have led him to maybe finding it to be acceptable.
I believe that in Ted Bundy’s case he would have been a Power and Control type of serial killer because it is almost a direct description of the way that he acted, he could have also been some aspects of a mission type serial killers as he only killed young women generally in university which may have a direct connection with an event that happened in his life. In the crime library report it said about how the “love of his life” had broken up with him and he did not know what to do with himself for the rest of his time at university and could not concentrate on anything.
This happened whilst he was in university which may have led him to believe that it was down to him in order to kill university girls as he felt they were evil. So Ted Bundy is a serial killer that I believe was created from the Nurture side of things because it was not reported that he had anything wrong with his nature to cause him to act the way in which he did although I couldn’t find any records of brain scans or information about it to suggest that he had actually been properly tested for it.
The next serial killer that I researched on was Charles Whitman, who is not as infamous as Ted Bundy even though he killed a far higher number of people. Charles Whitman was brought up in a wealthy family with his dad being a self employed man that was at the top of his profession so there was no form of poverty in his life. There are a few things from his childhood and teenage years that may have affected the way that he grew up, one being that his father would regularly hit his wife.
This may have led to Charles beating his wife as well which he reportedly did, he may have learnt to do this via social learning theory. This would have meant that because he had seen it done from a man that he saw as respectable and holding power that it was acceptable for him to do it as well. When Charles was aged 18 he came home drunk one night and his father punished him by beating him and throwing him into the swimming pool where he almost drowned. This would have a major impact on his life as he had almost been killed by his father.
After that he joined the Marine Corps and it was taught to Charlie from an early age that it was necessary for him to be the best that he could be at whatever he did because he was desperate to prove himself as a man after his father had belittled him for many years. Charlie joined university and was finally free from the regimented life that he had led due to his strict upbringing from his father and the strict training in the Marines which is when he began to get into trouble and found himself getting lots of debts and his grades going down.
Charlie was considered to be a genius at a young age so this upset him greatly and when he returned to the Marines he found the military life to be oppressive and lonely. He began to hate the marines and this led to him being Court martialled for his gambling and unauthorized possession of guns. Charlie was embarrassed by his self failure during the marines and at school and was determined to redeem himself.
He became obsessed with self improvement and many schemes were found where he had written down ways for him to improve himself and the way that he was acting. Someone described him as “Like a computer. He would install his own values like a machine, then program the things he had to do, and out would come the results”. This image that he desperately tried to uphold crumbled on occasion where he had bouts of temper and frustration which further damaged the self respect that he had for himself.
He continued to receive money and expensive gifts from his father. Charlie hated freeloaders, yet that was how he saw himself. He hated failure, yet he had failed to accomplish anything he had set out to do since he left home at 18. He saw being overweight as a sign of weakness, yet he was unable to keep himself as trim as he had been in the Marines. Outwardly, Charlie was diligent and conscientious, a devoted husband and a hard worker; inwardly, he seethed with self-hatred.
(‘Crime Library’) I believe that this came from a mixture of both Nature and Nurture in that his father had taught him that failure was unacceptable but it was also found that Charlie had a tumour on his brain that was the size of a peanut that was never dealt with and only found after his death that changed his cognition to make him hate himself and see himself as a failure because in reality he had not actually failed he just didn’t achieve grades or ranks in the marines that he felt he should have meaning that it was mainly himself believing he had not achieved enough whereas those around him actually thought he was doing well enough for himself. “I don’t quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter,” he wrote.
“Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. ” He went on to say he’d increasingly been a victim of “many unusual and irrational thoughts” and that his attempt to get help with his problems (the visit to Dr. Heatly) had failed. He expressed a wish that his body be autopsied after his death to see if there was a physical cause for his mental anguish. As he continued, he outlined his plan for the coming 24 hours. “It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight after I pick her up from work at the telephone company,” he revealed. “The prominent reason in my mind is that I truly do not consider this world worth living in, and am prepared to die,
and I do not want to leave her to suffer alone in it. ” He continued, “similar reasons provoked me to take my mother’s life also. “(‘Crime Library’) This quote from Crime Library is very interesting as it suggests that Charlie himself had known that there was something wrong with the way that he was thinking and felt that there was something wrong with his brain making him think the way that he was. I believe that Charlie wanting to kill his wife and mother because he did not consider the world worth living in suggests that he is a Mission type serial killer as he wanted to kill people to remove them from a world that he didn’t see as being good enough for the people he killed.
Later in the report it says that Charlie climbed to the top of a Texas bell tower with 4 guns where he barricaded himself and began taking shots at people below killing 17 people in total and wounding a further 35 before he was killed by police that made their way up to him and killed him with multiple shotgun shots to the head. In his suicide notes Charles had left a final request to have an autopsy done on his brain where the pecan sized tumour was found. It was found that Charles had a build up of Necrosis surrounding the area of the tumour and the neuro-scientists studying his brain believed that it may have gone from being dormant to suddenly active which may have caused him to have done what he did as his natural ways of thinking were going wrong.
The nature argument is present with this Serial Killer but it isn’t solely Nature as it is near impossible to completely rule out any form of Nurture in a child’s upbringing but I originally felt that a combination of the two is what caused people to become serial killers in the first place so this goes very well with that opinion as I believe the combination of both his father telling him that he was a failure led him to being angered easily by those around him and may be what caused him to have the thoughts about killing people but I also believe that the tumour and his brain chemistry that changed when the Necrosis surrounding the tumour became active.
It is well documented that he had thoughts about killing people long before he actually did it and it was found that the psychiatrist that was trying to help him through it ignored his sayings about killing people as nonsense even though if he was taught ways to change his cognition on this matter then it may have a actually allowed him to have a higher level of control over the brain tumour allowing him to use techniques taught to him to stop killing those people. The psychiatrist that ignored these facts was given no punishment even though I believe it was down to him to report this to somebody as it endangered the lives of innocent people regardless of ethical issues that may become present for breaking confidentiality. The next serial killer that I found on Crime Library was Ed Gein.
This man is one of the better known serial killers with lots of films being done about his life and his killings. Ed Gein was another serial killer that I looked at because I felt that he also had a mixture of both the Nature and Nurture sides of things affecting him and causing him to become what he was; A very notorious serial killer with many films based around his life. Ed’s family appeared to be completely normal when being viewed from the outside as he had a mother, father and also an elder brother. The problems with his life from the nurture side all stemmed and revolved largely around his mother who was fanatically religious with very strict morals and taught her sons that women had “Immorality and looseness”.
This constant teaching about how evil the outside world was is one thing that could have caused Ed to be the way he was as his victims were mostly women including the bones that he dug up from graves. Ed saw his mother as the “epitome of goodness and followed her every order” so much so that when she died “Ed lost his only friend and his one true love – and was absolutely alone in the world” from Freuds work on the psychosexual stages of development I believe that Ed Gein was stuck in the Oedipus complex which caused him to be in love with his mother. I think due to the way he was brought up by his mother he was never given an opportunity to escape this complex as he was so sheltered from the outside world that it was never possible for him to form real attachments with anybody else.
Even when Ed went to a school it was difficult for him to hold relationships with other people of his age because he would be beaten by his mother if she ever found out so he lived in constant fear of displeasing his mother. Eds father was the complete opposite to his mother in that he was a weak man who his mother despised and was an alcoholic therefore as the two boys were growing up it was evident that they would develop a poor perception of how a male should act which I believe may have been the cause for his victims being predominantly female and why he created a suit out of womens skin because his perception had taught him that women were strong and the “epitome of goodness” whilst men were feeble and couldn’t support their family.
Something particularly interesting about the Ed Gein case is that he had a brother that was older than him and although from the videos we have watched in class we know that the nature of a child does not predetermine them having the same personalities it is also evident from this case that siblings do not share similar personalities due to their nurture as well. It was never documented throughout his brother’s life of him ever doing anything similar to that of his brother although it is not entirely possible to disprove it using this case because Ed’s brother was mysteriously killed during a forest fire, Ed was originally suspected because he led them directly to the body which had cuts and bruises on it that were irregular for a fire death but dismissed it as Ed looked too small to kill his brother. I believe that it was Ed that killed his brother and the reasoning behind it would have been that it would allow him to have his mother to himself because his father had passed away previous to that.
The reason that Ed Gein may be a combination of both Nature and Nurture is because it was thought that he was mentally retarded which from previous videos and research I have found that this decreases a person’s capacity for learning and a person with a standard brain can expect their brains size to grow at a rate of 1 year per year whereas a person with mental retardation can expect their brain to grow at a far slower rate so they will be unable to learn at the same rate which may have caused Ed to become frustrated and be incapable of using the same thought process as others and it was suggested that he could plead not guilty via insanity suggesting that there was indeed something wrong with his brain that came from the nature side of things. The last serial killer that I looked at was John Wayne Gacy who was born into a family where he was the second child of three with a sister that is 2 years older than him and also a sister that is 2 years younger than him. They grew up in a middle class neighbourhood where Gacy busied himself with school and part time jobs. Gacy was not unpopular in school which is something we tend to expect of most serial killers but he was fairly well liked by staff and pupils. At the age of 11 Gacy was hit in the head by a swing which caused a clot in his brain, and between the ages of 11 and 16 Gacy suffered a series of blackouts.
At the age of 17 Gacy was diagnosed with a heart ailment hospitalizing him several times throughout his life. As Gacy aged he began having trouble with his father who was an abusive alcoholic that abused his wife and verbally abused his children. Gacy was desperate to gain his father’s devotion and attention but was unable to do so before his father died which is something that Gacy regretted for his entire life. I believe the part about having the blood clot in the brain would be considered a nature side to things but it was actually not important in him becoming a serial killer because he had medication and it was removed long before he killed anybody.
Later in life Gacy’s health took another turn for the worse where he suffered major weight issues leading to more problems with his heart and also a spinal injury that would plague him for the rest of his life. Although this is the case I do not believe that it actually impacted on Gacy becoming what he did because it is usually has to be something that affects the brain and this had no effect on the way he thought and was only impacting his physical attributes. In the community that he lived he was a well-respected man who worked long shifts and volunteered for his community. This is the point when things began to turn worse for Gacy as rumours were spread about his area that his sexual preference was Men which was frowned upon at the time and he was always in the company of young boys.
In 1968 the first charges were being presented to Gacy with the first being about tricking a young boy into being tied up and raping him. The fact that Gacy’s victims were all young men may have been something to do with the way that he was brought up aiming to impress his father as much as possible. Since he would have been of a similar age at the time that he was working towards impressing his father then he may have held a strong feeling that other young men did not deserve the opportunity that was taken away from him at that age to impress their fathers so that he was not alone. In total Gacy killed 33 people and buried them under his house.
It was found that most of these were young men that Gacy had lured into working for him and then violently sexually abusing them and also engaging in Necrophilia after killing them where he would keep the body in his bed for days after killing them. In my research on John Wayne Gacy I couldn’t find a definitive reason for him doing this but I believe it may have a link with the way that Gacy’s father treated his mother because he would regularly physically abuse her so it may have been installed into Gacy’s values that this was an acceptable thing because it would have been similar to that of his father’s actions that he probably wanted to replicate to the full in order to make his father proud of him. This warped perception of what his father did may have been caused by the Blood clots in his brain when he was around that age because he may have not fully understood what was happening.
In summary of Gacy’s actions I believe that the majority of his actions came from his nurture side where his father had abused members of his family so because Gacy looked up to his father and wanted to make him proud he thought that the way to do it would be to replicate the way his father acted. In conclusion of the way serial killers are created I still firmly believe that it is caused by a combination of both Nature and Nurture. I believe that Nature gives you a capacity for learning, for sports, for other things such as the ability to become a serial killer. Whereas nurture is about releasing that potential that you have by how they have been brought up.
An example of this is from the video that we watched of Colin Jackson where he was discovering about how his genetic makeup and his nurture effected the way that he developed into an Olympic hurdler so if Colin Jackson was simply given the capacity to become an Olympic hurdler from birth and left it idly then he would not have been able to win the races that he did. It requires some input from the Nurture side in the form of training for athletes. So this can be directly applied to the way serial killers are created because I believe there is something in their genetics that gives them a potential to become a serial killer such as a short temper or an inability to think clearly and then this can either be left as simply a potential that is never unleashed in the form of them becoming serial killers.
So that means that there has to be something in the nurture side of things that has made them act the way that they have such as some of the theories that we have learnt about in psychology like Social Learning Theory, Maternal Deprivation etc. which means that a person may have learnt from their parents in the cases of John Wayne Gacy for example that beating women was an acceptable thing to do because that is what his father did when he was a child. The capacity for learning to become something could actually be something very common if I’m correct in my explanation meaning that people around you could actually have the potential to become a serial killer because of the way their bio-chemistry is making them have a short temper or hear voices in their head for example. But I believe that because
people are generally subjected to a higher standard of parenting nowadays that serial killers are becoming rarer in western civilizations where it has become necessary to be a good parent otherwise social services will intervene meaning that someone with the potential to become a serial killer does not get that potential unlocked as they have been brought up in a home that will allow them to properly deal with their problems and learn how to react when confronted with them. Another thing that I believe has helped to reduce the number of recent serial killers is the fact that psychological treatment is more advanced these days meaning that even if a person’s cognition does tell them to kill people, or they hear voices within their heads telling them to kill a person then they can be treated to find ways around this.

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