|Image attribution: By w:Joe Shuster (Nights of Horror (magazine)) [Public
domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
A large percentage of serial killers have been heavy drinkers or drug users. Jefferey Dahmer, for instance, had an alcohol problem from the tender age of 14. Ted Bundy would often drink heavily before committing a murder, as would John Wayne Gacy. Drink and drugs lower inhibitions, reduce self control, and can often give the user a feeling of invincibility. When combined with violent fantasies and a lack of respect for his/her fellow human beings, the results can be catastrophic.
It is a sad fact that a large number of serial killers suffered extreme and prolonged abuse as a child. John Wayne Gacy's father would regularly beat him, his mother, and his siblings. He was also sexually assaulted by a family friend. Of course, not everyone who is abused as a child will grow up to become a serial killer, but such abuse can obviously give birth to a certain amount of anger in the child. It should be pointed out that some serial killers claim to have had relatively happy childhoods.
If a child locks himself in his room and spends hours and hours pulling the heads off dolls and imagining what his friends would look like with a noose around their neck, then it might be time to seek professional help. But it should be remembered that everyone has violent fantasies from time to time. The difference is that the would-be serial killer will often become consumed by these fantasies, retreating further and further away from reality in the process. If the violent fantasies also have a sexual component, then this is potentially another warning sign.
Pyromania (obsession with starting fires)
What many serial killers crave above all else is a sense of control and power. Before they start killing, some of them get this feeling from starting fires. For some, fire starting can also be sexually arousing.
At a young age, some children will torture animals. The child has complete and utter dominance over the life of another creature. This can give them a tremendous sense of power and pleasure.
If they are ever caught, the consequences are not likely to be severe, which reinforces the idea that the child can hurt another life form without receiving any real punishment. Whilst most children will grow out of this behaviour, for some the natural next step is to move on to humans.
There is nothing wrong with being a bit of a loner. In fact, if you are unable to cope for 5 minutes without human contact, then maybe you need to seek help. But if someone shuns society to the extent that he/she grows up in almost total isolation, then serious problems may start to arise. It is no secret that violent fantasies tend to flourish in prolonged isolation. Without the company of others to distract him/her and give him/her a sense of belonging, a child might be drawn further and further into dark, disturbing fantasies. It is interesting to note that a significant number of serial killers and mass murderers were social outcasts (whether by choice or not), at least in their early, formative years.
A paraphilia is a form of sexual deviation in which an individual becomes sexually aroused by fantasizing about, or engaging in, sexual behaviour that is considered abnormal or maladaptive. Examples range from the fairly innocuous (e.g. foot fetishism and narratophilia [fetish for obscene words or stories]) to the highly illegal (e.g. pedophilia and anthropophagolagnia [a sadistic paraphilia that involves forced sex followed by acts of cannibalism]). Many serial killers confess to having had at least one paraphilia for a long time. Many have engaged in voyeurism (watching someone undress or engage in sexual activity without their knowledge) and have had a long-term interest in sadomasochistic activities. A surprisingly large percentage are necrophiliacs (a necrophiliac being someone with a sexual attraction to corpses). Examples of necrophiliac serial killers include Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the Green River Killer. Males are thought to be more prone to paraphilias than females.
Psychopaths are people who literally do not have a conscience. They can pretty much do whatever they want without ever feeling the slightest pang of guilt. They are also often charming, grandiose, and manipulative - perfect traits for the budding serial killer to possess. But it should be noted that, despite their bad reputation, not all psychopaths are serial killers, or even criminals at all. In fact, the psychopath's charm, grandiosity, and willingness to back-stab his/her way to the top can actually help him/her to get ahead in today's highly competitive world. Expect to find a fair number of psychopaths in positions of power around the world.
You might also be interested in:
Definition of a serial killer, Ted Bundy - The Charismatic Killer, Jeffrey Dahmer - The Milwaukee Cannibal