Term Paper: Male and Female Serial Killers

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¶ … Serial killers [...] Jeffrey Dahmer, Arthur Shawcross, Randy Craft, Aileen Wuornos, Bobbie Sue Terrell, and Jane Toppan, and explain their behavior from a psychological standpoint. Whether they are male or female, serial killers think alike, and have several elements in common, which will be discussed in this paper. They also meet specific psychiatric profiles, which will also be discussed. Serial killers have several commonalities that set them apart from the rest of the population, and many of them are judged criminally insane.

Jeffrey Dahmer may be the most infamous of all these serial killers. His story is typical of these killers who choose to take numerous lives to fulfill their own warped fantasies or dreams. Dahmer was a gay may who cruised gay bars looking for victims in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He admitted to killing 17 victims, and many people believe he may have killed more. He was caught because one of his victims escaped and told police what had happened. Dahmer dismembered and cannibalized his victims, and kept photos of them before and after death on the walls of the room where he killed them. Dahmer's methods of killing a disposing of the bodies were very methodical and organized; he even disposed of them in a large vat of acid. So was the way he chronicled each murder. He also tried to keep some of his victims alive, and tried to lobotomize at least one, so he could create the perfect "sex slave" who would be devoted to him.

Dahmer had a fascination with death since he was young, and psychologists believe he killed because he was lonely and rejected by everyone, including his family. Two authors write, "According to British author Brian Masters, Dahmer felt so rejected and was so devoid of satisfying human relationships that he killed for companionship" (Fox, and Levin 58). Dahmer had a troubled childhood, as most all serial killers seem to have. He also had trouble making friends, and had a less than amicable relationship with his family.

Arthur Shawcross also fits the profile of a serial killer. He had raped and killed two children in the past, and when he was released from prison, he began methodically choosing and killing prostitutes in Rochester, New York. He killed thirteen before he was apprehended, and the police caught him because he returned to one of the bodies to mutilate it. He did not use the same method to kill every woman. Some he shot and some he strangled, but he did mutilate all the bodies after he killed them. Like many of the other killers, Shawcross' killing grew more violent as he continued to murder, and he became convinced the police could not catch him, and so, let down his defenses.

Shawcross also had a troubled childhood. Psychiatrists believe his mother sexually abused him (which she denied), but many believe he "remembered" the abuse as a way to plead insane for the murders. Another author notes, "As a child he experienced many head traumas, including being hit in the head with a stone, an injury that caused periodic bouts of childhood paralysis" (Giannangelo 62). He was aggressive and had behavioral problems as a child, and left home young to serve in the Army. He also married four times and all of his wives left him because of his violent and erratic behavior.

Randy Kraft's pattern was similar to Dahmer's, in that he murdered young men, many under the age of sexual consent. He is attributed with at least 40 murders, most in California, but in other areas of the country as well. Like Dahmer, he was incredibly brutal. Authors Fox and Levin note, "Kraft was incredibly cruel and vicious, torturing his victims by burning their scrota, nipples, lips, and eyes with an automobile cigarette lighter, slicing deeply into their arms and legs with a knife [...]" (Fox, and Levin 65). He was also extremely methodical in his killings, recording all of his victims' names, and keeping photos of them before and after they died. The authors continue, "Like a ballplayer who keeps the baseball from his first major league hit, Randy Kraft saved the memory of his crimes in gruesome photographs and maintained an up-to-date scorecard of his exploits" (Fox, and Levin 65). Kraft never admitted to the killings, and has never cooperated with police about other murders he is suspected of committing.

Kraft grew up in Southern California, and does not follow the patter of sexual or physical abuse as a child. He served in the ROTC and later the Air Force, and was very conservative, which probably made it harder for him to admit he was gay. He later became more liberal in his thinking, and was discharged from the Air Force for "medical" reasons the same year he admitted he was gay to his family. He relied on alcohol and valium to help him through at least some of his murders.

Aileen Wuornos also fits the pattern of a serial killer, as she believed her victims all deserved to die. So did Jeffrey Dahmer and Arthur Shawcross. Wuornos was a prostitute in Florida who killed seven victims after having sex with them. Unlike most of the other killers, she did kill for a motive; she wanted the victims' money. She, like the other killers, preyed on some of the most vulnerable people in society - men who wanted prostitutes, and, like many others, she was a sexual predator, killing after having sex. Dahmer and Kraft preyed on young men or homosexuals, Shawcross preyed on prostitutes, and Terrell and Toppan preyed on the elderly. All of these people had little or no defense, and so, they chose victims they knew they could dominate.

Wuornos was also abused by her grandfather and other men when she was a child, which experts seem to have discovered in almost all serial killers backgrounds. Her mother abandoned her, and her father committed suicide in prison. Her family background certainly seems to back up her involvement in serial killings, as her childhood was filled with abuse and neglect. She also had a background of alcohol abuse.

Bobbie Sue Terrell fits the pattern established by the other killers. Her childhood was difficult. She had four brothers with muscular dystrophy, and often had to help with their care. She was overweight and had vision problems. Two other authors note, "However, despite her own physical challenges, Bobbie Sue was generally healthier than most of her siblings and found herself thrust into the role of caretaker from early age -- a part that she seemed to take on with quiet acceptance" (Kelleher, and Kelleher 166). As an adult, she earned a nursing degree and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia, which plagued her throughout her adult life. She began murdering patients in nursing homes in Florida, and murdered at least twelve (and maybe more) before she was caught. She, like most of the killers, was quite methodical in her methods. She used high doses of insulin to kill all her patients, making it seem as if they had died from natural causes. She killed all of her victims in the short span of thirteen days.

Terrell's childhood was difficult, but it seems to be her battles with mental disorders that caused her to kill her patients. She did not abuse drugs or alcohol, but she had herself committed to state mental hospitals several times, and she often psychically abused herself, (such as stabbing her arm repeatedly with scissors). She did not have a normal childhood, but it was based on health problems, rather than physical or sexual abuse.

Jane Toppan was an American serial killer in the 1800s, and one of the first recognized female serial killers in the country. She too came from a challenging family background. Her mother died, her father went insane, and she and her sisters ended up in an orphanage. She was finally adopted and settled into a "normal" life with a loving family, where she excelled at school. As an adult, she developed psychiatric problems, but seemed to overcome them and became a nurse. She killed dozens of elderly patients in a twenty-year period, and then murdered her stepsister, which is when police caught her. She was also very methodical in her killing; she injected all her victims with high doses of morphine, and probably would have never been caught if she had not compulsively killed four members of the same family in a short period during 1901. She confessed readily when questioned by police. She never went to trial for her crimes; instead, she was judged insane and spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum.

Psychologically, all of these brutal killers share many of the same characteristics. Authors Fox and Levin continue, "Many experts have identified the role of childhood problems as the primary cause of serial killing. According to Dorothy Lewis, 'In the serial killers I've seen, there's almost invariably a history of early and ongoing sexual abuse'" (Fox, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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