A Common Thread: Child Abuse

What can turn someone into a serial killer? This question is asked hundreds of times by people who read about the subject, those who don’t and those who find out that the person they love and who they thought was “normal” turns out to be far from that.When you read about various serial killers, you start to notice the same things mentioned time and time again. It seems like the one thing that always comes up in child abuse. We’re not talking about just hitting a child, or putting them down every now and then. We’re talking about parents, mainly mothers, who belittle their children, shut them off from the outside world, abuse them mentally as well as physically. Some may sexually abuse their children or leave them in the care of someone who does. They fail to pay attention to their children which means in many cases they miss the warning signs. Sometimes you’ll have a mother who wished and prayed for a little girl but she ends up with a son. The mother is automatically disappointed with the child and he doesn’t stand a chance. The mother might even make him wear girls clothing to make up for the “loss” of a daughter.

John Douglas concluded based on prison interviews of various serial killers (Berkowtiz and Kemper to name 2 of them) that all serial killers come from dysfunctional backgrounds. This includes unstable, abusive and deprived family situations. Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who interviewed Ted Bundy, declares that in addition to whatever mental issues they may suffer, serial killers have experienced a violent and abusive upbringing.

Recent studies have backed up these previous theories. Brain scans have been performed on severely abused children and these scans show that specific areas of the cortex, mainly those related to emotions, never developed properly. What does this mean? That they basically become incapable of feeling empathy for other human beings, and other living things in general.

When you read some of the information on these serial killer, it’s no surprise they turned out the way they did. I would be more surprised if they turned out to be a normal member of society. You have someone like Henry Lee Lucas who was raised by an alcoholic prostitute for a mother. She would force her son to watch her have sex with clients and once beat him so bad he was put in a coma.

Then you have mental abuse. John Wayne Gacy was constantly belittled by his father. Ed Kemper’s mother made fun of her sons physical appearance and told him no woman would ever love him. Henry Louis Wallace’s mother would shame him by making him dress up like a girl and would even make him go out in public dressed like that.

If you read a book or information that just mentioned the abuse these people suffered, you would most likely feel sorry for the child. Then of course you would continue reading and that feeling is replaced by disgust for the actions they later committed. You feel pity for the abused child, then you feel outrage at the monsters they ended up becoming.


~ by B on July 25, 2006.

5 Responses to “A Common Thread: Child Abuse”

  1. I’ve long thought there was a serious correlation between childhood trauma and serial violence/killing. This is some fascinating info. Your blog continues to grow and amaze me. You’ve done well, ANO. Very well.

  2. But ….

    There are many of us who went through terrible abuse and did NOT become serial killers. While there is a common thread of often extreme abuse among serial killers, there are far more people who’ve been abused who never do go on to kill anything, not even a mouse. There’s more to it than just a bad childhood.

    My guess is that some abused children react differently to the stunted emotional growth. Some become more empathetic, some far less. Most of them will admit, however, being at least somewhat confused by emotions.

    Interesting post.

  3. There are always variations to any situation. Of course not all abused children become killers or violent, but the fact cannot be overlooked that this kind of creulty is a common thread in the pasts of these disturbed individuals.

  4. I haven’t seen the brain study, but I find the idea interesting and worthy of debate. In my humble opinion, one would think that the serial killers do still have a sense of sense of empathy, but instead lack sympathy.

    One would imagine that the killer knows what the victim is feeling, especially in the case where torture of some sort is involved. Also, many killers who toy with the police (via sending letters or other items/messages) or track the press pertaining to their work often do so because they feel a sense of power from the terror they cause. Sympathy, on the other hand, is usually completely lacking. Signs of a sympathetic killer (covering of the victims eyes, placing the victims head on a pillow or other similar item, etc) are usually not seen in instances of serial murder. As always, there are exceptions to the rule…

  5. There are some other correlations:
    bedwetting until late childhood
    setting fires
    killing/torturing neighborhood animals

    Love this blog. Going to send you some Texas killers to write about soon.

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