Serial Killer Characteristics

September 2, 2008

The FBI has created a  list of different characteristics to identify serial killers.  In order to be classified a serial killer, murderers  must have 15 out of 21 of the characteristics; they must be methodical with their killings, killing three or more people over a period of time, spanning at least 30 days.  It’s fascinating to peek into the minds of serial killers, who are the most abhorrent examples of human kind.

 

Charles Starkweather and Elmer Wayne Henley represent opposing sides of the serial killer spectrum.

 

Charles grew up being bullied and teased because of a birth defect (bowed legs) and speech impediment. Abuse and alienation are typical precursors to the violent acts of these men and women, however, they are not always present.  Conversely, not all abused or alienated children become killers.  Charles also had a need to control others and be powerful.  According to a high school friend, Bob Von Busch “He could be mean as hell, cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he was, better looking, or better dressed, he’d try to take the poor bastard down to his size.”

 

84% of American serial killers are caucasian, 90% are male and 86% are heterosexual. 

 

When Charles was 18 years old, he began dating 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate  He quit school and took a job near Caril.  He was poor worker, considered slow and unintelligent.  The pair proved to be a deadly combination. Starkweather went to visit Caril and while she was out,  he argued with and shot her mother and stepfather. Once Caril arrived home, Starkweather strangled, and stabbed her two-year-old sister. He hid the bodies behind the house. The two stayed in the house for six more days, turning people away with a note taped to the door that read: “Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue.”

 

Caril Ann’s grandmother called the police and the two murderers became fugitives, embarking on a killing spree across Nebraska and into Wyoming.  They were eventually apprehended, but left ten bodies in their wake. It is likely that Charles would have killed no matter what provocation, however, fueled by an ill fated romance, he became a notorious spree killer, classified as a serial killer because of a robbery and murder which occurred weeks earlier.

 

The pair’s story has inspired authors, including Stephen King who incorporated many variations on Starkweather in his work. The character The Kid, who appears in the complete and uncut edition of The Stand, is meant to be a reincarnated Charles Starkweather.  Starkweather also inspired the films The Sadist, Badlands, Starkweather, Murder in the Heartland , The Frighteners and Natural Born Killers.

 

84% of American killers are Caucasian and 89% of their victims are white. 16% of serial killers are black.

 

Unlike Charles,  Dean Corll was methodical and meticulous.  He was killed by an accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley, aged 17.   Henley confessed to the rape and murder of twenty seven young boys and admits he recruited the victims for Corll.  Henley explained that he and another boy, David Brooks, procured boys for Corll to rape and murder for a finder’s fee of $200.

 

Serial killers tend to be intelligent with IQ’s in the “bright normal” range, however, they often do poorly in school, are unable to hold down jobs and often work as unskilled laborers.

 

Corll did not present many of the characteristics identified by the FBI. He had an unremarkable childhood, marred only by the divorce of his parents. He did well in school and was described as well behaved and polite.  Corll was drafted into the military and  discharged a year later so he could return home to help his mother.  She owned a candy business, which gave Corll access to children (he handed out samples and was known as the Candy Man.)

 

Many serial killers engage in sadistic activity at a young age, torturing animals or abusing younger children.  24% kill their first victim while in their thirties, 44% start in their twenties and 26% start in their teens.

 

Corll’s death left many questions unanswered.  Many families will never know for certain if their son was a victim to Corll or some other predator prowling the streets.  In all likelihood, Henley and Brooks would have branched out on their own given the chance.  Thankfully,  both were found guilty of murder for their participation in the crimes and are serving 99 years in prison.  Brooks was sentenced to 99 years – opposed to the six consecutive 99-year terms Henley received. Henley became eligible for parole in 1983.

 

More Statistics

The USA has 76% of the world’s serial killers. California leads the US with the most Serial Homicide cases, followed by Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida.  Maine has the lowest occurences (none) while Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Delaware and Vermont have each had only one case of serial murder.

Europe in second, has 17%.  Of these, 28% are from England, 27% from Germany and 13% from France.

65% of victims are female.

 

How to Write

True Crime Stories

 How Serial Killers Work

 

 

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True Crime Stories – Women who kill

February 5, 2008

Most True Crime Stories you read involve men.  That’s because 93% of murders are committed by men but women are also capable of horrific acts.  Women are less violent then men due to brain anatomy.   The amygdala is used to assess threats and the Orbital Frontal Region is used to act on them. Men have a smaller Orbital Frontal Regions. 

Mothers and caregivers who are expected to nurture, but they murder instead. 

Jean Harris, a headmistress at a girl’s school, killed her lover in a crime of passion.  The majority of female killers kill loved ones.

MaryBeth Tinning killed her own children, three in the span of two months.  She thrived on the outpouring of sympathy she received.  As a child she received little attention, especially from her father.  He died without ever showing her the affection she craved.  Over the next three years, four more children would die, the cause of death deemed Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  By 1981, suspicious grows when an adopted son dies and one more biological child. Nine Tinning Children died in 14 years.  She suffered from Munchausen by Proxy.  

According to KidshealthIn MBPS, an individual – usually a mother – deliberately makes another person (most often his or her own preschool child) sick or convinces others that the person is sick….Typically, the perpetrator feels satisfied when he or she has the attention and sympathy of doctors, nurses, and others who come into contact with him or her and the child. Some experts believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but there is satisfaction gained by the perpetrator in being able to deceive individuals that they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves.”

Susan Smith killed her two small boys and claimed they had been taken in a carjacking.  Smith exploited public sympathy but police were suspicious of her story.  Nine days after her sons’ disappearance, she confessed to drowning her sons by strapping them into their car seats and driving her car into a lake.  Susan Smith killed her children to continue an affair. 

Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham played a vicious game. The two work in as nurses in an elderly care center and begin to have an affair.  They planned to murder victims whose initials would spell MURDER.  The game was meant to draw the two together forever; however, Gwen left Cathy for another woman.  Cathy confessed their crimes to her ex husband and he went to the authorities.  Cathy testified for the persecution claiming Gwen was the mastermind behind the game.

Aileen Wuornos is the first female serial killer according to FBI profiles. She is unique for her method of killing and targeting stranger victims.  Many violent women studied had troubled childhoods, anti social behavior disorder and a history of substance abuse.  Wuornos was motivated by revenge against men, perhaps in response to rage from her adolescence, in which she claimed to have been raped.  

Belle Gunness murdered for financial benefit, murdering suitors and burying their dismembered bodies.

Nanny Doss poisoned four husbands. She is also suspected of killing her mother and two children.

Women are rarely sadistic killers. Teresa Knorr was an exception.  She was a controlling wife and mother. She shot her first husband during an argument and claimed self defense.  She married three more times and had five children.  Her children suffered torture at her hands, burned with cigarettes, stabbed, shot or locked in a freezer.  Suesan was shot and the wound became infected. Knorr took Susan to a field and set her on fire, burning her to death. Sheila was locked in a freezer and starved to death.     


True Crime Stories – Revenge Killers

February 3, 2008

Writers know there is a wealth of story ideas in daily headlines. True Crime Stories fascinate audiences and inspire writers who interweave fact with fiction.  Revenge killers are not satisfied until the objects of their anger are destroyed.   Coy Wayne Westbrook killed his estranged wife, Gloria, driven to a point of no return.  He was overcome with jealousy and rage when he witnessed Gloria having sex with a party guest.  He had no previous violent tendencies, yet the humiliation he endured that night resulted in the deaths of five people.    Coy suffered from dyslexia and dropped out of school, as a result, he suffered from low self esteem as an adult.    Anger that builds to uncontrollable rage may be a result of diminished brain function.  As areas of the brain are activated they use more oxygen.  Researchers can identify brain activity by monitoring isotopes delivered with oxygen to regions of the brain. The Orbital Frontal Cortex (OFC) is activated when subjects visualize their angriest moments.  However, some people have reduced levels of functionality in the OFC and they are unable to control their actions.  Revenge is a need to punish those who have hurt us.  In 1973, Archie Mccafferty discovered his infant son accidentally smothered to death by his wife, who rolled over on him in the night.  He fantasized about killing others to relieve his overwhelming grief.  He planned to kill seven people in a spree of vengeance.   He abducted and killed three victims, with no sympathy.  He planned to finish his spree by killing his wife and her family, but instead, he turned on one of his own gang members.  The gang member turned him in to authorities. Even incarcerated, he wanted to complete his mission to kill seven victims believing it would bring his son back to life.  Unlike Westbrook, Mccafferty had a history of violence. He was abused as a child and seemed destined for a life of crime. He was a thief and had been incarcerated for much of his youth. Mccafferty was released after 25 years in prison and is deported to Scotland, where he lives today.    Love seems to have destroyed and saved Mccafferty.  The connection between love and revenge is strong.  Having a loved one near by has been shown to help subject regulate stress and anxiety.      


Spree Killers

January 23, 2008

Spree killers target innocent bystanders, thrilling in the destruction of the public’s well being. Their acts of violence are motivated by revenge or a misguided need to be noticed.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire at a popular café.  He killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in a single day.  Bryant was a troubled and tormented youth, lashing out in anger.   He lashed out in defense against bullying and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild retardation.  As a young adult he became isolated and desperate sought companionship, striking up conversations with random women.  His attempts were thwarted and he became angry at society in general and planned revenge.    After the shootings, Bryant fled to a nearby inn and was surrounded by police.  He set the inn on fire and was badly burned.  He recovered from his injuries and was sentenced to 35 life sentences after pleading guilty to murder.  

Martin Bryant

Social exclusion seems to be a common indicator in spree killers. Test subjects were tested to see the impact of social isolation and rejection.   After being rejected, subjects were asked to fill in blanks on several words.  Rejected subjects repeatedly choose violent words. 

On August 1st 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then packed a footlocker full of weapons and drove to the University of Austin.  From a clock tower on the college’s campus Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.  Whitman was raised in a physically abusive home. He left home at 15, joining the Army and was sent to the University of Texas on scholarship.  He married but struggled to overcome the violence of this past.   He was court martialed after a violent public outburst and his scholarship revoked.  He is ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control them. He wrote about his struggles in his journal and confessed his desire to kill bystanders from the clock tower to a psychiatrist.  After the attack, an autopsy was performed and a tumor was discovered.  

Charles Whitman

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can cause impulsive behaviors, fits of rage or inappropriate emotions.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates fear and anger.  Those with borderline personality disorder have heightened activity in the amygdala, which may inhibit an individual’s ability to control their rage.

  

19 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old accomplice, Carol Fugate embarked on a killing spree after Starkweather killed Carol’s parents.  They claimed 10 victims, lashing out at any one who crossed their path.  Starkweather was an outcast at school, bullied and teased, he fantasized about revenge. Carol and Charles had a passionate affair and planned to marry, but her family stood in their way, so they were eliminated.  Starkweather shot Carol’s mother, stepfather and 2 year old sister then took their blood lust on the road.   They killed seven more people before they were apprehended. Carol Fugate claimed she was a hostage but both were convicted.

Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate

Spree killers are becoming more deadly and methodical, attacking at schools, malls or other crowded public places.  Understanding the motives and traits will hopefully help law enforcement prevent tragic blood shed in the future.  


Rosemary and Frederick West – Murder on Cromwell Street

December 29, 2007

Infamous serial killers, Rosemary and Frederick West, were married in 1972 and bought a house on Cromwell Street.  They saw in each other a reflection of their own damaged soul.  Frederick had a history of sexually molesting young girls and many believed Rosemary had incestuous relationships with her father.  

Frederick was married before meeting Rosemary and he maintained custody of a step daughter, Charmaine.  After the birth of their first child, Heather, Frederick was sent to jail for robbery and Rosemary was left to care for the children. 

 

 

 

 

Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie West 

 Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie 

 In a fit of rage, Rosemary killed Charmaine. Authorities believe Frederick then killed Rena, his first wife and Anna McFall, a babysitter, to cover up Charmaine’s disappearance There are no true crime stories more tragic than those involving innocent children.

The murder of Frederick’s step daughter cemented the couple’s willingness to go to any lengths to pleasure or protect one another.  One of their first victims was a nanny for the couple, who was repeatedly raped.  She reported the crime, but decided to not go through a lengthy trail.  Over the next 15 years, the Wests would kill 9 girls.

 

Fred and Rose West 

Frederick and Maryann West  

Two of the couple’s children, Stephen and Mae West, were interviewed for a documentary, Notorious: Deadly Secrets of Cromwell Street (December 2007). They claimed they never knew their parents were bringing girls home and killing them. The children knew their home life was abnormal and they endured physical and sexual abuse.  The couple was very open about sex.  Fredrick considered his daughters property and at his disposal for sexual gratification.   Rosemary advertised as a prostitute to keep a regular stream of men coming in and out of the house.  Frederick eavesdropped on his wife having sex with other men through hidden microphones in the ceilings.    Stephen did remember his father “finding” jewelry and purses which he brought home and gifted to Rosemary and the children.   

The couple’s final victim was their 16-year-old daughter, Heather.  Heather was desperate to escape the abuse of home and threatened to run away. One day she disappeared from the home, and Frederick told the children she had gone for a job.

 

 

 

 

Heather West

Heather West

In1992, Frederick was arrested for raping a minor.  At the time, five of the eight West children were taken into custody by the state.  Case workers overheard the children discussing the murder of their eldest sister.    On February 24, 1994, police searched the West property and found implements of torture and decapitated bodies.  Once Fred was confronted with the evidence of his crimes, he admitted to murdering Heather and several other girls.

According to Janet Leach, a volunteer who was appointed to witness police interviews,  “Fred said that there were two other bodies in shallow graves in the woods but there was no way they would ever be found.  He said there were 20 other bodies not in one place but spread around and he would give police one a year.  He told me the truth about the girls in the cellar and what happened to them so I don’t see why he would lie about other bodies.”

 

Frederick West committed suicide while awaiting trail. Rosemary faced justice alone and was found guilty of 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.