Essay, Pages 13 (3081 words)
In this essay I will be summarizing and reflecting on three different academic articles I have found this semester on Serial Murderers. Two of these articles do discuss female serial killers, but that is not a subject that we have a lot of information on in today’s research.
All the articles had their pros and their cons, but ultimately, I gained a lot of knowledge that I didn’t have when the semester started.
Female Serial Killers in the United States: Means, Motives, and Makings
The authors of this article ‘consulted mass media reports of demographics, motives, methods, mental health, and victim characteristics of 64 female serial killers (FSK), who committed their crimes in the United States from 1821 to 2008’ (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015).
Their study, like many others showed that female serial killers are usually white, educated, have been married, and hold or have held a caregiver role. The general misconception is that women are incapable of multiple murders. ‘No one believes that a woman could kill multiple victims’ (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015). When in fact 16% of all serial killers are female (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015). The authors of this article feel that female serial killers are given so little attention that they stated that female serial killers can go undetected much longer than male serial killers can, and they could possibly be getting away with murder, due to the lack of concern for them.
They started off by letting us know that there is very little research on Female Serial killers in today’s research. One of the first researchers that they mention is Eric W. Hickey. He ‘conducted one of the most comprehensive studies on FSKs to date’ (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015). (I have actually read Hickey’s book on Serial Murderers and their victims and it was by far the best book I have ever read. If given the chance it should be read by anyone who has a fascination with serial murderers and want a better understanding.) They also mentioned Keheller and Keheller, Schurman-Kauflin, Farrell, Wilson, Hilton, and many others. The authors provided an explanation for each of their contributions to the knowledge that we have today on female serial killers. Some researchers think that ‘what we know is largely outweighed by what we don’t know’ (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015).
The authors of this article wanted to make it known that there is no agreed upon definition for a serial killer. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s definition states serial murder is the killing of two or more victims by the same offender in separate events. Farrell, Hickey and Holmes on the other hand defined serial murder as three or more victims having been killed by the same offender in different incidents. So, the authors decided to go with this definition for the understanding of their article. ‘Cases of intentional killing of 3 or more victims, with a cooling off period between each killing of at least one week’ (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015).
Below I will discuss the results that they authors found when they created their own study with 64 female serial killers (Hickey also did a similar study in the past, which is what prompted the idea). The got results for; demographics, history, crime antecedents, means, motive, and some victim characteristics. (Keep in mind the numbers and percentages are based off of the 64 FSK they gathered for their study, and not all of them spoke in each category).
When it came to demographics the authors found that 98% of female serial killers are born in the United States. 88% of them were white, while 9% were black and 1% were Latina. 18 of the 64 were 100% Christian in faith. Over half of them were married, and about 22% of them were married three or more times. Most female serial killers are middle class women and their ages (from their first offense) ranged from 16 to 65. But almost half of the FSKs were in their 20’s. 34% of them had higher education while 30% of them dropped out of high school. The rest may have started college and got some higher education but never finished. For the reported cases, at least half have average intelligence but 28% of them were considered to have learning disabilities. These women can hold a wide variety of jobs/occupations, but they did mention that a large portion of them hold health care related positions (which we will discuss in my next summary).
While the history of these women was said to be limited, they were able to gain some information. 18 of the 64 cases were said to have some kind of childhood issue (6 had severe illnesses, 6 had symptoms consistent with conduct disorder, 3 were pregnant by the time they were 16 maybe even younger, and 3 were married as teenagers). Only 21 of them indicated that they had any kind of relationship with their parents/siblings. These women tended to have parents who were alcoholics, and overly controlling. They also found that many of these women endured mothers who were severely insulting and critical, absent and deceased mothers and fathers, parental abandonment, many siblings and much more. One third of the sample had experienced physical/sexual abuse, 5 of them experienced both. 14 of the women experienced substance and alcohol abuse and 25 of the cases were reported as having severe mental illnesses. Something that stood out the most to me in this particular section of the article is that they found 2 cases of Anti-social personality disorder in their sample. The prevalence rate for ASPD is extremely low, meaning maybe a 1% prevalence rate in women. So, the fact that they would have two of them and they both turned out to be serial killers sparks a lot of curiosity in my mind.
As far as criminal antecedents they found that 7 of these women had environmental stressors that supposedly helped contribute to their crimes. In 15 of the cases there was a type of crisis going on their lives. The authors even categorized their demeanor while continuing through their study. They were labeled as angry, bizarre, depersonalized, flat affect/withdrawn, arrogant/flippant, hyperactive, socio pathological, grandiose, and unstable (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015). Most of the FSK’s crimes took place in the 1990’s. The location of the murders varied but crimes were committed in 31 of the 50 states. The most common method to induce death was by poison. There were over 330 confirmed murders, by the FSKs, in their study. And more than half of the authors sample killed children. According to Holmes and Holmes’s typology, serial killers are classified under 4 categories; hedonistic, power-seeker, visionary, and missionary (Bowers; Flaherty; Harrison; Ho; Murphy, 2015) . But this theory did not suit this study very well. In their sample the authors found that many women actually killed for revenge, to protect their reputation, and unspecified mental illness.
This article was well-written, and jam packed with great information. A lot of these articles can be really hard to follow due to language used and the dynamics of the article. But this article was very easy to digest/understand. I found this article to be extremely helpful and additive to my knowledge. This article has even sparked a new interest; female serial killers. Because you hardly ever hear about them, I never thought twice to go back and do my own sleuthing on them. But this article was so interesting, and I discovered so many things that I didn’t know. We always read about male serial killers, but from what I just read I am very interested in getting more information and gaining a better understanding of serial killing from the female side of things. This is a great resource for anyone, with a lot of great and useful information.
In Search of the ‘Angel of Death’: Conceptualizing the Contemporary Nurse Healthcare Serial Killer1
This article is focused on nurses who commit serial murder within a hospital setting. These types of serial killers are called Healthcare serial killers (HSK) as well as medical murderers. Even though HSKs are gaining more prevalence in today’s world it is still an underdeveloped subject.
The authors of this article defined HSKs as ‘any type of employee in the healthcare system who uses their position to murder at least two patients in two separate incidents, with the psychological capacity to kill more’ (Wilson; Yardley, 2016). Since the 1970’s arrests and convictions of healthcare employees has increased according to Wilson and Yardley. The authors found it important to inform us about what is called the ‘Angel of Death’, and that the roles of this person has been terribly gendered. They specifically quoted Keheller and Keheller and their definition of the ‘Angel of Death’. ‘A woman who systematically murders individuals who are in her care and relay on her for some reason or form of medical attention or similar support’ (Wilson; Yardley, 2016). The authors wanted to make the readers aware that anyone (any gender) can be an ‘Angel of Death’, that in fact there has been male ‘Angels of Death’ in the past.
The demographics of this kind of serial killer can vary in many different ways. Wilson and Yardley used Field’s summary of socio-demographic characteristics in their article to help explain. It states; ‘The diversity of the defendants illustrates the variety of individuals who engage in this practice. Some are clearly extremely intelligent; others are not. Some are young, some are older. Some are male and some are female; some are gay, and some are straight, some are senior nurses, and some are mere assistants, but all are able to murder their patients.’
The motives for these kinds of serial killers has been difficult to establish. There are researchers who found that many of these offenders claim mercy or compassion for their patient. Claiming that they were going to die anyway so they put them out of their misery. They have also identified ridding themselves of demanding patients, freeing up beds in overcrowded hospitals, and benefiting financially from a patient’s death as other means of motives (Wilson; Yardley, 2016), Researcher, Yorker, (the researcher given credit for discovering most of these motivations) felt it was important to understand the variations of the Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. He stated that it can help to understand these types of cases better, as well as help us understand the term ‘hero-complex’.
Researcher, Ramsland created a 22- point checklist of personality traits and behaviors to help identify an HSK (Wilson; Yardley, 2016). Ramsland also used the term ‘red flags’, for the traits and characteristics identified. A few of these red flags would consist of; ‘moving from one hospital to another, substance abuse problems, craves attention, predicts when someone is going to die, tries to prevent others from checking in on their patients, and associated with other incidents at other hospitals’ (Wilson; Yardley, 2016).
The authors then created a sample of 16 HSKs, or 16 people that matched the definition and descriptions needed to be classified as such. They collected socio-demographic and criminological data relating to those in their sample. What they found was that most of the sample came from Europe and North America. The murders they were convicted of took place during 1977 and 2009. The sample was fairly even when it came to gender (44% male and 56% female). The average age was 35 and 38 was the average age that they were convicted. Most committed in between 5 and 9 murders, usually at one hospital location. And the most common method to kill patients was by poisoning them.
This article wasn’t quite as easy to read/process. It didn’t seem to flow as well as the other articles I have read through out the semester. It was definitely still a good resource that provided great information. Definitely helps you see a different point of view on serial killers. That they aren’t just scary looking old men. Sometimes it is the one person who is supposed to be helping you. A criticism for this article would be that most of the participants in the sample were European. A lot of the information I read was all gathered overseas. Because there has been as much discussion about Americans obsession with serial killing it would be interesting to see if there were more American ‘Angels of Death’. But what I did find out with further research is that a lot more serial killing done overseas than there is in the United States. It has been interesting to see as I have been reading and researching how the definitions for multiple aspects of this subject change as frequently as they do. But on the other hand, the averages for socio-demographic characteristics of serial killers have all been fairly similar. Definitely an interesting subject to study further.
Some thoughts on the psychological roots of the behavior of serial killers as narcissists: An object relations perspective.
This article was written from an object relations standpoint. This psychological theory focuses on the process and development of early mother-infant relationships, ‘as a primary departure point for understanding both healthy and pathological psychic development’ (Knight, 2006). This specific study will examine the psychological roots of the behavior of sexually motivated male serial killers and why they do what they do (Knight, 2006).
There have been three types of multicide identified in today’s research; spree murder, mass murder, and serial murder. Spree Murder is defined as the killing of at-least three or more people with-in a 30-day period and there has been other crimes committed as well. Mass Murder is the killing of three or more people at one time in one place. And Serial Murder is when 3 or more people have been killed within a 30-day period, with a significant cooling off period. The author of this article feels as if there should be different typologies for serial killers that are not based on the apparent assumptions for motivation and that are updated to reflect the knowledge we have gained from many years of continuous research. Knight tells us on many occasions that serial killers kill for more reasons than just sex.
The author went into great detail when describing the characteristics of sexually motivated serial killers. And while she discussed the many traits of serial killers, I found it interesting that she made sure to state that most serial killers do know right from wrong and they are not prey to irresistible urges. Knight then stated that the definition for sexually motivated serial killers should be refined. ‘This means that such a definition should include motivation and the essential character of serial sexual murderer’ (Knight, 2006). Here is what the author felt the refined definition could be;
‘Sexually motivated serial murder is the killing of three or more victims over a period of more than 30 days, with a significant cooling-off period. The sexual nature of the crime, which may – or may not – be explicit, is perverse and sadistic and reflects an aggression that is particularly destructive, pathological and rooted in violent fantasies that are acted out on the victim’ (Knight, 2006).
The author felt it was necessary to explain narcissism from an object relation point of view and the narcissism in sexual serial murderers. This, I would assume, is to give the reader a better background on how Object Relation psychologists see these constructs. I personally think this was a great help to add into her article, because instead of having to go somewhere else to try and understand their point of view, she provided it for us. It helped me understand the object relations ideas and their background on the subject directly.
Knight, being an Object Relations theorists sees sexually motivated serial killers as pathological and narcissistic. She states that they vent their anger and envy at the world by destroying and brutalizing others. According to the Object Relation theorists ‘the well-defended lack of self-esteem of serial killers comes from deficient or inadequate preoedipal infantile experiences’ (Knight, 2006). They feel that was little to no caretaking of the infant who later turned into a serial murderer. These people’s caretakers didn’t encourage the child to develop their own psychological organizations (Knight, 2006). Knight also makes a point to state that it’s not only preoedipal development deficiencies that help create a serial killer, but also abuse and rejection add to the issue as well.
Some research done on the impact that childhood abuse has on violent behavior of adults who became serial killers, shows that adults who were abused were three times more likely to act violently (Knight, 2006). A response serial killer tends to have to various situations in life is aggression and that emerges into a homicidal rage and envy This then turns into a series of brutal and sexualized murders. There are however children in the world that have endured childhood abuse and do not turn into serial murderers. Knight says; ‘What may cause the difference is that serial killers as narcissists have a fatal combination of preoedipal dysfunction (which gives rise to pathological narcissism) and negative childhood experiences (which result in violence and criminality and are expressed in destructive narcissism)'(2006).
The author ends her article by stating that the object relations perspective is important because it ‘adds a preoedipal dimension to the genesis of the psychology of serial killing rather than focusing only on psychoanalytic principles of oedipal development’ (Knight, 2006). I found this article, as well as the others, to be very helpful to my studies in this subject. It was a great point of view to add into my world view as I continue in to my future involving serial killers. Knight made a lot of good points and developed her arguments well. This would be a wonderful resource to anyone who has an interest in understanding the roots of serial murderers.
This assignment has allowed me to broaden my horizons for my future. The articles I found this semester were full of so much information and it was surprisingly easy to process. Reading these articles and taking in these different perspectives it has caused a type of shift in my thoughts about my future. The information found has given me a new interest in ‘Angels of Death’ and has also opened a window to other possibilities on how to continue and prosper in my future in Clinical Mental Health/ Clinical Psychology.