Serial killers have been defined as those who kill three or more victims and find major cooling-off period between the killings. The serial killer kills its victims in a series broken by gaps of 24 hours or more, demonstrating that each murder shortly gratifies whatever stimulates the killer’s actions. Each succeeding killing ceases a different succession of behaviors. Mass killings, on the other hand, refers to the murdering three or more victims at the same time (Silkes n.d.). In contrast, spree killing involves the murder three or more that three victims at different locations or time without any cooling off period between those.
In the literature regarding serial killers, scholars have explained varying characteristics that define them (Allely et al. 2014). The most common characteristics found in a serial killer however include:
- Exhibition of varying degrees of mental illness or psychopathic and defensive personality
- Demonstration of authoritarian personality, which is derived from an ethnocentric perspective of the world
- Expression of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse received during childhood by any member of the family
- Demonstration of fetishism, necrophilia and paraphilia, that is, extremely strong tendency to involve in sexual activity with a corpse
The chosen case for this report, Ted Bundy, was a serial killer of the 1970s from the United States of America. Bundy was born on November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont to Eleanor Louis Cowell, his biological mother. He did not know who his father was and that caused some disturbance in his mind. Eleanor was unmarried when she gave birth to Bundy and that caused discomfort to her extremely religious family. Owing to this reason, her father, Sam Cowell, gave her to the ‘unwed mother’ facility (Imdb.com 2018). Born and brought up at the unwed mother facility, Bundy had little exposure to a normal life any child would have. It is believed that the motivation behind his criminal acts was break up with his former college love interest Stephanie Brooks. Almost all the victims of Bundy resembled Stephanie.
Influences on Crime and Serial Killers
Theorists and researchers claim that many influences work behind the intentions of a serial killer. At first, the killings might be approached from a biological perspective. The biological approach might include the chemical imbalances and the genetic influences. Choi and Lee (2014) define chemical imbalance as the main reason behind the crimes committed by serial killers. As per the authors’ views, certain imbalances in the mind occur due to higher rate of sexual tendency, inferiority complex or a drive to try things that occur only in fascination. Bundy was the child of an unmarried mother and he had spent most of his childhood in an enclosure. He was exposed to pornography from a very small age, as he himself had confessed that might have led to a chemical imbalance in his mind.
The Somatotypes theory proposed by Sheldon also provides helpful insights into the characteristics of criminals. According to Sheldon’s theory, criminal behavior can be associated with the physical built of an individual. He demarcated three types of physically built individuals – the ectomorph or thinly built individuals, the endomorph or obese individuals and the mesomorph or muscular individuals (Stewart et al. 2014). Sheldon claimed that since ectomorphs were thin or skinny, they were introverted and controlled and the endomorphs were more riotous and relaxed and the mesomorph was adventurous and energetic. Out of the three personalities, the mesomorphs hence were most likely to indulge in criminal behaviors. Although Sheldon’s theory provided a solid ground for later theorists to understand criminal behavior, it failed to recognize the psychological influences. Ted Bundy presents a clear example that Sheldon’s Somatotypes theory did not explain his serial killings because he was not very muscular and was an introvert (Ekmekcioglu et al. 2015).
Another theory that could explain Bundy’s psychology behind the killings is Sigmund Freud’s theory of the Unconscious. In Freud’s views, the human mind has three levels- the conscious, the unconscious and the subconscious mind. The Unconscious mind keeps those desires and memories of the humans that they do not want to recall again. Ted Bundy had several such desires and events that he had kept in his unconscious mind including the revelation that his mother had lied to him and the end of relationship with Stephanie Brooks, his ex-lover. Freud asserted that the unconscious mind governs human behavior more prominently than the conscious and the subconscious mid (Raj 2017). Therefore, it is clearly seen that Bundy’s motivation behind killing the victims came from his unconscious mind.
After analyzing the biological and psychological approaches to understanding Ted Bundy, it becomes all the more important to analyze the sociological influences. Various theories of sociology are present in them literature that might help in comprehending his motives. One such theory is the Strain Theory introduced by Robert K Merton (Agnew 2015). The theory affirms that individuals sometimes succumb to the pressure of achieving goals put on them by the society. In this way, the individual is strained and it consequently commits a crime. Now, Bundy was born to a single mother in an unwed mother facility with no identity of his father. He felt neglect from the society and found solace in committing those crimes.
Those who fall prey to the malicious intentions of others are referred to as the victims. In Ted Bundy’s case, all those ladies and young girls whom he had killed and raped were the victims. However, the victims are seen as being equally guilty of the crime and are blamed for it. William Ryan, a psychologist coined the phrase ‘victim blaming’ in 1971 in a book titled Blaming the Victim (Chagnon 2017).Victimology studies have attempted to alleviate the opinion of victims as perpetrators. It is nonetheless important to note that the definition is somewhat vague and does not cover the complete reality. Although in most cases the victims are unjustifiably blamed, many such cases are there as well where the victims have been found to be the actual perpetrators. Some argue that it is wrong on both sides of the crime – the offender and the victimized – to generalize the situation. The offender is blamed for committing the crime whereas the victim is blamed for not being careful enough or instigating the crime.
To understand the concept of victim blaming more precisely, it might be helpful to learn about the Positivist and Radical Victimology theories. Positivist Victimology was proposed by David Myers and had three important characteristics (Ferrão et al. 2016). First is identifying the aspects in the individuals or their surroundings that lead to non-random threat of victimization. Second is the focus on violent crimes on interpersonal level and third is the victim identification in cases where they are held responsible for their victimization. Radical victimology on the other hand, explains the reactions of the society to victims and the crime and its preference for innocent victims (Walklate 2017). The theory further explains the victimization of the victim’s family. In such cases, the traumatized victims are further affected.
Therefore, one can assert that victim blaming has a faulty definition and that the victims turn out to be the perpetrators but creating a blame culture by always blaming the victim must stop.
In concluding remarks, it can be asserted that in cases of serial killings, the victims are not to be blamed because they do not hold any association with the perpetrator. Ted Bundy’s mother and those who had lied to him and did not give him a normal childhood could be blamed for his mental distortion. The essay provided a detailed analysis of criminological psychology by undertaking the case of Ted Bundy, the infamous American serial killer. The essay at first provided an explanation about serial killings and contrasted it with mass and spree killings. It further presented a background of the serial killer and tried to analyze, through different sociological and psychological theories, the causes behind his killings. In the later sections, the essay provided an explanation of the concept of victim blaming, the blame culture and the two theories of positivist and radical victimology. Further studies on victim blaming is suggested.
Serial killing is a crime of the highest magnitude that involves the killing of people having similar characteristics by an individual. In history, there have been numerous accounts of serial killing throughout the globe. Psychological experts and researchers have termed serial killers as having serious mental imbalance that prompts them to commit such heinous crimes. On the other hand, some engage in victim blaming, that is blaming the one on whom the heinous act has befell.
The report will analyze the psychological, biological and social influences on serial killers that instigate them to commit this crime. The chosen serial killer for the study is Theodore Robert Bundy, popularly known as Ted Bundy who was accused of more than thirty killings during the 1970s in the United States (see Appendix). The report will then shift is focus towards victim blaming and the blame culture in general. It will analyze the reason behind victim blaming by including research literatures that explain this concept.
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Walklate, S., 2017. Reflections on ‘Victims’ and ‘Victimisation’: An Autobiography of Ideas. In Criminal Justice Research: Inspiration Influence and Ideation (pp. 31-49). Routledge.