Serial Killers may often look like the neighbor next door, but they oftentimes are afflicted by medically definable mental disorders. These disorders may lead them to see things about the world that are not normally there, or they may allow them to commit their heinous acts without remorse.
However, while mental disorders are real illnesses, Judges and juries have not often accepted the "insanity defense" for these individuals who have killed, killed, and killed again.
In this blog post, we will look into some of the common mental health disorders that we see in serial killers, and then we'll take a look into five of these killers who were carrying these disorders.
Some Common Serial Killer Disorders
Today, criminologists define "serial murder" as the homicide of three (or more) people during an extended period of time (at least a month) with breaks of time between the murders. Like "mass murderers", serial killers may kill large numbers. However, they commit homicide repeatedly.
A few mental health disorders occur with some frequency in serial killers. Yet individuals who commit serial killing do not always display all of these conditions:
Sometimes detailed as "anti-social personality disorder" or "borderline personality disorder," this condition occurs in varying degrees. For example, anti-social personality disorder inclines someone towards lying, stealing, hurting others intentionally and generally behaving in unkind, antisocial ways. Ted Bundy illustrated this condition.
Schizophrenia, a serious mental illness, causes changes in the structure of the brain. Several subcategories exist. Schizophrenics may receive sensory impressions without a basis in objective reality. A growing number of experts believe schizophrenia involves a genetic component; inheriting certain genes may make it more likely an individual will display symptoms of schizophrenia. Today, drugs help many schizophrenics control their symptoms. Ed Gein exemplifies a serial killer suffering from schizophrenia.
Sadists treat people and animals with cruelty. Some sadists obtain sexual gratification by inflicting pain. This is perhaps one of the most widely documented serial killer mental disorders. Almost all of these murderers suffered abuse as children and inflicted abuse on other creatures (frequently on animals).
Some serial killers seek to have sexual contact with corpses and/or to eat body parts. Chinese serial killer Wang Qiang illustrates this psychopathy.
Five Notorious Serial Killers With Mental Disorders
1. Ted Bundy (1946-1989)
Ted Bundy, an infamous sociopath, committed crimes ranging from rape and homicide to burglary and sexual acts on corpses. He escaped from custody before police re-captured him after a nationwide search.
Born to an unwed mother, Ted Bundy lacked positive male role models. Intelligent, handsome and superficially charming, he graduated from college and won admission to law school. A breakup with his fiancé coincided with the disappearances of several young women. Ted Bundy would later admit to killing them. He confessed to murdering 30 people between 1974 and 1978. Some investigators believe he committed as many as 100 homicides.
Bundy often transported or lured victims to isolated locations to kill them. He traveled extensively during killing sprees. A poster boy for anti-social personality disorder, he died in the electric chair.
2. Andrei Chikatilo (1936-1994)
Between 1978 and 1990, Andrei Chikatilo killed at least 52 victims in the Soviet Union. Raised in extreme poverty in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, he witnessed extensive violence during childhood.
Andrei Chikatilo worked as a teacher and later as a supply clerk. He sexually molested children then expanded his activities into murder. He killed children, as well as vagrants and young women. He sometimes consumed sex organs. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and sadism, he died by firing squad.
3. John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994)
John Wayne Gacy sustained frequent beatings as a boy from an alcoholic father. He suffered from antisocial personality disorder. Raised in Chicago, he maintained a double life as an adult: the outwardly respectable self-made contractor and divorced father who entertained hospitalized children with a clown routine picked up young men in private to sexually assault them.
His first known homicide occurred at age 30 in 1972 when he killed a teenage boy. John Wayne Gacy eventually took 33 innocent lives. He hid many bodies beneath his residence.
Police discovered his crimes after he murdered a teen who had contacted him about a summer job. A court sentenced him to 12 death sentences and 21 life sentences. He died by lethal injection in 1994.
4. Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994)
A troubled young man from a middle class household in West Allis, Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer committed many horrific murders. At first glance, he seemed an unlikely criminal. He grew up in a quiet Milwaukee suburb and graduated from a local high school. When the extent of his crimes came to light in 1991, the public reacted in shock and disbelief.
As a youngster, shy, reserved Jeffrey Dahmer displayed a fascination with dissecting animals. He developed an alcohol abuse problem as a teen. When his parents separated, 18-year old Jeffrey moved into his own apartment. Soon afterwards he began committing murders.
Jeffrey Dahmer kidnapped, molested and murdered 17 boys and young men between 1978 and 1991. He dismembered the bodies and ate some of his victims. The authorities discovered extensive human remains in his refrigerator.
Mental health experts concluded he displayed borderline personality disorder and "sadistic" traits. After his conviction in 1992, he began serving a sentence of life imprisonment "plus 70 years". He died two years later from wounds received during an altercation with another inmate.
5. Wang Qiang (1975-2005)
Born in Liaoning, China, Wang Qiang committed at least 45 murders. His alcoholic, abusive father mistreated him as a child. Wang Qiang reportedly began killing young girls in 1995 after his father denied him an opportunity to further his education.
Chinese authorities eventually convicted and executed him. At the time, he had been found to have raped at least 10 victims, some of them after death. He clearly showed necrophiliac tendencies.
Although they cause a disproportionate amount of pain and misery in the world, fortunately statistically only very,very few people afflicted with widespread mental disorders such as personality disorder or schizophrenia ever become killers, let alone repeat killers that become infamous for their atrocities. Medical experts and law enforcement specialists have established that fact. Remember not to rush to judgement when you hear of someone who is mentally afflicted. Read more about serial killers on the True Crime Blog so you may better understand, with nuance, the things that lead an otherwise normal person to repeatedly kill.