Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The raising of a serial killer

Yes, I'm back to my favorite topic. I was watching an episode of Notorious about David Berkowitz, and, unlike many killers, he had generally good things to say about his adoptive parents, but adds that their love "wasn't enough" to ease his violent mind. His troubles with meeting his birth mother is another, tragic story, but Berkowitz managed to have parents who cared about him. His adoptive father expressed surprise and distress at hearing the news about his son. Jeffrey Dahmer's father Lionel, who wrote a book called A Father's Story that I highly recommend, expressed his grief about his son's troubled mind, and his struggle to reconcile his rational mind with his son's irrational actions. Lionel's troubled marriage with Jeffrey's mother, which lead to constant fighting and an eventual divorce, likely caused some strife in the Dahmer house.
Nathan Berkowitz and Lionel Dahmer are the exception, not the rule, in the families of serial killers. Gary Heidnik, who kept women captive in his basement, killing two, had a father who said he "wasn't interested" in his son's trial and conviction, and when Gary was young and wet his bed, his father displayed the soiled sheets on the front lawn. The lives of serial killers are filled with stories of people who should never have been allowed to have children. As Berkowitz and Dahmer displayed, a traumatic upbringing isn't the only factor that creates a killer, but it's a common element in the lives of violent criminals. Edmund Kemper's mother ridiculed his appearance, told him no woman would ever love him, and locked him in the basement because she thought he would molest his sister. Kemper's crimes against women were seen as him lashing out against his mother, and when he killed her, he turned himself in. Ed Gein, the inspiration for Norman Bates, has a religious fanatic mother who drove away his few friends by telling him they came from less pious families, making him believe that a boy's best friend is his mother. Ted Bundy, despite appearances of an idyllic childhood, was primarily raised by his grandfather, a vicious racist and wife-beater. Charles Manson was born to a 16-year-old prostitute and was raised by his uncle, who beat him and punished him by sending him to school in a dress. Henry Lee Lucas' mother also punished him by putting him in dresses, and once hit him so hard with a two-by-four that he lost consciousness. Lucas launched his murder career by killing his mother during an argument. Albert DeSalvo, a serial rapist who was once thought to be the Boston Strangler, had an alcoholic father who beat his wife in front of Albert and his sister, and sold the two children into slavery. John Wayne Gacy's alcoholic father beat and belittled him relentlessly. But a troubled childhood isn't the only thing that went wrong with these men. Dahmer's brother and DeSalvo's sister didn't turn into criminals, although they were raised in the same environment as their infamous siblings. And as Berkowitz said, sometimes a loving family isn't enough to stop the violent thoughts. The origin of the criminal mind remains a mystery.
Although I still don't have another job, I'm in slightly better spirits these days. Bound has a new home, I know I have friends around, and finally, Prison Break is back. Monday's season premiere had me on the edge of my seat. The Company's latest evil plan had me shouting at the screen, and I'm hoping for a reluctant Michael/Mahone alliance in the shithole Panamanian prison they now inhabit. That rat bastard T-Bag has gotten in good with the gangster-like prison ringleader, in typical psychopathic fashion. I think this season is going to be a good one, with the stories set up in the premiere.

1 comment:

Jesse DeCoste said...

nice artical. using it for research into whether troubled childhoods create serial killers. got any other killers who's childhoods forged their urge to kill?