Mental Disorders – Exploring the Dark Minds of Serial Killers

Exploring the Dark Minds of Serial Killers

The term “serial killer” evokes fear deep into the hearts of most people. A serial killer refers to a perpetrator who has committed premeditated murder of three or more people over an extended period with cooling off time periods between the killings (Rosewood, 2017). It goes without saying that there is something seriously wrong with an individual who can repeatedly commit horrific acts of violence. Over the many years of profiling serial killers, experts and researchers have identified key traits that many have in common. This inquiry seeks to investigate six renowned serial killers worldwide to identify what they have in common that can explain why they committed such monstrous and unthinkable deeds against the human race. The investigation will focus on Ted Bundy, Andrei Chikatilo, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffery Dahmer, Wang Qiang, and Jack the Ripper. Expert profiling and research have shown that these six individuals suffered mental illnesses ranging from sadism to psychopathy with some exhibiting multiple disorders. Thus, a common force behind the horrific violent actions of most serial killers is mental health disorders.

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Ted Robert Bundy

   Ted Bundy was an American serial killer who used to kidnap, rape, and murder young women and girls during the 1970s. Bundy confessed to more than 30 murders committed between 1974 and 1978 in seven states. Bundy was proficient in carrying out a double life in that he was in a long-term relationship, attended college (where he studies law but later dropped out), built a political career, and had no criminal record, all while carrying out the horrific crimes. While there are no reports of Bundy ever seeing a professional therapist, he received a psychiatrist evaluation while on trial to determine his aptitude for violence and mental health in general. The evaluation diagnosed Bundy as a psychopath (Sastry, 2020). Psychopathy is a personality trait categorized under antisocial personality disorder. According to Sharma (2018), people with antisocial personality disorder exhibit a long-term pattern of violating other people’s rights without any remorse. Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and without remorse plow their way through life. They completely lack conscience and empathy for others.

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            Additionally, research focusing on Bundy concluded that he had the following traits: One, antagonistic whereby he was manipulative, deceptive, callous, and exploitative. Two, Bundy exhibited extraversion in that he was engaging and assertive. Three, he demonstrated conscientiousness whereby he was thoughtful, competent, diligent, and organized. Lastly, he displayed low neuroticism expressed through his charming and fearless personality. Given these traits, the researchers concluded that Bundy was a perfect example of a person with antisocial personality disorder as he checked off all the disorder’s criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (Sastry, 2020). The five symptoms of antisocial personality disorder include egocentrism, lacking empathy and remorse, acting on personal gratification, inability to maintain mutually intimate relationships, antagonism, and disinhibition (Sharma, 2018).

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Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo

            Chikatilo also known as the Butcher of Rostov and the Rostov Ripper was a Soviet serial killer who sexually assaulted, mutilated, and murdered more than fifty women and children between 1978 and 1990. He is regarded as Russia’s most prolific serial killer. Chikatilo was a university graduate, a married father of two, an ex-soldier, and worked as a delivery clerk. Experts and researchers who have investigated Chikatilo’s reasoning have identified that in his childhood years he continually experienced traumatizing events. Also having served as a soldier for three years during World War II, Chikatilo also experienced traumatizing events. The prolonged period of trauma negatively affected him in his later years (Willmott, Boduszek, & Robinson, 2018).

            As a young boy, Chikatilo often received traumatic beatings from his mother. Also when he was five years, Chikatilo’s mother told him that his older brother was eaten by neighbors. Moreover, as a child, Chikatilo went through tough times having been brought up by a single mother in an impoverished household. These events and conditions combined with his involvement in World War II had a significant mental trauma on Chikatilo. He demonstrated an erratic mental status. In his trial, he mostly seemed intelligent and thoughtful. However, at other times he exhibited erratic behavior that suggested he was mentally unstable. For instance, there was a time when he took off his pants and other times yelled randomly (Willmott, Boduszek, & Robinson, 2018).

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A rich body of literature informed by empirical research has supported that mental trauma can have long-lasting impacts on individuals. According to Henrriques and Lynn (2020), more than 70 percent of convicted serial killers suffered psychological trauma as children. Given Chikatilo’s erratic emotions, experts and researchers diagnose him with borderline personality disorder. Traits associated with the disorder include emotional instability, insecurity, feelings of worthlessness, impaired social relationships, and impulsivity (Andersen, 2019). Chikatilo’s insecurities and feelings of worthlessness from his dysfunctional environment as a child and dysfunctional sexual life. According to Willmott, Boduszek, and Robinson (2018), Chikatilo could not achieve an erection and only achieved sexual pleasure through violence. The feeling of overpowering a person gave him sexual pleasure.

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John Wayne Gacy Jr.

            Gacy, also known as the Killer Clown, was an American serial killer who sexually assaulted and murdered more than 30 young men and teenage boys. Gacy committed the crimes between 1972 and 1978. Career-wise, Gacy was a building contractor with his own construction company.  Additionally, Gacy also entertained hospitalized children whereby he performed at charitable events and fundraisers as well as children’s hospitals as the “Pogo the Clown” and “Patches the Clown.” He was also significantly active in his community as a Democratic Party precinct captain whereby he had close ties with political figures and community leaders in Chicago (Rosewood, 2017).

            Gacy demonstrated the ability to manipulate his victims. He was so effective in charming and manipulating people that parents would enthusiastically allow him to interact with their children. His charming manipulating nature, heinous crimes, combined with his lack of remorse are indicative of antisocial personality disorder (Amirante & Broderick, 2015). According to Amirante and Broderick, Gacy exhibited traits that align with antisocial personality disorder through his ability to lure his victims and gain their trust, subsequently binding, raping, and killing them. His lack of remorse is evident when he recounted the murders during his trial. He recounted the sexual assaults and murders with no emotional sentiment but rather in a laundry list fashion. Gacy’s manipulative nature, personal gratification, lack of remorse, and blatant disregard for human life hint at his antisocial personality disorder (Henrriques & Lynn, 2020).

Gacy also exhibited emotional instability, grandiosity, and inflated ego. His emotional instability is visible in his marriages with none lasting more than five years. On the other hand, his grandiosity is evident in his ability to camouflage as an upstanding member of the society through participating in charitable and fundraising events and his position as a Democratic Party precinct captain. His inflated ego is evident in his desire to hold positions of authority (Amirante & Broderick, 2015). These behaviors are indicative of borderline personality disorder. According to Henrriques and Lynn (2020), symptoms of borderline personality disorder include grandiosity, distorted self-image, and emotional instability. Individuals with borderline personality disorder have an unstable pattern of interacting with others, are emotionally unstable, and exhibit high impulsivity such as substance abuse and sex (Allely et al., 2014).

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Jeffery Lionel Dahmer

            Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Monster or the Milwaukee Cannibal was an American serial killer who sexually assaulted, murdered, and dismembered more than 15 boys and men between 1978 and 1991. Since he was 14 years old, Dahmer fantasized about killing men and having sex with their corpses. However, he did not begin killing until after graduating high school. Notably, he went to college but later dropped out and began drinking whereby he had a considerable drinking problem. He frequented gay bars where he would lure his victims by offering to take their pictures. He would then drug them, kill them, and masturbate or have sex with their corpses. Subsequent to feeding into his sexual irresistible impulse, he would take pictures of his victims and later disembody them. Notably, he kept most of their parts (Rosewood, 2017).

            Forensic psychiatrists who have investigated Dahmer’s case diagnose him with borderline personality disorder. According to Lachmann and Lachmann (2013), the disorder made Dahmer vulnerable to explosive rage when he feared he was being abandoned. It also led to his high sex impulsivity which took the form of bizarre sexual deviation that build up to necrophilia. Notably, necrophilia refers to a fascination with dead bodies, often taking the form of a desire to engage sexually with corpses (Miller, 2014). Dahmer also qualifies as a sadist which refers to individuals that find pleasure in the suffering of others. The combination of sadism and necrophilia resulted in Dahmer finding sexual pleasure in the suffering of his victims. However, with necrophilia, the perpetrator’s sexual thrill ends when the victim dies. In the case of Dahmer, he went ahead to masturbate when the victim was dead or have sex with the corpse. Psychoanalysts explain that the reason Dahmer behaved like this and even kept some parts of the disembodied victims is the intense fear of abandonment and high intolerance of being alone; thus, the actions exhibit a frantic effort of the perpetrator to avoid abandonment (Lachmann & Lachmann, 2013). According to Lachmann and Lachmann, this is found in individuals with borderline personality disorder. Dahmer was quoted saying that he would have preferred his victims alive but they were better dead since that ensured they would never leave him (Andersen, 2019).

            Experts also point out that Dahmer also harbored psychopathy. His cruelty, unpredictable wildness, and lack of remorse fit the profile of an individual with antisocial personality disorder. Dahmer also exhibited the need for high-risk situations. According to his former classmates, he used to fake epileptic seizures, sneak into yearbook pictures of the honor society, and drink openly at school (Lachmann & Lachmann, 2013). This unpredictable wildness and fascination with high-risk situations are indicative of antisocial personality disorder. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder tend to break laws, lie, act impulsively, and lack regard for own and others’ safety (Durrant, 2018). Thus, the criminal acts of Dahmer also signify his biological fearlessness and need to seek thrills.

Wang Qiang

            Qiang, also known as the Super Killer, is regarded as one of the most notorious serial killers in Chinese history. He was a Chinese serial killer-rapist and necrophile who killed more than 45 and raped 10 victims between 1995 and 2003 (Rosewood, 2017). Qiang used to beat up, rob, and rape his victims. He also killed others and had sex with their corpses. A review of his background shows that his father was physically and psychologically abusive to Qiang and was addicted to alcohol and gambling. He even denied Qiang the opportunity to enter school. When his father won in the gambling he would celebrate by binge drinking but if he lost he would go back home and physically and psychologically abuse Qiang and his mother. After his father and mother separated, Qiang was raised by his mother who later abandoned him and had to fend for himself since the age of 15.  In 2000, Qiang got married and resolved to never kill people again. However, in 2003 his wife filed for divorce and Qiang relapsed to his old ways. It is in this year that he became careless and raped and killed dozens of people before being caught by the authorities (Ni, 2018).

            Notably, the present research’s efforts to find research or expert analysis of Qiang’s mental health came out fruitless. However, Qiang’s behavior is consistent with individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder. As mentioned earlier in this paper, common symptoms of borderline personality disorder include emotional instability, insecurity, feelings of worthlessness, impaired social relationships, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviors, lack of restraint, and irritability (Sarkar, 2019). Qiang’s insecurity and feelings of worthlessness come from abuse and neglect by his father and later abandonment by both parents. It is the heightened fear of abandonment that pushed him to rampant robbery and raping when his wife filed for a divorce. One can also argue that his emotional instability results from the psychological abuse he suffered as a child. The self-destruction, irritability, hostility, and lack of restraint exhibited themselves in the crimes that he committed. After robbing his victims, he could not restrain himself from raping and killing them – sometimes even having sex with their corpses.

Jack the Ripper

            Jack the Ripper, also known as the Whitechapel Butcher, was a British serial killer who terrorized the impoverished areas of the city, specifically the Whitechapel district in 1888 from 7th August to 10th September. Notably, Jack the Ripper was never caught nor identified and t is believed that he never committed more crimes after 1888. He killed at least five women and mutilated their bodies in a way that convinced experts that he had substantial knowledge of human anatomy (Begg, 2013). Forensic experts have categorized Jack the Ripper as a disorganized killer. In disorganized crimes, the perpetrator does not plan the criminal activity and does not attempt to conceal evidence after committing the crime (Šalković, 2020). According to Šalković, disorganized criminals such as Jack the Ripper suffer mental illnesses, often paranoid schizophrenia. A possible explanation as to why he only engaged in serial killing for only a month is his condition aggravated to the point he became suicidal. Paranoid schizophrenia is highly associated with suicide.

            Paranoid schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by delusions and hallucinations. The symptoms blur the line between what is real and what is not, rendering it difficult for an individual to lead a normal life (Sharma, 2018). Notably, Jack the Ripper extensively hacked and mutilated his victims’ bodies. However, it is worth noting that for an individual suffering paranoid schizophrenia to gruesomely kill their victims, they must have another underlying mental health issue. Jack the Ripper’s crimes exhibited heightened violence and destructive tendencies. These characteristics are indicative of psychopathy. Psychopathy coupled with paranoid schizophrenia can cause an individual to become aggressive and violent in an effort to protect falsely held beliefs or perceptual distortions (Šalković, 2020). Šalković elucidates that psychopaths can be alarmingly violent and can engage in violence to gratuitous extents. 


            To sum up, this inquiry shows that serial killers exhibit characteristics associated with mental disorders. The mental disorders associated with serial killing as identified from the six serial killers analyzed in this investigation include sadism, paranoid schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and psychopathy. However, it is worth noting that it is not all persons who suffer from these mental illnesses are serial killers. In fact, only less than one percent engage in serial killing. Therefore, there is a need for further research on the topic to identify what pushes the small percentage to engage in serial killing and other criminal activities. The area is under-researched and, as such, requires more research focused on explaining the phenomenon and finding preventative remedies to the issue.

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