Many Serial Killers Among Us Are Being Overlooked

October 24, 2022

Stockton, California police arrested Wesley Brownlee in connection with six unprovoked murders of men ages 21 to 54 over the last few months. Five of the six were Latinos. Brownlee is from a broken home and has a criminal record going back decades. At 14, he and friends sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl. If found guilty of the murders, he will not be executed but live decades in California’s prison system watching television, lifting weights, and breathing, things his victims no longer do.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informs us that there are about 500 serial killers living among us at all times although most are inactive. Most of them are male and had an unusual relationship with their mother. However, a study reported in The New Yorker says it is 2,000! The tragedy is they could have been identified early if parents, teachers, and physicians recognized their problems.

Americans are always shocked, shaken, and often stunned when a serial killer is caught, followed by revelations that he captured, mutilated, raped, and killed many innocent victims. The question always follows: “Why would anyone do something so heinous?” Answers such as “he had been abused,” “he was on drugs,” or “he was insane” are forthcoming, and for sure, those are answers but only partial answers. 

Every person on earth has an evil nature, capable of doing anything under the right circumstances. 

In Romans 3, God built a case against man, proving his need for redemption. In Romans 6:23, Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And that is followed in Romans 10:13 with “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That is the answer to mankind’s major problems. 

Man’s sinful nature is the short, sure, and simple explanation - but not an excuse or exoneration - for all sins, including serial killings. The real reason for human rape, murder, incest, theft, lust, and anger is that people are evil by nature; but why do only a small percentage of people commit serial killings? There are many secondary reasons for serial killings, and we must ascertain why only a few people become serial killers when everyone is evil by nature.  And we must be able to identify serial killers early. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Death and the Human Experience, “A serial killer is someone who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with a cooling-off period between murders. The motive is usually based on psychological (often sexual) gratification, though the motives may also include anger, thrill, money, and attention seeking.” Furthermore, 40% of them will never be caught. 

Michael H. Stone, M.D., in his The Anatomy of Evil, reveals the motives of serial killers generally fall into four categories: first is the visionary who feels compelled by God or the Devil or obscure voices to murder. The second is mission-oriented, seeking to rid the world of homosexuals, prostitutes, Christians, Jews, etc. The third is the hedonistic person who derives pleasure from killing. The fourth is one seeking control over others. The categories overlap considerably. 

Is it nature or nurture that determines aggressive, deadly behavior? In other words, is “bad seed” a reality? Do some children inherit inappropriate, even criminal behavior (other than original sin) from their parents? A study that focused on a group of psychopaths who had been adopted as infants showed that their biological relatives were four to five times more likely to be psychopathic than the average person! Researchers note that it is easier for “bad seeds to blossom in bad environments.” Well, that is a given. I am convinced it is not nature or nurture but nature and nurture. This issue needs more in-depth research and goes to the heart of this issue. Whether nature or nurture, each person must be held accountable for his actions. 

Serial killers have written gory biographies in blood that demand the attention of normal, decent people. 

Dr. H. H. Holmes was America’s first serial killer in the 1890s. He confessed to killing 27 people but claimed that he could not keep from killing people any more “than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.” Like most lawbreakers, he refused to take responsibility for his own crimes. 

Dr. Harold Shipman is considered to be the most prolific serial killer in modern history. He was a British doctor who killed over 200 of his patients. He was arrogant and demanding of underlings at his hospital and never admitted any guilt, although the evidence was overwhelming. He finally hanged himself in his cell in 2004. 

A common thread that runs through almost all serial killers is during their youth, they were cruel to animals. The Cohen study (Cohen, W., Congressional Register, 142(141), Oct. 3) confirmed that 46% of convicted multiple murderers admitted to torturing animals. Another study revealed that in every school shooting between 1997 and 2001, every perpetrator was a boy who had committed one or more acts of animal cruelty! More than 90% of serial killers are male. 

A police study in Australia revealed that “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty.” Researchers consider this to be a red flag in the backgrounds of rapists and serial killers. FBI agent Robert K. Ressler declared, “These are the kids who never learned it’s wrong to poke out a puppy’s eyes.” Where were the parents of those children? Why would a normal child have to be told that it is wrong to punch out a puppy’s eyes? 

Dr. Randall Lockwood reported that researchers, as well as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, have “linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings, and to the recent rash of killings by school-age children.” 

The American Humane Association reported in a study of 57 families being treated for incidents of child abuse that 88% had also abused animals. 

According to The New York Times (Aug. 7, 1991), the FBI revealed that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and killers. 

Alan R. Felthous reported in his paper “Aggression Against Cats, Dogs, and People”: “A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a boy.” 

Harold Hovel, Ph.D. of the New York State Humane Association wrote, “Every year, 4000 kids under 18 murder others and 5000 more commit suicide. Virtually all of them were abused and began abusing animals by their teenage years.” The evidence seems to prove that all serial killers were abused as children, and practically all of them tortured animals! That sounds to me as if serial killers are made in the home by lazy, unconcerned, careless, or thoughtless parents. 

Anthropologist Margaret Mead declared, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” That’s one of the few times I agree with loopy Mead, and I disagree if she was referring to a rat. Killing a rat or similar creature is good, normal behavior; however, torture is always an ominous warning. Why would any sane parent even think of permitting a child to “get away” with cruelty? Such failure contributes to producing a serial killer. 

Animal rights extremists teach children to rescue spiders from the bathtub while I teach children to swat every spider, fly, mosquito, and roach in sight. Children must be taught to discern, to debate, and decide between right and wrong based on biblical teaching. While it is acceptable to eat an animal, it is not right to abuse any creature. 

The mass killings of 13 and wounding of 20 others at Columbine High School in Colorado by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris reveal that these boys did not wait until adulthood to kill. As teenagers, they progressed from animal abuse to killing their classmates. 

The same is true for Kip Kinkel, 15, of Oregon; Kip killed his parents and 2 classmates and wounded 22 more. Luke Woodham, 16, of Pearl, Mississippi, killed his mother and 3 classmates. Jose Hernandez, 17, killed his father, mother, 6-year-old brother, and 8-month-old brother. Jim Hardy, 17, and 2 friends beat a boy to death to see what it was like. 

All of them were known to have tortured animals. No one did anything about it. The facts strongly suggest that all serial killers tortured animals as children after being abused themselves or observing violence in the home. That fact indicates murderers among us can be identified before they kill. 

Various studies have consistently shown that mass killers are made in the home. If kids see a parent abuse a spouse, then the child may copy that behavior. In fact, statistics show that 30 percent of children who have witnessed domestic violence will act out a similar type of violence against their pets. If not recognized and treated, that aggression becomes more serious against other children and later against adults. Children who have been physically abused (not to be confused with loving, normal childhood discipline) often torture and kill animals. 

There may be explanations for animal abuse by young children that don’t indicate a budding serial killer. Small or undeveloped children (as young as four and usually boys) often want to know “how an animal works,” thereby inflicting pain. Some children don’t understand that animals experience pain, considering them like toys. Others will abuse animals out of boredom which is a reason for children to be required to do chores, do their homework, be supervised, etc. Another explanation for abuse is peer pressure for gang membership. Others will try to identify with their abuser by abusing an animal or smaller child. 

Although it is impossible to always predict if a child will grow up to be a serial killer, the three warning signs of future psychopathic behavior are animal torture, prolonged bed-wetting, and an uncontrollable urge to set fires. Criminologists call these symptoms, The Homicidal Triad. Some criminologists and psychologists believe that the combination of two or more of these three behaviors increases the risk of violent behavior in adulthood. While many children wet the bed, this behavior may be a sign of a deeper deviate condition when it continues beyond age 12. Shirley Lynn Scott revealed in What Makes Serial Killers Tickthat over 60% of serial killers were still wetting their beds as adolescents. 

There is a common theme to all of the shootings of recent years,” says Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, director of the Child Study Center at New York University. “You have a child who has symptoms of aggression toward his peers, an interest in fire, cruelty to animals, social isolation, and many warning signs that the school has ignored.” 

Serial killers are being produced by careless, clueless, and often cruel parents, and the parents, teachers, and physicians must make it a priority to recognize and mitigate the problem. 

Potential serial killers don’t have to become killers, but it will require courage, commitment, and consistency to save them and their victims.

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Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives; ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis, wrote columns for USA Today for eight years; authored 15 books, which can be purchased below, and hundreds of columns and articles for Internet and print media publications; defended his beliefs on hundreds of talk shows.

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