Final Essay: Social Construction of a Serial Killer By: Kristin D. Cole Professor A. Major Deviance and Violence The social construction of a serial killer can consist of many different behaviors, thoughts, and actions that play out over time. A serial killer in my opinion is one who acts out on his or her impulses. Impulses that are usually made up of fantasies that the individual cannot separate from reality. Most serial killers come from abusive homes and experience traumatic events throughout their lives.
I believe that due to these events and abuse serial killers can detach their self emotionally from not only their victims but from what society deems normal. “A large number of serial killings are motivated by sexual urges, and with female serial killers, a large number of the killings are motivated by financial gain” (Hickey 1997, p. 27). There are many different theories and thoughts they may help to explain serial killers and there murders more in depth. For instance the social structure theory, a theory that focuses on individual’s socioeconomic standing.
This theory explains that poor people commit crimes to try to further their financial gain along with their economic standing. I think that this theory explains a lot of criminal acts that occur. I do not think that this theory pertains to every serial killer since it has been shown that most serial killers are not motivated by financial gain. I do however think that it explains quite a bit about our female serial killers. Since a large majority of female serial killers are motivated by financial gain this theory falls right in place.
One female serial killer that comes to mind is the “Black Widow” or Lydia True blood. Lydia was from Pocatello, Idaho and at the age of nineteen met and married land owner Robert C. Dooley. The couple shortly after being married welcomed a baby girl named Lorraine. Everything seemed well until the death of baby Lorraine, soon after her death Lydia’s brother in law who was living with them died as well. Then in October 1915 Robert suddenly died as well from what was believed to be Typhoid. Two years after the death of her baby girl, brother-in-law, and husband Lydia married again.
Within a year and a half her then husband William McHaffle died from what was thought to be complications of influenza. Being the quick mover that she is, Lydia at the age of 25, married again. Harlan C. Lewis, husband number three died four months into the marriage from what was suspected to be complications of gastro-enteritis. Next, would come Edward C. Meyer a ranch foreman from Pocatello, Idaho. Unfortunately, for him he would only survive with her for one month. Thankfully after four dead husbands someone finally took notice and tested the body where they found traces of arsenic.
After they discovered that Edward was poisoned the rest of the bodies were exhumed and tested as well. All came back with the same answer, poison, even the body of her dead baby girl. Authorities went to arrest Lydia but she was long gone, living in Hawaii with her fifth husband Paul Vincent. Lydia was taken into custody and found guilty of all of the murders. She was sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. All of her killings seemed to be motivated by financial gain. Lydia took out life insurance policies on each and every one of her victims. With each husband her social status increased and so did her finances.
This was a case where a girl that came from nothing used murder as a tool to get where she wanted to be. Even though the social structure theory does not cover all serial killers there are the exceptions. (Hickey) Another theory that is looked upon to explain serial killers is the social class theory. The social class theory is the thought that most serial killers fall into two classes the upper working class and the lower working class. Leyton, the author of “Hunting Humans,” then states “that the killer starts to feel excluded from the class that he or she so desperately wants to join”. p. 23) Leyton also points out that “the killer’s perceived social status becomes a catalyst for murder”. The killers that fall into this theory want to feel power and control. This is why in most serial murders the victim is a female and the killer a male. Male serial killers will victimize women because they appear more powerless then other males. (Caputi 1989) I am sure that there are sexual motivations behind male serial killers choosing women as victims to. The social class theory is a theory that I feel describes most serial killers.
Even if the cause is not being cast out or excluded from a group, the result is still the same. With most serial killers not all, they seem to prey on the weak. This is why a large amount of victims of serial killings are children, females, even homosexual men. The killer would not receive the same gratification from the killing if he did not feel empowered. I believe with victims such as these they probably begged for their lives or gave in to the killers demands quite quickly. This would give the killer the motivation, gratification, and fulfillment that he or she was searching for.
The social process theory is another theory that states that criminal behavior is a function of the socialization process. The theory states that anyone regardless of race or socioeconomic status can partake in criminal activity. This theory explains aggressive criminal behavior through one’s past or childhood. Albert Bandura’s book “Aggression” (1973) provides a lot of information that covers the social process theory. In earlier studies done by Bandura he noticed that boys that were especially aggressive had feelings of rejection from their fathers.
What I gather from this theory is that children who experience violence and abuse within their home are more likely to grow u and act in the capacity. I strongly believe that children are a product of their environment. Even though I know of no father/son team serial killers, the fact that issues have always been handled in one’s life through violence it only makes sense that they would continue that trend into adulthood. The neutralization theory is one the Matza and Sykes (1957) view as the process of delinquent youths becoming criminals as a matter of neutralizing heir personal values and attitudes as they drift between conventional behavior and illegitimate behavior. This theory states that illegal behavior or killing is almost a learned behavior that a killer can drift in and out of. Under this theory a serial killer will justify his killings as though he did a favor to society. An example would be a serial killer who only kills prostitutes. The killer would look at the prostitutes as a drain on society and criminals who spread disease and have no respect for their selves.
This is how the killer would justify his actions and he or she would truly believe that no harm had been done. Dehumanization is another process that serial killers use and falls within this theory. Dehumanization is the process of ridding another of the benefit of his humanity. The process in my understanding is the ability for one to separate a human from life. For instance Henry Lucas who admitted to multiple murders never wanted to know his victims names. If he was told the victim’s name by the victim he would quickly try to forget it. By the victim having a name he could not separate her life from her.
It is almost like by her giving her name she had an identity and he would then not be able to commit the murder. This process seems to be a little deeper than the rest to me and has to take a very different mindset to understand. The social control theory is one that I truly agree with. The social control theory states that the fear of punishment is not enough to deter a criminal from committing crimes or for a murderer to not commit murders. Briar and Piliavin (1965) believe that the only true deterrents for any criminal act are society, family, and education.
I think that religion might act as a deterrent as well, but that’s me. Reckless (1967) has argued that “youth can become isolated or insulated from criminal influences through what he terms “containments,” including a positive self-image; ego strength; high frustration tolerance; goal orientation; a sense of belongingness; consistent moral front; reinforcement of norms, goals, and values; effective supervision; discipline; and a meaningful social role”. Hirschi in 1969 added four different elements to the social control theory. The four elements are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.
People who have attachments to different organizations such as school or church are less likely to partake in criminal activity. People who have commitments such as marriage or careers are also less likely to partake in criminal activity. The same runs true with involvement and belief. If someone was involved in different positive activities the less likely they would be to commit a crime. Like I said before religion or belief I would think would be enough to make a person think twice before committing a criminal act or better yet never think about it at all.
The labeling theory, the last of many theories that, we have gone over. The labeling theory is the theory that once someone has been in a prison or mental institution they will always carry that label with them. Before they could come out and start over there would be many hurdles that they would have to overcome due to a prior mistake. Lemert (1951) and Schur (1972) viewed negative labels such as “ex-convict and mental patient” and noted that these labels could be psychological damning. Since these labels can be so hard for many to overcome they will just revert back to their olds criminal ways.
Many of them mad at society and feeling unaccepted will look for ways to even the score. Sometimes unfortunately this will lead to murder or worse serial murder. All of these theories that we have explored can relate to one or more serial killers. Hirschi who seems to be coming up with new information and insights into the mind of serial killer just might provide new and innovative information. For right now no matter what serial killer falls under what theory I believe the only way to truly understand the mind of serial killer is to be one.
Unfortunately for the many theorists that have study this subject that is an option that is just not available. On the other hand it seems to me that each one of these theories has opened a new door inside the life and mind of a serial killer. I think there will be many more advancements to come and hopefully one day we will truly understand and know what to look for before it occurs.
References: 1) Eric W. Hickey (2009) Serial Murderers and Their Victims Published By: Cengage Learning
2) P. Jenkins (1994) Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide Published By: New York: Aldine de Gruyter
3) Hickey, Eric (1997) Serial Murderers and Their Victims, 2nd edition. Belmont, CA: Published By: Wadsworth Read more: Serial Killers – world, body, life, history, rate, time, person, Characteristics of Serial Murder, Characteristics of the Serial Killer http://www. deathreference. com/Py-Se/Serial-Killers. html#ixzz0d8Thiofd
4) Levin, Jack, and James A. Fox. “Serial Murder. ” In Deadlines: Essays in Murder and Mayhem. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001. 1)