Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Vice Pioneers" : Serial Killers

Elizabeth Báthory: killer of virgins and possibly most prolific serial killer of all time

Gilles de Rais: abduction, rape, and murder of hundreds of young boys

Burke and Hare: first media darling serial killers

There is nothing more representative of a love/hate relationship than America's fascination with serial killers. What they represent disgusts the average person to the core, but the allure of what they do, how they do it, and how they think when they are doing it is something few people can not marvel at. We give them tantilizing names, follow their prison experiences after being caught, make television shows like Criminal Minds and Dexter hits. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy are more well known than most actors and musicians. But let's look at some of the serial killers from way back--the ones who claimed hundreds of victims before they had a name for their sickness.

From Wikipedia: A serial killer is typically defined as a person who murders three or more people over a period of more than 30 days, with a "cooling off" period between each murder, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification. Other sources define the term as "a series of 2 or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone" or, including the vital characteristics, a minimum of at least two murders. Often, a sexual element is involved with the killings, but the FBI states that motives for serial murder include "anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking." The murders may have been attempted or completed in a similar fashion and the victims may have had something in common; for example, occupation, race, appearance, sex, or age group.

Serial killers are not the same as mass murderers, who commit multiple murders at one time; nor are they spree killers, who commit murders in two or more locations with virtually no break in between. Coinage of the English term serial killer is commonly attributed to former FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler in the 1970s. The concept had been described earlier, e.g. by German police inspector Ernst Gennat coining the same term in 1930. Author Ann Rule postulates in her 2004 book Kiss Me, Kill Me that the English-language credit for coining the term "serial killer" goes to LAPD detective Pierce Brooks, mastermind of the ViCAP system.

In History
Historical criminologists have suggested that there may have been serial murders throughout history, but specific cases were not adequately recorded. Some sources suggest that legends such as werewolves and vampires were inspired by medieval serial killers.

Liu Pengli of China, cousin of the Han Emperor Jing, was made king of Jidong in the sixth year of the middle period of Jing's reign (144 BC). According to the Chinese historian Sima Qian, he would "go out on marauding expeditions with 20 or 30 slaves or young men who were in hiding from the law, murdering people and seizing their belongings for sheer sport". Although many of his subjects knew about these murders, it was not until the 29th year of his reign that the son of one of his victims finally sent a report to the Emperor. Eventually, it was discovered that he had murdered at least 100 people. The officials of the court requested that Liu Pengli be executed; however, the emperor could not bear to have his own cousin killed, so Liu Pengli was made a commoner and banished.

In the 15th century, one of the wealthiest men in Europe, Gilles de Rais, sexually assaulted and killed peasant children, mainly boys, whom he had abducted from the surrounding villages and taken to his castle. It is estimated that his victims numbered between 140 and 800. The Hungarian aristocrat Elizabeth Báthory allegedly tortured and killed as many as 650 girls and young women before her arrest in 1610.

Thug Behram, a gang leader of the Indian Thuggee cult of assassins, has frequently been said to be the world's most prolific serial killer. According to numerous sources, he was believed to have murdered 931 victims by means of strangulation with a ceremonial cloth between 1790 and 1830. Recent scholarship has cast doubt on the Thuggee cult and suggested that the British in India were confused by the vernacular use of the term by Indians, and may also have used fear of such a cult to justify their colonial rule.

The first serial killers to get media attention were Burke and Hare. They killed 16 victims in Edinburgh, Scotland between 1827 and 1828 and sold their cadavers to an anatomy lecturer.

In his 1886 book Psychopathia Sexualis, psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing noted a case of a serial murderer in the 1870s, a Frenchman named Eusebius Pieydagnelle who had a sexual obsession with blood and confessed to murdering six people.

The unidentified killer Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes (the exact number of victims is not known) in London in 1888. Those crimes gained enormous press attention because London was the world's greatest center of power at the time, so having such dramatic murders of financially destitute women in the midst of such wealth focused the news media's attention on the plight of the urban poor and gained coverage worldwide. He has also been called the most famous serial killer of all time.

American serial killer H. H. Holmes was hanged in Philadelphia in 1896 after confessing to 27 murders. Joseph Vacher was executed in France in 1898 after confessing to killing and mutilating 11 women and children.

Female serial killers
Female serial killers are rare. They tend to murder men for material gain, are usually emotionally close to their victims, and generally need to have a relationship with a person before killing them. "An analysis of 86 female serial killers from the U.S. found that the victims tended to be spouses, children or the elderly." The methods they use for murder are covert or low-profile, such as murder by poison (the preferred choice for killing). They commit killings in specific places, such as their home or a health-care facility, or at different locations within the same city or state. Other methods used by female serial killers include shootings (used by 20%), suffocation (16%), stabbing (11%), and drowning (5%). Though most female serial killers murder for money or other such material gain (74% of them), others do it for attention. While many female serial killers have been diagnosed with Münchausen syndrome, little research has been conducted focusing on the societal influences—particularly gender roles and expectations of women—which contribute to these women committing multiple murders. Each killer will have her own proclivities, needs and triggers, as specific reasons can only be obtained from the killer herself. "In a review of published literature on female serial murder, sexual or sadistic motives are believed to be extremely rare in female serial murderers, and psychopathic traits and histories of childhood abuse have been consistently reported in these women." On some occasions, women may be involved with a male serial killer as a part of a serial killing "team".

Kelleher and Kelleher (1998) created several categories to describe female serial killers. They used the classifications of black widow, angel of death, sexual predator, revenge, profit or crime, team killer, question of sanity, unexplained and unsolved. In using these categories, they found that most women fell into the categories of black widow and team killer. In describing murderer Stacey Castor, forensic psychiatrist Dr. James Knoll offered a psychological perspective on what defines a "black widow" type. In simple terms, he described it as a woman who kills two or more husbands or lovers for material gain. Though Castor was not officially defined as a serial killer, it is likely that she would have killed again.

A notable exception to the typical characteristics of female serial killers is Aileen Wuornos, who killed outdoors instead of at home, used a gun instead of poison, killed strangers instead of friends or family, and killed for personal gratification. The most prolific serial killer in all of history is allegedly Elizabeth Báthory. Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian, 17 August 1560 – 21 August 1614) was a countess from the renowned Báthory family. After her husband's death, she and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women, with one witness attributing to them over 600 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted. In 1610, however, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later."

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful article for the class I am taking in college. The thing that would take it over the top, believe it or not, is the name of the person(s) who wrote the article. I'm not sure how to cite this in a paper I need to write for the class.