Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hollow Men: Why Serial Murderers Must Kill To Feel

The Article Page 5

Unlike mass killers, sexual killers find the act of murder itself not just its objective profoundly gratifying. Janet Warren, a frequent research collaborator with former FBI profiler Hazelwood and a faculty member at the University of Virginia's department of behavioral medicine and psychiatry, recalls one sexual sadist she studied in particular.

"His first killing turned out to be a male hitchhiker," says Warren, "with whom he was competing for rides on the freeway. He described raising a stone above his head and beginning to crash it down on the man's head. He had an incredible feeling of exhilaration.

"Then when he started killing women, he actually breathed life back into a couple of them, because they lost consciousness too quickly. He said, 'I wasn't going to let myself be robbed of the experience. I wanted to see in her eyes that she knew she was going to die, and that I was going to take her life. It is only in having that reflected back at me and I need a conscious person to do that that I can experience the power and control of being God-like.'"

Central to possession is the necessity to utterly dehumanize the victim, typified by a comment from Robert Leroy Anderson, a sexual killer now on death row in South Dakota. According to an acquaintance, Anderson once complained that his first murder victim, a female fellow employee at a meat-packing plant in Sioux Falls, proved less than ideal for his purposes because he knew her too well and could not completely objectify her. It was therefore impossible to fully incorporate her into his fantasy.

"The perpetrator cannot see the victim as a separate, whole, real, meaningful person, with her own thoughts and feelings and perceptions," says Meloy. "She must be reduced to an object with no meaning except to gratify his desires."

Warren says the thrill lies in consuming and sexually eradicating the victim-as-possession. "It is interesting that Dahmer ate people, but that was part of the same thing. For instance, decapitating a woman. Taking off a person's head is so destructive. He is saying, 'You will be nothing. You will have no individuality.'"

Such behavior, of course, is primitive, particularly necrophagia cannibalism; Hannibal Lecter isn't as sophisticated as he seems. For all his slyness, creativity and rich fantasy life all often taken as tokens of intelligence the sexual killer may be more complex than a two-year-old squeezing the puppy's feet, but he is no more highly evolved.

And because he is incomplete, this killer isn't just taking what he envies, he's trying to steal what he lacks a core. Figuratively, literally or symbolically, he keeps trying, in vain, to fill himself up.

"These men," says Warren, "have to take women as slaves, or as dinner, or as a destroyed object. They can have no ambiguity, ambivalence, confusion, vulnerability, intense anger, fear or love in their lives. All that is fundamental to human intimacy is destroyed by what they do. But I think they have to do it that way, because they can't handle any of those experiences. They have to do it that way because they are empty.

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