What makes a child turn into a cold-hearted serial killer?
A serial killer is generally defined as a person who murders three or more people to gain psychological gratification. The murders usually take place over a month or more and there is a “cooling off” period in-between each killing. About 76% of all known serial killers in the 20th century originated from the United States and it’s estimated that at any time there are between 25 and 50 active serial killers spread out over the USA. Scary stuff.
Although there has been a lot of research into serial killers we still don’t know if they are born to be that way or if their environment influences their development into murderers. Some come from privileged backgrounds while others grew up impoverished and abused. Some have high IQs while others border on mental retardation.
But most experts agree that sociopathic behaviour usually manifests in childhood with animal abuse, bed wetting, and fire setting. This is known as the Macdonald triad which is generally considered to be a predictor of future violent behaviour. Today we’re looking at a few serial killers and examining their disturbing childhood behaviour. In all these cases these acts should have been a sign that they would become deathly dangerous adults.
15. Aileen Wuornos Was Selling Herself By Age 11
Aileen Wuornos never met her father. At the time of her birth, he had already been diagnosed with schizophrenia and jailed for sex crimes against children. He later hung himself in prison. When she was four years old her mother abandoned her and her siblings, leaving them with their grandparents. Wuornos claimed that her grandfather sexually abused her and by 11 she was having sex in exchange for cigarettes, drugs, and food. At 15 she ran away from home and supported herself with prostitution.
Aileen went on to rob and kill seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She claimed that all the victims had either raped or attempted to rape her and she had shot them in self-defense. She was found guilty on six charges of 1st-degree murder and put to death by lethal injection in 2002.
14. Jeffrey Dahmer Dismembered His Own Puppy
This one shouldn’t really come as a surprise. We are talking about the same man who raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered and cannibalized seventeen male victims.
One of the strongest warning signs of sociopathy in children is those who kill or torture small animals without showing remorse. Serial killers usually kill in an attempt to control and, as children, cats, birds, and dogs are among their first victims.
As a child, Jeffrey lived near to the woods and would often explore alone. At first, he would merely collect and dissect dead animals but he soon graduated to killing the creatures himself. He once even killed and dismembered his own puppy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he cut off the dog’s head and mounted it on a stake outside his family home.
13. Son Of Sam Had Early Onset Pyromania
David Richard Berkowitz (AKA The Son of Sam Killer) had a rocky start in life. His mother was unmarried at the time of his birth and chose to give him up for adoption. His adoptive parents reported that David lost interest in learning very early in life and instead became obsessed with petty larceny and fire. Relatives say they remember him as being difficult to manage, spoilt, and a neighborhood bully.
David went on to gain worldwide notoriety for a string of shootings in the summer of 1976 that left six people dead and another seven seriously wounded. After his arrest, he confessed to the murders saying that he had killed on instructions from a demonic dog. He was also implicated in a series of unsolved arsons in New York City. According to some sources, he may have been involved in more than 1400 fires.
12. Ed Kemper Murdered His Grandparents At 15
Many serial killers, especially organized ones who kill methodically, have higher than average IQs. Ted Bundy, for example, scored an average of 113 which placed him in the “bright normal” range. An average IQ is typically between 90 and 110.
As a child Edmund Kemper (AKA The Co-ed Killer) displayed alarming antisocial and psychopathic behavior such as cruelty to animals. When he was just 10 years old he buried a cat alive and once the animal had died he dug it up and decapitated it. At the age of 15, he murdered his grandparents by shooting them with a rifle following an argument.
He was sent to a medical juvenile detention facility for this crime but Kemper had an IQ of around 136 which he used to manipulate the doctors into believing he was reformed. He was released after five years and then went on to kill a further eight people, including his own mother. He continues to serve his eight life sentences today.
11. Ted Bundy Was A Peeping-Tom
Ted Bundy was an American serial killer, rapist, and necrophile, who was sent to the electric chair in 1989. He’s suspected of killing upwards of 30 people during the 1970s.
Ted never knew who his father was and had a turbulent childhood living with his abusive, bigoted grandfather and chronically depressed grandmother. His relatives reported that his strange behavior began at a young age. One of them recalled waking up from a nap and finding herself surrounded by knives, while a three-year-old Ted stood next to her, smiling.
As a teenager, he said that he would roam the streets at night digging through trash cans for women’s magazines. As he grew older he graduated to peeping into windows hoping to see a woman undressing.
10. Ottis Toole Attended Satanic Rituals – With His Grandmother!
Ottis Toole confessed to so many murders that it’s difficult to determine what was fact and what was fiction. But when you hear about his upbringing it’s little wonder that he turned out so twisted.
Toole’s father was an alcoholic who abandoned his family when Ottis was very young. Ottis claimed that his mother was abusive and would dress him in girls’ clothing and call him Susan. He also claimed that he was sexually abused by various family members and neighbors from the time he was five years old. According to him, his grandmother was a Satanist who would take him along to rituals that included mutilation and grave-robbing. He frequently ran away from home and also said that he was sexually aroused by the sight of fire.
9. James Fairweather – The Killer Teen
James Fairweather falls just short of being a serial killer as he killed only two victims however he was well on his way to becoming an ice-cold serial killer. He is one of the most disturbed killers in recent history given his young age at the time of his gruesome crimes.
In March 2014 when James was just 15 years old he killed his first victim – a stranger – brutally stabbing him repeatedly in a public park and leaving him to die. Three months later he went looking for another victim and crossed paths with a 31-year-old female student. He attacked her brazenly in the open as well, stabbing her in the abdomen and then forcing the knife into her eyes. According to James, he did this so that she would “see no evil”. When he was apprehended in 2015 he was actively planning his next murder.
8. John Gacy Was Stealing By Age 6
John Wayne Gacy AKA The Killer Clown sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. He spent 12 years on Death Row before being executed in May 1994.
John’s troubles started at a young age. His father was an alcoholic who regularly beat his wife and children and belittled John mercilessly. When he was six years old he committed his first crime – he stole a toy truck from a local shop. His mother made him return the toy and his father beat him with a belt. A year later his father heard that John and another young boy had sexually fondled a young girl and whipped him with a razor strop. His attempts to discipline his son would prove pointless as John went on to become one of the most infamous serial killers of the 20th century.
7. The BTK Killer Admitted To Torturing Animals As A Child
Dennis Raider was an American serial killer who was active between 1974 and 1991 and is known to have killed at least 10 people. He would bind his victims before torturing and killing them hence the name the BTK Killer (Bind, Torture, Kill). He was finally apprehended in 2005 and is serving 10 consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Like many other serial killers on this list Raider admits that as a very young child he gained immense satisfaction from torturing small animals. He also became obsessed with women’s underwear at a young age and would steal it whenever he got the chance. This fetish followed him into adulthood and he would take the underwear of his female victims and wear it himself.
6. The Hillside Strangler Was A Compulsive Liar From The Time He Could Speak
Kenneth Alessio Bianchi and his cousin Angelo Buono committed the Hillside Strangler murders in the 1970s. He was apprehended in 1979 and is currently incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence. He was denied parole in 2010 but will be eligible to apply for release again in 2025.
Bianchi was the son of a prostitute who gave him up for adoption. His adoptive mother stated that Kenneth was a compulsive liar from the time that he first began to speak and that as a child he was prone to fits of rage eventually necessitating psychiatric intervention. At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with having passive-aggressive personality disorder. He was a teenager when his adoptive father died and he refused to show any signs of grief following his death. Surely a sign that something was very wrong with this young man.
5. Ian Brady Was A Teen Burglar
Ian and Myra Hindley committed truly atrocious murders and almost all of their victims were children. Between 1963 and 1965 they tortured, raped and killed no less than five children and buried them in Pennine Moors hence the name The Moors Murders. Hindley died in prison at the age of 60 in 2002 but Ian (now aged 79) is still alive and incarcerated at the high-security Ashworth Hospital in England. He’s been declared criminally insane and asked that he never be released from prison.
As a teenager, Ian was already displaying disturbing behavior. Before he was 15 he had already been charged with housebreaking twice and before his 18th birthday, he had already served time in a reform school. Some authors claim that he also tortured animals as a small child although Brady strongly denies this.
4. Rosemary West Was Promiscuous With Her Body
It’s little wonder that Rosemary West grew up to become a serial killer. She grew up in a household dominated by her father, a paranoid schizophrenic, who would often beat and sexually molest her. As a teenager, Rosemary became obsessed with her maturing body and would walk around naked in front of her younger brother. On several occasions, she even entered his room late at night and masturbated him.
When she was just 15 years old she became involved with Fred West who was 28 years old at the time. Just four years later they committed their first serious crime when they kidnapped and sexually assaulted Caroline Roberts who managed to escape and report the incident to the police. The couple was fined for this crime. Over the next 15 years, she and Fred went on to kill 12 people.
3. Fred West Engaged In Bestiality As A Young Child
Fred West had a difficult upbringing. His family lived in poverty and his father was a harsh disciplinarian. He and his family lived in a rural cottage with no electricity and were expected to work in the fields surrounding their home from a very young age. He started stealing early on in life.
Fred alleged that he was introduced to sex by his mother at the tender age of 12. He claimed that she engaged in sexual acts with him and that his father sexually abused his younger sisters; cementing his believe that incest was a normal family practice. In his early teens, he committed acts of bestiality with farm animals. However, Fred’s younger brothers claimed that all of these allegations were pure fantasy on Fred’s part.
2. The Green River Killer Stabbed His First Victim When He Was 16
The Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway, killed at least 49 people, with some people believing that his number could be as high as 90; making him the most prolific American serial killer to date. Most of his victims were young female runaways or prostitutes who he would strangle and then dump the bodies in the bodies around the Green River (Washington) hence his nickname. He would often return to the bodies in order to engage in sexual acts with corpses.
As a child, he witnessed many serious fights between his mother and father. His mother was a domineering presence in his life and his father was constantly complaining about the presence of prostitutes in their neighborhood. Gary stabbed his first victim (a six-year-old boy) at the age of 16, who luckily survived the attack. His other victims would not be so lucky.
1. Charles Manson: “Aggressively Antisocial”
You didn’t think that we could do a serial killer list and not include Charles Manson, did you? Of course not! At 82 this evil man still holds the public’s attention and it will be some time before he fades from our collective memory.
So what was Charles Manson like as a child? Well, his upbringing was rocky at best. His mother was a heavy drinker who was sent to jail along with Charles’s older brother for armed robbery when he was 5 years old. She was paroled three years later but later abandoned him and he ended up in a children’s home for the reminder of youth. Here he began to rob service stations and cars. When apprehended and detained a caseworker described the young Charles as “aggressively antisocial”. If only she knew.