Sunday, December 04, 2011

Serial Killer versus Murderer: Is there a difference?

The names will almost always evoke a sense of dread or involuntary feeling of coldness when they are uttered; even those who aren't aware of the crimes behind the names will often take notice...

John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Ridgway, Dennis Rader.....

For those who might not pay that much attention to events, the above list is of some of the most prolific and persistent serial killers that human society has ever known at least in modern times. Their reigns or terror  spanned years or even decades, but while these people were free, the above people killed repeatedly.

Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold, Ted Bundy, George Hennard, Seung-Hui Cho....

The above is a partial list of murderers of note who managed to make the media grade due to either the savagery of their acts or the celebrity status of their victims. It is only too easy to lump one group in with the other without any sort of delimiter, but is there a difference between the two groups of people listed here past the sole intersection of their acts at the point of murder?

Disavowed Situations

For the purposes of this post, the following individuals/situations will have to be excluded:

- The soldier in a combat role.

- Law Enforcement personnel under fire

- World Leaders in a leadership role

- Any other equivalent situation which would create an artificial placement on a soon to be introduced scale

The above situations would allow an artificially created extraneous stimulus to affect an individual's actual and true placement on a scale. Without the role as a leader/dictator/despot or a situation of combat, in many cases the individual would behave in a different fashion. (Were it not for a set of unfortunate circumstances, Adolf Hitler might have had a career as an artist.) The purpose here is to compare people under normal circumstances with as few artificial stimuli as possible.

A Reference Chart

The white papers concerning studies of the human condition would probably fill up several warehouses (or a large Digital Storage Array), so the following chart is being used for drastic simplification purposes though it serves to properly illustrate my statement that a serial killer and a murderer are two different sorts of people.

The concept of Zones

I am sure that some who have read at least this far might be laughing, but by the time this paragraph is concluded, they may be persuaded to read further. The concept of a human bneing actually being pacifistic in nature might be laugahble to some, but there have been and there currently are people that exist in that zone. Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and many of the martyrs in the days before Christianity was accepted come to mind. There also are people that constantly exist in the red zone but more on that later. The vast majority of human beings would fall into some location of the gray area of the chart but static placement on the above contravenes the dynamic nature of a human being. Even if that is taken into account, your average human will still stay within the gray area.

The red zone is what is of most concern here. Somone existing in that zone even for a short moment in time is capable of killing another human being. I say capable because that might not always be the end result, but the capacity to do so. (The base level concept is called correlation/causation; for example, if you smoke cigarettes, you will not always get cancer, but there is a correlative/causative effect in play regarding the habit. The same sort of mindset applies here. You don't necessarily have to kill while in this zone but there is more of a chance that you will do so.) Given the right set of circumstances and stimuli, most anyone can be forced into the red zone but further delimiters of a societal nature come into play.

Sociopathy: The sole cause or only a single factor?

As we grow up in our respective societies, we are taught a base concept of morality by not only those older than us but also by our peers. Violation of thse restraints can result in being cast out or shunned. In olden times, ostracization or public humiliation was often enough to keep errant individuals in line but since that time, society has become much more complicated. Though it is an unspoken prerogative that the older and wiser will inculcate the young with the proper social tools to interact, they are not always successful. It is these inculcated constraints that serve to limit bad behavior and when they can be circumvented or ignored, bad things can happen. Whether this capacity is ensconced within an individual or learned is a hotly contested debate, but if the dissociative capacity of ignoring inculcated restraints exists, a human is capable of doing anything.  The definition of a sociopath covers a broad range of conditions, but it most often is tied to the act of murder. Someone who can kill without suffering the delimiting feelings of guilt or remorse is considered a sociopath but while a murderer may commit that act in a specific situation, the same thing doesn't apply to a serial killer.

A Murderer: A Spike into the Red Zone

When a murderer commits their heinous act, they essentially are spiking into the Red Zone of the depicted chart but once they have committed the act, they more than likely will fall out of that area back into the gray. (Even if multiple people are killed at the same time (a mass murderer), the act still comprises a single murderous instance.) Until the proper set of circumstances once more present themselves, the murderer will stay in the gray zone during the interim.

A Serial Killer: Living in the Red Zone

A serial killer on the other hand never leaves the Red Zone. Their proclivity for murder after murder all but guarantees that they will always exist in that zone, needing very little if any provocation to commit yet another act of homicide. Whereas a murderer might actually possess some traits of  actual normalcy, a serial killer only adopts such mannerisms as a facade to mask what they truly are feeling. There were other sorts of individuals in the past who could well have lived in that zone. A 'cold blooded killer' or a 'killer of men' would have been two descriptors to describe a person of that sort. The bounty hunters of yore and the fictional character Jonah Hex come to mind. Such individuals fail to connect the act of killing or murder to remorse or shame.

Do Socio-Economic factors have any bearing?

Though many would like to think so, there are no valid causative/correlative factors that connect lack of wealth to the proclivity to kill though a lower economic status increases the potential for criminal acts. (Many murderers and serial killers suffered little or no privation during their formative years)

Is it possible that a serial killer and a murderer might have more in common besides their act or acts of violence?

That is also very possible, but even if that can be found to be the case, it is relatively easy to separate the murderers from the serial killers by examining their criminal acts, the time frame of occurrence and any repetition of their acts of violence. A murderer may strike only once while a serial killer will strike again and again but both pose a threat to a civilized society. Laws and courts and arbitration and even the United Nations came to be to reduce both the potential and the number of violent acts that are executed.
Does this mean that one type of mindset is more dangerous than the other?

While many high profile murderous rampages make headlines because of their exceptional circumstance or body count, a murderer more or less lacks persistence; they are like a shooting star as they have their brief moment in the media. A serial killer's acts may not be as initially heinous taken one at a time, but when they wind up killing large numbers of people over a long period of time their acts ultimately become more heinous once in the public eye. This comprises something I call persistence which makes the serial killer far more potentially dangerous than a murderer. If they have anything else in common besides their murderous acts, it is that both sorts need to be caught and either jalied or executed.

A Jaded Bard

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,