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Not literally, obviously, that would be a bit weird. But we do love watching programmes about them—from films and TV dramas to documentaries, it seems we can’t get enough of them.
They may be quite gruesome, but how many of us have sat watching through splayed fingers or cowering behind a cushion, unable to completely look away?
You only have to glance at the TV schedules to see any number of series such as Hannibal, Dexter, The Fall and The Following to realise the popularity of the fictionalised serial killer. And then of course, there’s also the factual programmes including Born To Kill? and America’s Serial Killers: Portraits In Evil.
So what makes us watch these programmes time and again?
Is it a morbid fascination with the darkest of minds; a secret admiration for the sometimes ingenious ways in which murderers fell their prey? Or do we fancy ourselves as the super-sleuth who could outwit and catch them? Looking into the depths of depravity may get our hearts pumping and the adrenaline going, but we know we’re lucky to be alive.
There have been, of course, a variety of serial killers, from disturbed oddballs with a personal axe to grind such as Elliot Rodger (in California, in May) who vowed to take retribution on women for rejecting his sexual advances (who actually is a mass murder rather than a serial killer), to despots with nation-wielding power like Hitler who ordered the slaughter of millions of people.
Murderous acts have led to the development of numerous methods of investigation, from DNA testing and other areas of forensic science to psychological profiling.
Assessing what has happened and matching up patterns of behaviour helps investigators figure out what makes a killer tick. It’s often a race against time to prevent more killing and catch the perpetrator, and maybe that’s why we’re fascinated by the drama.
What then, do we know about those who repeatedly commit murder?
From the statistics, 70 percent received extensive head injuries as a child or adolescent, more than 90 percent are white males and 76 per cent of the world’s homicidal maniacs are from the USA. Things are quite grim here too—Britain may comprise less than a tenth of Europe’s population, but we have more than a quarter (28 percent) of the continent’s serial killers.
It seems, too, that nearly all (99 percent) have acted out their murderous fantasies on animals, which perhaps suggests that either they have a complete lack of feeling for any living creature, or that they wanted a practise run before going for the main target.
Interviews with serial killers have discovered that most suffered from physical, psychological or sexual abuse as a child, and that many were either affected by alcohol or drugs while in the womb, or were brought up by addict parents in chaotic environments. Loneliness, neglect and isolation also have their part to play, including a lack of interaction with “normal” children and teenagers.
Whatever the causes of each individual murderer’s progression into psychopathy, the general trend seems to be a lack of self-esteem leading to depression and minor deviancy, through to increasingly disturbed thoughts and a complete absence of empathy for the intended victim.
Indeed many serial killers are said to gain a sense of power and warped gratification for their acts, which, to the rest of us, is truly chilling.
Faced with such horrific scenes then, maybe we keep watching serial killer programmes because the good guys will (usually) triumph over evil.
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Editor: Travis May
Photos: NCC Home Learning