Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Chameleon Charm and Serial Killers

In the late nineteenth century, Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso was credited with the theory that some types of people are closer to our primitive ancestors than others. Dr. Lombroso utilized the work of anthropologist Pierre-Paul Broca which relied on facial measurements and anomalies of the skull, face, and body to determine who was--or was not--a criminal type.

Lombroso based his theory of the born criminal--who was a throwback to earlier hedonistic races--on hundreds of post-mortem examinations of criminals. He compiled a list of criminal traits which included receding hairline, forehead wrinkles, bumpy face, broad noses, fleshy lips, sloping shoulders, long arms, and pointed fingers. This condition was named atavism and was strongly associated with Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species--published in 1859. The belief that there was a face of evil was an easy one for society to accept in the Gilded Age of Queen Victoria.

In the twentieth century, this theory was strongly reinforced in the popular culture through cinema, novels, radio mystery shows, and television crime dramas. Of course, some common criminals undoubtedly conform to the stereotype of the dumb hoodlum by virtue of their less than average intelligence and their need to follow a charismatic leader, popularly known as the Boss or the brains of the outfit. This folklore gives rise to the idea that criminals--psychopaths among them--are easily identified because they look different from normal people.

Rather than scientific, these ideas broke along racial and ethnic lines, and in nineteenth century America, religion was also a prejudicial factor in determining guilt. It was believed that Catholics and Jews bore a greater responsibility for crime, in cities like Boston and New York, than the hard working Protestant folk. The Nazis made great use of this type of junk science against European Jews, which they proudly documented for the world to see in the last century.

Serial killers are cut from different cloth than common criminals. Psychologists have done extensive studies on this unique category of murderer. Their studies have discovered that they tend to be above average in intelligence and some are gifted. These are people who often have a belief that their intellect exempts them from the rules and regulations that were devised to keep less intelligent people in line--an attitude of entitlement develops.
Their intelligence allows serial killers to tidy up evidence, dispose of the body, and return to their normal fa├žade of life until the urge falls upon them to strike again.

Understanding the construction of the mind simply by looking at physical traits doesn’t work. Serial killers often look normal and blend into the background, so their behavior often requires sophisticated psychological profiling before they are caught. Regrettably, profiling only becomes more accurate as the body count rises, sometimes not even then.

Everything about serial killers is frightening. But the most disturbing thing of all is that they look just like the rest of us. These people are often superficially described as charming or engaging.

John Norman Collins
Even after the outrages of serial killers have been discovered, many people are dumbstruck despite the evidence that a normal looking person could be responsible for such carnage. It is part of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality of their personality disorder that enables serial killers to deceive people so easily. They are natural actors because deception and manipulation are second nature to them.

The true beginnings of modern crime fighting: