Personalities and Motivations of Murderers Term Paper

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Nonetheless, Bill never hurts other people simply because he thinks that it is irrational to hurt others. He thinks that any rational person would be like him and not hurt other people. Does Bill really understand that hurting others is morally wrong? (Nichols, 2002, p. 285)."

This presents some interesting directions of thought. However, it is time to go into the relationship between serial murderers and forensic psychology as it applies to the crime scene. Ted Bundy seemed very much aware that he was committing crimes against society, certainly crimes against his victims. Berkowitz, it was argued, was more psychotic, and for that reason perhaps less aware of his actions as crimes against society or individuals. Berkowitz was known to have started more than a thousand fires, and had a history of cruelty to animals; both manifestations of deeper emotional problems (Schlesinger, 2004, p. 328). This does not make any egregious the crimes, it does perhaps relieve Berkowitz of the responsibility that he was moving about society freely and in a state where he could harm people since his history and propensity for violence seems to have been well documented (Schlesinger, 2004, p. 328).

Understanding the personality and motivation and potential action of a serial killer is essential to bringing to a halt the serial killer's campaign of violence against society.

Forensic Psychology and the Psychopath

In the cases of Bundy and Berkowitz, there was an extensive body of work in forensic psychology done in connection with law enforcement efforts to apprehend these murderers. John Douglas (2007), former head of the FBI's Investigative Support Unit, was involved in assisting local and state law enforcement officials in analyzing evidence and building profiles of serial killers.".. Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), and James Earl Ray -- to understand their motives and get inside their minds (p. 8)." Douglas says that to understand the artist, one should look to the work of the artist (p. 8). On using the tools and techniques of forensic psychology in helping to analyze and create profiles on lethal personalities, Douglas writes:

Profiling is not the only investigative tool available. For example, there are some cases where profiling an unknown offender would not be suitable because of the high risk-level of the victim. What could possibly still be provided are proactive techniques: research-based probable cause for search warrants, interview and interrogation techniques, prosecution and defense counseling, and possibly expert testimony... The very nature of profiling violent crimes makes for a highly stressful job. One must be able to identify with both the subject and victim in order to answer the investigative formula of why + how = who (p. 8)."

There are warning signs of danger that should not be ignored - if they can be detected. In the case of Berkowitz, the warning signs were there. Schlesinger cites Ressler and Schactman (1992), who.".. concluded that Berkowitz' fire setting as well as his torture of animals was an outgrowth of his control fantasies involving power over living things. These fires were all a prelude to his moving into the arena in which he could exercise the ultimate control, homicide" (p. 80) (Schlesinger, 2004, pp. 328-329)."

The Forensic Echo (2002), a web site dedicated to forensic psychology as a tool of law enforcement, found online at, discusses Stephanie Wernick's neonaticide, or murder of her own infant following delivery of the child. Wernick's defense was that she was not of a sound mind, and that she demonstrated her psychopathic behavior not at the moment of delivery, but prior to that, when during the nine months of her pregnancy she denied to herself that she was in fact pregnant (2002). The outcome of her trial is as follows:

After a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to one and a third to four years in prison (NYU, 11/22/96, p. 1) the Appellate Division affirmed, and the plaintiff appealed.

Held: The conviction was affirmed. The trial court properly excluded the "neonaticide testimony" without a "reliability hearing" to determine whether it is generally accepted by the scientific community. Said the Court, even the defense conceded that its experts shouldn't be allowed to testify that Wernick suffered from "neonaticide syndrome" as such, since it had not been classified as an illness. But the defense claimed that its experts should have been allowed to utilize the clinical experience of various doctors to support their opinions that the defendant suffered from a brief reactive psychosis. The Court said that "regardless of whether defense counsel classified its proffered evidence as an attempt to establish a 'pattern', 'profile', 'theory' or 'syndrome'...the essential defense theory was an attempt to portray a pattern of behavior not generally recognized in the relevant" Further, said the Court, "No threshold evidentiary foundation whatsoever" was offered by the defense "that acknowledged the validity or existence of defense counsel's postulate" to warrant the expert's use of extrapolated material to bolster their opinions (2002, 2007).

The outcome of Wernick's trial continues to be debated, and there are some that hold that she is not the typical murderer as encountered in the profiles of serial murderers or other murderers who are more deliberately harmful. Commenting on the profiling of psychopaths and people who possess the strong propensity for harming others, Dr. Michael Welner commented this way (2007):

When does the profile of a typical offender rise to the level of a syndrome, and more importantly, a syndrome that serves as a basis for an insanity defense? This case is reminiscent of the defense of Jeffrey Dahmer, which attempted to portray predatory sexual behavior in the context of a profile for a disorder. Mr. Dahmer did share many of the qualities of profiled serial sex offenders who are repeatedly overcome by irresistible impulse, but the jury did not find the basis for an insanity defense. This does not mean that those who have a particular profile are not in need of understanding and help, only that to classify them legally insane has no basis in credible science."

In the case of Wernick, the profile of someone who denied her pregnancy is presented, along with the imagery of a bursting dam when denial can no longer be employed because the baby has been born. Does the bursting dam of denial usually result in psychosis? Consider those wasting away, with histories of intravenous drug use or sexual promiscuity who refuse HIV testing, even with evidence of the disease such as thrush in their mouths or sores that they can plainly see. Confirmation of AIDS in a patient who has been denying the disease is a profound stress, which can be associated with an upsurge of suicidal ideas. But is this breaking through of denial associated with psychosis? Rarely. Also consider those with cancer, who deny the seriousness of their condition. Is the shattering of this denial with the realization of impending death anxiety provoking? Does it cause depression commonly? Yes. Does it typically produce psychotic symptoms in someone who has no history of psychotic illness? No.

The suggestion is that Wernick is indeed a personality who, like Berkowitz, Bundy or Gacy, possesses the propensity for committing the same act of violence again if given the chance.

Forensic psychology is an important sub-category of psychology and law enforcement today, but it is far from a perfect science. There is much research, study and continued work to be done to continue to perfect it as a tool that will become more valuable to society as time goes on.


Horley, J. (2003). Personal Construct Perspectives on Forensic Psychology. Hove, England: Brunner-Routledge. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

Inside the Mind of the Mind Hunter: An Interview with Legendary FBI Agent John Douglas Criminal Profiler John Douglas Will Share His Understanding of the Criminal Mind at September's APA Conference. (2007). Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 10(1), 8+. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

Nichols, S. (2002). How Psychopaths Threaten Moral Rationalism: Is it Irrational to Be Amoral *?. The Monist, 85(2), 285+. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

Roy, J.M. (2002). Love to Hate: America's Obsession with Hatred and Violence. New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

Schlesinger, L.B. (2004). Sexual Murder: Catathymic and Compulsive Homicides. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

Simpson, P.L. (2000). Psycho Paths: Tracking the Serial Killer through Contemporary American Film and Fiction. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Retrieved December 10, 2007, from Questia database:

The Forensic Echo: Behavioral and Forensic Science in Couerts, "Neonaticide Syndrome" Barred from Insanity Defense

Insufficient Foundation Without Frye Hearing

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