Portrait of a Psychopathic Killer
It's hard to know what makes a psychopathic killer tick as not all psychopaths are killers, even if psychopath movies make it seem that way. Psychopathic killers may all have similar symptoms of psychopathy but they are all individuals as well. That said, there are some commonalities among psychopathic killers that become clearer when you look at what the psychopaths, themselves, have said.
"I don't feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt" – Ted Bundy, murdered at least 30 women and committed necrophilia with some.
This sentiment is typical from psychopathic killers. A lack of empathy, guilt and remorse are cornerstones of psychopathy.
How Do You Become a Psychopathic Killer?
Psychopathic killers may come from very normal, average families, or they may not. Many psychopathic killers do have abuse and neglect in their background and this along with poor parenting of other types may increase the risk of psychopathy. Additionally, parental substance use and psychopath parents increase the risk of a psychopathic offspring.
That said, there also appears to be differences in the brain of a psychopath when compared to the average brain. For example, after more than 1,000 functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, it can be said that decreased neural activity in the paralimbic regions of the brain is common in psychopaths. It's this part of the brain that deals with moral reasoning, emotional memory and inhibition.
Do Psychopathic Killers Start Young?
Some psychopathic serial killers start young (in their teens), while others wait until their adulthood. What is clear is that the signs of psychopathy, such as lack of remorse, lack of empathy, pervasive lying, lack of regards towards others and other symptoms are there by age 15.
Edmund Kemper, for example, killed both grandparents when he was just 15.
Other psychopaths find that some people inhibit their killing others. Once they murder these people, they can freely move onto continuing their killing ways. John Christie, who murdered eight women, said of killing his wife, he ". . . removed the one obstacle which, for ten years, had apparently held me in check. After she had gone, the way was clear for me to fulfill my destiny."
List of Psychopathic Serial Killers
Most serial killers are considered to be psychopaths even if a formal psychopath test hasn't been given to them. That's due to the:
- heinous nature of their crimes
- what they say about their crimes
- their attitude towards their crimes
These three things tend to make it clear that they meet the criteria for psychopathy.
The following is a list of five serial killers who are likely psychopathic:
- Ted Bundy – This psychopath serial killer was also a kidnapper, rapist and necrophile. He confessed to 30 murders from 1974-1978 across seven states. Bundy has these chilling words to say of his history of killing, "I haven't blocked out the past. I wouldn't trade the person I am, or what I've done – or the people I've known– for anything. So I do think about it. And, at times, it's a rather mellow trip to lay back and remember."
- John Christie – This British psychopathic serial killer murdered at least eight women, including his wife, by strangulation in the 1940s and early 1950s. He was convicted of his wife's murder and hanged for it. Christie talked of killing as a career: "My first murder was thrilling because I had embarked on the career I had chosen for myself, the career of murder."
- Edmund Kemper – Edmund Kemper was known as "The Co-Ed Butcher" or "The Co-Ed Killer" in California in the early 1970s when he killed and dismembered six women. He was also a necrophile and he murdered his grandparents as well as his mother and her friend. Kemper is known for his imposing stature of 6 feet 9 inches and his high intelligence quotient at 140. When asked what he thought when he saw a pretty girl walking down the street he said, "One side of me says, 'I'd like to talk to her, date her.' The other side of me says, 'I wonder how her head would look on a stick . . .'"
- Heinrich Pommerencke – German, Heinrich Pommerencke started his crimes at an early age as he stalked, accosted and raped girls while he was still in his teens. He moved onto killing after tossing one rape victim from a train, following her out, finishing the act and then stabbing her to death. Pommerencke says he thought women "were a fickle lot." He "knew" he would "have to kill."
- Peter Sutcliffe – This British psychopathic serial killer was termed "The Yorkshire Ripper" in 1981. He killed 13 women and attempted to kill seven more. Sutcliffe regularly used prostitutes and one reason he may have chosen to start killing them was because one (along with her pimp) swindled him out of some money. At times, he said he was "called by God" to kill prostitutes but in another quote he states, "Killing prostitutes had become an obsession with me. I could not stop myself. It was like a drug."
Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD