A Look Into the Mind of Serial Killers

Schizophrenia

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[Another Scream.] CALLER: I’m going to kill them. I’m going to kill all those kids!

This is what the supposed Zodiac Killer said when he called into a live-broadcasted KGO Television talk show with host Jim Dunbar and guest attorney Melvin Belli on October 22, 1969. This was around the beginning of his killing spree.

Earl Van Best. Jr, supposed Zodiac Killer

We often think of America as a place to start a better life, but throughout the years America has had its fair share of struggles to live up to those expectations, including the struggle for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and the abolition of slavery. Towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1969-1974, a frenzy of murders took place. Within these five years, there were five murders linked to one man police named the Zodiac Killer. This man also claimed the murders of 32 others, bringing him to a total of 37 kills, more than half of which are still yet to be found. Many other serial killers in America share visible similarities to the infamous Zodiac Killer; one particular similarity: Schizophrenia.

Towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement, from 1969-1974, a frenzy of murders took place. Within these five years, there were five murders linked to one man police named the Zodiac Killer.”

The Zodiac Killer was thought to have needed to be in complete control. Taunting the police made him feel powerful, dominant, which is why he often resorted to sending the police encrypted letters with clues regarding where to find the bodies. In True Crime MagazineDr. Lawrence Z. Freedman, chairman of the Institute of Social and Behavioral Pathology at the University of Chicago, said that “the Zodiac Killer led a terror-dominated life, insisting on his power due to feeling powerless.” The Zodiac’s behavior indicated that he was most likely both insane and suicidal. His suicide, if committed, would have been a final expression of what his homicides meant to him. On October  21, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner featured an article titled the “Zodiac’s Graph: Impotent, Shrewd and Paranoid.” In the article, William F. Baker, another psychiatrist, portrayed the Zodiac as unquestionably paranoid and schizophrenic person.

Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer who started his spree right after the Zodiac in 1978, continued his killings until 1991. Seventeen teenage boys were raped, murdered and dismembered. Like Zodiac, Dahmer was also deemed a schizophrenic. 

Jeffrey Dahmer

David Berkowitz, aka “The Son of Sam,” killed six people between 1976-77; he was also a paranoid schizophrenic. Ed Gein, aka “The Butcher of Plainfield,” went on a killing spree in Wisconsin in the 50’s and was found unfit for trial; he was later found guilty, but categorized as legally insane. Gein was put in a mental institution and, following the trend, was deemed a paranoid schizophrenic.

 

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People who suffer from the disease may seem like they have lost touch with reality. Schizophrenia was not always treated the way it is now, with medicine and therapy. Prior to new treatments, when these murders were happening, no one did anything to treat the disease. These men were viewed as weird and antisocial, not mentally ill. When they were finally diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia referred to as “paranoid,” they were either going to prison because of the crimes they had committed or were being sent to mental institutions. Had these men been appropriately treated when they were young, these murders, possibly, could have been prevented.

When they were finally diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia referred to as “paranoid,” they were either going to prison because of the crimes they had committed or were being sent to mental institutions.”

Paranoid Schizophrenia is the most common form of Schizophrenia, but the overall illness is still rare. It is triggered, like a switch in the brain, one that once turned on is extremely hard to turn off. It makes the person compulsive and they often confuse reality with fiction. They may hear voices telling them what to do; “The Son of Sam” claimed that a dog told him to kill his victims. While it is not common for the voices to taunt with murder, the voices themselves make the sufferer paranoid. Schizophrenia is not always genetically passed down, but certain genetic formalities can change during puberty which can cause someone to become a schizophrenic. In the case of Dahmer, his parents’ separation, which caused a lack of parental attention and affection towards the teenage Dahmer,  took a toll on him, thereby serving as his trigger.

These killers were unstable and lacked control. With proper medical attention, they would not have been so dangerous to society. While symptoms vary from person to person, it seems that with many paranoid schizophrenics deal with their illness in the same way: murder. While researching treatment for this illness, only within the past 15 years has there really been any medicine available to help with subsiding the voices and controlling the compulsiveness. Now, with the help of modern technology and medicine, we do not hear about serial killers as often; while yes, they do still exist, the number has decreased tremendously since the late 60’s to 90’s.

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