The making and the breaking of the serial killer

The serial killer, Israel Keyes, made headlines recently. Keyes, who may have been the most meticulous serial killer of modern times, committed suicide in his prison cell in Anchorage, AK, at the beginning of this month. Since his death, details of his nefarious life that he relayed to the Anchorage Police since his arrest on March 12th, 2012, have become widely available. The current estimation for his death toll is eleven people, and his assaults spanned at least four states (AK, OR, WA, and VT), but probably more.

Read more at Psychology Today.

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2013

3 thoughts on “The making and the breaking of the serial killer

  1. Paula

    I’d like to think that systemic exposure of individual psychopaths and sociopaths who have yet to murder anyone would also contribute to their inability to adapt and go unnoticed by the unsuspecting populace.
    I find it unsettling that no one seems to be comfortable with placing the label of sociopath or psychopath onto an individual unless they succeed in killing someone or until they are discovered to have killed someone. Labeling a serial killer who has been caught and/or discovered as a psychopath is clearly a no-brainer and serves no one except the researchers. (I realize that some people who have killed more than one person aren’t necessarily serial killers or psychopaths. Like the Colorado shooting or the Connecticut shooting, the killer could simply be someone with another psychological disorder like schizophrenia or something.)
    Are researchers working toward better tests and evaluations that can put a label on these monsters before they kill? What are some of the preventative measures being taken? The way I see it, the only thing informed individuals can do is avoid the monsters once they have determined the person they are in a relationship with, working with, or somehow associated with is capable of inflicting harm upon them up to and including killing them.
    I love your writing and it provides me with a lot to think about and consider in my own research. Thanks!


  2. Jack Pemment Post author


    I wish I was up on the clinical aspects of dealing with those who have Conduct Disorder, or as it is later known, Antisocial Personality Disorder. Although, from conversations with friends in the field, it appears to remain a huge problem. Firstly, those who have these disorders do not recognize that there is anything wrong with their behavior (and you will never convince them), and secondly, there are no surgical, pharmacalogical, or behavior modification treatments.

    I would wager that most of the work done in this field from the clinical side is helping the victims of these people, but the heroic work from these clinicians is certainly nothing to be ignored. We will all benefit from a greater amount of information on these individuals, especially when we need it. I read a study from a few years ago that explored heart rate and skin conductance of couples where there was domestic abuse. A follow up investigation was done about a year later and many of the couples had broken up or had a divorce, except for in 10% of the cases where the male exhibited psychopathy. We owe it to everyone stuck in one of these relationships, as I know you can attest, to make information and help available.

    Applying the term ‘psychopath’ or ‘sociopath’ to people is tricky business. Neither of those terms are a diagnosis, and the closest I’ve seen to clinically-recognized tests are Robert Hare’s ‘Psychopathy Checklist’ and the ‘ICD 10’. However, these tests only really get administered in academia, where they are very useful. There has been a lot of controversy about using them in a legal setting, not in the least because prosecuting and defense attorneys have their own motivations, but once labeled a psychopath, it will change the rest of that person’s life. Psychopaths are pathological liars, and so anyone labeled a psychopath who isn’t, will never convince anyone otherwise. ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ are also used too frequently and flippantly for them to be taken seriously as dangerous conditions. However, antisocial personality disorder is a diagnosis, and that includes those who don’t necessarily score highly on the Psychopathy Checklist, i.e. are not psychopaths.

    You raise another interesting point about prevention, and sadly, no, we’re not very good at stopping these people manifesting into monsters. The key seems to be in the onset of Conduct Disorder (childhood psychopathy). Some have suggested, based upon studies, that if this afflicts children before puberty then they are likely to be psychopathic in adulthood, but some who develop it in their teenage years might not remain psychopathic in adulthood. They might be able to figure out what it is about the teenage brain that seems to allow for recovery and find a way to promote this in other children. However, I’m not optimistic about that. I think that those who get CD before puberty have entered into a crucial developmental stage for their brain, and so once it develops a certain way you’re never going to wind back the neurological clock. In adolescence, when the brain is further developed, the more mature tissue might offer some kind of protection against mal-development.

    We also know very little about how abuse could result in these types of developmental disorders (psychopathy is a developmental disorder). What kinds of abuse, for how long, in the presence of what genes result in which problems? This cannot be replicated in a lab for obvious reasons, but good parenting, I’m sure, would go a long way to trimming back the psychopathic among us.


  3. Pingback: Sociopath or Psychopath, Which is a Serial Killer More Likely to Be? « Doc Bonn Blog

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