Tag Archives: ted bundy

Psychopathy: Choosing Victims

BundyI just stumbled across a very interesting study by Angela Book, Kimberly Costello, and Joseph A. Camilleri, who managed to explore how violent inmates choose their victims. The motivation for the study was built upon previous research that had explored the idea that a person’s gait (the way they walk and how they hold themselves) is likely to factor in when they are targeted by violent criminals, as it perhaps betrays a person’s vulnerability.

The authors include a statement from Bundy where he explains that he could tell a victim by the way she walked down the street, the manner in which carried herself, etc.

The study found that psychopathic criminals did tend to indicate gait as important for selecting a victim, but only if they scored highly on the Factor 1 part to the psychopathy checklist (PCL-R). There are a number of variations of this test, but one of the simplest is divided into two factors: Factor 1 measures personal characteristics, such as manipulating behavior, charm and charisma, and factor 2 measures aspects of an unstable lifestyle, such as impulsivity and antisocial behavior. So those scoring highly on the personal characteristics, the characteristics that trick us into liking and trusting them, were more likely to mention gait as an indicator of vulnerability.

The authors point out that a previous study exploring similar things found no such correlation, but the participants in that study were college students who exhibited some psychopathic traits, not seasoned criminals serving time in jail.

I found this study interesting for two reasons. Firstly, observing gait is most likely done while their is no personal interaction going on, i.e. you’re being studied and watched, probably without knowing it. And so then, secondly, psychopaths who score/would score highly on Factor 1 characteristics have probably already assessed you for weaknesses as they talk to, charm, and manipulate you throughout the course of the day.

The inmates in the study had to consciously express characteristics about victim-choosing, and so gait had to be realized. This is to distinguish it from the idea that these people are looking for certain weaknesses without really knowing what they’re doing. Obviously, with practice and success, checking a person’s gait would become second nature, but it appears to be a learned behavior.

Anyway, food for thought.

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2013


Book, A.B.; Costello, K.; Camilleri, J.A. (2013) Psychopathy and victim selection: The use of gait as a cue to vulnerability, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, In press

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

Bundy vs. Einstein: Whose brain is more important?

The post-mortem studies of Einstein’s brain have recently re-appeared in the media (Huffington Post / NBC News / Fox News), and to be sure, the story of the physicist’s brain from when it was removed in 1955 by Thomas Harvey to its current state in many many pieces is fascinating. The drive behind this ongoing analysis is to no doubt find the neurological correlates of not just intelligence, but genius – and I mean this in the sense of profound thinker, because clearly genius could be applied to anyone with exceptional skills in the entire gamut of all human activity.

Like anyone interested in the great thinkers, I think the ongoing studies are amazing, and sure, as neuroscientific procedures become more sophisticated, there is no doubt we can learn more and more about what helps to shape the brain of an Einstein.

But what about the brain of a Bundy?

Ted Bundy was a serial killer from the Pacific Northwest who murdered at least thirty women, and after a rather chaotic flight across the country, was executed in Florida by the electric chair in 1989. There are at least two important notes about Bundy that would have made a study of his brain invaluable. Firstly, he was very good at what he did. Keppel, one of the detectives who were instrumental in Bundy’s apprehension, writes of his intelligence and patience; qualities that helped him evade capture for years. And secondly, Bundy eventually told Keppel (during an interaction that was supposed to aid in the capture of the Green River Killer), the dark desires that led him to kidnap, murder and necrophilia, were like a chemical tidal wave washing through his brain, like an addiction to a narcotic.

These two important points about the behavioral characteristics of Bundy could very well have been reflected in his brain. Bundy had numerous psychological tests once he was apprehended, but the exact nature of his pathology is still unknown. The likely candidates, two conditions in this case that go hand in hand, are Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) and Psychopathy. To be sure, we know that people with these disorders have different brains – deficits have been found in the frontal cortex, the amygdala, and regions in between: And behaviorally, these are the people who rate highly on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, meaning that they do exhibit violent tendencies, have limited or frustrating emotional experiences, and have no conscience.

We would perhaps expect Bundy’s brain to demonstrate some of the neurological deficits mentioned above, but Bundy was more than a psychopath – he was a serial killer. Given that serial killers are only a minute fraction of the population and that when they are caught they are either executed or left to live out their lives in a maximum security penitentiary, access to their brain is very limited. In my opinion, this makes their brain even more academically valuable, and if access to the brain is denied it also denies any real neurobiological understanding of the serial killer brain – something that is perhaps as equally valuable as knowing what contributed to Einstein’s genius.

I do not think it would be difficult to persuade a serial killer to donate their brain to science after their death. If they are indeed psychopathic, then their ego could very well be coaxed into handing over “the center of their criminal genius” to researchers after death. When listening to this interview with Bundy, the day before his execution, it is not hard to imagine that his own intellectual curiosity and his ego would have turned his brain over to science.

Perhaps somebody could persuade the state of California and Richard Ramirez to preserve Ramirez’s brain for study after death, or Gary Ridgway (the Green River Killer) to give up his brain to science after he lives out his life?

Copyright Jack Pemment, 2012

Pacific Northwest and Serial Killers

I just stumbled across this article from the Seattle Times, published in 2003, and written by Alex Tizon. When reading about serial killers, you can’t help wondering if there is just something special about the Pacific Northwest. This article puts those thoughts into some context.

Does Northwest draw out serial killers?

An interview with Bundy, the day before his execution

Bundy is surprisingly forthcoming in his attempts to explain and understand how he came to be a monster. There are a number of responses that seem decidedly un-psychopathic. He has no problem taking full responsibility for the murders and he realizes that he is very different from other people.

Bundy claims that he was from a good home and was never abused, and that it was his exposure from soft to violent pornography that made his fantasies become more and more violent; one could raise the argument that it was simply stumbling across violent pornography as a child that constituted the abuse necessary to traumatize and stymie the development of his brain.

He speaks of the need to murder (which included necrophilia) as an addiction. Keppel, one of the detectives who helped to apprehend Bundy explained that Bundy experienced the desire for necrophilia as a chemical tidal wave, like an addiction to a narcotic. It certainly seems like his frontal lobe, and the connections between it and the limbic system, failed to control and inhibit his desires.

The interview does not strike me as a manipulation or an attempt to spread lies, but of course that can’t be ruled out. He does, however, appear to respect his interviewer.

This is a good interview with Bundy, which anyone interested in the development of extreme human behaviors should watch.