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Explaining Serial Killers From Moral Backgrounds

Nravel the chilling mystery of serial killers originating from seemingly stable homes. Delve into the psychology behind their unthinkable actions and discover what drives individuals from ostensibly nurturing environments to commit heinous crimes.

Vincent Bloodworth
Vincent Bloodworth
Feb 20, 202472 Shares1.5K Views
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  1. Dennis Rader
  2. Richard Cottingham
  3. Randy Kraft
Explaining Serial Killers From Moral Backgrounds

They say the adage "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" rings true, especially when examining the backgrounds of serial killers. Psychological research often reveals a strong correlation between their dysfunction and a tumultuous childhood. According to Terence Leary, a psychologist leading the Serial Killer Database Research Project, an overwhelming majority of serial killers come from abusive environments.

Leary's database, spanning over 5,000 cases dating back to the 1950s, highlights a consistent pattern of abuse in the upbringing of these individuals. "In every case I've examined," Leary reveals in an interview, "there's some form of horrendous home situation."

Yet, as with any rule, exceptions exist. Amidst the sea of killers with harrowing pasts, a handful defy easy explanation. Their biographies offer few clues to the murderous impulses that would later consume them. What factors influenced these outliers? Let's delve into the perplexing stories of these killers, whose outwardly normal childhoods gave way to unimaginable acts of cruelty.

Dennis Rader

Dubbed the "BTK Killer" for his method of "Bind, Torture, Kill," Dennis Rader terrorized Wichita, Kansas, with his heinous crimes for decades. Between 1974 and 1991, he claimed the lives of at least 10 individuals, including the tragic murder of the Otero family. Despite the brutality of his acts, Rader managed to blend seamlessly into his community, leading an ostensibly ordinary life.

Raised by a father who worked as a plant operator for a utility company, Dennis was described by childhood friends as a likable individual who enjoyed reading comic books and dime store novels. His upbringing appeared typical, with no apparent signs of the darkness lurking within him.

As an adult, Rader established his own family, seemingly oblivious to his sinister double life. His three brothers, leading quiet and law-abiding lives, were equally unaware of the horrors their sibling was capable of.

According to Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, individuals like Rader often defy conventional understanding. Despite coming from seemingly stable backgrounds, they can exhibit extreme violence without any clear explanation. Raine emphasizes that the root cause of such behavior may not always be attributed to upbringing, as evidenced by cases where siblings raised in the same environment lead vastly different lives.

The case of Dennis Rader serves as a chilling reminder that the face of evil can often hide behind a facade of normalcy, leaving communities and families shocked and bewildered by the depths of depravity concealed within an otherwise unassuming individual.

Richard Cottingham

Richard Cottingham, infamously known as the "Butcher of Times Square," left a trail of terror in New York City from 1967 to 1980, targeting sex workers in the bustling Times Square area. While officially linked to 11 murders, Cottingham shockingly claimed responsibility for over 80 killings during a 2009 interview, revealing the extent of his depravity.

Born in the Bronx, Cottingham's upbringing initially appeared unremarkable as his family relocated to the suburban tranquility of River Vale, New Jersey during his childhood. According to historian Peter Vronsky, who extensively researched Cottingham's life for an upcoming biography, there were no glaring signs of violence in his youth. Instead, Cottingham enjoyed what seemed to be an idyllic upbringing, surrounded by a loving family and attending Catholic parochial schools.

Despite Vronsky's exhaustive interviews with Cottingham, there were no revelations of abuse or trauma in his past. Cottingham consistently denied any mistreatment and even joked about fabricating tales of abuse at the hands of priests. However, one potential explanation for his later violent behavior emerged: at the age of four, Cottingham was struck by a car, resulting in brain damage to his frontal lobe, an area associated with impulse control and aggression.

Cottingham's case serves as a perplexing enigma, challenging conventional notions of how individuals evolve into serial killers. Despite a seemingly stable upbringing, his descent into violence and depravity remains a haunting mystery, leaving researchers and psychologists grappling with the complex interplay of factors that shape such aberrant behavior.

Randy Kraft

Despite originating from stable backgrounds and possessing well-functioning brains, not all serial killers can attribute their actions to neurological abnormalities. Randy Kraft serves as a prime example, as his brain scan revealed normal functioning, particularly in the frontal lobe, a region associated with impulse control and decision-making.

According to Raine, Kraft's high level of brain functioning likely facilitated his efficiency as a killer, enabling him to carry out a staggering 64 murders over a span of 12 years. Referred to as the "Scorecard Killer" due to his meticulous record-keeping of victims, Kraft's eventual capture only occurred after a routine traffic stop revealed a grisly discovery: a deceased individual in his passenger seat. Despite his heinous crimes, Kraft's upbringing appeared ordinary, with no overt signs of dysfunction.

Detailed in Raine's book, "The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime," Kraft's upbringing in Orange County, California, portrayed a picture of normalcy. He enjoyed typical activities such as bowling with his father and sharing indulgent treats with his mother. With a high IQ of 129, Kraft excelled academically, attending prestigious educational institutions like Claremont Men's College.

Raine suggests that Kraft's stable upbringing underscores a troubling reality: that biological factors play a significant role in shaping individuals predisposed to psychopathic behavior.

While genetic influences contribute to approximately 50% of variability in violent tendencies, identifying specific genes remains a challenge. Raine likens the pursuit of these genes to chasing a elusive serial killer, highlighting the complexity of unraveling the biological underpinnings of criminal behavior.

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