Monday, November 30, 2009

Truth Behind the Triad

Most people have heard of "The Homicidal Triad" in reference to serial killers...bedwetting, fire-setting, and cruelty to animals.  It's believed that a serial killer will have all of these in their childhood and that these things alone are signs of a sociopathic personality.  Neither of those things are completely true, there's a little more to it than those simple statements.

Not every serial killer will have the triad show up in their past and not everyone who has these three characteristics is destined to grow up to kill (though they certainly should be watched carefully and, preferably, gotten professional help).  Each of these warning signs are a touch more complex than would first seem and signify deeper issues for those that have them...and it's the deeper issues the triad represents that's consistently found in the budding sociopath.


The clinical term for this is enuresis and, in small children, isn't anything to be concerned about.  In fact it's a common stage in a young child and one that they usually grow out of by age six at the latest.  But when a child doesn't grow out of it, when they continue to wet the bed into puberty, it becomes a problem and a sign of something far more troubling.  Presuming, of course, the continued nighttime accidents aren't due to a medical disorder of some kind it's possible that they are a signal of emotional disturbances.  Findings of the FBI's BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit) state that 60% of sex-murders were still wetting their beds past age 12 and into their teens.   Alton Coleman, who killed eight people in a number of states in the Midwest, would wet his pants so often that it earned him the humiliating nickname "Pissy."


This characteristic is a little more clearly a sign of trouble...but some people still seem a little confused about what's normal childhood curiosity with fire and what's true pyromania.  Certain kids really are just curious by fire - the heat, the light, the fact it's somewhat forbidden (only adults should work with fire) - and are offhandedly, and wrongly, defined as pyromaniacs.  A child who sets a fire once in the backyard or enjoys playing with the flame of a candle is not the child to be overly worried about...the child who frequently sets fire to things, even after gaining the knowledge that it can be destructive and dangerous, is though.  In fact, frequently, it's the fact that they're aware of the destructive and dangerous nature of fire that drives the budding sociopath to set more fires.  "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz was so obsessed with fires that he got the nickname "Pyro" from classmates and, as an adult, he confessed to setting more than fourteen hundred fires in his life.  Killer of seven, Carlton Gary, firebombed a grocery store when in his teens.  Carl Panzram, who killed 22 people, boasted that, at twelve, he caused about $100,000 damage when he burnt down a reform school building.

At its most obvious fire-setting in the budding serial killer is an expression of anger and aggression (as opposed to a rather benign curiosity with other children).  A child would find it very difficult to organize a meeting with a realtor at an empty house as a prospective buyer as a ruse to rape and kill like Mike DeBardeleben did, but they sure could set the neighbor's shed on fire without too much trouble.  There is, however, another emotion that comes to the young sociopath who sets fires...sexual arousal.  Just like with killing it's generally the power they feel and the destruction they cause in setting the fire that really gives them the sexual charge.  In the words of serial killer Joseph Kallinger, "Oh, what ecstasy setting fires brings to my body!  What power I feel at the thought of fire...Oh, what a pleasure, what a heavenly pleasure!  I see the flames and no longer is a fire just a daydream.  It is the reality of heaven on earth!  I love the excitement of the power fire gives me...The mental image is greater than sex!"

Cruelty to Animals

The idea of being cruel and violent towards animals is the most obvious and well-known of the characteristics in the triad.  While rather self-explanatory there are still levels of cruelty...after all most people have a story from their youth about using a magnifying glass on some ants, kicking a dog, or pulling a cat's tail, either having done it themselves or knowing of another child that did it.  While these obviously aren't proper behaviors for any child and should be corrected when seen some of it could be defined as a single incident or a small phase; especially in children who haven't yet developed a full sense of empathy or impulse and anger control.  That being said these acts of cruelty towards weaker creatures pale greatly in comparison to the acts of torture the budding sociopath will preform.  Ed Kemper was ten when he buried his first cat alive then dug it back up, decapitated it, and stuck the head on a spindle; with the next unfortunate cat to be the family pet a now thirteen-year-old Kemper sliced the top of its skull with a machete and let the dying creature shower him in blood while he held onto its foreleg.

Unlike the average child, who will look back more than a little embarrassed about the time he blew up that anthill with a cherry bomb, the budding sociopath never regrets what he's done.  Cutting open goldfish to see how they work (something a young Jeffrey Dahmer did) isn't a's practice.  Their cruelty to animals grows more extreme until, eventually, they move on up to other humans as targets.  For instance Carroll "The Barfly Strangler" Cole started off getting his kicks from choking the family dog unconscious before he progressed to strangling women to death.  And, just as with their pyromania, the serial killer in the making will likely feel that same sexual rush in torturing animals as they do in setting fires and, as adults, killing other human beings.

No comments: