Creation of Serial Killers – Nature Versus Nurture

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Updated: Apr 26, 2021
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There is a difference between a serial killer and simply a murderer. So what defines a serial killer? Well, according to Crime Museum, “A serial killer is conventionally defined as a person who murders three or more people in a period of over a month, with “cooling down” time between murders. For a serial killer, the murders must be separate events, which are most often driven by a psychological thrill or pleasure”. Psychologists have tried to figure out what makes a child to grow up to become a serial killer. Were they born that way or did their experiences and environments shape them into the monsters they became? The topic of nature versus nurture is constantly being debated in the psychological professional community. “Sociologists have been dealing with this issue for years, especially in the analysis of serial killers. The question is: does nature, nurture, or a mixture of both make a serial killer (“Nature vs. Nurture”)”?

David Berkowitz is a serial killer commonly referred to as Son of Sam. Providing the information about his childhood and later his violent crimes he is a perfect example of a killer being created by nature. From all accounts when Berkowitz was a child he was polite and raised in a loving home. Berkowitz was adopted and from the outside it seemed as though his upbringing was conducive of stable mental health. Although Berkowitz was able to flourish in a healthy environment with his adoptive parents, he still became a violent serial killer. While there is not much information about his biological parents, it is safe to assume that some history of mental illness or predisposition for violence could have been inherited from one or both of his parents. Berkowitz confessed that his killings were committed to silence the demons in his head, proving that some kind of mental disturbance was present. The older he became the more his mental health began to deteriorate; Berkowitz was paranoid that his landlord was a part of a demonic conspiracy and that the neighbor’s howling dogs were telling him to kill women. When looking at his unraveling and violent crimes paired with his seemingly healthy upbringing it is clear that David Berkowitz suffered from psychological disturbances that lay hidden in his genes, not needing a trigger, to propel him to infamy as one of America’s most volatile serial killers.

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Richard Ramirez was a serial killer who ran wild in the California suburbs in the 1980s. His crimes were gruesome and his childhood was plagued by equally disturbing events. Ramirez had spent a lot of time with his cousin, Mike, who was in the Vietnam war, and bragged about raping and killing numerous women while fighting overseas. Young Richard was exposed to photos of the mutilated women and eventually was present when Mike brutally murdered his own wife. Ramirez also claimed that his father was abusive both physically and mentally. Due to the awful things Ramirez experienced he gravitated towards drug use and satanic rock music. Ramirez eventually dropped out of school and committed himself to his life of crime and other deviant behavior. In 1984 Ramirez committed his first murder and was eventually convicted of 13 more, on top of over 43 other charges that accompanied his killings. It is unclear what would’ve become of Richard had he not experienced so much childhood trauma. It is evident that in the case of Richard Ramirez nature had a significant role in his becoming a malicious serial killer.While in most cases of serial killers there is evidence supporting either nature or nurture, it is clear that a combination of the two is what makes these killers so deadly.

According to Dr. Adrian Raine, a criminologist, both biological and social factors contribute to the making of a murderer. Raine explains that reviews of more than 100 twin and adoption analyses showed that approximately 50% of variance in antisocial behavior is attributable to genetic influences. There is also evidence that there are people with a genetic predisposition for violence that may never be triggered, but those who experience abuse or other childhood traumas are more likely to act out violently and experience violent thoughts. So while a person may be born with this evil in their genetics, with most killers it takes a trigger for them to become serial killers. David Berkowitz’s case is a strong support of nature being the main component of his demise. Yet, with Richard Ramirez it is possible that a genetic or even brain abnormality was simply trigged by the extremely disturbing events of his childhood, which then led him to become the serial killer known as The Night Stalker. 

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Creation of Serial Killers - Nature Versus Nurture. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from