Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes
Edited by Richard N. Kocsis
Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 2008
This book focuses upon serial murder and the psychology of violent crime. Despite the emphasis on psychology in the title, different professions (and hence different perspectives) are well represented in this text, including psychiatry, experimental and clinical psychology, criminology, sociology, and law – an undersold strength of the book. The book contains 16 chapters and is divided into three parts. Twenty-two authors from various countries, including the United States, England, Scotland, Australia, Finland, Canada, and The Netherlands, contributed to the book. Although a minor point, the lack of an integrative introduction results in the book being a hodgepodge of articles pertaining to violent crimes. Nevertheless, certain chapters will be of interest to certain students, police officers, and academics.
Part 1 contains 6 chapters on “the psychology of serial violent crimes”. In Chapter 1, Levin and Fox argue that the overemphasis on diagnosing (and perhaps misdiagnosis) serial killers as ‘sociopaths’ has led to a failure of researchers to fully consider the role that compartmentalization (categorizing individuals into in-groups and out-groups) and dehumanization (out-group members are viewed, and subsequently treated, as subhuman) play in allowing serial killers to kill with moral impunity. Their take-home-message is that the psychological processes underlying serial killers’ actions may be more similar to non-serial killers than researchers have tended to suggest in the literature. In Chapter 2, Schlesinger provides a cursory review of a range of issues that pertain to the behaviour of compulsive-repetitive sex offenders, such as the role of sexual motivation, the appropriateness of using the term ‘compulsive’ over ‘serial’ in describing those who offend in a repetitive fashion, the role of planning and personality traits in their offending, and the effectiveness of treatments and interventions for these sorts of violent offenders. Chapter 3 (Woodhams, Hollin, and Bull) is a review of the literature on serial juvenile sex offenders. Specifically, they review: the frequency of juvenile sex offending, the characteristics of these sorts of offenders, subtypes of juvenile sex offenders, juvenile repeat sex offenders, and the potential to use offender profiling and linkage analysis in investigating juvenile sex offenders. The results of a preliminary study of seven juvenile sex offenders are also presented. Chapter 4 (Häkkänen) reports the descriptive statistics from a study of 45 Finish murderers who were convicted previously of homicide or attempted homicide. Based on discrepancies between the reported results and those found in other countries (e.g., IQ, prevalence of child physical abuse), the author concludes that there is a need to consider cultural-specific patterns in homicidal behaviour when attempting to comprehend and investigate these violent offenders. In Chapter 5, Charles and Egan provide an insightful discussion of the extent to which sensational and extreme interests (e.g., the occult, Nazism, Satanism, and Vampirism) provide a causal explanation for (violent) adolescent offending. Chapter 6 (Palermo) contains a brief overview of the relationship between serial homicide and the psychological constructs of psychopathy, fantasy, narcissism, and loneliness. The author reviews the case of U.S. serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and illustrates how the aforementioned constructs may have played a role in Dahmer’s violent acts.
Part 2 has five chapters devoted to “new dimensions to violent crime”. In Chapter 7, Morgenbesser and Kocsis provide a brief review of nearly 30 years of research on sexual homicide. This chapter provides abstract-size summarizes of the research conducted by 18 researchers and concludes that more research is required on this issue. Chapter 8 (Shipley & Arrigo) contains an overview of a range of typologies for serial murder and serial rape and suggests there may be a continuum between the two types of violent crime, which may eventually increase the ability to predict, treat, prevent, and decrease violent behaviour. Chapter 9 (Geller) contains a sound review of the knowledge on firesetting that has accumulated over the past two decades. Specifically, he assesses the potential origins of arson behaviour, examines the empirical data on the topic, and discusses some potential treatment options. In Chapter 10, Scott presents empirical data on 102 female serial murderesses. Some of the data presented includes the frequency of female serial murderesses over years and across countries; victim demographics (age, gender, relationship to offender); and other offender characteristics such as previous convictions, types of sentences, killing method, and motives. Chapter 11 (Sale) contains a case study of mass murderer Martin Bryant. Given that these chapters are, for the most part, reviews of the extant literature, it is not entirely clear how these articles add a “new dimension” to the literature.
Part 3 is comprised of 5 chapters that purportedly focus upon “investigative considerations to serial violent crimes”. In Chapter 12, van Koppen provides an interesting account of the “The Schiedam Park Murder” and how the causes of wrongful convictions in the United Kingdom and North America are also evident in the inquisitorial-based Dutch criminal justice system. Chapter 13 (McClellan) examines definitions and variations in sexual (lust) homicides. In Chapter 14, Turco provides a personal account (from a psychoanalytic perspective) of how criminal profiles are developed and constructed. The application of Turco’s profiling method to the investigation of serial killer Westly Allan Dodd is reviewed in the second half of the chapter. In Chapter 15, Hodges and Jacquin present the results of an experiment on the effect of psychological knowledge on profiling accuracy; the results were inconclusive. In Chapter 16, Bumgarner considers the extent to which (a) policing (law enforcement) is a profession akin to teaching and medicine, (b) criminal profiling is a profession, and (c) the implementation of criminal profiling in criminal investigations increases the prospects of policing being recognized as a profession. Although “investigative considerations” would imply that many investigative issues will be addressed, this section (with the exception of Chapter 12) is narrowly focused upon on the pseudoscientific practice of criminal profiling. Beyond van Koppens’ chapter, the chapters in this section appear to be at variance with the purpose of this third section, and more broadly, this book.
After reading this book, I am unconvinced that much new knowledge on serial homicide (and other violent crimes) has been offered. As a result, this book receives two stars (out of 5).
Memorial University of Newfoundland