Serial Killers…
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


Serial killers are a neglected lot in India. They do not get attention particularly as a diseased kind. They do not get picked up nor listed for in-depth study by social scientists and the medical fraternity – those specialising in fields for mental, psychological and psychiatric disorders. So much so, the dubious distinction for the highest number of psychopathic serial killers goes to the United States of America which claims 85% of the world’s reported and listed such. I do not believe this to be true. India has its sizeable share of serial killers too. And they need the attention, in addition, of both – our NCRB and the BPR&D too.

It is like in Sikkim, when I went there immediately post merger, it was supposed to be a crimeless state – a Shangrila! For there was no infrastructure, nor organized system, to record, investigate and prosecute the majority of social aberrations that occurred outside towns. It was to my unfortunate lot to literally ‘bring’ crime to Sikkim, by recording incidents for proper follow up. So by burying heads Ostrich-fashion in the sand and believing we do not suffer from the chronic malaise of the mentally sick who kill fellow beings compulsively in a repeated fashion, we cannot wish away the fact of an abundance of unstudied serial killers ‘midst us.

The latest in the never-ending stream of serial-killer reportings in India, is the gang of youngsters – 19-22 years, arrested by West Delhi police ten days ago: Mukesh aka Saif, Tarachand aka Khopri, and Ashwini aka Sanjay aka Judi already in police custody, and two more – Ajju and Pawan aka Tori, still at large. These specialised in sodomising poor roadside victims for fun, then killing them for whatever pittance they possessed. Unknown vagabonds, labour, rickshaw-pullers, even an old woman – listed as their victims in the ongoing investigations… Whose bodies with multiple stab wounds on the neck, chest and abdomen, were invariably recovered nude, indicating sexual assault.

The most apt of descriptions clubs ‘serial killers’ as individuals who have a history of multiple slayings of victims who were usually unknown to them beforehand. Their crimes committed as a result of a compulsion that, in many but not all cases, having roots in the killer's (often dysfunctional) youth, as opposed to those motivated by financial gain (e.g. contract killers) or ideological/political motivations (e.g. terrorists). Often, this compulsion linked to the individual's sexual drive.

The credit for the term "serial killer" is disputed – coined by FBI agent Robert Ressler or by Dr. Robert Keppel in the 1970s so that criminologists could distinguish those who claim victims over a long period of time from those who claim multiple victims at once (mass murderers), or the spree killer.

For standardisation, the three types are defined: (i) Serial killer – someone who commits three or more murders over an extended period of time, with cooling-off periods and periods of normalcy between crimes, a state described as the "mask of sanity" by criminologists Hervey Checkley and Robert Hare. There is frequently, but not always, a sexual element to the murders.

(ii) A mass murderer – an individual who kills three or more people in a single event and in one location. The perpetrators sometimes commit suicide, meaning knowledge of their state of mind and what triggers their actions is often left to more speculation than fact. Mass murderers caught have sometimes claimed they cannot clearly remember the event.

And (iii) a spree killer, who commits multiple-murders in different locations over a period of time that may vary from a few hours to several days. Unlike serial killers, these do not revert to their normal behaviour in between slayings.

Serial killings are mostly carried out by solitary individuals. There are examples in all three categories, where two or more perpetrators have acted together. The instant captures of West Delhi can be cited as example too. Researchers have decided that multiple hands happen in about a third of the cases. Then serial killers are generally, but not always, male – though female exceptions are not unknown.

Studies have indicated that serial killers are specifically motivated by a variety of psychological urges, primarily power and sexual compulsion. They feel inadequate and worthless, often owing to humiliation and abuse in childhood or the pressures of poverty and low socio-economic status in adulthood, and their crimes give them a feeling of power, both at the time of the actual killing and also afterwards. The knowledge that their actions terrify entire communities and often baffle police forces adds to this sense of power. This motivational aspect separates them from contract killers and other multiple murderers who are motivated by profit. It is also true that people do things for multiple motivations too.

About their cooling off period: After a murder, temporarily, they feel satiated until their homicidal urges resurface. The time period between murders can vary between a few days to several years and will often decrease the longer the offender goes unapprehended.

Serial killers frequently have extreme sadistic urges. Ones who lack the ability to empathize with the suffering of others are frequently called psychopathic or sociopathic, terms which have been renamed among professional psychologists as antisocial personality disorder. Some serial killers engage in lust and torture murder, loosely defined terms involving, respectively, mutilation for sexual pleasure and killing them slowly over a prolonged period of time.

Serial killers are known to plead ‘not guilty’ by reason of insanity in a court of law. The legal definition of insanity is based on whether the defendant knows the difference between right and wrong; the level of premeditation and the lack of any obvious delusions or hallucinations necessary to successfully commit multiple murders without getting caught make this defence extremely difficult.

900 words: 13 .06.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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