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Serial killers haven’t gone away, you know

Serial killers live and work among us and reside in our prisons, with little or no attention given to them, writes John O’Keeffe.

John O'Keeffe Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

THE IDEA THAT serial killers were something of a 1960s and 1970s phenomena in the American midwest, has taken in the public imagination.

After all, TV repairmen and “drifters” (apparently the favoured occupation and pastime of many such killers during this period) went out with flared trousers and the True Detective magazine franchise.

The reality, however, is somewhat different. Undoubtedly, police detection rates have vastly improved in the last 40 years when it comes to the capture of serial killers.

Put simply, considerably more of these multiple killers tend to get caught now.

One problem remains, however. Just because you haven’t hit the FBI minimum figure of two (or three) murders to be categorised as a serial killer, does not mean you do not fit the exact same criminological or psychological profile – it may simply mean you got caught in time.

PRISONS Brady filer Moors murderer Ian Brady. Source: PA

The vast majority of serial killers will suffer from some form of personality disorder. In other words, they will be incapable of living with themselves or others and they will consistently repeat the same errors in their lives.

More specifically, most will suffer from anti-social personality disorder or a crossover variant. Note, non-personality disordered individuals do not as a rule insert screwdrivers into the ears of living people or sexually torture them for days and weeks on end before committing murder.

Most will report the same childhood issues around physical and sexual abuse, parental isolation, bizarre fantasy lives and auto-erotic sexual preferences, to name but four. Many will exhibit what has been called the McDonald Triad of behaviours during their childhood of fire setting, animal and sibling cruelty and more contentiously within academia, bed wetting past a normative age.

PA-11897532 Ted Bundy waves to the media after Leon County Sheriff Ken Katsaris informed him of his indictment by the Leon County Grand Jury, July 28, 1978. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Regardless, once the killings have begun, almost all will have a dominant sexual component as the driving force after many years of fantasy or non-human “try outs”. The sexual arousal may be overt or covert, so even where there are no signs of sexual trauma on the body, the very act of killing will almost certainly have been an expression of a deviant sexual fantasy.

It is often assumed that such deviant sexuality can only be the preserve of multiple killers yet the reality is that many single deviant sexual killers and the untraced may simply be caught in time, or may not be found out. In other words, they remain serial killers in all but name.

In the Irish jurisdiction, Larry Murphy remains a suspect, in the public imagination at least, into the disappearance of up to eight women in what has become known as Leinster’s “vanishing triangle.”

Whether Larry Murphy is a killer, let alone a serial killer, remains unknown yet there are some facts we do know about him that share a similar typology.

The fact that he kidnapped, viciously beat and orally and vaginally raped a women in the Dublin mountains before she escaped, does not of course make him a serial killer, either evidentially or psychological. Even though he tried to suffocate her with a plastic bag and showed no remorse for his crime does not mean he satisfies any other criteria.

Perhaps of more interest from a psychological perspective, however, was that he is reported to have described her as “lucky” not to have died and said, “she’s alive isn’t she?” to detectives.

In addition, a prisoner who had shared a cell with him stated that Larry Murphy told him that he had murdered Deirdre Jacob in 1998. Murphy may not be a murderer let alone a serial murderer but the evidence we do have suggests a psychological template that is more than receptive to the possibility.

Graham Dwyer court case Source: Niall Carson

Perhaps an even more disturbing murderer who evidences the psychological profile of a serial killer is Graham Dwyer. Again, while Dwyer may not have killed or murdered anyone other than Elaine O’Hara, he shows signs of someone capable of such horrors.

Post death sexualparaphilias of serial killers include cannibalism, vampirism and necrophilia – all of which were presented at evidence in his trial as distinct elements of his atavistic mind. Dwyer also added the little known paraphilia of “piquerism” – from the French verb “to prick” – a pathological fascination with stabbing.

Graham Dwyer may not be a serial killer by numbers but he is most certainly one by personality.

Tragically, serial killers have not gone away. They live and work among us and reside in our prisons. They receive little, if any attention, over and above the single murder they may have been convicted of.  The reality remains that if they could ply their trade more freely, they would not hesitate.

It remains an ongoing credit to modern police forces such as An Garda Síocahána, that they are prevented from so doing.

John O’Keeffe is a Criminologist and Forensic Psychologist and Head of the Colleges of Psychology & Criminology at City Colleges.

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About the author:

John O'Keeffe  / Communications Director of the Garda Representative Association

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