Signalen van een seriemoordenaar in de kindertijd

Someone doesn't just suddenly become a serial killer. Often, a serial killer has exhibited antisocial behavior as a child. Research has shown that a killer in their youth often experienced child abuse, neurological disorders, and/or psychiatric illnesses.

As FBI profiler Jim Clemente said: "Genetics loads the gun, their personality and psychology aim it, and their experiences pull the trigger." The following early warning signs are all attributed to some of the most cold-blooded and heartless serial killers. If only someone had seen it coming.

Uncontrollable Aggression

One of the early signs of psychopathy in childhood is extreme antisocial behavior, such as persistent aggression. The Institute of Psychiatry states that about 5% of children exhibit a severe level of antisocial behavior that later develops into psychopathy. In 30% of children displaying this behavior, it can be attributed to genetics. For others, it's due to a difficult, traumatic, or neglectful upbringing. Ted Bundy developed an early psychosis when he was three years old. He began to show an interest in knives. His aunt recalled a young Bundy who pulled back the sheets while she slept and placed three butcher knives beside her. Serial killer Carroll Cole committed his first murder by drowning a school friend in a lake. He later confessed to the murder, which had been considered an accident until then.


Parents manipulated by their children are often involved in a power struggle, much like a tug-of-war. The more parents try to control the child, the more the child will misbehave. Behaviors like compulsive lying, destruction of toys, emotional blackmail, or violent tantrums are tactics that an antisocial child might use to manipulate their parents. Psychologist Robert D. Hare, creator of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, notes that sly and manipulative behavior is one of the signs of psychopathy. In another study, researchers focused on insensitive pre-psychopathic behavior and asked parents about their child's deceitful behavior. The five items considered as DC behavior were: The child doesn't feel guilty after misbehaving, punishment doesn't change the behavior, the child is selfish/doesn’t want to share, the child lies, and the child is sneaky and tries to bypass their parents. The study found that toddlers who scored high on the DC scale later developed significant behavioral problems in their lives.


The MacDonald Triad was originally written by psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald in the article "The Threat of Killing" in 1963. Macdonald compared various patients, all of whom exhibited violent tendencies. Research has shown that three special behaviors of young children are prominent among serial killers. One of these behaviors is enuresis (bedwetting). Although this is more common in childhood, it becomes problematic when a child, after the age of 5, wets the bed at least twice a week for at least three months. Constant bedwetting can make children feel humiliated or depressed because it is often accompanied by bullying and ridicule. Serial killer Albert Fish was a bedwetter until he was 11 years old. And Donald Gaskins, who claimed to have murdered more than 100 people, was a persistent bedwetter throughout his childhood.


MacDonald also suggested that arson is another early behavioral trait that can be associated with a tendency for violence later in life. Arson is a possible warning sign that you are dealing with a potential killer because they want to destroy anything they can. Serial killer Ottis Toole was convicted of six murders and was also an arsonist since his childhood, admitting he was inspired by the fire. The sinister American hoodlum claimed he would get excited when he saw a flame: the bigger the flame, the greater the thrill. Toole had a difficult childhood. He often spoke of being sexually abused when he was young. His satanic grandmother exposed him to many dark rituals, including self-mutilation. Setting fires is associated with a mix of emotions, including power, excitement, and revenge. Toole might have enjoyed experiencing all three when he was a child.

Animal Cruelty

The third act of the MacDonald Triad is the abuse of small animals. Young children who pull a dog's tail or tug on a cat's whiskers won't necessarily harm the animal. They may act out of curiosity. Animal cruelty, including constant violence without remorse, has always been associated with troubled children who later become serious offenders as adults. Sixty percent of children who were themselves abused have gone on to abuse animals. Serial killer Edmund Kemper slaughtered his mother, his mother's best friend, six female students, and his grandparents and began torturing animals at a young age. When he was 10 years old, he buried his cat alive. He then dug it up and put its head on a spike as a trophy. At the age of 13, he hacked the head off his new cat with a machete.

History of Psychiatric Disorders in the Family

It is believed that five mental disorders are genetically related: autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Researchers have studied the DNA of over 30,000 people diagnosed with one of these mental or behavioral disorders. They found that specific variations in the genetic code are significantly associated with these diseases. Many infamous serial killers have a history of psychiatric disorders in their families. Aileen Wuornos's father was convicted of sexually abusing a minor, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and hanged himself when Wuornos was 13 years old. Albert Fish also came from a family with serious mental disorders. His uncle suffered from mania, his two siblings were incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, and his mother suffered from visual hallucinations. Rose West's mother, who tortured and murdered children, underwent electroconvulsive therapy after a depression when she was pregnant with West. Rose's father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, making him prone to violent outbursts.

Head Injury

A study found that the majority of infamous serial killers suffered head injuries during their youth. These early injuries are linked to a lack of empathy in later life. It doesn't matter if the frontal lobe damage is psychiatric or traumatic; the result is the same: a significant lack of empathy. Richard Ramirez got a chest of drawers on his head at the age of 5, requiring 30 stitches. John Wayne Gacy Jr. experienced blackouts at the age of 11 when his head was struck by a swing. When David Berkowitz was 8, he was hit on the head with a pipe, resulting in a 10-centimeter wound. Albert Fish suffered severe head injury when he fell from a tree at the age of 7. Dennis Rader also stated that his mother accidentally dropped him on his head as a child.


When a child is told they "always have their head in the clouds," it's often just an innocent joke. But what might go unnoticed is how far the child is willing to immerse themselves in their imaginary world. Fantasy can alleviate fear and concern. However, other compulsive forms of escapism are often seen in children who have suffered from abuse, neglect, or trauma. Fantasy then acts as a loop—where the child likes to return for their own satisfaction—much like the desire of a serial killer to victimize one after another. Serial killer Edmund Kemper confessed: "I knew long before I started killing that I would become a killer; that it would end this way. The fantasies were too strong. They went on for too long and were too elaborate." Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz also revealed that during their youth, they had periods of intense fantasies. Most serial killers have imagined their first murder in great detail long before fully committing to the idea.

Witnessing Extreme Violence

In the long term, children who witness violence, both as victims and bystanders, can become desensitized. Those affected may think that violence is an acceptable way to solve a problem. Biological and social factors surrounding childhood violence all contribute to antisocial behavior in youth. In the book "Anatomy of Violence" by Criminologist Dr. Adrian Raine, it is stated: "Genetics and the environment together foster violent behavior." The most striking is the severe violence that serial killer Richard Ramirez witnessed in his youth. His cousin, Miguel Ramirez, returned from the Vietnam War and told the young Richard the details of the torture and cruelty inflicted on Vietnamese women. Miguel even showed him photos of what the victims had to endure. When Richard was 13 years old, he witnessed Miguel murder his wife. Before Richard Ramirez was arrested in 1985, he had killed at least 13 people and tortured dozens of others, earning him the nickname "The Night Stalker."


Voyeurism in childhood and early promiscuity are common traits of infamous serial killers. Intimate interactions with others, behaviors involving public undressing or being a "peeping Tom," are also characteristics associated with antisocial behavior. Ted Bundy admitted that as a young boy, he peered through neighbors' windows to spy on them while they undressed. In his final interviews, he confessed that pornography had an influence on his violent tendencies: "Pornography can snatch any child from any home nowadays. It snatched me out of my home."

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