Can they help themselves? Should they be punished? Are their childhood and adolescent experiences not to blame? There are as varied schools of thought regarding criminal culpability as there are rain clouds—momentary and unpredicted light showers to landscape-altering hurricanes. Jim Clemente—an NYC Prosecutor and later FBI profiler for 22 years—says serial criminals are responsible for their actions. Here is why.
Clemente points out that the world is full of people whose formative years were horrible, yet they still turn out to be productive, law-abiding people. He also points out that all humans are a mix of biological, psychological, and social factors. Speaking of serial criminals, he says, per Quora, “…their genetics load the gun, their personality and psychology aim it, and their experiences pull the trigger.”
Clemente points out that the millions of small decisions a person makes in the privacy of their own mind help determine their psychology and personality. There, in those decisions, the dark side is either refused or accepted. Do childhood and adolescent experiences affect those decisions? Yes, but what he called the “free will” component is always present. The conclusion does not apply only to the serial criminal, but to the serial criminal in general.
15. Ted Bundy – Your Daughter Could Have Dated Him
Likely the result of an unplanned pregnancy, a young Ellen Cowell gave birth to Ted Bundy, and his father’s identity was never revealed. To circumvent rumors and gossip, his grandparents adopted him. They told everyone his mother was his older sister. When the truth came out, it disturbed Bundy a great deal—particularly because his mom had never divulged the identity of his father to him.
Still, his mother did marry Johnnie Bundy and the family moved to Washington where the rest of his childhood was relatively predictable. He had half-siblings. He exhibited alarming behavior at a young age. He threw his mother’s sister down a flight of stairs. He also spoke of unseen spirits in the home, and often became enraged when he was asked about his father. As a teen, he developed a keen interest in knives.
14. R. Kelly—A Magnet For The Wrong Type Of Partner
Kelly is the third of four children. He was raised by his mother and their experience of childhood was meager. He was sexually abused by a woman ten years his senior, and he was an adult before he ever told anyone.
His best childhood friend—Lulu—was pushed into a creek by some older children and was swept away screaming his name. Her body was later found downstream.
Like Michael Jackson was with young boys, Kelly is either guilty—or very unwise—in his conduct with young females. Tiffany Hawkins sued him claiming he sexed her when he was 24, she 15. He settled. He has allegedly been married to a minor. R. Kelly was also indicted for child pornography, but the charges were dropped on a technicality.
13. Aileen Wuornos—Likes To Off ‘Johns’
Wuornos’s father offed himself in prison while doing time as an abuser. Abandoned by her mother, she and her older brother, Keith, went to live with their grandparents where she was abused as a teenager by her grandfather. She became pregnant as a teen and that child was later put up for adoption. Her horrors included fornication with her brother.
The grandmother was an alcoholic. When Wuornos was thrown out of her house as a teen, she became a prostitute on Florida highways and ended the lives of as many as five men—claiming they were all in self-defense.
12. John Wayne Gacy—Was On The Right Track To Be Successful In Life But He Took A Dark Turn
Gacy, by all accounts, is not one that would have been suspected of abusing and ending the lives of multiple people. He had even married a woman whose family owned some restaurant franchises and he was learning the business, very well positioned for a favorable future. He even had a young daughter.
He had a very visible life through his job and family and his community involvement. Rumors began to pass when people began to notice there were always young boys around him.
Rumors had even came to light that he had made passes at some of the young males working in the restaurant but people who were close to Gacy disbelieved the talk. His trouble came, though, when one of those boys, Mark Miller, accused Gacy of sodomizing him.
11. Jeffrey Dahmer—An Appetite For Man Or Boy
Jeffery Dahmer was not the victim of abuse or the horrors that other assasins were. In fact, he was doted on by both parents as a toddler.
Though he was somewhat damaged by having to have a double hernia operation at age four that his parents failed to adequately explain, the source for his assassinations were the fact his parents paid him so little attention.
His mother became increasingly ill as he grew up, and his father was a student that was away from the home a lot. They did not notice that he would torture animals or dismember road kill. His parents argued constantly and eventually divorced. Is that to blame for the 17 men he forced himself upon before ending their lives and dismembering them between 1978 and 1991?
10. Henry Lee Lucas—Betrayed By His Own Brother
Henry Lee Lucas would be profiled a executioner because of his childhood experiences. When he was only 10 years old, his brother stabbed him, causing him to lose one of his eyes. That same brother welcomed Henry into a world of deviance—including fornication with animals and intimate physical abuse.
Henry’s mother started pushing him to wear women’s clothing from a young age. She even curled his hair to match. An extremely abusive woman, his mom worked as a prostitute, and she would force Henry to watch her with her clients. Among his childhood friends, Henry was known for engaging in frightening and shocking behaviors just to get a rise out of his peers.
9. Ottis Toole—Ended Lives Before Becoming An Adult
No surprise in the partnership between him and Henry Lee Lucas. Toole was also abused by his mom—who pushed him to cross-dress. She even had a name for him—Susan. Being an abuser was a way of life for him. When he was only five years old, he was molested by his father’s friend. It came at the hands of many relatives—even neighbors.
When he was just 10 years old, Toole came out of the closet. His own grandmother—a reported Satanist—taught him to mutilate himself and engage in rituals to punish himself for being a homosexual.
Ottis committed arson more times than we can count. Fire was his muse. It aroused him. When he was just 14 years old, Toole claims he took his first life—that of a salesman that was trying to sell something to him.
8. Karl Denke—Had Way Too Many Demons To Count
The Denke story is an odd one, because the perpetrator does not fit a serial killer profile. He was an organ player at the local church and operated a rooming house in Poland. There is nothing spectacular known about his childhood. His father died when he was 25. Then, his brother took over the family farm while he took a sum of money and went to the city.
Investigators theorized no motive for the 30 or more people murdered and presumably eaten by Denke. His victims are thought to have been journeymen, vagrants, and others less likely to be missed.
7. Terrence Howard—A Celebrity Who Recognizes His Own Violent Streak
Howard’s only profiler red flag is a physically abusive father and his witnessing his father stab a man at the age of two. His parents divorced upon his dad’s release from prison for the stabbing.
He is three credits short of an engineering degree and has enjoyed tremendous film and television success. But he has anger issues. In 2008, during rehearsals of his Broadway debut, he hit a music composer so many times with his fists that the guy sustained multiple injuries and sued him.
His second wife accused him of being physically abusive. He has also been accused of simple assault, stalking, terrorist threats, and harassment. Prior wives have had to issue restraining orders. He assaulted an airline stewardess that told him to return to his seat.
6. Al Capone—Lifetime Criminal
Alphonse Capone was born in Brooklyn to parents who had just immigrated from Italy. They were a poor family that came to America looking for a better life than Italy would ever provide them with. Theirs’ was the predictable immigrant life in bustling New York City.
Capone’s father barbered and his mother was a seamstress. There was nothing that stood out in Capone’s childhood that would have led anyone to believe he would grow up to become one of the most infamous gangsters America would ever know.
The determining factor may have been his schooling. He was a student at a Catholic institution that was troubled with violence and he learned very little.
Capone was expelled at the age of 14 and never went back. His crimes were numerous: racketeering, bootlegging, murder, just to name a few. But, ironically, tax evasion eventually brought him down and to Alcatraz.
5. Charles V Harrelson—Like Father Unlike Son
Woody Harrelson—son of hired contract killer—Charles V. Harrelson negates one criminal school of thought, which is that a predisposition to crime is inherited. The senior Harrelson was an organized crime figure convicted of armed robbery and a contract killer.
The elder Harrison had disappeared from the lives of his wife and son and had no contact with them. In some circles, people had been suspicious of Harrelson’s purported connections to the mob and to underground rime rings. Still, proof of his engagements with them was hard for the authorities to come up with. That is, until 1968.
The announcement of his involvement in the murder of the federal judge was their first word of him since the late ‘60s. Prior to his marriage, he had graduated school, moved to California and become an encyclopedia salesman prior to turning to crime.
4. Virginia Hill—Notoriously Famous
She was born in Alabama and was said to never have even had a pair of shoes to call her own until she was 17 years old. That’s when she ran away from home. Virginia Hill was said to have some interest in entertainment and being famous. That is, until she met Bugsy Siegel.
She was ever indicted for any crimes. She was a courier for organized crime, though. She was said to have gone to Chicago in 1933 to prostitute at the World’s Fair, but she ending up meeting a major crime figure there that paved the way for her entry into the organized crime scene.
The entire landscape of her life changed from that moment onward. She reportedly entertained celebrities a lot in Hollywood and lived a very lavish lifestyle. Virginia was also said to blackmail celebrities by holding information their private lives over their head.
3. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker—A Surprise For The Ages
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker’s father died when she was just four years old, and her mother moved to a poor town on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas to live with her grandparents. The local schools considered her a student with much potential who had a strong aptitude for poetry and literature. She excelled—making academic honors. Bonnie was an astonishing beauty and had long dreamed of life as an actress.
She met Clyde when she was 19, he 20. He was already an ex-con who promised never to return to a life of crime. Unfortunately for Bonnie, that promise wasn’t kept. Through a series of legal scrapes, she became the female side of a team of gang leaders that traveled throughout the central U.S. during the Great Depression. They robbed banks and small businesses, and killed anyone who tried to stand in their way.
2. Clyde Chestnut Barrow—Lived Fast, Died Fast
Clyde was member to a closely-knit family living on a farm in Dallas, Texas. In his formative years, he was well on the path to success in life. An aspiring musician, Clyde played the saxophone and the guitar. He even attended school until he was 16 years old.
Unfortunately for Clyde, his older brother—Buck—has completely different ideas as to what the two of them should do with their lives. He welcomed Clyde into a world of thievery. When Clyde got good at stealing small items, he slowly accelerated his game until he was good enough to steal larger belongings, like cars.
It didn’t take long before Clyde was comfortable with arming himself in the name of robbery. When he was just 20 years old, Clyde was already wanted by the police for a string of robberies.
It was during the Winter of 1930 that Clyde met Bonnie. Just a waitress at the time, we imagine he had big plans for her from the start. The two were purportedly enamored with one another from the very start.
1. O.J. Simpson—The Man With Everything And Nothing
O.J. Simpson’s life story is not what most people expect. While he found great success as a professional athlete in his life, his troubled childhood may have paved the way for his crimes later in life. Born in 1947 to a married couple in San Francisco, California, his mom and dad split up before he was even school-aged.
As a result, O.J. and his siblings were raised in an area of town that was predominantly populated by poor African Americans. Simpson knew the game well, though. He excelled at football throughout his school ears. In college, he garnered a lot of attention for his skills on the field at USC. He even went on to win the Heisman Trophy back in 1968. This opened doors for Simpson to flourish.
His NFL career brought fame and success. After retirement from football, Simpson had a few roles in some films and worked as a sports broadcaster. It was at this time in his life that his dark side came out. In 1994, Simpson was arrested following a day-long car chase. He was charged with the murder of his then-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman—Nicole’s friend.
A sensationalized fire storm of media ensued that popularized the trial, where O.J. was found not guilty. Still, fans and haters both sensed he got off because of his celebrity status. Later he was convicted of armed robbery in Las Vegas. Was it the rise to fame from a broken home in the ghetto that made O.J. think he was special and untouchable?
Sources: Quora, Biography, Spartacus Educational, Biography, IMDB, Biography, History Channel, Ranker, Biography, Prairie Ghosts, VH1, Murderpedia, Biography
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