By Anju Miura
Murderers have been depicted in the novels we’ve read and movies we’ve watched throughout our lives — they are terrifying, and yet we’re curious about what it’s like inside their heads.
Although we should never justify these criminals regardless of their often challenging backgrounds, it’s interesting to see what commonality they share with us. And remember that we are all humans. So what makes us different?
It may be impossible to understand their motivation for brutality, and it can never be justified. But it’s possible that through understanding what births a murderer, we can figure out a way to stop them.
John Wayne Gacy (or “The Killer Clown”)
John Wayne Gacy sexually assaulted and murdered over 30 young males in a Chicago, Illinois, suburb during the 1970s.
Throughout his childhood, Gacy had been abused by his father and was bullied by classmates because of his heart condition that disallowed him to participate in sports.
As an adult, Gacy was a successful construction business founder and was popular among his neighbors. All the while, he was secretly inviting boys to his house, slaying them and hiding their bodies under the floor. Gacy actively engaged in a volunteer activity and attended birthday parties as “Pogo” the clown.
During his trial, Gacy was diagnosed to be a paranoid schizophrenic with a multiple personality disorder.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, depression and anxiety that come from childhood bullying can often persist into adulthood. The bullying, in combination with abuse from his father, were likely contributing factors to his eventual downfall.
However, many children with difficult childhoods and mental health issues don’t grow up to be serial killers. There is still a lot unknown about what set the Killer Clown apart from the others.
Keith Hunter Jesperson (or the “Happy Face Killer”)
Keith Hunter Jesperson is currently serving three consecutive life sentences for the confirmed murders of eight women in the 1990s.
Jesperson characterized his father as an alcoholic who abused him on a daily basis by beating and more brutal measures.
When Jesperson was a child, he had no friends as a result of his shy disposition. He often played alone and had a history of violent behavior — including strangling small animals to death and injuring the kids around him.
Following his series of murders, he was so desperate to get the public’s attention that he sent letters to several newspaper companies and prosecutors in order to prove that he was the real perpetrator, describing the evidence and drawing a smiley face ー the reason why he is called “Happy Face Killer.”
His murderous behavior was likely influenced by a violent childhood and a strong desire for attention. He experienced many of the same childhood issues as Gacy, but his future violence was even more obvious through his childhood behavior.
Again, it is difficult to know what brings people like Gacy and Jesperson from sad, traumatized individuals to ruthless murderers.
Wayne Lo is the murderer who shot up a Massachusetts college in 1992, killing one student and one professor while wounding four others.
Unlike the previous two cases, as well as many others, this killer seemed to be blessed with a happy childhood and successful life — he was a strong student and musician.
Nevertheless, he was also known for his fascist beliefs and was outcast by his college classmates because of his discriminatory remarks.
In a 2017 interview by StoryCorps, Lo spoke to Greg Gibson whose son, Galen Gibson, was one of his victims. Lo claimed that he was receiving commands from God to fulfill the murders.
Lo described how easy it was to obtain the gun as soon as he wanted. He said, “I was able to just take a taxi and go to the gun store. I said ‘I want this SKS rifle.’ And it’s incredible how easy it was.”
This year, 308 mass shootings took place in the United States so far, a strong indicator that the easy access to guns Lo experienced in the ‘90s is still prevalent today.
On their own, child abuse, bullying and easy access to firearms doesn’t necessarily lead to bloodthirsty crimes. There is definitely a correlation between the criminals’ mental state and these social factors that produce a murderer.
What leads them to the breaking point, though? We don’t yet know.