The Psychology of a Murderer

RNews, May 17, 2003

BOSTON, Mass — In 2000, nearly 1.5 million violent crimes were committed. Add to that the thousands killed on September 11 and you will see why many scientists devote themselves to studying the criminal mind. In this special report here’s a look into the psychological world of murderers.

James Alan Fox, Ph.D., says, “They see other people as mere tools for their own pleasure.”

“To reduce someone to a quivering, pleading speck of humanity and snuff out that individual’s life is, for some people, the ultimate high,” says Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.

Dr. Fox says, “The most successful, prolific killers are extraordinarily ordinary.”

Who are these killers … and why do they kill? Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University has spent nearly a quarter century trying to answer these questions. But he has found even common traits don’t help experts predict who’s a murderer.

“It is literally impossible to identify the few needles in a large haystack of people who fit the profile of a serial killer or mass murderer,” says Dr. Fox.

Dr. Samenow, a forensic psychologist in Alexandria, Va., says warning signs may appear as early as pre-school. “This is the child who is restless, irritable, never, never satisfied, who is always getting into things. The getting into things is a person determined, absolutely determined, to have his way,” he says.

With time, the need for control can intensify.

Dr. Samenow says, “Murder is, of course, is the ultimate form of control.”

Steve Hassan, a cult counselor in Somerville, Mass., says it wasn’t his own desire for control but someone else’s that nearly drove him to kill.

“In my case I was fortunate enough not to be given a gun and told to shoot someone because I probably would have,” says Hassan.

Hassan says he spent three years under the mind control of a cult. It’s this type of control he believes is behind the September 11 attacks.

“When I look at Taliban and Al Qaeda members and listen to their outrageous beliefs, I say, ’I know that level of insanity,’” he says.

As Hassan now works to help others escape dangerous mind control, scientists work to better understand the mind.

Dr. Samenow says, “One can only decide what to do with such a person if you understand the day to day working of the mind.”

Perhaps only then will the violence stop.

Dr. Samenow stresses the behaviors he describes in a young child that should be red flags are extreme demands for control and not the typical 5-year-old behaviors.

If you would like more information, please contact:

James Alan Fox, Ph.D.
College of Criminal Justice
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.
Inside the Criminal Mind
4921 Seminary Rd.
Suite 104
Alexandria, VA 22311
(703) 931-0004

Steve Hassan
Freedom of Mind
Resource Center
(617) 628-9918
Fax (617) 628-8153

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