Are Murderers Born Or Made

Jaahnvi Krishnamurthy

Vedika Basu

Understanding what causes humans to commit crimes has been an issue of pique interests amongst criminologists and psychologists. Some psychologists and criminologists who believe in the nurture point of view argue that an abusive childhood causes a person to commit homicide. On the contrary, according to the nature point of view, it is also believed that the person's genetic predisposition to crime predicts their likelihood of committing crimes later in their adulthood. When speaking of nature versus nurture aspect of murderers, it is essential to note that not all abused people grow up to be criminals, and not all criminals were abused during their childhood. Reviews of more than 100 twin and adoption analyses showed that approximately 50% of the variance in antisocial behaviour is attributable to genetic influences[1]. Thus, it can be said that genetics and the environment work together to encourage violent behaviour. 


I will begin by taking the example of the childhood trauma of a very well-known murderer-Richard Ramirez, "The Night Stalker". He was guilty of committing the crimes of murder, assault, and robbery of more than 13 people in San Francisco and Los Angeles, in the United States. Ramirez had a disturbed childhood, enduring brutal beatings and verbal abuses by his father. His older cousin brother, who had a history of crimes against women, was also charged with first-degree murder of his wife, which a young Richard Ramirez witnessed. The glorification of sadistic behaviour toward a young and impressionable Richard Ramirez sparked the catalyst moment for when his mind was corrupted. Eventually, the mere act of looking at violent images or fantasising about humiliation, domination and assault was no longer enough. Through the older male influences in his life, social learning solidified the idea and conditioned him to a lifetime of tolerance for sexual deviancy and projecting violence towards one's erotic desires. In Richard Ramirez's case, the nurture approach is used as a standard explanation of his psychotic behavioural choices. 

Illustration1_Are murderers born or made

Illustrated By Ira SwatiManish

Another notable murderer was Jeffrey Dahmer, who was commonly known as the "Milwaukee Cannibal". Jeffrey Dahmer was not the victim of childhood abuse. However, he was neglected as a child by both his parents. Dahmer's mother was known to be an attention-seeking hypochondriacal stay-at-home wife. Dahmer was never abused as a child but recalled growing up in a 'tensed' household. According to Dahmer's parents, he was an "energetic and happy child." But he was disengaged, tense, and largely friendless by his early teens. Dahmer claims that his compulsions toward necrophilia and murder began around the age of 14. However, it appears that the breakdown of his parents' marriage and their divorce a few years later may have been the catalyst for turning these thoughts into actions.  He initially collected giant insects, such as dragonflies and butterflies, in jars. Later he collected animal carcasses, occasionally accompanied by friends; he dismembered them either at home or in nearby woodland.


During his late teens,  he developed a drinking problem, dropped out of university and enlisted in the army. However, he was discharged very soon.  Not long after, Dahmer committed his first murder. He then went on to be a sex offender and murderer with necrophiliac and cannibalistic tendencies. 


He murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991. Dahmer was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and a psychotic disorder during his trial. These personality disorders cause problems functioning in everyday life, self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behaviour, a pattern of unstable relationships, severe social anxiety, abnormal and paranoid thinking and perception. The criminologists that worked with Dahmer theorised that his criminal behaviour was the product of his turbulent household, self-control issues and closeted homosexuality.  

Illustration2_Are murderers born or made

Illustrated By Ira SwatiManish

Lastly, but not least is Casey Anthony's infamous case, a woman who murdered her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony. To understand Casey Anthony's case, we have to delve deep into her parents' childhood and upbringing. 


Casey Anthony was born to an upper-middle-class family in Orlando, Florida. She had a younger brother named Lee. While growing, Casey's parents often used a permissive parenting style. This meant that as a child, Casey could get away with anything and this leniency that Casey received developed her tendency to lie pathologically. Her parents picked up on this when Casey was a teenager but did not have much to say as they were uninvolved parents with little to no demands or restrictions on their child. Casey did not graduate high school as she had failed most of her classes, but her parents were uninformed. 


During her teenage years, Casey had a very extraverted lifestyle which often included partying late-night with drinks and drugs. When Casey turned 19, she started dating a man whom she was allegedly loved. However, the illusions of first love did not last long as Casey ended up becoming pregnant. As Casey was a pathologically lying narcissistic, she hid the truth about her pregnancy from her parents until she was seven months pregnant and began to start showing. Her parents were furious at her, but they let it pass without any serious repercussions or punishments like all other things in her past. For the first time, however, Casey's parents set their foot down on the stance of Caylee's fate. Casey initially had plans to give her up for adoption, while Casey's parents did not want that to happen. 


When Caylee Anthony was born, her grandparents and her mother helped take care of her. Very sadly, however, Caylee lived a concise life. When Caylee was two years old, Casey Anthony had an argument with her parents, which made her so furious that she left the house with Caylee. That was the last time Caylee was seen alive. Months later, Caylee's remains were found in a forested area 2 miles from Casey's parents' place, and the cause of death was ruled a homicide, in particular, suffocation by chloroform. It is believed that the birth of her daughter Caylee uprooted Casey Anthony's lifestyle. As a covert narcissist with shallow empathy, Casey Anthony did not hesitate to take out the reason her lifestyle was changed. 


When Casey Anthony was put on trial for murdering her daughter, criminologists ruled out any mental illness or trauma. However, the one thing that stood out to psychologists and criminologists alike was how uncommitted Casey Anthony was to adulthood. She lived at home with her parents and no progress in gaining independence from her parents. The jury saw Casey Anthony as barely responsible for herself and ultimately concluded to be the product of permissive and negligent parenting. 

Illustration3_Are murderers born or made

Illustrated By Ira SwatiManish

From the three cases that were discussed in this article, it can be seen that various childhood factors drive people to commit heinous crimes in their adulthood. Generalising the cause of criminal behaviour would be inaccurate and unscientific. However, the link between childhood abuse and criminal behaviour has been apparent in many studies over the decades and in the three cases mentioned above. Therefore, it must be concluded that the connection between genetics, social environment, and psychotic behaviour appears to be a reality, although in varying degrees across murderers. Murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez are known to have a genetic predisposition for violent behaviour. Environmental conditions in their childhood are known to have exacerbated these violent tendencies. On the other hand, murderers like Casey Anthony are the product of maladaptive parenting styles. Never being held accountable for your mistakes as a teenager can lead to severe repercussions as an adult.