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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kultin

Monsters Among Us

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

The dark side of human nature is always fascinating

I felt as if the blood was draining out of my body by the end of this article: emotionally paralyzed, lost and dead tired, with no answers to my many questions. A single, real insight as to why these demons are killing innocents might have given me a little satisfaction, but instead I found myself at the same starting point I've been at before – stranded in the dark zone, helpless, re-playing horrible, unimaginable photos of dismembered bodies in my head. But I thought there might be a way out: I called my friend, a criminal profiler, somehow convinced him to talk about it. “Why are you guys so passionate about those murderers?” he commented in a bored, dispassionate tone. “They are cowardly, puny evil.”

Mass murderers and serial killers have always been darkly fascinating for me, a hot topic, I suppose for much the same reason that they are attractive to millions of viewers. They’ve so insidiously become part of our culture, with virtually every box office hit showcasing a dark character, by making headline news whenever a new killing spree erupts, and with authors hitting the bestseller list by simply speculating on the idea of who killed whom.

July 2015 was a bloody month, too. While I was deeply absorbed, reading “Columbine” by Dave Cullen and trawling serial killers fan sites, came news of shootings at a theater in Lafayette. It wasn’t even a surprise. They called it a “contagion” effect – making it sound like a fashion trend. If a psycho wants to exorcise his anger and frustration, he simply goes to a public theater and fires into the innocent crowd.

It is a globally accepted fact that mass murders are increasing. The media provides hordes of significant facts and figures supporting this, as well as announcing newly opened institutes and organizations whose job is not only to register those atrocious acts, but also to explain what and how it happened. It’s easy to believe that we are living in the Era of Monsters, because it’s obviously becoming ubiquitous. The latest technology helps us register crimes, collect and restore various pieces of information about different types of crimes, which is hard to imagine during the Neolithic “no cell phone, no Facebook” era.

Let us first say that there were enough despicable monsters in the past. More than two centuries ago in 1764, a teacher and 10 students were shot dead by American Indians in Greencastle. This is considered the earliest known U.S. mass school shooting. From newspapers in 1891, we learn the story of a man who fired a shotgun at children playing in front of St. Mary's Parochial School in Newburgh, New York. Some of the earliest recorded cases include the 1893 killing with guns and swords of 11 people (including an infant) in Osaka, Japan, the 1914 shooting of 7 people in the Italian village of Camerata Cornello, not to mention the case of German spree killer Ernst August Wagner. Unfortunately, the more we dig into the past, the more mentions of early mass murders we find; sadly even the Bible appears to recount some horrible mass murders (which could be a controversial source). For this reason, having virtual records in our hands is a blessing and hopefully may somehow simplify answering the rhetorical question of WHY it has happened?

Modern classifications distinguish mass murderers from serial killers and both definitions split up into many different subcategories. However, murder remains murder and the act of killing many people is not very different from degrading or murderous actions in general.

The public seems more aware of why people commit crimes. We may look back into childhood talking about abusive parents, sexual dysfunction, addiction, emotional isolation, poor social backgrounds – or simply accept the concept of natural born killers. When FBI agents interviewed 37 imprisoned sexual murderers, they were surprised by the lack of positive childhood memories. Henry Lee Lucas was a child when his prostitute mother forced him to watch her having sex with men who would then be violent toward him. Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo remembered all the details of his poor childhood; in particular, he obsessed over a terrifying scene of neighbors eating his brother during a famine in Russia. Not surprisingly, those memories would have a destructive effect on his entire life.

But those of us who witnessed James Holmes’ trial (he is the Colorado theatre shooter) were surprised by revelations that Holmes was a child loved by his family and he was also uncommonly bright, which apparently is uncommon for mass murderers. And in fact, there are many more examples of mass murderers with good, non-abusive childhoods.

Scientists have examined neurons in the cerebral cortex of perpetrators and used MRIs results to show a high level of neurotransmitters like dopamine and plunging level of serotonin. They have explained similarities between drug addicts and serial killers. Killers need to ramp up the excitement each time; they are getting reinforcement from their acts. They are running on the dopamine side of the brain, running on highs, which could be a truth for some serial killers, but not a fact for those shooters who are prepared to die with their victims. When two classmates planned “Judgment day” at Columbine high school in 1999 they knew they would die.

As much as scientists study the brains of killers, the seemingly single point of agreement seems to be the unique complexity of this organ, which sounds self-evident. However, the brain also gave them something else to think about. As study results show, there is a connection between layers of the human brain. Our so-called “civilized brain” is based on a primitive, animalistic core or R-complex (reptile brain). Animals kill animals without regrets, remorse or pangs of conscience. It is their only chance to survive. Serial killer behaviors such as sexual cannibalism are embedded in the most primitive part of the human brain. For the vast majority of people, these basic instincts are kept in check by highly evolved faculties like logic, intelligence, and social responsibility. Killers may simply be subservient to savage apelike instincts.

If we stop for a second to get a sense of the difference between consequences of what animals and humans do, it raises many more questions. It is difficult to imagine any animals who are willing to kill kin just to prove their own importance, or in revenge for a “poor” childhood. Obviously, a killer is seeking some sort of spiritual gratification while his primitive mind is still connected in a perverted way to the more civilized parts of the brain. No expert is able to offer a clear-cut explanation of how and why perpetrators are acting in that way. My friend, the criminal profiler, said about that long learning process: “To completely understand the logic of those bastards you have to be one. Easy to talk to Satan, then. ”

The great prize of evolution for humans was the gift of a complex brain, which is responsible for abstract thinking, including the ability to create complex language. But the man of considerable culture, who is proudly sitting on top of the world, emerged from a prehistoric humanoid species that never stopped killing, eating, and raping other humans. The amazing brain of aristocratic homo sapiens has been used for good and evil throughout time. The question is how this gorgeous mind, which is able to create artistic masterpieces, conjure wonderful music, and understand the mysteries of the cosmos is so easily degraded into a beast-murderer with no compassion, forgiveness, love and understanding toward others like him. It has been said that “Evil is a Monkey of God”. From a spiritual perspective, the corollary might be that whatever God (or a Higher Power) creates, the Monkey of God will travesty and destroy.

As my friend noted about these killers: “They are cowards and that is why they are so cruel. They tend to kill from the back, choosing a weak victim, who will almost never fight back. However, at the very moment of their execution, when under a death sentence, their nervous system malfunctions and a weak and abject coward appears. Those monsters may cry like children.” In addition, they are afraid of being caught and never play those Hollywood cat-and-mouse games. Criminologists and police have confirmed how hard to catch serial killers are. Usually they meticulously prepare their bloody acts, and remember every detail of what they have done and how. Andrei Chikatilo always remembered to wash away bloody spots from his shoes in the nearest puddle.

The motivation for killing is as twisted as the mind of murderers. There is no common road traveled to get to the point where the dark urges are acted upon. And of course real life is more prosaic than box office movies about killers, and there’s little satisfaction at the end of your journey into this world of terrible crimes.

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