[Trigger Warning] The following reading contains potentially distressing information about murders, violence, brutality and sadistic practices. The reader is advised to use their discretion to continue reading.
The idea of nature versus nurture is one of the most disputed concepts, simply because albeit all of humanity is bound together by a common string, two individuals couldn’t be more different from each other. We all find thrill and solace in different things since we all start with a genetic foundation with a myriad of possibilities. Even then, for most, it comes down to choices made, dilemmas faced, and internal arguments over morality and consequences that lead to decision making. We all start with different levels of intelligence, resilience, and insight. And though humanity has set up a fundamental structure to establish right and wrong, we come across people so irrevocably evil and at odds with the society that they pose an imminent, criminal danger to anyone in their vicinity.
But it’s in the more rare and startling cases that we find educated, even brilliant men throughout history who profoundly lacked empathy and were abnormally drawn to violent acts. Eerily enough, there are plenty of criminals who lived the lives of common men, who often had phrases like “quiet”, “family man”, and “amiable” attributed to them. They mastered the art of predatory camouflage: their deranged minds never stood out, and they deviously pursued their bloodthirsty urges, all while living and walking among clueless crowds. This made it even harder for them to be caught, simply because they were so good at pretending to be normal people.
Psychopaths are unabashed in their actions, and their acts are planned and purposeful-organized, and not merely done in the heat of the moment. Their motives will often involve power, control, or sadistic gratification. This is particularly true in the case of psychopathic killers like H. H. Holmes, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. His body count is said to have exceeded 200, and his modus operandi involved luring his victims into the “The Murder Hotel” and gassing them in a locked room before torching their bodies.
The edifice itself contained a hundred rooms, and Holmes changed the architects so frequently throughout the building’s construction that by the time it was complete, no one knew the exact layout of the building except him. This kept people from realizing the gruesome goal of the weird parts- staircases leading to blank walls, doors that open to nothing, false partitions, and soundproof rooms lined with iron plates. The building was a maze with secret passageways, long dark corridors, and countless trap doors, so escape was impossible. It is in the basement of this building that the true horrors were revealed. Scattered all over were bloody operation tables, surgical instruments, torture devices, and disintegrating acids. Holmes’ obsession with dead bodies had lasted just as well as his surgical skills. It wasn’t before three years of continued killings that his murder spree ended, and his crimes saw daylight.
“Yes I was born with the devil in me, I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing — I was born with the ‘Evil One’ standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”
– H. H. Holmes
Bullied as a child, Holmes was forced to stand in front of a human skeleton in the doctor’s office and stare at it. Although he feared doctors and was scared at first, he said later that the experience exorcised him of his fears and may have led to his devilish obsession. It is important to understand that not all criminal offenders are psychopaths and conversely, not all psychopaths are criminals. But those psychopaths that are, are extremely meticulous, compulsive and relentless by nature which helps them to coerce criminal justice practitioners. Moreover, psychopaths are very adept at imitating emotions such as remorse or guilt in the courtroom if they believe it will mitigate their punishment. In reality, their killings are stone-cold, calculated, and completely premeditated.
The dark side of human conduct propels us to imagine how criminals think, and if they think at all. They are capable of shutting off empathy and sentiment just like someone flips off a light switch. Sentiment and savage brutality reside side-by-side in the same individual and one has no bearing on the other. To the question whether some individuals have a genetic predisposition to crime or if criminality is more likely to be influenced by social factors, research suggests that the social world influences the activity of our genes, in turn affecting brain function. Criminality may be genetically determined, so there may be a gene predisposing to a deviant behavior that runs in the family. For example, impulsiveness, often correlated with antisocial behavior, appears to be inheritable. However, the contribution of any single gene to antisocial and aggressive behavior is questionable, especially in cases pertaining to criminal masterminds.
This article was inspired by the book Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson.
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