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Dr. Helen Morrison’s hunt for serial killers — she has interviewed 135 in total — has taken her all across the globe.”There’s no country that’s been immune to a serial killer,” The Chicago-based forensic psychiatrist told Business Insider.
Through her research, Morrison, who possesses a piece of John Wayne Gacy’s brain, aims to identify what causes a serial killer to become a serial killer and how these people develop.
But the most shocking thing is, regardless of how different their lives may be, serial killers have shocking similarities.
“No matter what country, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic background, education, familial background, they are all exactly the same,” she said.
During our nearly hour-long interview with Morrison, she shed some light about how these people came to terrorize other human beings for years on end. We’ve compiled the most interesting tidbits here.
A chromosome abnormality in serial killers begins to express itself during puberty, Morrison said.
Serial killers, who are mostly men, develop and begin to display their homicidal tendencies during puberty when that chromosomal abnormality expresses itself.
While researchers don't have an exact gene identity, the fact that serial killers are men leads researchers to believe there is 'a change associated with the male chromosome make up,' Morrison said.
But researchers are still investigating how the gene changes and why it does.
Most serial killers also kill their first victim during those same teen years.
The most difficult thing to understand is how a baby develops into a serial killer, Morrison said.
Statistically, there is no evidence that anything that happens in childhood turns people into serial killers, meaning the tendency could be deeply ingrained.
In its early stages, a baby is happy to be passed around from person to person. But at a certain point during the first of life, a baby develops attachment and becomes upset when taken away from its primary caregiver.
That attachment is a baby's first awareness that it's a separate being dependent on other people, Morrison said. Serial killers don't develop that feeling and don't see themselves as part of the world.
'Your attachment is not there and attachment is really necessary for developing a full psychology,' Morrison said.
Serial killers hunt in a variety of ways. But they never develop an emotional attachment to their victims.
Where an enraged man might kill his wife's lover out of jealousy, serial killers feel no such attachment to their victims.
'They have no appreciation for the absolute agony and terror and fear that the victim is demonstrating,' Morrison said. 'They just see the object in front of them.'
'A serial murderer has no feelings,' she added. 'Serial killers have no motives. They kill only to kill an object.'
Because they don't become attached to their victims, serial killers are able to perform experiments on those they've killed
Robert Berdella, the so-called Kansas City Butcher, raped, tortured and killed at least six men between 1984 and 1987.
He experimented on his victims and kept scientific notebooks, Morrison said.
As part of his experiments, he poured Drano down victims' throats so they couldn't scream.
'I think its just like pulling the wings off a fly when you're a kid,' Morrison said. 'Just that 'let's see what happens.''
Notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy also experimented on victims but showed absolutely no emotion, Morrison said.
'The complete lack of humanity is more than just being a psychopath because at least the psychopath has the capacity to express emotion,' Morrison said.
In the course of her research, Morrison had the opportunity to interview serial killers' wives as well.
And from what she could gather, none of these women consciously knew what was going on. Or, they never questioned it.
John Wayne Gacy buried his victims under his house. But when Morrison asked Carol Hoff, Gacy's wife, if she smelled anything, Carol said John said the smell was because of mice.
And Carol completely accepted his explanation.
'Wrap your head around that one,' Morrison said.
'No its not an equal opportunity kind of thing,' Morrison said.
Serial killers are almost always men. Women may become a companion to the serial killer, but they aren't the ones initiating the crimes.
And women companions taking part in the crimes is very rare, she said.
Serial killers' partners are often nearly-incomplete people whom the serial killers can bring into the themselves.
'Whatever is missing in that woman is fulfilled by part of the serial killer,' Morrison said.
These women take passivity to an extreme, and often exhibit a complete lack of assertiveness.
However, the research on serial killers' partners is limited because often these women feel they can't talk unless given permission by the serial killer.
While you might expect the men's partners to know what's going on, serial killers aren't easy to spot.
'One of the things is you cannot spot a serial killer by what they show you,' Morrison said.
Serial killers can be very charming and charismatic. They aren't the psychopath running down the street; they're the man next door.
'They're so completely ordinary,' Morrison said. 'That's what gets a lot of victims in trouble.'
Why would a woman open the door to an unknown man? It's because of that ordinariness. Victims don't even remotely consider the fact that the serial killer can be just that, because the killer seems so ordinary.
Morrison has to ask permission from the government, whether it be state, federal, or another country's government, to interview an incarcerated serial killer.
Kaimowitz vs. Michigan, a landmark case from 1973, decreed that prisoners could not participate in research because they weren't capable of free will.
That culture of limited to no access is prevalent around the world, which means researchers are essentially stuck.
'For now, we're only speculating with what we know about the brain, which is practically nothing,' Morrison said. 'True you see behaviour, true you see something wrong with the brain, but does that mean they're connected?'
She said the world has become desensitised to serial killers, which makes it difficult to convince governments to allow her to conduct the research.
Morrison is starting to collaborate with a researcher at Cambridge University to study what causes serial killers' apparent lack of empathy.
The team plans to monitor the brain and how it responds to transmagnetic stimulation.Through TMS, magnetic pulses are sent into the frontal left side of the brain, which generates weak electrical currents.
The research project is meant to mimic and study serial killers' lack of feelings.
'It's so fascinating,' Morrison said. 'We don't know anything about the brain.'
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