Inside the Criminal Mind season 1, episode 1 recap:’Serial Killers’


Episode 1 of Netflix original series Inside the Criminal Mind gets into serial killers. Who are they? Why do they happen? What do they want?

Frankly, true crime aficionados will likely already know what this show’s about. Nevertheless, Inside the Criminal Mind is a good refresher course on what we know about serial killers (or at least some plausible explanations of their behavior). The show goes into the classic question, such as nature vs. nurture. Did serial killers have abusive childhoods or were they “hardwired” from birth to be evil? Of course, the truth may be somewhere in the middle and probably is.

We hear a little about the “big names” in serial killing, like Dennis Rader, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Joel Rifkin, Gary Ridgeway, David Berkowitz and Jack the Ripper Along the way we get historical insights. For example, Patrick J. Mullany discusses the incarnation of the FBI’s  Psychological Profiling Division, which he formulated with Howard Teton.

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The Roots of Serial Murder

Inside the Criminal Mind emphasizes some key points about the origins of these killers. Quite often they have a dominant mother and absent father. Usually, there’s some psychological, physical and/or sexual abuse and alcoholism (among oother standards”bad” behaviors). Of course, not all serial killers seem to have bad childhoods, and not everyone with troubles pasts become serial killers (or even one-off killers, or rapists, or what have you). Still, it’s a rough general estimate of what creates and potentially sustains such deviancy.

Broderick Broadhurst, a Criminologist, tells us about J.M. MacDonald’s 3 behavior “red flags” – or signs – that someone could become a serial murderer. These are (1) bed wetter, (2) fire setter, (3) animal killer. At the same time, Dr. Kosatas A. Katsavdakis says it’s not that simple, and that it’s potentially harmful to exaggerate these behaviors as signs of future murderers. Indeed, many people wet the bed as children and don’t murder anyone, and the same can be true of people who have abused animals.

On this subject, the show’s narrator claims Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy had abused animals, but he does not elaborate. Still, I have personally heard it argued that Dahmer actually didn’t abuse animals, and that he solely relied on roadkill for his early fascination with animal anatomy. While both possibilities are gross, there are important differences between one abusing an animal and finding one on a curbside somewhere. Similarly, regarding the claim of Bundy abusing animals, that’s news to me. While I’m not the foremost expert on such cases, it would have been practical to have some evidence cited.

However, Inside the Criminal Mind redeems itself by saying things like, “Not all psychopaths are criminals,” which is a straightforward enough statement, indicating that they’re not being overly simple on the issue.  A person may have disturbing, quirky traits without being a psycho killer.

Family Confusion and Family as Mask for Crimes

Inside the Criminal Mind delves a bit into Ted Bundy’s background, informing us that he was lied to as a child about his family history. Specifically, Ted was told that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. While this is often cited as what sent him over the edge, it’s unlikely to be the sole cause. After all, as this show reminds us, Bundy murdered over 30 women and compared it to stamp collecting. That’s not the standard result of a little identity conflict. It’s more likely that Bundy experienced (or at least witnessed) some greater form of abuse as a child. In fact, it’s now believed that Bundy’s grandfather was abusive, even if not particularly towards Ted.

For another example, the show looks at Jeffrey Dahmer, who claims he was abused by a neighbor at age 10. Katsavdakis says serial killers link sex and violence by the time they’re teenagers, but usually do their best to hide these dark connections, knowing others will consider them deviants and weirdos. This is why, quite often, serial killers will try extra hard to appear normal to others. They are often fathers and successful in life, and may use their inside knowledge of normalcy to lure victims.

Inside the Criminal Mind cites John Wayne Gacy here, calling him “a born salesman” (before being known as “the killer clown”). They then mention how Ted Bundy managed the Republican Party campaign office in Washington, and worked at a crisis call center. (Though the show doesn’t mention it, Bundy apparently even wrote a rape prevention pamphlet for the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Commission,)

Fear of Rejection, Feelings of Inferiority and the Need for Power

Inside the Criminal Mind says John Wayne Gacy was abused as a child, that his father was despotic and that it played a role in his emerging psychopathy. In other words, Gacy’s fear of rejection, feelings of inferiority and general depression fed a need for power and normalcy. When combined with sadism and sexual lust, it was an explosive cocktail.

Regarding neurocriminology, Professor Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania revealed serial killer’s brains as different from normal brains. Raine’s neuroimaging studies showed that serial killer’s amygdalas were likely shrunken by 18%, leading to a lack of empathy, remorse or guilt. It’s also suggested that those with a low resting heart rate don’t feel fear as strongly as others, which means they are less fearful of consequences. Ironically, Dr. Raine himself has a low-functioning amygdala, but he’s said to have grown up in a loving home.

Phases of the Loon

Serial killers are complex characters who have a lot to deal with. This is why they often medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol. As author Joel Norris informs us, serial killers are generally cyclical, going through predictable phases. The first is the Aura Phase, which is sort of a withdrawal from reality wherein their fantasies are heightened. Then comes the so-called Trolling Phase, where they’re seeking potential victims and locations related to future crimes.

Many go through the Wooing Phase, where they try to lure their victims. If they’re successful, they’ll usually get to the Capture and Murder phases (which are obvious in what they entail). In the Totem Phase, they will often take trophies from victims, or collect newspaper clippings of the crimes. Finally, they’ll likely reach the Depression Phase, where they’ll be depressed because kill wasn’t what they’d hoped it would be.

More Interesting Facts and Generalizations

Again, a lot of stuff in this episode will be known to true crime fans, but some might not know it. For example, serial killers are different from “normal” murderers in another way: They usually don’t know their victims personally. There are exceptions to the rule, but usually, that’s how those exceptions get caught. Generally, serial killers know it’s risky to kill close to home.  They usually avoid risks, as they’re not interested in being caught (though some are risk takers,  and enjoy the fame that results from capture).

Also, Inside the Criminal Mind is undeniably correct that most serial killers are men. At the same time, there are more female serial killers than many would expect, and none are discussed in this episode. Honestly, that’s a bit of a bummer. Some female serial killer cases are every bit as fascinating (and chilling) as their male counterparts.

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Another interesting fact: Ted Bundy profiled Gary Ridgeway (AKA “the Green River Killer”) for investigators. The information he provided was fairly valuable in solving that case, and reveaed details about his own crimes and mentality.

We’re also reminded that, quite often in these cases, chance plays a role in catching suspects. For example, Ted Bundy was pulled over for traffic violations, becoming a prime suspect after they found a burglary and/or rape kit in his vehicle. Serial Killer Randy Kraft was pulled over for drunk driving, but happened to have a dead body in his passenger seat!  Similarly, Joel Rifkin was caught because his Mazda didn’t have a license plate, but there was a dead body in the truck bed.  Thankfully, a large number of serial killers are caught, and shows like this may help reduce the odds of them getting away.

That’s it for this Inside the Criminal Mind recap. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.