The Psychology Behind the Most Bone Chilling Murders in America

Talking about serial killers and horrible murders isn’t exactly pleasant — in fact, it’s horrifying. However, when you delve into the psyches of the criminals, it can actually be quite fascinating. If you’ve ever watched true crime documentaries, you’ve probably been captivated by the psychology behind the murders.

No one in their right mind kills people in cold blood. But the reasons behind some of the most prominent murders in America might shock you.

Are all murderers mentally ill?

Blue police light on top of a police car at night.

Here is the one thing they might have in common. | Getty Images

There’s no doubt that someone who kills another person is, at best, disturbed. But are they all mentally ill? Some people, like retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, believe that they are — and in fact, Stevens reversed his stance on the death penalty because of it.

But while many professional people do believe murderers are all mentally ill, some researchers say this is not true. Many killers, including the shooters in some of the recent mass shootings, don’t have a history of criminal activity or mental illness.

Next: Murders may have the same result, but the approaches are different. 

Murders can look very different

Handcuffs and a judge's gravel on a table.

You’d be surprised at the creativity of some murderers. | Giphy

Part of the problem with trying to classify all murderers as mentally ill is that circumstances are very different. Firing on a crowd in a mass shooting is not the same as calculating murders the way serial killers do or killing someone in the heat of the moment while in a fit of rage.

Indeed, serial murders and mass murders are very different. So rather than trying to find a common thread, we must assess each case individually. These are some of the sinister findings behind some of the worst murders in the country.

Next: This famous murderer managed to get others to do his dirty work for him.

Charles Manson and the Manson family

Charles Manson mugshot.

Charles Manson died serving a life sentence for grisly murders.
| California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Getty Images

One of the most famous string of murders in our country’s history can be traced back to the notorious Charles Manson, who recently passed away in prison. Manson has been particular psychologically fascinating because of his unique ability to exercise such a mental hold over others, getting them to perform brutal slayings under his influence. He never killed anyone himself, but rather convinced his cult members to do it for him.

Next: This killer was called Son of Siam.

David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz Son of Sam Killer

He made some very interesting claims. | YouTube

David Berkowitz, known to many as Son of Siam, terrorized the people of New York City from July 1976 to July 1977. He killed six people and wounded seven, and when he was caught, he claimed that his neighbor’s demon-possessed dog made him do it. Berkowitz was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Next: This infamous killer looked and acted deceptively charming.

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy black and white photograph.

It doesn’t get scarier than Ted Bundy. | State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory/Wikimedia Commons

Few serial killers in this country could ever compare to the sick and twisted Ted Bundy. Bundy treated serial killing like a sport, sometimes engaging in a twisted “catch a release” system just because he could. He was also a necrophile, admitting to spending the night with his victims after he murdered them. He was so possessive of his victims that sometimes he even ate their flesh.

Next: This man was convicted of killing his pregnant wife.

Scott Peterson

Scott Peterson sitting in a courtroom.

Scott Peterson almost got away with his horrendous murders. | YouTube

When Laci Peterson, who was eight months pregnant, went missing on Christmas Eve in 2002, her husband, Scott, acted suspicious right away. Months later, the bodies of Laci and her son, Connor, were discovered, and Scott was arrested. It was later discovered the Scott was having an affair, and authorities suspect he murdered his wife and son so that he could be “free” to be with his mistress, who had no idea he was married and cooperated with authorities.

Scott still denies his guilt, but he is currently on death row in California.

Next: This disturbing murderer was also convicted of cannibalism. 

Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer in a prison uniform being followed by a policeman.

A case that will go down in murder history. | Eugene Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. His story is particularly gruesome as he would dismember his victims, save some of their body parts, and eat their flesh. Dahmer was sentenced to multiple life prison terms, but he was killed by a fellow inmate while in prison. He had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and had struggled with alcoholism.

Next: This killer was the inspiration for several gruesome fictional characters.

Ed Gein

Ed Gein black and white photographer.

Ed Gein was the inspiration for some of your favorite horror flicks. | YouTube

Notorious killer Ed Gein grew up in a repressive household with a controlling mother. His mental health disintegrated when his mother died in 1945. When he was a suspect in a murder in 1957, authorities raided his home and found human organs and clothing and accessories made out of body parts. Gein spend the remainder of his days in a mental institution, and he inspired the fictional murderers Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill, and Leatherface.

Next: This was one of the worst school shootings in history.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: The Columbine Massacre

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold collage.

They shared one disturbing trait. | YouTube

In April of 2009, two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, gunned down their classmates at Columbine High School in what was (and is) one of the most disturbing mass shootings in history. Witnesses say the boys laughed and hollered while they were doing it, as if they were having the time of their lives. Harris and Klebold eventually turned their guns on themselves.

There were many misconceptions about the motivation behind the murderers, such as Harris and Klebold holding grudges against Evangelical Christians and being outcasts at school. But according to the boys’ private journals and Harris’s website, they simply hated the world and wanted to annihilate as much of it as they could.

Next: This disturbing murderer was nicknamed the Vampire of Sacramento. 

Richard Chase

Richard Chase photograph.

Richard Chase was known for drinking his victim’s blood. | YouTube

Richard Chase was one of America’s most notorious serial killers for a rather gruesome reason: He liked to drink his victims’ blood. The Vampire of Sacramento killed six people in California. He claimed he drank the blood because the Nazis were attempting to turn his blood into powder and he was trying to ward them off. Chase was thought to be schizophrenic.

Next: This nurse was convicted of killing her patients.

Kristen Gilbert

Kristen Gilbert standing in front of a wall.

She had a severe mental illness. | YouTube

Kristen Gilbert worked as a nurse, but also struggled with mental health issues and spent some time in a psychiatric ward. She had apparently made violent threats against others since she was a teenager, and she was jokingly nicknamed the “Angel of Death” by her colleagues due to the fact that a large number of patients died under her watch. Gilbert was eventually convicted of murdering four patients by administering fatal doses of epinephrine to induce cardiac arrest.

Next: This horrific killing was one of the worst anti-gay crimes in America.

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson sitting in a courtroom.

Had they gotten away with the murder, they would have targeted more LGBT victims. | YouTube

Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted in the brutal torture and murder of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard. The motive was thought to be sheer homophobia, as Shepard was targeted because he was gay. McKinney and Henderson remain in prison, and the murder prompted new laws regarding hate crimes.

Next: This man was every parent’s worst nightmare. 

Dean Corll

To say Dean Corll was a horrible human being was an understatement. With the help of two teen accomplices, he abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered at least 28 boys from 1970-1973. The crimes, which eventually became known as the Houston Mass Murders, came to light only after one of the teens, Elmer Henley, fatally shot Corll. Corll was also known as the Candy Man because his family owned a candy factory and he was known for giving candy to children.

Corll was never diagnosed with a mental illness, and his true motives will never be known.

Next: This killer was apparently inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street.

Daniel Gonzales

Daniel Gonzales mug shot.

He was sentenced to life in prison. | YouTube

Daniel Gonzales was 24 years old when he went on a killing spree. He murdered four people and attacked several more, later admitting that he was inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street and the Columbine massacre. Gonzales pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In August of 2007, he was found dead in his cell.

Next: The Killer Clown was the worst of them all.

John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy’s story is the most horrifying in American history. Convicted of raping and killing 33 boys and young men in the 1970s, Gacy became known as the “Killer Clown” because of his charitable services at fundraising events, parades, and children’s parties where he would dress up as a clown. Gacy had a rough childhood and was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. He spent 14 years on death row before he was executed.

After his execution, Gay’s brain was removed and examined by Dr. Helen Morrison, who was trying to find common traits between violent killers. His brain showed no abnormalities.

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