One of the rarest creatures in the criminal world is the female serial killer. Male serial killers are, unfortunately a common events.
The hunt at the moment in the United States for more than 45 suspected victims of the latest serial killer, Robert Charles Browne, is a case in point.
By comparison, female serial killers and what motivates them remain a mystery. Now a new psychological study of a female serial killer sheds new light on the issue.
The study, just published in the international journal Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health by a team of British and Swiss psychiatrists, is on a 33-year-old European woman identified only as “PK”. She killed two random victims and came close to killing a third.
Unlike most female serial killers, such as “black widows” who kill husbands or partners for their money, PK did not know her victims. They were all other women and chosen at random.
She first killed in 1991, after stalking women in a town near where she lived. After threatening two women with a stiletto knife, she followed a third woman returning to her car and stabbed her to death.
In 1992 she was arrested for setting fire to a shopping centre and spent four years in and out of detention, receiving psychiatric treatment for her arson (the first killing had remained unsolved).
After her release she killed again in 1997. Her victim was a 61-year-old woman in a park. PK stabbed her about 30 times and hit her with a large rock.
In 1998 she went to a bookshop and slashed the throat of the elderly store owner. Against expectations the victim lived.
PK was not a suspect in any of the attacks. After the third attack PK admitted to her therapist that she wanted to commit arson again and was committed to a mental hospital. It was there, when she began talking about stalking and killing women, that she became a suspect. She eventually confessed to all three attacks.
PK had a relatively normal upbringing. Unlike many serial killers, she did not kill animals as a child, but did admit to torturing insects. She was not abused by a parents, although said she hated them for being weak and abusing drugs. At school she was bullied.
She was a loner, enjoying lone bicycle rides, and at one point wanted to be a police officer. She had a relationship with a police officer 20 years her senior, but later developed a hatred of men in uniforms.
At one point she had a relationship with a man who was fascinated by Nazis and the Taliban. The man introduced her to the use of weapons and the martial art of Aikido. She had no history of alcohol or illicit drug misuse.
“In relation to the killings, she said she saw women as easy victims, and felt ‘excited’, ‘like a savage in face of his hunting prey’ when she saw them,” the study says. “Concerning the attempted murder, she expressed surprise and disappointment that the victim had survived, since she, PK, was ‘a perfectionist’.”
Forensic psychiatrists diagnosed PK as suffering from a personality disorder, rather than a mental illness. “Due to her dangerousness and limited treatability, unlimited detention in prison for the protection of others was recommended.”
The study likened PK to US female serial killer Aileen Wuornos, whose story was told in the movie Monster. Wuornos killed seven men by shooting while working as a prostitute. The study said both Wuornos and PK fitted the category of the ‘hedonistic’ or ‘power seeker’ type of female serial killer, although Wuornos had been abused as a child and repeatedly raped.
In the US authorities are trying to piece together the activities of the latest addition to that countries long list of serial killers, Robert Charles Browne. Browne has admitted to 49 murders, although there’s fears his tally could reach more than 70. Photographs found in Browne’s possession have been released by the El Paso County Sheriff’s office in an attempt to identify potential victims. The sheriff has also released a detailed summary of the case you can find here.
While his victims were all young females, Browne differed from most serial killers by using random methods to kill – strangulation, shooting, stabbing and in one case choking with a pair of shoe laces -and dispose of the bodies. It’s likely some of the theories about serial killers and their repeating patterns will have to be re-written as a result.
Which reminds me of something a prominent Australian forensic psychiatrist once told me about the way a serial killer’s crimes are studied to produce a “profile” to help catch the suspect. Such profiling techniques, pioneered by the FBI, are based on studies of serial killers in jails.
The problem with that technique is that authorities are learning to profile unsuccessful serial killers, who make mistakes and get caught. It tells you nothing about the unknown number of successful serial killers who don’t make mistakes and don’t get caught. Food for thought.
If you’re interested in serial killers and profiling, it’s worth checking out the website of retired FBI profiler John Douglas, http://www.johndouglasmindhunter.com/home.php, who worked on a number of high profile cases.
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