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My New Best Friend – Serial Killers combating loneliness by keeping bodies in their homes

Odd Nerdrum's painting Cannibals (Public Domain)

I have often over and over emphasized that serial killers are normal human beings and underneath their bizarre behaviour lie very normal human needs. Permit me as a profiler and psychologist to explain one of the most disturbing behaviours that some of them exhibit – Why do serial killers keep bodies of their victims in their homes?

In an article in Neuroscience.com, published in September 2023, researchers Dylan Wagner and Timothy Broom discuss that ‘lonely fans of Game of Thrones processed their favourite characters similarly to real friends in their brains!” fMRI scans showed these lonely individuals ‘think of beloved fictional characters, as they would genuine companions.’

Some serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Dennis Nielsen kept bodies of their victims in their homes, allegedly posing them at dinner tables and generally keeping them as companions. Said Dennis Nielsen, a British homosexual serial killer who kept the bodies of victims in his home under the floorboards: “I did it all for me. Purely selfishly. I worshipped the art and the act of death, over and over.  It is as simple as that.  I was honouring myself, enjoying the extremity of the death act itself.  If I did it to myself, I could only experience it once.  If I did it to others I could experience the death over and over again.

Both Dahmer and Nielsen lacked the social skills to communicate effectively with other people, and they were described as ‘outsiders and weird’ by their school friends.  Clearly they did not learn compassion as children and they were ostracised.

Although keeping dead bodies as companions in your home is deemed very abnormal behaviour to most people, the root of it – loneliness- is a very common human condition. Serial killers are humans and they had parents and grew up in neighbourhoods.

The World Health Organization considers loneliness a worldwide epidemic.  In November 2023 the Director General of WHO made the following comments: Currently, one in four older people experience social isolation, and one in six adolescents is socially isolated and lonely, though this is likely an under-estimate. Social isolation and loneliness affects both physical and mental health. It is associated with up to a 50 percent increase in dementia, and a 30 percent increase in strokes and cardiovascular disease. Social connection has profound benefits for improving health, education, and the economy.  

Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health points out social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone, anywhere: The teenager connected to social media but feeling disconnected from society, the young mother struggling to find her place amongst her peers, the worker with disability inhibited by inaccessibility, the grandfather feeling alone after the death of his partner. People who lack social connection have a 30% higher risk of early death, comparable to much better recognized risks such as smoking, excessive drinking or obesity.

Could we please make an effort to teach our children compassion, to get them involved in community projects, visit orphanages, retirement villages, animal shelters, food kitchens, to discourage bullying and speak up against it, to guide them to be considerate to other people in public, to be mindful of the impact of their behaviour on other people. Can we teach them that spiteful, selfish, acting out behaviour will alienate and isolate them from others.  Can we see a tantrum as an opportunity to guide and discipline and teach them to regulate their emotions, to reach out to other people. Can we encourage them to ‘use your words’ in stead of whining, to think and to care? Getting involved in community projects, charity etc provides meaning to peoples’ lives.  People with meaningful lives do not randomly kill strangers for their own pleasure, nor do they keep their decomposing corpses as best friends in their homes.

Featured image: Odd Nerdrum’s painting Cannibals (Public Domain)

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