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The Devil Made Me Do It – are serial killers possessed?

The Devil Made Me Do It – are serial killers possessed?

There is a misconception that serial killers are possessed by demons.  A probable reason for this conception is that normal people cannot conceptualize that other normal people are capable of the atrocities that serial killers commit.  When asked what the most despicable act of a serial killer could be, (besides the obvious of killing, raping and torturing innocent victims) most people are inclined to consider necrophilia or cannibalism, or collecting body parts of victims to be used in self-stimulation fetishes. Most people do not grasp the deeply entrenched psychological symbolism of these acts and even the serial killer is himself often unaware of the symbolism.  People, including some serial killers are therefore inclined to attribute such heinous deeds to demonism.

In a 1993-article; Psychodynamic aspects of demonic possession and Satanic worship, G Ivey describes the symptoms of demonic possession as follows:

  • radical personality change
  • loss of self control
  • blasphemy
  • dissociative states
  • voice changes
  • auditory or visionary hallucinations of demons.

Applying psychologist Melanie Klein’s theory of object relations, Ivey explains demonic possession as the internalization of the bad object that derives from disturbed relationship between the parents and the child.  The case of American serial killer David Berkowitz (1976 -1977) illustrates how so-called “demonism” can actually be explained due to an incorporation of a bad object: David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) attributed his behaviour to demonic possession.  He made the following inscription in his diary : “There is no doubt in my mind that a demon has been living in me since birth.  All my life I’ve been wild, violent, temporal, mean, sadistic, acting with irrational anger and destructiveness” (H.P Jeffers, Profiles in Evil,1993).

Norman Simons, arrested as the Station Strangler in Cape Town in 1994 told detectives he had been bewitched as a little boy by a female witch doctor – an umfufunyana – and the murders were committed by the spirit of his deceased brother Boyzie, who was living inside him. He wrote: “I am nothing, I am dirty, I am filthy and not worthy. I am sorry for letting you down. Don’t get caught in the same thing. I really regret everything. It’s hard, it is very hard to be possessed by unknown forces. These forces cannot be explained by medication. I salute you with love for a better and understanding a peaceful South Africa.”

Simons was sent away from his nuclear family as a toddler and grew up with an aunt, where he observed mainly Xhosa traditions.  Only as a teenager did he move back to live with his biological mother in Mitchell’s Plein, Cape Town. He did not know his biological father.

Berkowitz was the illegitimate child of a mother who abandoned him.  According to Robert Ressler in his book Whoever fights monsters (1993) Berkowitz experienced problems with his adoptive parents.  His adoptive mother died when he was 14 years old and Berkowitz attempted to locate his biological mother.  He succeeded in tracing her, but she rejected him.  His first sexual experience was with a prostitute, and he contracted a venereal disease.

By the way, South African serial killers Cornelius Burger (1937) and the Cape Town Prostitute killer (1996) had also contracted venereal diseases and strangled sex workers whom they blamed.  David Berkowitz used a .44 Special caliber Bulldog revolver as his murder weapon and South Africa’s Velaphi Ndlangamandla, the Saloon killer (1998 – 1999) used a .22 Saloon riffle.

Although Berkowitz referred to a demon in his diary, there is sufficient evidence that he had the opportunity to internalize the bad mother object.  There is no evidence that he ever manifested with any of the symptoms of demonic possession as put forward by Ivey. None of these symptoms were found in the recorded case studies of any serial killers, that I have studied.

After his arrest, Berkowitz stated that he committed the murders in the name of a demon, a 6000-year-old man who lived in the dog of his neighbour, Sam.  He shot this dog before commencing with the murders.  Berkowitz later reported that any dog had the ability to point out the next victim that he should kill.  Ironically Berkowitz was traced due to the testimony of an elderly lady who walked her dog late one night and spotted him with a firearm. He was pointed out by a dog!

During an interview with Berkowitz, Ressler confronted him with the fact that the stories about the dogs and the demons were nonsense.  Although Berkowitz had managed to mislead psychiatrists with this story to such an extent that they diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, Ressler did not believe his story.  Berkowitz admitted to Ressler that the story was merely a ploy to secure an insanity plea.  He admitted that he had committed the murders because he resented his own mother and could not establish a relationship with any woman.

Berkowitz referred to himself as the Wicked King Maker, the Chubby Monster, the Duke of Death and Sam’s Creation before he took on the name Son of Sam.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s case also provides an example of how a serial killer justifies his acts by believing it to be the work of a demonic entity.   In his book The Man who could not kill enough, the secret murders of Jeffrey Dahmer (1992) A.E Schwartz reports that Dahmer was fascinated by the devil and liked films such as The Exorcist III and Return of the Jedi.  Ressler told me that Dahmer wanted to build a shrine in his apartment with real skulls and a skeleton from which he could draw power.  He also bought yellow contact lenses which he often wore.  Although Dahmer was interested in the occult, there is no record of demonic possession.  Dahmer admitted to an evil influence in his life : “I have no question whether or not there is an evil force in the world and whether or not I have been influenced by it” (Schwartz, 1992).

The following conclusions can be drawn regarding demonic possession as the origin of serial homicide based on an extensive review of the available literature :

  • serial killers do not manifest the symptoms associated with demonic possession
  • people who abduct children and rape or murder them in Satanic rituals, do not have the same intrinsic motives as serial killers
  • Satanists belong to covens and serial killers prefer to work alone, although there have been cases of two or three working together, but these instances are rare.

Interestingly, both Berkowitz and Dahmer initially pleaded guilty – Dahmer changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity, and Simons initially confessed and then retracted his confession. One thing is for certain: the devil did not make them do it and the origin of their urge to kill cannot be exorcised.

Top image: The Tyrant by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338)(Public Domain)

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