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Serial Killers with Military Experience: Applying Learning Theory to Serial Murder



Scholars have endeavored to study the motivation and causality behind serial murder by researching biological, psychological, and sociological variables. Some of these studies have provided support for the relationship between these variables and serial murder. However, the study of serial murder continues to be an exploratory rather than explanatory research topic. This article examines the possible link between serial killers and military service. Citing previous research using social learning theory for the study of murder, this article explores how potential serial killers learn to reinforce violence, aggression, and murder in military boot camps. As with other variables considered in serial killer research, military experience alone cannot account for all cases of serial murder. Future research should continue to examine this possible link.
Comparative Criminology
International Journal of Offender Therapy and
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0306624X02464007
2002 46: 453Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol
Tammy Castle and Christopher Hensley
Serial Killers with Military Experience: Applying Learning Theory to Serial Murder
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InternationalJournal ofOffender Therapyand ComparativeCriminology
SerialKillers WithMilitary Experience
Serial Killers With Military Experience:
Applying Learning Theory to Serial Murder
Tammy Castle
Christopher Hensley
Abstract: Scholars have endeavored to study the motivation and causality behind serial mur
der by researching biological, psychological, and sociological variables. Some of these stud
ies have provided support for the relationship between these variables and serial murder.
However, the study of serial murder continues to be an exploratory rather than explanatory
research topic. This article examines the possible link between serial killers and military ser
vice. Citing previous research using social learning theory for the study of murder, this article
explores how potential serial killers learn to reinforce violence, aggression, and murder in mil
itary boot camps. As with other variables considered in serial killer research, military experi
ence alone cannot account for all cases of serial murder. Future research should continue to
examine this possible link.
The term serial murder was first introduced to differentiate between individuals
who killed over a prolonged period of time and mass murderers who killed several
victims in one episode. Although the term was not popularized until the 1980s,
serial murder has existed for hundreds of years. The first documented case of
serial murder occurred in the 15th century. Gille de Rais, a French nobleman and
friend of Joan of Arc, was executed for torturing and murdering approximately
100 children (Newton, 2000).
Although serial murder remains a relatively rare phenomenon, the number of
serial murders has risen in the United States in the past 20 years. Hickey (1997)
profiled 337 cases of serial murder that occurred in the United States from 1800 to
1995. The majority of these cases (302) occurred between 1980 and 1995.
Although serial killings appear more frequently, a portion of this increase may be
due to enhanced technology that allows law enforcement officials the necessary
information to link possible serial homicides. In addition, media attention has
played a large part in increasing public awareness of serial murder. However,
media attention alone cannot account for the increase in serial murder during the
past couple of decades. Regardless, serial murder remains a rare occurrence
(Hickey, 1997).
The study of serial homicide remains in its infancy. Studies have focused on the
motivation and causation, which has encompassed biological, sociological, and
psychological factors. Scholars have examined whether the propensity for serial
murder is the result of heredity, head trauma, environmental factors, parental
influences, or mental illness. There are no variables that can account for all cases
International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 46(4), 2002 453-465
2002 Sage Publications
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of serial murder. Therefore, research must continue in this area to determine what
other factors contribute to the making of a serial killer. One link observed in the
case studies of serial killers is that some of them have served time in the military.
This link has not been addressed in previous literature on serial murder, although
the military is a social context that promotes violence and aggression. Therefore,
the focus of this article is to explore the military as a social context where future
serial murderers may learn the necessary skills to kill.
Serial murder is a term generally used to describe murders that are committed
sequentially or in repetition. In the early 1980s, FBI officials first used the term
serial murder to define this phenomenon and distinguish this type of murder from
mass murder. Serial murder was defined by law enforcement officials as sexual
attacks and resulting deaths of young women, men, or children committed by
male killers who tend to follow physical or psychological patterns (Egger, 1998).
In 1988, the FBI revised their definition, describing serial killings as three
or more murders committed separately, with an emotional cooling-off period
between the homicides (Gerberth & Turco, 1997). Also in 1988, Brooks, Devine,
Green, Hart, and Moore published a report offering a more detailed definition of
serial murder. The report defined serial murder as
a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not
always by an offender acting alone. The crimes may occur over a period of time
ranging from hours to years. Quite often the motive is psychological, and the
offender’s behavior and the physical evidence observed at the crime scenes will
reflect sadistic, sexual overtones. (p. vii)
Holmes and DeBurger (1988) described five elements that further distin
guished serial murder from other types of multiple homicide. The first element
contained repetitive homicides. The serial killer continued to kill during a period
of months or years. The second element explained that these murders were typi
cally one on one, although some “team killers” did exist. The third element sug
gested that serial murder rarely occurred between people who were intimates.
Typically, no prior relationship existed between victim and killer. The fourth ele
ment implied the serial killer felt a compulsion to kill; thus, the murders were not
crimes of passion and did not stem from victim precipitation. The fifth element
suggested that economic motives may have been missing in most cases of serial
In 1990, Egger limited the definition of serial murder to include seven major
components. The first component of serial murder is when one or more individu
als commit a second and/or subsequent murder. The second component asserts
there is generally no prior relationship between victims and attacker. Third, the
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subsequent murders take place at different times and have no apparent connection
to the prior murder. The fourth characteristic is that the murders are usually com
mitted in different geographical locations. Fifth, the motive is not for material
gain. Rather, the motive is the murderer’s desire to have power or dominance over
victims. Sixth, victims may have symbolic value for the murderer. The murderer
may also perceive victims as powerless given their situation in time, place, or sta
tus within their immediate surroundings. For this reason, the seventh component
is that victims tend to be those who are most vulnerable, least valued, or
marginalized by our society. These include the homeless, prostitutes, homosexu
als, vagrants, missing children, individual women out alone and moving in iso
lated areas, college students, older women, and migrant workers (Egger, 1990).
Some researchers suggest that Egger’s (1990) definition is too specific and that
a broader definition of serial murder should be used. Hickey (1997) argued that
the definition of serial killers should include anyone who commits multiple mur
ders during an extended period of time. Many women who commit multiple mur
ders often kill acquaintances or are motivated by profit. Hickey’s definition of
serial murder would encompass more women in this otherwise predominantly
male phenomenon.
Although scholars disagree on the precise definition of serial murder, psycho-
logical factors are often examined in research on serial homicide. The heinous
nature of serial murder propels many to question the sanity of those who commit
such crimes. The next section will discuss the issue of mental illness in the case of
serial murder.
Many people in society prefer to explain serial murder by labeling killers as
insane. However, most serial killers are not insane. Using the legal definition of
insanity, the vast majority of serial killers know the difference between right and
wrong at the time of commission of the crime. Fewer than 4% of serial killers have
attempted to use insanity as a defense. Only 1% of those who used this defense
were found not guilty by reason of insanity (Schechter & Everitt, 1996).
Compared with other cases of homicide, less than 1% of these used insanity as a
defense. Only 25% of these cases were successful (“The Insanity Plea, 1993).
Although it is not insanity, most scholars agree there is some pathological process
associated with the commission of such crimes (Carlisle, 1993).
Norris (1988) took a biological approach to serial murder. In his book Serial
Killers, he suggested some serial killers may be suffering from a neurological
disorder. This is often due to head trauma they experienced in childhood. The
head trauma may damage certain areas of the brain, causing episodic aggressive
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Although Norris (1988) focused on structural brain abnormalities, he
acknowledged the contributions of environmental and psychological factors.
Norris noted 21 patterns indicative of episodic aggressive behavior, including
ritualistic behavior, masks of sanity, compulsivity, search for help, severe memory
disorders, chronic inability to tell the truth, suicidal tendencies, history of sexual
assault, deviant sexual behavior and hypersexuality, head injuries or injuries that
occurred at birth, history of chronic drug or alcohol abuse, alcohol or drug-abusing
parents, victim of physical or emotional abuse, cruel parenting, result of unwanted
pregnancy, product of a difficult gestation period for the mother, interrupted bliss or
no bliss in childhood, extraordinary cruelty to animals, arsenal tendencies without
obvious homicidal interests, symptoms of neurological impairment, evidence of
genetic disorders, or feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy. (pp. 222-223)
Some serial killers have suffered episodes of psychosis, neurosis, and para
noia. Episodes of psychosis involve the individual having some form of break
with reality during which they may exhibit dangerous or violent behavior. Neuro
ses, on the other hand, are less severe and include many of the behaviors associ-
ated with personality disorders (Hickey, 1997). Paranoia is the sense that an
individual is being endangered, threatened, or plotted against. Paranoia is symp-
tomatic of many neuropsychiatric disorders including senility, seizures, brain
damage, and schizophrenia (Lewis, 1998).
Schizophrenia is often first diagnosed in the teenage years or the early 20s.
Symptoms include disorganized thought processes, psychosis, hallucinations,
delusions, and feelings of being controlled from the outside. There are different
subtypes of schizophrenia; however, most fall within the categories of paranoid or
nonparanoid (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Paranoid schizophrenics are often associated with unprovoked bouts of vio-
lence. In most cases, the violence is due to hallucinations or delusions (Brizer &
Crowner, 1989). Some report hearing voices that command them to kill. David
Berkowitz, also known as “Son of Sam, tried to use schizophrenia as a defense at
his trial. Berkowitz claimed that the next door neighbor’s dog commanded him to
kill but later recanted (Newton, 2000).
Violence in schizophrenics is often committed during a psychotic episode.
However, few believe that this explanation holds true for serial murderers. Some
single episodes of homicide can be accounted for by temporary insanity due to
schizophrenia, but there has never been an authenticated case of a schizophrenic
committing serial murder (Hickey, 1997).
Other types of mental illness that have been used as an explanation for serial
murder fall into the category of dissociative disorders. One of these illnesses,
dissociative identity disorder (DID), is also known as multiple personality disor
der. DID is characterized by the existence of two or more different personalities or
personality states (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Psychologists
believe that DID develops in response to some traumatic experience in childhood.
The personalities develop as a way to dissociate from the pain of the experience.
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KennethBianchi, also known as one of the Hillside Stranglers, attempted to create
an alternate personality named Steve. Bianchi, however, was faking DID and was
found competent to stand trial. DID has been used successfully as a defense in one
instance of a single homicide. However, it too has never been authenticated in any
serial killer (Hickey, 1997).
Biological abnormalities and severe mental illness are rare in serial killers.
However, some pathological process is often present. The most common psycho
logical factor experienced by serial killers is a personality disorder. The next sec
tion will discuss the types of personality disorders that are most commonly associ
ated with serial killers.
Personality disorders, unlike severe mental illness, are often difficult to detect.
Individuals with personality disorders do not show any overt symptoms such as
those associated with psychoses or schizophrenia. Personality disorders are insid-
ious and often present as simply aspects of an individual’s character (Wishnie,
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV (DSM-IV;
American Psychiatric Association, 1994) is the guidebook used by psychiatrists,
psychologists, and social workers to assess and diagnose mental disorders. The
DSM-IV describes personality disorders as “enduring patterns of inner experience
and behavior that deviate markedly from the individual’s culture” (American Psy-
chiatric Association, 1994, p. 629). For a personality disorder to be diagnosed, the
DSM-IV states that two of the following four areas must be affected: cognition
(perception and interpretation of self, others, and events), affectivity (intensity,
range, and appropriateness of emotional response), interpersonal functioning,
and impulse control (Hickey, 1997). The most common personality disorder
linked with serial killers is antisocial personality disorder (Johnson & Becker,
Historically, the term psychopath was used to describe someone that today
would be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. In the 1960s, a psycho
path was characterized by lacking feeling toward other humans, being emotion
less, showing no remorse, acting on impulse without thought, and lacking drive or
motivation. Psychologists also acknowledged the lack of any psychoses or mental
deficits (Craft, 1966).
In 1976, Hervey Cleckley released a publication called The Mask of Sanity.In
this publication, Cleckley devised a checklist of symptoms of the individual suf
fering from a psychopathic disorder. These symptoms included superficial charm,
intelligence, unreliability, malingering, lack of remorse and shame, lack of moti
vation, lack of delusions, narcissism, trivial sex life, and lack of long-term goals.
Many scholars agree that not all serial killers exhibit all of these qualities. To the
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contrary, some serial killers actually do experience remorse. To extinguish the
guilt, they negate their feelings or rationalize their behavior.
Based on Cleckley’s observations, Hare (1991) revised the psychopathy
checklist. He argued that psychopaths exhibit superficial charm, narcissism,
pathological lying, manipulation, lack of remorse and guilt, shallow affect, lack of
empathy, and failure to accept responsibility for their actions. The psychopath’s
lifestyle is described as parasitic and prone to boredom, with poor behavioral con
trols, lack of long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, juvenile delinquency,
promiscuous sexual behavior, short-term marriages, and criminal versatility.
Current scholars contend that serial killers may exhibit some of these traits, but
not all of them. Psychopathy is a broad category that should not be used to
describe serial killers due to the variety of types of offenders. Today, psycholo
gists have replaced the term psychopathy with antisocial personality disorder.
The common pathology among serial killers tends to reflect a high degree of
anger, hostility, frustration, low self-esteem, and feelings of inadequacy (Hickey,
Fox and Levin (1994) suggested that rather than suffer from psychopathy,
many serial killers possess psychological facilitators for neutralizing guilt and
They are able to compartmentalize their attitudes by conceiving of at least two cate-
gories of human beings—those whom they care about and treat with decency, and
those with whom they have no relationship and therefore can victimize with total
disregard for their feelings. (p. 44)
Fox and Levin (1994) also asserted that compartmentalization is a method
used by serial killers to separate themselves from their crimes. However,
compartmentalization is learned and used by individuals in their everyday roles.
Individuals separate the positive and negative aspects of their personalities and
create two separate selves, one who may be a cutthroat businessman at work
whereas the other is a loving husband and father.
In his book The Nazi Doctors, Lifton (1986) examined how Nazi physicians
were able to conduct horrendous experiments on Jews in the concentration camps.
Through his research, the author suggested the doctors similarly compartmental
ized (Lifton referred to it as “doubling”) their activities and attitudes. They devel
oped one self for conducting experiments and another for their lives outside of the
Fox and Levin (1994) contended that along with compartmentalization, dehu
manization is another neutralization method learned by serial killers. Dehuman
ization is another psychological process that effectively permits killing without
guilt. Lifton’s (1986) study concluded that the physicians were also able to con
vince themselves that their victims were less than human. Jews were viewed as
subhumans of whom the world needed to be rid. Therefore, these nonhumans
were expendable and could be sacrificed for the sake of scientific inquiry. In
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the United States, similar collective definitions of subhumanity were used as
justifications for the enslavement, segregation, and violence against African
In the case of serial killers, dehumanization is often used when selecting the
victims. Prostitutes, homosexuals, and the homeless are viewed by serial killers as
subhuman elements of society. However in some cases, dehumanization does not
occur until after victims have been captured. Victims then become objects that
serial killers can rape, torture, mutilate, and eventually murder (Fox & Levin,
Serial killers may suffer from personality disorders. However, some scholars
believe the behavior they exhibit can also be learned in different environments.
The next section will explore the military as an environment that promotes vio
lence and teaches individuals to kill.
Some scholars propose that the military provides the social context where ser-
vicemen learn aggression, violence, and murder. Grossman (1996), a military
expert on the psychology of killing, discusses these methods in On Killing: The
Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman coined the
term killology to describe a new interdisciplinary field: the study of the methods
and psychological effects of training military recruits to circumvent their inhibi-
tions to killing fellow human beings.
Grossman (1996) noted that previous military research showed that service-
men were not very inclined to kill. During the Civil War, only a tiny percentage of
servicemen fired to hit, whereas the vast majority fired over the enemy’s head. A
team of researchers, studying what servicemen did in battle during World War II,
discovered that only 15% to 20% of individual servicemen were able to fire at an
exposed enemy. Considering this unwillingness to kill in battle a problem, the
military adopted different techniques in an attempt to increase this percentage. By
the time of the Korean War, the rate of servicemen willing to fire to kill increased
to 55%. During the Vietnam War, the rate had risen to more than 90% (Grossman,
Grossman (1996) stated that today, the military uses various training methods
to increase the killing rates of servicemen, including brutalization, classical con
ditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling. Brutalization and desensitiza
tion to violence are first encountered at boot camp. Cadets are verbally and physi
cally abused by superiors for the entire duration of boot camp. Cadets also lose all
individuality by being forced to act and dress alike. The author reports that this
brutalization is designed to break down existing mores and norms and to accept a
new set of values that embrace violence and death as a way of life. Cadets eventu
ally becomes desensitized to violence and accepts it as a normal and essential sur
vival skill.
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Classical conditioning is also used by the military so that servicemen learn to
associate violence with pleasurable consequences. Grossman (1996) provided an
example of the Japanese using classical conditioning during World War II. The
Japanese placed Chinese prisoners in a ditch with their hands bound. A few Japa
nese servicemen would go into the ditch and kill their prisoners with a bayonet.
Groups of young servicemen were placed on the banks to watch and cheer on the
other servicemen. Afterward, the servicemen who watched were treated to nice
meals and prostitutes. The Japanese found these techniques to be effective in
enabling very large numbers of servicemen to commit atrocities, thus associating
pleasure with death and suffering.
Operant conditioning, the procedure of repetitive stimulus-response reinforce
ment chaining, is also used by the military to condition servicemen to react a cer
tain way. An appropriate example of operant conditioning by the military is the
use of flight simulators to train pilots. When pilots are flying and experience a
problem, they will react reflexively due to the hours of training on the flight simu
lator (Grossman, 1996).
Grossman (1996) also suggested that conditioned responses are beneficial in
various ways. Servicemen and police officers, for example, are trained to shoot at
man-shaped targets. This is the stimulus. The conditioned response is to shoot the
target. The trainees repeat these procedures many times. Later, servicemen and
police officers will reflexively shoot to kill when faced with the same situation.
According to Grossman (1996), role models are also used by the military. Ser-
vicemen are provided immediate role models, their drill sergeants. Drill sergeants
personify violence and aggression, and servicemen strive to be like their role
models. Dehumanization also contributes to servicemen learning to kill. Enemies
are viewed as subhuman and become objects. The learned, conditioned responses
take over, and servicemen then become killers (Grossman, 1996).
Unfortunately, only one empirical study has examined the possible link
between serial murder and military experience. Using data collected from 354
previously identified case studies, Castle (2001) identified 25 American serial
killers with previous military experience. Thus, approximately 7% of all the
serial killers identified in her study had a military background. In the next section,
we apply learning theory to serial murder with a special emphasis on military
Learning theorists contend that deviant and criminal behavior that can be
learned can also be unlearned. Although there are many criticisms of learning the
ory, it is still used today by researchers. Serial murder is one area to which scholars
have attempted to apply learning theory. Hale (1993) suggested that serial murder
is a crime that can also be learned.
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Hale (1993) noted that the internal drives of a serial killer are often overlooked
as motivation. Previous case studies of serial killers suggested that killers’victims
often resemble persons who caused the killers humiliation. Hale proposed that
early humiliation in the lives of serial murderers can eventually translate into
criminal behavior. This happens, however, only if killers recognize and internal
ize the humiliation as a motive.
Hale (1993) used Amsel’s (1958) frustration theory to explain how killers
internalize the perceived wrong and use it as a justification for murder. Based on
this theory, killers associate certain cues from the situation in which the humilia
tion initially occurred with the later humiliation. The later or current humiliation
is referred to as a nonreward situation. Nonreward presented in a situation in
which reward previously occurred produces an unconditioned frustration
response. The cues that are present during the humiliation become conditioned to
produce an anticipatory frustration response. This response also produces a dis
tinctive internal stimuli, which motivates the individual to avoid potentially
humiliating situations in the future.
The Hull (1943) and Spence (1936) theories of discrimination learning explain
why killers are not able to discriminate one instance of humiliation from another.
Situations in which killers have experienced a reward (reinforcement) allow them
to discriminate between stimuli and choose the behavior that produces the reward.
However, killers have experienced very few, if any, situations that produce a
reward. Therefore, in all situations in which the cues indicate a potential humilia-
tion to the killers, the killers associate them with a nonreinforcement situation.
The abundance of these nonreinforcement situations does not allow killers to dis-
criminate one situation from another.
Hale (1993) also uses Dollard and Miller’s (1950) theory of learning to explain
why killers “instigate” a certain behavior. An instigated behavior is a behavior
where the predicted response is the consequence. This consequence has been
observed or inferred by the individuals. The behavior may be instigated to seek
approval or some other desired goal. Frustration occurs when a barrier prevents
the individuals from reaching the desired goal.
This frustration is the result of a basic impulse or drive being blocked. The
aggressiveness is blocked but must eventually be released. The aggressive
impulses may be released indirectly through displacement to less threatening
objects. Using Freud’s idea of transference, Dollard and Miller (1950) suggested
responses may be transferred from one object to another through generalization.
In the application to serial murder, killers are under the control of individuals
who originally caused the humiliation. Killers may release the frustration and
aggression on the original individuals. However, the control and humiliation often
prevents killers from doing this. Therefore, the humiliation becomes internalized
and is not corrected. Through generalization, killers transfer this internalized
humiliation to their victims in an attempt to rectify the past humiliation (Hale,
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Hale (1993) focused on the internal drives of killers in applying learning theory
to serial murder. Based on previous case studies that report killers’ victims often
resemble someone who caused them humiliation, Hale suggested that the early
humiliation can eventually translate into criminal behavior. Killers internalize a
perceived wrong and use it as a justification for murder. The abundance of
nonreinforcement situations makes it impossible for killers to discriminate one
situation from another. Eventually, killers, using generalization, transfer internal
ized humiliation to their victims. The killers are unable to discriminate between
different stimuli. Hale asserted that this transference occurs only if killers recog
nize and internalize the humiliation as a motive for the murders. However,
although most victims have some symbolic value for the killers, not all of the vic
tims resemble someone from their past.
Hale (1993), like other learning theorists, contended that serial murder can be
unlearned. Killers are unable to discriminate or specify the differences and simi
larities between comparable stimuli. Serial killers are confusing cues from the
past with ones in the present. Therapy may be able to help serial killers identify
these faulty generalizations and expand their learning processes (Hale, 1993).
Burgess and Akers’s (1966) theory of differential association-reinforcement
follows the logic of operant principles while acknowledging the cognitive pro-
cesses that contribute to such associations. The principles of their learning theory
as well as contributions by Grossman (1996) can be applied to serial killers who
have served in the military. Although branches, ranks, and types of military ser-
vice may differ among the cases, military boot camp provides a common social
context in which servicemen can transfer violence and aggression into learning
how to kill. War and combat experience may help to strengthen or reinforce the
behavior; however, the learning experiences provided in boot camp are sufficient.
The first principle of Burgess and Akers’s (1966) theory asserted that deviant
behavior is learned according to the principles of operant conditioning. This
repetitive procedure of stimulus response conditions servicemen to react in a cer
tain way. Grossman (1996) gave examples of how this is used in the military,
including training pilots on flight simulators and conditioning servicemen to
shoot at man-shaped targets.
The behavior can be learned in nonsocial situations where the behavior is
either reinforcing or discriminating and through social interactions of other per
sons where their behavior is observed to be reinforcing or discriminating. The
likelihood that the behavior will be repeated in the future is governed by positive
and negative reinforcement. Killing in the military or eliminating the enemy
threat is deemed an essential survival tool. Servicemen are positively reinforced
for this behavior. Servicemen also are exposed to the interactions of other service
men being reinforced for their behavior. Grossman (1996) discussed this in his
study, contending that the military uses positive role modeling and that the role
models usually represent people who personify violence and aggression.
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The principal part of learning deviant behavior occurs in the groups that con
trol individuals’major source of reinforcements. When individuals enter the mili
tary, that group becomes the individuals’ major source of reinforcements. As
Grossman (1996) reported, brutalization is a technique used by the military to
break down individuals’ existing mores and norms and to embrace violence and
aggression as a new way of life. The military then becomes the individuals’ pri
mary social group.
The specific techniques, attitudes, and avoidance procedures of deviant behav
ior are learned in reinforcing situations. Servicemen learn not only to accept death
and killing as a way of life but also the techniques of killing and the attitudes that
reinforce this type of behavior. Dehumanization and compartmentalization are
also learned as methods to neutralize remorse and guilt. Servicemen are taught
there are two groups of people, fellow servicemen and enemies. Enemies are
viewed as subhuman, which neutralizes the guilt of killing them.
Fox and Levin (1994) discussed how serial killers use these two techniques.
Dehumanization is used by serial killers to objectify their victims. This may occur
before the victim is captured or afterward to neutralize any guilt associated with
torture, rape, or murder. Compartmentalization is also used by serial killers to
allowthem to havea life outside of the killing. Some serial killers are able to main-
tain families or other relationships with people they do not kill. They are able to
separate the two different parts of their lives. These skills may be learned by serial
killers in the military and transferred into civilian life.
The potential for persons to commit deviant behavior is increased in situations
where the presence of normative definitions and verbalizations over conforming
behavior have acquired discriminatory value. In the military, servicemen learn
that killing is a normal and accepted way of life for servicemen. Serial killers learn
that conforming to behavior in the military is to embrace a way of life that encour-
ages violence and aggression. This way of life is not considered conforming
behavior in civilian life, although killing is defined as normal in the military. This
behavior has been reinforced in the military, and serial killers apply these learned
skills in civilian life.
Finally, the strength of deviant behavior is a direct function of the amount, fre
quency, and probability of its reinforcement. Violence and aggression are contin
uously and consistently reinforced in the military. Servicemen learn that these
values will be positively reinforced. Although the specific reward changes, serial
killers murder because it provides them with some kind of reinforcement. How
ever, as Holmes and Holmes (1994) pointed out when describing the cyclic nature
of serial murder, the ritual often leaves serial killers depressed and unsatisfied.
Serial killers begin the cycle again, believing that this will cure the depression. As
serial killers continue to cycle, very rarely do the murders leave the killers feeling
satisfied or rewarded. Yet, the behavior has been frequently reinforced; therefore,
it is more likely to be repeated in the future.
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Although serial murder has existed for hundreds of years, the study of serial
murder remains in its infancy. Scholars have endeavored to study serial murder by
focusing on biological, psychological, and sociological factors. Some of these
studies have provided support in hindsight for these various factors by noting their
evidence in the case histories of serial killers. However, none of these factors exist
in all cases of serial murder.
The general theory of social learning, as formulated by Burgess and Akers
(1966), was applied to show how the military provided a social group through
which potential or future serial killers learn the skills and neutralization tech
niques of killing. Grossman’s (1996) research in the military on the psychology of
killing supports the idea that murder, like other forms of crime and deviant behav
ior, can be learned. Although researchers have used social learning theory to sup
port crime and deviant behavior, Hale (1993) was the first scholar who attempted
to apply learning theory to serial murder.
Like other variables previously considered in the study of serial murder, mili-
tary experience is not present in all cases. Therefore, the military may be just one
social group that provides the serial killer with the associations and reinforce-
ments necessary to learn how to kill. However, future serial killers may be
attracted to military service for this reason. As the study of serial murder remains a
new area of research, future studies might examine this relationship further.
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Tammy Castle, M.A.
Doctoral Student
Department of Criminology
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Christopher Hensley, Ph.D.
Institute for Correctional Research and Training
Morehead State University
Serial Killers With Military Experience 465
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... Another example of a social constructionist view is the 'military theory' (Castle & Hensley, 2002;Fox & Levin, 2012). According to Castle and Hensley (2002) various serial murderers have served in the military. ...
... Another example of a social constructionist view is the 'military theory' (Castle & Hensley, 2002;Fox & Levin, 2012). According to Castle and Hensley (2002) various serial murderers have served in the military. This observation gave rise to the view that serial murder might be related to military training and as a result an explanation of serial murder as learnt behaviour commenced (Fox & Levin, 2012). ...
... Soldiers' military training includes desensitisation towards taking a human life and soldiers often get praised for their efforts. Thus, the soldier becomes the serial murderer who has learnt that it is acceptable to kill (Castle & Hensley, 2002;Egger, 1999;Fox & Levin, 2012). ...
... These perpetrators also exhibit the core characteristic features of sadipaths regarding manipulation, narcissism, control, lack of distress over their actions, and lack of guilt (Lubaszka, Shon, & Hinch, 2014; Ramsland, 2007). Castle and Hensley (2002) examined serial killers in military culture and found that the very culture of the military can cause some to engage in homicide. Through the perspective of social learning theory, it was proposed that military members learn to internalize an aggressive and violent mentality, which can lead to subsequent acts of unjustified murder. ...
... Through the perspective of social learning theory, it was proposed that military members learn to internalize an aggressive and violent mentality, which can lead to subsequent acts of unjustified murder. Again, it can be seen how much of this is also connected to environmental, interpersonal, and sociological variables (Castle & Hensley, 2002;LaBrode, 2007;Miller, 2014). ...
... At this point in time, there have not been any validated explanations constructed to adequately capture the range of interacting factors and causes for serial murder (James, 2019; Lynes & Wilson, 2015). The very nature of serial murder makes it a difficult subject to study beyond certain limited methods (Castle & Hensley, 2002;LaBrode, 2007). Even with this being the case, serial murderers garner a sizable amount of academic and media attention (e.g., movies, television, journalistic). ...
... Research on serial murder still remains limited due to its rare occurrence and difficulty in obtaining access to offenders [1,2,6,13,[15][16][17]. In addition to these obstacles and despite the proliferation of terms used to define multicide (i.e., mass murder, sexual/lust murder, spree murder, serial murder), there remains debate over the "true" definition of serial murder, which varies along a continuum of very broad to very specific [1,3,4,[6][7][8][9]11,13,15,[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]. ...
... Research on serial murder still remains limited due to its rare occurrence and difficulty in obtaining access to offenders [1,2,6,13,[15][16][17]. In addition to these obstacles and despite the proliferation of terms used to define multicide (i.e., mass murder, sexual/lust murder, spree murder, serial murder), there remains debate over the "true" definition of serial murder, which varies along a continuum of very broad to very specific [1,3,4,[6][7][8][9]11,13,15,[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]. Definitions vary with minimum number of victims (i.e., 2 to 4), varying cooling-off periods (i.e., time between murders), and various necessary motivations [3,4,[7][8][9]11,13,15,[17][18][19][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]. ...
... In addition to these obstacles and despite the proliferation of terms used to define multicide (i.e., mass murder, sexual/lust murder, spree murder, serial murder), there remains debate over the "true" definition of serial murder, which varies along a continuum of very broad to very specific [1,3,4,[6][7][8][9]11,13,15,[18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]. Definitions vary with minimum number of victims (i.e., 2 to 4), varying cooling-off periods (i.e., time between murders), and various necessary motivations [3,4,[7][8][9]11,13,15,[17][18][19][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]. The disparities that exist over the way researchers define serial murder continues to complicate and impede research [1,3,9,11,13,20,[23][24][25]. ...
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This exploratory study analyzed how three serial killers (i.e., Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer) potentially rationalized and justified their murders by applying techniques of neutralization. This paper discusses how the use of these neutralizations also functions as a form of stigma management assisting in the maintenance of a positive presentation of self, thus mitigating responsibility for their crimes. This study conducted a content analysis of data comprised from interviews and case histories of these three serial killers. Based on these analyses, the impression is conveyed that these killers used neutralizations to manage their identities (i.e., present “normal” selves), mitigate responsibility for their actions, and minimize the stigma associated with being labeled a serial killer.
... This realization has heightened during the most recent era as more than a decade of sustained combat has been underway and highlighted by the reintegration of recent era veterans. Additionally, concerns persist regarding service members' potential risk to public safety due to their training (Archer & Gartner, 1976;Castle & Hensley, 2002;Grossman, 1996;Wright et al., 2012), as well as costs associated with criminal justice system interaction. Finally, the American public possesses a respect for and commitment to aid those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. ...
... Brown (2008) argued that service members undergo an institutionalization process during service participation that is not undone postdischarge, thus transporting service elements into the civilian landscape. This postulation can be found in other literature that asserts that service members are exposed to violence and aggressive tactics that are not lost or forgotten when the individual enters civilian life postdischarge, resulting in behaviors deemed criminal in a nonmilitary environment (Archer & Gartner, 1976;Castle & Hensley, 2002;Grossman, 1996;Lankford, 2009). Finally, the existing assumption of a military-crime relationship is further evidenced by a belief and the requirement in some cases or programs that VTC admission is dependent on treatment for such issues or "precipitating condition[s]" (Jones, 2014, p. 328). ...
Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) are currently the fastest growing specialized court in the United States. In the wake of this rapid dissemination, the field has begun to empirically research VTCs but has acknowledged that little is known about them. While initial examinations of VTC program structure, operation, and outcomes have been conducted, the concept itself has yet to be critically examined to date. Therefore, this work calls attention to the need for critical discussions and evaluations of the VTC concept itself, specifically its underlying assumptions and ongoing policies and practices. To begin this inquiry, we first discern several assumptions on which the VTC concept exists and then analyze the related discourse and criticism available to assess the validity and potential effects of these assumptions. Next, several VTC policies and practices that are based in these assumptions and have the potential to be discriminatory are identified, and their current implementation and effects are investigated. A discussion of the identified assumptions and practices congruity with punishment philosophies ensues. Finally, state of empirical knowledge on VTCs is reviewed, revealing its infancy. The conclusion highlights key elements discovered in this work and presents corresponding recommendations and guidance for future consideration and research.
... Military Experience: A new proposal links military experience to anger and aggression, developing aggressive reactions and investigating these effects on those possessing the traits of a serial killer. "The military provides the social context where servicemen learn aggression, violence, and murder" (Castle & Hensley, 2002). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has also been identified as a serious issue sometimes predisposes military personnel to aggression as result of traumatic experience what witnessed in battle. ...
Full-text available
For a girl child to become a proper and useful adult, she needs both informal and qualitative formal educations. These will enable her to develop her mind, intellects and skills to be able to contribute meaningfully to her society. The purpose of this study was to investigate the statistical analysis of educational challenges of girl- 381 child education in Southwestern Nigeria. Descriptive research design of ex-post-facto was used in the study. Six hundred (600) respondents were selected from three (3) selected states in southwestern Nigeria (i.e., Ogun state, Oyo state and Lagos state). The respondents were measured with relevant adapted standardized scale (instruments) and the data obtained was analyzed using simple percentage and Pearson Product Moment Correlation (PPMC) statistical analysis. Three (3) research questions were raised and answered in the study. The result showed that educational challenges among girl-child was at the high side with about 67.9% in terms of domestic violence, prostitution and psychological among others, there was significant relationship between religious belief (r= .734; p<0.05), cultural value (r= .691; p<0.05) and girl-child education. In view of these findings, the study recommended that government at all levels should take appropriate legislative, budgetary and other necessary measures towards the full realization of the right of every child to free quality education, especially, the girl-child.
... Researchers have postulated that through training (e.g. classical conditioning, operant conditioning, role modeling and dehumanization techniques), the armed forces cultivate violent and aggressive behavior, desensitize individuals to violence and killing and that service members take these militaristic skills with them after service (Archer and Gartner, 1976;Castle and Hensley, 2002;Grossman, 1996). Moreover, known risk factors for criminal behavior, such as drug and alcohol use and abuse and symptoms of mental health disorders (e.g. ...
Purpose The purpose of the study was to determine whether prior military service impacts police officers' job-related attitudes. Design/methodology/approach A survey was administered to sworn police officers in a large urban department. Findings Findings indicate that military service has almost no impact on police officers' perceptions of danger in the community and suspicion toward citizens. The small effect that did surface suggests that military veterans perceive less danger in the occupational environment. Research limitations/implications This study contributes to the scant existing research on whether and how military service may impact police officers' attitudes; in particular, it speaks to the concern that veterans bring a warrior mentality to the job. Findings suggest that these fears are not founded. Practical implications Police agencies commonly give preferential hiring to military veterans. Current findings suggest that this practice does not threaten police–community relations. Originality/value Scant research has examined the impact of military experience on police officers' job-related attitudes and specifically on their perceptions of danger and their suspicion of citizens. Additionally, when military service is included in police studies, it is operationalized as a binary yes/no. Here, the authors parse service into different components for a more nuanced examination.
... Compartmentalization (CP) and dehumanization (DH) are considered some of the root causes of destructive acts by human beings, such as serial murders [15][16][17][18] . CP separates us (those whom we care about) from them (those with whom we have no relationship), and limits our moralistic predilections within the former [19][20] . ...
Full-text available
Today's feelings of doom around the world are due to our internal negative attitude of compartmentalization and dehumanization, by which we designate an easy scapegoat and avoid facing our own problems. In order to release us from negative entrapment, we need to shift from this undesirable default to a positive new mode of de-compartmentalization and humanization. We must stop blaming others and start facing our own problems by integrating people and the earth into a whole. This is the way we shall attain true internal peace on this finite, organic planet.
Despite contemporary media portrayals, violent crime has continued to decrease in recent decades. Consistent with traditional types of violent crime (e.g., homicide), serial homicide has also continued to decrease. Although the methods of investigation for traditional violent crime have been examined thoroughly, research specific to serial homicide is scarce. In a study of 671 serial homicide perpetrators, we examined the timeline of each investigation and identified the methods used by law enforcement to identify, and sometimes apprehend, serial killers. Overall, there were 22 distinct methods of investigation. The most common methods were victim survived, DNA, turned in by an associate, family, or friend, fingerprints, prior offending history, body found in home, and being arrested for an unrelated charge. This study also describes how methods of investigation vary over time and trends across decades. Implications of the findings are discussed.
Conference Paper
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Serial killings are one of the most terrible and destructive crimes that are being observed today. Serial killings are a multi-dimensional phenomenon that includes legal, sociological, and psychological dimensions. The method of this study is a descriptive case study. The study is related to Saeed Hanaei, a serial killer of women prostitutes in Mashhad, which killed 16 women between the ages of 2000-2001. The results of the study indicate that Saeed Hanaei was not necessarily suffering from a psychotic disorder, Tests and stroke have been rejected the psychotic. But Saeed Hanaei has a series of psychiatric disorders that, although evidence is incomplete, can be understood by using the interviews he has conducted and the arguments that have been made in the court. His distorted beliefs about women from adolescence have begun. As before his marriage, he spoke only with her mother, sister and aunt. He has Grandiose delusions, impulse control disorder, and possibly bipolar disorder. There were not enough criteria to detect antisocial personality disorder. Keywords: Saeed Hanaei, serial killer, woman, mental disorder, personality disorders
This article seeks to develop criminological theory with the application of a literary device known as the ‘flâneur’ – an individual described as a ‘stroller’ – to serial murderer Levi Bellfield. With this application of the ‘flâneur’ to the phenomenon of serial murder, this article provides a fresh theoretical ‘lens’, and specifically sheds light on how particular serial murderers operate and evade detection in modern society. The importance of modernity to the phenomenon of serial murder is also considered utilizing Ultra-Realist theory, resulting in both a micro and macro examination into how the modern urban landscape has subsequently created an environment in which the serial killer both operates and comes to fruition. This synthesis between the application of literary devices, criminological theory and socio-cultural concepts not only raises important and previously neglected questions pertaining to serial murder, but also assists in forming the more sinister relative of the flâneur: the ‘dark flâneur’.
This informative little book, which is a part of the Progress in Psychiatry Series, admirably accomplishes the task of the series, which was designed to present "timely new information in specific fields of interest as they are developing."The introduction gives a comprehensive, well-documented overview of current approaches to the prediction of violence. The multifaceted nature of violence is highlighted. It is emphasized that a reductionistic approach to the prediction of violence is not feasible, as trait (eg, age, gender, neurological competence), state (active mental illness, intoxication), and situational (over-crowding, victim behavior) predictors may all need to be considered for greater prediction accuracy. By limiting predictions to shorter periods and to a specific setting, it is likely that the psychiatrist's ability to predict violence accurately will increase.Chapter 1 presents a very clear, concise model for assessing a patient's short-term potential for violence. The suggestions on how to evaluate a