Kinky Killers

How some people embrace bizarre sexual desires is an evolving science.

Posted Dec 12, 2018

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

Recent news reports from India featured a 20-year-old man accused of being a sadistic pedophile who used bricks to break the legs of little girls before he raped and murdered them. Called “Sunil,” he was arrested after the discovery of the body of a missing three-year-old. During interrogation, Sunil confessed, adding that over the past two years, he’d lured nine girls from four different towns to subject to this treatment. Breaking their legs, he said, aroused him.

Such deviance generally arises from sexual fantasies that develop over time. Essentially, individuals become sexual predators through 1) exposure to an arousal mechanism that encourages harm to others, and 2) continued mental rehearsal that empowers them to act. “I-5 Strangler” Roger Kibbe had a fetish since boyhood of cutting female clothing in unusual ways. Twice a week, he stole items from clotheslines and, after clipping them, he often buried them. As an adult, he became a serial killer, and the same odd cutting patterns were found on the clothing of several of his victims.

As a complex human experience, sexuality manifests in patterns unique to each person, deriving from the way fantasy imagery merges with his or her sexual and emotional development. Through a gradual process, these images provide a template for the future pattern of sexual contact. Not all who fantasize about harmful sexual trespass become actual offenders; the fantasy alone might satisfy them. Similarly, not all who act on their fantasies become predatory. Some act on a temporary compulsion or in response to a sudden opportunity, such as frotteurism on a crowded bus. They might not repeat it. However, those who act out repeatedly, like Sunil did, tend to become addicted to their fantasies. They experiment with methods that ensure their ability to keep victimizing.

A 2013 study focused on the fantasy lives of high-risk sexual offenders. Organized, predatory homicidal offenders showed a greater incidence of fantasy based in paraphilias than non-homicidal offenders. The fantasies helped them to plan the acts. Those scoring high on the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) were also more likely to be sadistic and at risk to repeat their offenses. Most used fantasy to confirm their sexual power, and their fantasies significantly impacted the manner and frequency of the offending process.

The specific types of fantasy images influence the choice of a target victim, the offender's approach and preferred activities, the pre- and post-offense rituals, and the decision to complete the act (or not) with murder. Sometimes murder is just a means for eliminating a witness after the victim has been used, but murder might also provide a final flourish that contributes significantly to the overall erotic allure.

On September 12, 1931, the Budapest-Vienna express train crossed a bridge near Torbagy Station and exploded, plunging the engine and nine cars into the ravine. Twenty-two people died and 120 were injured. Sylvestre Matushka confessed that he’d caused the explosion to achieve sexual release. He’d eroticized the image of bodies ripped up by machines and was planning to wreck more trains on a regular basis.

Another study in 2015 found that homicidal sexual offenders report deviant sexual fantasies and often mutilate their victims, while in contrast, non-homicidal sexual offenders were more likely to select victims with distinctive characteristics and be less paranoid, narcissistic, impulsive or mentally unstable. Also, the former group engaged more often than the latter in exhibitionism, fetish behaviors, homosexual pedophilia, and masochism.

A good example is Peter Kürten, for whom spurting blood was highly erotic. He’d once seen a man fall under a train and pretended to help just to get near the blood, and he preferred movies that promised the possibility of someone being stabbed. During a murder spree that claimed 12 victims, Kürten experimented with scissors, a dagger, and a hammer to find a tool that would produce the most blood. Pondering his execution by beheading, Kürten expressed a desire to hear his own blood bubble forth.

Unfortunately, there are few resources to support research on the impact of paraphilias on homicidal behavior. In August 2015, for the Washington Post, psychiatrist and sex crimes consultant Fred Berlin stated, “Right now, our society is more equipped to look at [paraphilias] as a moral problem than a medical or scientific problem.” In other words, we believe that sexual deviance, as a moral failing, is under the offender’s control rather being than a biologically based compulsion that might respond to treatment.

A variety of treatments are being tested on some sexually violent offenders, including drugs, aversive conditioning, cognitive restructuring, empathy training, and biofeedback, but none has yet made a definitive impact. Since homicidal sexual deviance often develops in secret and since those who’ve been incarcerated are not acting out, it’s difficult to produce consistent results for the most violent offenders.  

References

Chan, H. C., & Beauregard, E. (2015). Non-Homicidal and Homicidal Sexual Offenders Prevalence of Maladaptive Personality Traits and Paraphilic Behaviors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi.org/10.1177/0886260515575606

Lackamp, J. M., Osborne, C., Wise, T. N., Baez-Sierra, D., & Balgobin, C. (2016). Treatment of Paraphilic Disorders. Practical Guide to Paraphilia and Paraphilic Disorders, 43.

Woodworth, M., Freimuth, T., Hutton, E., Carpenter, T. Agar, A., & Logan, M. (2015). High-risk sexual offenders: An examination of sexual fantasy, sexual paraphilia, psychopathy, and offence characteristics. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 36(2), 144-56.