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The Serial Killer and Sexuality

A case involving a fusion of lust and hate.

Key points

  • Serial killers are not usually psychotic.
  • Sexual serial killers are acting out a deeply disturbed connection between sexuality and violence forged early in life.
  • Most serial killers have a psychopathic personality and use sexual violence to express sadistic hate.

When first retained to evaluate Ray, his lawyer, Bill, told me that his client was charged with rape and murder, but “there are more charges coming.” Ray is suspected of having committed multiple rapes and murders. Describing his client as cooperative and soft-spoken, he added, in a slightly foreboding tone, “Something’s wrong.”

Indeed. The physical and DNA evidence unequivocally identified Ray as the perpetrator. In addition, there were eyewitness identifications. His modus operandi was to casually strike up a friendly conversation before erupting in a paroxysm of sexual violence, which included rape and strangulation. Several of the victims went unconscious but survived. All conclusively identify Ray.

Ray fit the FBI definition of a serial killer-rapist. He had multiple murder victims (likely more than three), all perpetrated over an extended period of time, and at varied locations. This was a capital case: If found guilty, he would face the death penalty. Ray’s lawyer hoped that a psychological evaluation would identify mitigating factors that might sway the district attorney’s office into taking the death penalty off the table and to accept a plea of life without the possibility of parole.

During our encounter, Ray was polite and relaxed. He was of average height, with a dense and muscular body. With his easy smile and wispy voice, Ray projected a friendly demeanor. After spending time getting acquainted, we delved into his personal history.

Sexual abuse and violence

Raised by his mother and two older sisters, his father was absent but occasionally visited. Of the women who played a dominant role during his development years, Ray commented, “They didn’t see inside me.” He was sexually abused by a babysitter, one of his sister’s older girlfriends. The abuse turned into an ongoing sexual relationship for four years. He offered the opinion that women were overly sexual.

Ray was married, with two kids. He described his wife as enjoying rough sex, but so did he. In fact, he enjoyed provoking her to the point that she’d physically attack him, after which they had intense sex.

With a Himalayan measure of irony, Ray was oblivious to the parallels between the sexual dance he orchestrated with his wife and his behavior as a rapist-murderer. His signature rapist-violence was the inversion of the sexual enactment he provoked with his wife.

An emotional void

I interviewed both Ray’s mother and wife. His mother, detached and emotionally cold, was in complete denial of her son’s culpability. She wanted him out of jail for the approaching holidays.

She did reveal a profound dimension of her son’s history: Ray’s father visited regularly and took the sisters out, but he denied paternity to Ray and completely ignored his son. With an aching sorrow that belied her detached demeanor, she described Ray as devastated by his insignificance and invisibility to his father.

Ray expressed his pain and resentments by acts of spite and meanness towards his sisters.

Tanya, Ray’s wife, described his mother as overprotective, yet harsh and emotionally icy. She described Ray as having an emotional void and as a sexual conundrum. He always watched porn, for instance, but refused to let her watch with him. He demanded that she dress conservatively when they went out in public.

Emotionally conflicted, yet free of psychotic thinking

After conducting extensive interviews with Ray and completing psychological testing, the picture became clear. Ray was profoundly arrested psychologically, a state captured by his wife’s description of him as emotionally hollow. He thundered with contradictions: sexually preoccupied yet moralistic towards his wife; dismissing any distress about his father’s rejection, but hostile and sadistic toward his sisters who were showered with paternal attention; a perpetrator of sexual violence who perceived women as overly sexual.

This was a man, I felt, with profound emotional conflicts and contradictions, signaling disturbances in his identity and selfhood. My clinical conclusions were further confirmed by the psychological testing results, which also revealed that Ray was free of psychotic thinking, another confirmation of my clinical observations.

The intellectual and neuropsychological testing identified mild problems with self-regulation, but not to an extent that would account for Ray’s deadly violent behavior.

Sexually sadistic expressions of hate

I summarized the results of my evaluation to his lawyer, Bill. I noted that he was profoundly disturbed, but not psychotic. He has a distorted identity with an ability to compartmentalize emotions (e.g., wife as pure, women as sex objects). He expressed hate in a very destructive way, which was sexually sadistic in nature. His hatefulness was especially projected onto women, fueled by raging envy of them as representations of those who received nurturance and validation he had been so achingly denied.

Ray’s distorted psychological development engendered what is referred to as a catathymic modus operandi. His sexual violence was motivated by latent sexual torments and inadequacies. A buildup of tension inevitably leads to a sudden blitz of explosive violence.

His wife described him as having an emotional void. That emptiness and yearning created a psychological pressure, similar to a pressure created by a punctured window in a high-flying jet plane when decompression is followed by explosiveness. Similarly, with Ray, a buildup of pressure created by a craving emotionality, together with seething resentment, fueled his methodology for the rapes: a fury that builds to sexual violence and torment of his victims. Only to be built up again; hence the serial nature of his violence.

Strictly speaking, Ray fit the FBI profile of a serial killer. On the other hand, the physical evidence strongly suggested that Ray intended to rape and degrade his victims, but not to murder them. Many of his victims lived after passing out. The deaths appeared to be inadvertent consequences of his strangulations and, I would add, his kindling rage.

Ray is different from most serial killers in his personality disturbance. He has a severe personality disorder (borderline, with sadistic features), but he wasn’t a psychopathic personality, like 85% of serial murderers. He didn’t suffer from a dearth of emotions like a psychopath; he was consumed and bedeviled by them.

Ray is currently on death row.

References

Lettieri, R. (2021). Decoding Madness: A forensic psychologist explores the criminal mind. Books. (Chapter 9, A hydra-headed passion: Sexuality, violence, and perversion)

Morana, H. C., Stone, M. H., & Abdalla-Filho, E. (2006). Personality disorders, psychopathy and serial killers. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 28, 74-79.

Marono, A. J., Reid, S., Yaksic, E., & Keatley, D. A. (2020). A behaviour sequence analysis of serial killers’ lives: From childhood abuse to methods of murder. Psychiatry, psychology and law, 27(1), 126-137.

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