Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.


Sadistic Killers

The most scary and dangerous of all killers are often the most easy to profile.

Posted Jul 15, 2013

The following is an excerpt from my 2005 book Vulture: Profiling Sadistic Serial Killers.

Believe it or not, we all know sadists. Some of them are our bosses, our spouses, our parents, siblings, doctors, lawyers and even some police officers. They are everywhere to varying degrees, which is frightening. Think of the last time you visited an internet discussion forum. Without fail, there will be more than one person who is attacking others without provocation. Why would someone log on to the internet and torment people he does not even know? It is because that person has sadistic tendencies, and he enjoys hurting others in order to make himself feel better. That is at the heart of the sadist. 

Sadism is defined as the infliction of suffering for sexual gratification. Sadists enjoy watching victims squirm from fright. A sadist will inflict pain on someone in order to see a terrified victim’s reaction.The tears streaming down the victim’s face, the terror in the eyes, and the pleading for mercy are reactions that arouse sadists. Tormenting a victim is a way for sadists to bolster their egos and self worth. Having complete control over a helpless person makes them God-like in their own twisted worlds.

The worst types of sadists are the sadistic serial killers. They spend their entire lives fantasizing about and creating new ways to make a person suffer. As many may look forward to Easter because of the family get together and the beauty of spring, sadistic serial predators look forward to their next kill. They live for causing damage and getting away with it. When investigators are given cases where the victims are tortured to death, they instantly know that a great challenge is before them. Why? Because sexually sadistic predators are meticulous, emotionally flat perfectionists who go to great lengths to commit their crimes. They plan their offenses, so much so, that when they do act out, it is very difficult to determine the age of the killer. What I mean by this is that sexually sadistic criminals rehearse and plan crimes to a degree that make it appear as if a longtime killer has committed the crimes.

What is frightening is that sadistic predators never stop thinking about how to make others suffer. New torture methods are continually sought out and planned. As most people fantasize about a favorite sex partner and great orgasms, sadists dream of great orgasms too. Only for the sadists, the best sex comes when partners are begging and pleading for their lives.

What is even worse is that one killing is never enough for a sadistic offender. One sadistic rape will not satisfy an offender’s needs. It is like eating a cookie or a potato chip. It is awfully hard not to eat a second. And maybe even a third. Or if you drink caffeine, over time, a little drink does not give you a buzz like it used to. It takes more as you get used to it. Just like that, sadists need more gore each time they act out. So it follows that as they go along in their criminal careers, more and more deranged and sickening tortures are used. They simply need more of their ‘drug’ which is tormenting victims.

Though they do horrific damage to their victims, they are very ritualistic in how they commit their murders. They know well in advance from where they will abduct their victims, how they will control them, and in what ways they will make them suffer. These offenders go so far as to script what they want to happen, giving the victim ‘lines’ to say as if in a movie. They are so ritualistic that their predilections make them easier to profile than other offenders. In other words, they do so much to their victims that behaviors are abundant.

One of the most striking features of sadistic serial killers is that when caught, you will find that many of them are two-faced in their lives. I call this the “duality of sadism.” There is a two sided nature to these offenders that startles people. We have all heard of mister good guy. Any serial killer can be mister good guy. One convicted serial killer actually helped a woman escape from another attacker when he saw her being abducted. Dorothea Puente, convicted serial killer, was known to give money to charity while she poisoned and buried her boarders. And of course, notorious serial murderer Ted Bundy volunteered at a suicide hot line.

I was always interested in why serial killers would do this, so I asked them when I interviewed them on Death Row. Amazingly, whether male or female, their reponses were the same. One sadistic serial killer told me “I decide when I’m going to be good, and I’ll decide when I’m going to be bad.”

It is all about control with these killers. They never get enough of it. Accordingly, they enjoy engaging in socially accepted, seemingly altruistic activities. They do this because it is yet another way for them to manipulate and violate others. How do you think people at the suicide help line felt when they found out their lively volunteer was a sadistic serial predator? What might those at the local church feel after it is discovered that their star volunteer is a human monster? Sadists love to fool people. They enjoy acting like puppet masters, making people dance to their whims.

Sadistic serial killers told me that another reason they did seemingly good things during their killing careers was because it provided them with protection. One killer who was convicted of seven murders said that he knew that if he ever got caught, he could use it to his advantage. People would never believe that he, the man who took food to the elderly, could possibly be a murderer.

This goes back again to their desire to God-like. They want absolute control over everyone. They get it in every way they can, even if it means pretending to be nice for a short while. Sadists appear to be living contradictions. But the truth is, there is always chilling calculation to their actions. Many times, those who know them say that they are perfectionists who need things in perfect order. Often they will become furious if something in their homes is out of place. It isn’t just being a neat freak. We all know people who want things to be just so. This goes beyond that. It is an obsession.

 They want to appear as normal as possible because someone who looks like Frankenstein would have a hard time getting victims. For that reason, many times they are clean cut and seem to fit in well. That is a façade though. Once people get to know them, they find that the killers are really difficult. The sadists cannot help their desire to be in command. Little bits of that personality trait can come out in their daily lives. At times they can be considered bullies. Then they pull back and do something nice to maintain their masks. It is a back and forth ‘game’ with the public. Now you see who I really am; now you do not.

 When they are caught, those who do not really know them well are totally stunned. You will hear people say that he was such an upstanding community member, or he was known to help the elderly. People express utter shock. However, being middle class is really more typical than not in sadistic serial murder. They often own their homes and work at the same job over a period of years. Their jobs will be repetitive since they want to devote their time to torture and killing, not a job. The job is secondary to them. They enjoy it if they rise to a level where they can control those under them, but killing is always number one. The job is a means to an end because killers need money to feed their fantasies. Money is power, so they do try to get it.

Any lure that takes a victim off guard is used. Often, these killers will lie about their jobs in order to get close to victims. It is like a person doing a magic trick. The goal is to keep your eyes on one hand while his other hand is doing something else. They want the victim’s guard to be down, so they tell the victim something that keeps her mind off the fact that no good is coming her way. Sadistic offenders are sly and know how to get their way.

Such killers are complex and always provide a challenge to law enforcement as they take great pains to remove evidence from crime scenes. The more police learn about these offenders, the easier it becomes to profile them and move cases along. So it is essential that detectives receive training from reputable profilers to learn as much as they can. Detectives are fully capable of profiling their own cases. They hold the keys to solving these horrific crimes. Thankfully police work tirelessly to help close these cases and bring their victims justice. And with sadistic crimes, this is of the utmost importance. The more you know about these offenders, the better you can predict what they will do. With the increase in the number of sadistic crimes, learning about the offenders is essential.