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Juvenile Sexual Homicide: Psychopathology and Personality

A review of the psychological dimensions of an unusual group of offenders.

Key points

  • Juvenile sexual homicide offenders often have elevated degrees of state-trait anger.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder (CD), and substance abuse are common.
  • Research has shown that higher scores on psychopathy assessments punctuate the personality of these offenders.
  • Psychotic symptoms are common among this group of juvenile homicide offenders.
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View from the second floor jail area of Wapato Correctional Facility
Greywalls/Wikimedia/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

When thinking of sexual homicide, or "a murder that occurs in tandem with either an overt sexual assault or sexually symbolic behaviour," we may often think of notable adult offenders, such as Jeffery Dahmer or Ted Bundy (Myers, 2002). However, research over the past decade, most of which has been spearheaded by American child and adolescent forensic psychiatrist Dr. Wade C. Myers and associates, has yielded remarkable findings into the mental health and personality attributes of juvenile sexual homicide offenders (JSHOs).

Sexual murder committed by children and adolescents is a rare and tragic crime, only accounting for less than one percent of all juvenile homicides committed in the United States annually (Chan et al., 2012). Moreover, despite this subject evoking considerable interest among criminologists and mental health practitioners alike, very little research has so far been published on this subject, with most researchers relying on small-sample exploratory study designs and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHRs) for uncovering the crime characteristics of JSHOs.

In a previous article I wrote on this subject in October 2022, I chiefly focused on the crime characteristics and risk factors for offending. In this iteration, I aim to discuss the psychopathology and personality in this highly unusual substrata of juvenile offenders.

Personality Abnormalities and Affective Instability

In a 2002 book entitled Juvenile Sexual Homicide, Dr. Wade C. Myers, a professor at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, found that JSHOs often have personality disturbances (Myers, 2002). In research conducted for the book, Dr. Myers analyzed the crime characteristics of sixteen cases of juvenile sexual homicide, fourteen of which he clinically assessed.

In a portion of the study, which was co-authored by Dr. Linda Monaco, the anger expression of the JSHOs was quantified using the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI) (Speilberger, 1991). Dr. Myers and Dr. Monaco further noted that state-trait anger among the sample was significantly higher than in a normal sample of juveniles.

Dr. Myers also noted that two-thirds of the sample met the diagnostic criteria for a DSM-IV personality disorder when the youths were administered the Schedule for Nonadaptive and Non-Adaptive Personality (SNAP) (Clarke, 1993). Moreover, the most pronounced personality pathology in the sample was Cluster-A personality disorder (PD), which concerns “odd and eccentric” personality features. Specifically, paranoid PD (27 percent), schizoid PD (47 percent), and schizotypal PD (40 percent) were common among the sample. Avoidant PD (33 percent) was also “relatively common” among the JSHOs (Myers, 2002).

The presence of a psychopathic personality was also assessed in Dr. Myers’s sample, measured via the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCLR) (Hare, 1990). Overall, the mean score was 22 (range = 7.1 - 31.8), with only two (13 percent) of the adolescents having scores consistent with psychopathy (PCL-R ≥ 30). Unsurprisingly, scores on the PCL-R demonstrated a “moderately large” correlation with the antisocial personality scale on the SNAP (r = 0.54). Furthermore, Myers et al. (2019) found in their sample that offenders who recidivate often scored higher on measures for psychopathic personality traits.


In Dr. Myers’ study (Myers, 2002), it was determined that DSM-IV Axis I disorders were highly prevalent (88 percent) among the sample of JSHOs, with only two subjects (12 percent) not meeting a formal diagnosis for such disorders. Conduct disorder (CD), in particular, was the most common (14 subjects; 88 percent), with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being diagnosed alongside this condition in four cases (25 percent). Both substance abuse (alcohol; 19 percent, marijuana; 38 percent, polysubstance; 6 percent, hallucinogen; 6 percent) and dysthymia (12 percent) were also noted in the sample.

As a method for diagnosing the above-mentioned disorders, Dr. Myers elected to use the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents–Revised (DICA-R) (Herjanic & Campbell, 1977). Self-reported psychotic symptoms were also common among the sample, according to findings produced by the DICA-R. Overall, Dr. Myers found that the majority of the sample (80 percent) was afflicted with some type of episodic psychotic symptomatology, though the author noted that these did not influence these juveniles to commit murder.

Eight (53 percent) of the adolescents interviewed demonstrated some degree of paranoid ideation, while a further five (33 percent) reported auditory hallucinations. Furthermore, three (20 percent) believed that others were able to read their minds, while two subjects (13 percent) reported the belief that they could engage in telepathy. Other subjects believed in clairvoyance, visual and olfactory hallucinations, an ability to predict the future, and encounters with the paranormal.


Chan, H. C., Heide, K. M., & Myers, W. C. (2013). Juvenile and adult offenders arrested for sexual homicide: An analysis of victim–offender relationship and weapon used by race. Journal of forensic sciences, 58(1), 85-89.

Clark, L. A. (1993). The Schedule for Nonadaptive and Adaptive Personality (SNAP). Minneapolis, MN : University of Minnesota Press.

Hare, R.D. (1990) The Revised Psychopathy Checklist. Vancouver, Canada: Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia.

Herjanic, B., & Campbell, W. (1977). Differentiating psychiatrically disturbed children on the basis of a structured interview. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 5(2), 127–134.

Myers, W. C., Chan, H. C., Vo, E. J., & Lazarou, E. (2010). Sexual sadism, psychopathy, and recidivism in juvenile sexual murderers. Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 7(1), 49-58.

Myers, W. C. (2002). Juvenile sexual homicide. Academic Press.

Spielberger, C.D. (1991). State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory: Revised Research Edition. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources

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