Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer
Michael Stone is professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. From 2006 to 2008, Stone hosted the series Most Evil on the Discovery Channel, for which he developed a "Gradations of Evil Scale" to rank homicides from 1 to 22 based on their level of evil. He has written 10 books, including The Anatomy of Evil.
Question: What is it like inside the mind of a serial killer?
Michael Stone: Well, men who commit Serial Sexual Homicide, which is what the public usually is referring to when they talk about serial killers as opposed to nurses and doctors that kill patients in hospitals, “Angels of Death,” etc. The serial killer, like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, and David Parker Ray, and those people, almost all of them, more than 90% meet criteria, hard criteria for psychopathy. Almost all of them are sadists. Meaning that they meet criteria for sadistic personality as it had been described in the official psychiatric manual, where there’s enjoyment of the suffering of others as a key quality, and a love of control and domination of others, etc. Half of them are loners, men that can’t make long relationships with others. So in effect, some of them use serial killing as a way of having a one-night stand where they rape the woman and then kill her to destroy evidence; dump their body along the road or whatever, like Ed Kemper out in California. And then go on to the next because they are incapable of sustained romantic, intimate relationship.
Some of them, seeking revenge—revenge is a motive in some of them, like Debarr Labon in Texas who had been brutalized by his father and his mother... so they're constantly getting back at the parents who abused them or neglected them. That would probably be true of Leonard Lake that had this torture place he built in a remote area of California.
And another motive... killing a specific parent over and over, but not actually killing the parent. For example, when I interviewed Tommy Lynn Sells on death row in Texas, he had been neglected, abused, neglected again by his mother, never knew his father; terrible, terrible childhood. And he went around killing about 70 people, most of them women. And when I asked him, I said, “Tommy, you know, it sounds to me like maybe these women were like symbols or duplicates of your mother. Did you ever have a thought about, you know, killing your mom?” And he told me, ”Anyone touch a hair of her head, I’ll kill them in a minute. You only got one mom.”
So that was a very important point that I see over and over in these men. They have the same kind of loyalty and love of a parent even if the parent was abusive and horrible, that you can whip and hurt and yell and scream at a child, but if you’re the mom or you’re the dad, there still going to love you. They may hate you as well, but they’re going to love you. So, he never touched a hair of his mother’s head, instead he did symbolically get back at her through these other murders.
Question: Are serial killers born or created?
Michael Stone: Important question because there’s no one simple answer. There are a few serial killers, six or seven in my very large series, who were adopted at birth into normal homes, never abused, never neglected. But who, from adolescence on became violent and then in their 20’s embarked onto the career of serial sexual homicide that you can only ascribe to some genetic flaw along the lines of deficits in the amygdala or the prefrontal cortex that I had spoken about. Gerald Stano would be an example of such a person who killed 40 women and was finally executed in San Quentin.
There are other men who were raised in fairly good homes, or even rather normal homes, but who suffered a head injury that affected these key areas in the frontal lobe, such as Richard Starett in Georgia. He was raised in a wealthy home. He went around killing 10 women after he had married and had a daughter, but then he got kind of fed up with the marriage, et cetera. Now he had suffered two bouts of prolonged unconsciousness when he fell from jungle gyms and things like that when he was a kid. After which he underwent a dramatic and swift change in his personality. The same thing, by the way, that happened to Phil Garrido, who was a normal kid in a normal home, but who fell off his older brother’s motorcycle when he was 14 and within days—he was unconscious, had to have a brain operation—within days, he began to develop rape fantasies. And then carried out a number of rapes and finally kidnapped that young Jaycee Dugard girl that he kept for 18 years and had two children by her.
Now, the thing there is, there are other areas of the brain in the limbic system connected to the frontal lobes and so on and involving the temporal lobes on the side that have to do with our sexual responsiveness. What we respond to sexually. If those areas are damaged, we may end up with pedophilia, or abnormal desires for inappropriate objects. So that clearly happened to Phil Garrido and he became immediately fascinated and eager to commit rape when he was 14, 15 years old, after the head injury.
So there’s... and about 30% of the serial killers had experienced some form of rather serious head injury. So that’s a factor that not too many people know about, but that’s important also.
So the bulk of them; however, have come from horrible homes where the early damage and misery of their home becomes a motivating force later for seeking revenge, against those who had hurt them, plus which they have also been raised in such a way that they don’t have the social skills in order to kind of compensate for that and to make a good relationship anyway and kind of get past it. So they’re stuck, they’re mired in the misery of their childhood forever.
Recorded on July 27, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Dr. Stone explains what motivates men who commit serial sexual homicide and whether or not they are born evil.
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- Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
- Over the years, Facebook's hands-off ad policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its political ads.
- Unregulated "surveillance capitalism" commodifies people's personal information and makes them vulnerable to sometimes misleading ads.
LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.
The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.
LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy
According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.
LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.
In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."
What Facebook’s policy risks
Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.
But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.
"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.
Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism
To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.
It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.
But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.