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This paper analyses and expounds on serial killers. It identifies a serial killer as an individual who is involved in killings of a number of persons for a period of time, with some cooling off period in between the murders. Generally, the motive behind the killings of serial killers is emotional satisfaction. In the depth of this paper, the cases of two among the most notorious serial killers in America are studied. The paper analyses the criminals closely, looks at the types of crimes they committed, the motives behind their killings, and the end results of their dangerous activities.
Herman Webster Mudgett, who is also known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, and Belle Gunness are among America’s most notorious serial killers. Mudgett was a serial killer who admitted of killing 27 individuals. However, the actual body count of his murders could be as high as 200 despite his confession (Hickey, 1991). He considered killing a profitable business since before killing his victims, who were generally women, were made to sign their life savings over to him. He committed crimes in his castle in Chicago. In addition, Dr. Holmes performed abortions and sold skeletal models which he used to make from his victims to medical schools (Schecter, 2003).
Belle Gunness is a female serial killer. She is known to be equally heartless with male serial killers. Gunness is believed to have murdered over 40 individuals on her Indiana farm (Jones, 1980). Apparently, among her victims are her two daughters and her husband. Other victims were lured into her farm through personal ads and generally comprised potential suitors. Gunness is known to have accumulated some reasonable amount of money from her suitors whom she murdered. Despite some saying that she died in a fire in 1908 at her farm, the majority believe that she fled the state since she had money acquired from her victims (Kelleher & Kelleher, 2001).
Mudgett and Gunness are very important in studying the notorious serial killers in the U.S. Mudgett, for instance, can be said to be a white-collar killer who lured his victims into his castle only to gain all their life savings before terminating their lives. Mudgett was the first American serial killer. The reason why his case is an adequate option of analysis is because his motives for the killings are not only restricted to psychological satisfaction, but were also related to economic gain.
Gunness also is an essential individual in the analysis of serial killers in U.S. The main reason is that Gunness was a woman (Jones, 1980). Most of the known serial killers have been men, but Gunness represents the women folk in this unbecoming behavior. She is proved to have acted in a manner just as heartless as the male serial killers. Besides, she also gained money from her victims, like Mudgett. She committed her ruthless crimes on her farmyard where she attracted suitors though personal advertisements.
Mudgett was born 16th May 1860 in the small town of Gilmanton located in New Hampshire. He was the son of Theodate Page Price and Levi Horton Mudgett. Mudgett’s father was a rich farmer and his mother worked as a teacher. Hence, Mudgett had a smooth childhood. Despite being unpopular at school, Mudgett was a bright student and did very well in his academics. He graduated early, when he was only sixteen years of age (Hickey, 1991). Due to his academic excellence, Mudget earned a teaching certificate in a matter of weeks. He then started teaching in his hometown, Gilmanton and the neighboring town of Alton.
He eloped with Clara A. Lovering at the age of eighteen. He married her in the neighboring town of Alton before a justice of peace. Since his parents were stanch Methodists, they were not pleased by this marriage as they had expected their son be married in a Methodist church. On the contrary, Mudgett was married by a complete stranger in another town.
Mudgett graduated from the University of Michigan where he earned a doctor’s degree. His criminal career started when he was still a medical student at the University of Michigan. He stole corpses from the medical school in the University. He used those corpses to unlawfully gain wealth as he collected insurance money under fake names that took out policies. He involved himself in a number of frauds and forgery such as scams of real estate, cure for alcoholism and a certain machine that he said could make natural gas from water (Hickey, 1991).
In 1887 January the 28th, Mudgett married his second wife Myrta Z. Belknap in Minnesota. The two got a daughter named Lucy. It was until he married his second wife that he filled a divorce petition. However, he married a third wife named Georgiana Yoke in 1984 January the 9th. Apparently Mudget never stopped there since he was the lover of Julia Smythe, who was married to one of his close associates, Ned Connor. Unfortunately, Julia Smythe became one of Mudgett’s victims.
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes defrauded a pharmacist and was able to acquire a Chicago pharmacy. He built a three-story building which was a block-long across the street on the lot and named it “The Castle”. Mudgett opened his castle in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition as a hotel. The ground floor of his castle comprised shops, the middle was made up of over a hundred windowless rooms that formed a maze, while he used the upper floor as his office.
Holmes used the middle floor to torture his female victims whom he selected from his hotel guests. Those rooms were soundproof and had gas lines fitted chambers where he killed the women. Before killing his victims, he would make the sign all their lifesavings to him (Hickey, 1991). The design of his building was never understood since Mudget repeatedly changed his builders. The bodies of his victims were taken to the basement by a chute. From there they were either cremated and kept for destruction in lime pits or used to earn income by selling them to medical schools.
Belle Gunness was born on November 22nd 1859 on the west coast of Norway in Selbu fishing hamlet. She was christened as Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset. She was the daughter of Pedersen Storset and Berit Olsdatter. Her father was a stonemason and unsuccessful merchant. She had a very tough childhood and grew up in immense poverty. Gunness was born last in a family of eight and thus her move to America was an avenue to escape poverty. The personality of Belle is said to have changed in 1877 when she had attended a country dance while pregnant during that year. A man attacked her and badly hit her stomach, making her to lose the pregnancy (Jones, 1980). She had to work in a big wealthy farm for three years in order to cater for her trip across the Atlantic.
One of her elder sisters, Nellie Larson was the first to immigrate to America and Belle followed when she was old enough. At that time she was 22 years of age. When she moved to the U.S she was quite desperate for money and wealth. Her older sister resided in Chicago. While in Chicago, Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset changed her name to Belle or Bella as other Americans would call her. Her first work after arriving in U.S was as a servant where she earned meagerly.
She got married to fellow Norwegian, who had also immigrated to America, when she was 25 years of age. Belle and her husband, Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson opened a candy shop in Chicago. It was only after a year of their marriage that their shop burnt down. Belle reported that it was an oil lamp that had exploded, but apparently no oil lamp was found on the ruins. The couple collected their insurance and used the money to purchase a new house in the suburbs of Chicago.
It was not until fifteen years had passed in 1898 that the couple was awarded another insurance payout as their house had burned down. The two got four children in their sixteen years of their marriage. Two among their four children, Axel and Caroline allegedly, succumbed to acute colitis. The lives of both children were insured and the payout was reached to each of their deaths.
Two years later in 1900, July 30th Belle brought another insurance policy demanding compensation. Only that time it was for the death of her husband Mads Sorenson. He died on a day that marked the overlapping of his life insurance. The payout was however not easily awarded since there was a doctor’s autopsy that suggested Sorenson was murdered most likely by strychnine poisoning. Investigations followed and the coroner finally concluded that the death was of natural cause. Belle was thus eligible to collect a sum of $8,000 which made her a wealthy woman of her times. She used a part of the amount to purchase a farm in La Porte, Indiana.
The same year, she married Peter Gunness on April Fool’s Day. The couple worked on a farm in McClung Road. Peter was not an exception since it did not take long that he got a fatal accident. He was said to have died from an injury inflicted by a coffee grinder which hit him on the head when it fell from the shelf. The insurance company though reluctantly, paid of Peter’s policy. One of her daughters, Jennie Olsen, 14 years of age by then, on the contrary, was heard confessing to a classmate that her mother had killed her father. Later in 1906, Jennie Olsen, her foster daughter, disappeared and, when asked, Belle said that she had send her to a Lutheran College based in Los Angeles (Hickey, 1991).
After dealing with the home chores single handedly, Belle employed Ray Lamphere in 1907 to assist her with the chores. It was around that time that she posted personal advertisements on all daily newspapers of Chicago in the matrimonial columns. She wanted to enter into a relationship with a wealthy man. She had stated in her advertisements that she wanted a man well provided in wealth and any suitor should come prepared to stay forever. That meant that they should carry with them their wealth since the reply was only by a personal visit (Jewkes, 2001).
Many wealthy men came in her farm with the expectations of wining her hand in marriage. They carried cash with them hoping to stay forever with Gunness on the farm. However, that was not to happen since the suitors disappeared without a trace once they met Gunness in her farm. Some of the suitors who had entered into her murder list include: John Moo, Olaf Svenherud, Henry Gurholdt, Ole B. Budsburg, Andrew Hegelein, and Olaf Lindbloom among others (Hickey, 1991). After Gunness house had burnt down, authorities discovered over 40 remains of her victims most of them buried in shallow graves in her farm. Apparently, Belle was never found and she just disappeared without a trace.
The major similarity between Belle Gunness and Herman Webster Mudgett was the fact that they both killed to gain wealth. Similarly, they collected fraudulent life insurance policies. They both had good relationship with their victims. The victims of both serial killers were killed while on their property. It is also essential to note that most of their victims were of the opposite sex.
However, the killers’ childhood, education and work history differed. Mudgett, for instance, was well educated and graduated from the University of Michigan (Larson, 2003). Belle, on the other hand, was not finely educated since unlike Mudget, she came from a poor family. Belle had a strong urge to gain wealth and escape her poor background, but as for Mudgett, he already had a good wealthy background.
A close analysis of Belle Gunness reveals some of the factors that affected her or rather led to her actions. The social risk factors that can be associated to Belle’s behavior include the fact that she was born in a poor family. Financial destitution is common social risk factor that might have contributed to the strong urge for wealth by Gunness. Her urge to escape poverty and make the best out of her life made her become a monster (Jewkes, 2001). She was desperate to secure a better future leading her to desperate fraudulent acts that led to suspicion.
The parental or family risk factors associated with Gunness’ deeds, though minimal, cannot be neglected. Since she was born in large family and she was the last in her family, Gunness could have been a victim of social isolation in the family. Her poor parents worked so hard to earn a living and hence a great probability that their existed poor parent-child relationship. This poor relationship could have led to negative interactions that geared up the uncouth behavior of Belle Gunness.
The psychological risk factors associated with Belle Gunness are also few. Belle, for instance, had fed her mind with the immense desire of being rich. She was obsessed from the beginning with becoming a wealthy woman. Her psychological risk factors are also vital with her ability to convince her suitors to come with their money to her farm. She was able to use advertisements to lure potential suitors into her farm (Jones, 1980). She had an aggressive impulse that probably was the cause of her transformation entirely. The genetics and temperament of Belle Gunness are also factors that probably contributed to her actions. Some of those temperament factors were her aggressiveness and emotionality.
The situational factors can also be attributed to Gunness’ behavior. One such terrible situation in her life occurred in 1877 when she attended a country dance. She was pregnant when she went to the dance but was brutally handled by a man who attacked her. That unfortunately made her lose her pregnancy. Probably that was a situation that stirred Gunness to embark on a cruel lifestyle.
Social risk factors can hardly be attributed to the behavior of Mudgett. He was born in a rich family and he got education with a lot of ease. His parents are seen to have cared to give him a better life and thus the parental risk factors are put out of the picture. His parents wanted the very best for him and they were not pleased when Mudgett eloped with Clara only to be wedded by a stranger in the neighboring town (Jewkes, 2001). Since they were firm Methodists, they had wished that their son be married in the Methodist church. Mudget himself stated that his childhood, parents and his home life had nothing to do with the evil acts he committed in his later years.
Psychological risk factors apply where Mudgett views every crime, fraud and murder as a way of earning income. Fraud and murder were the easiest way he had formulated of increasing wealth. He was well versed with giving false names to dead bodies and scheming up avenues of getting the life insurance of the deceased. Mudget was aggressive and heartless since he would torture his victims without any mercy.
The situational factors in Mudgett’s favor included the fact that he was a medical student and thus dead bodies were readily available. Those were the bodies he used to acquire fraudulent life insurance payouts. He was used to working with dead bodies at the University of Michigan Medical school. That made him not fear killing or torturing his victims in any manner. The situational factors include the fact that Mudget had built a castle for himself. This castle had a middle floor that had a maze of over a hundred rooms and soundproof walls where he conducted his inhuman acts. The other situational factor is the availability of his hotel where he could easily pick out his female victims (Jewkes, 2001). Mudgett did not have a hard time in disposing off the remains of his victims since he was well connected with medical schools where he would take the bodies for study.
Belle Gunness probably suffered from a serious psychiatric disorder. She was indeed a psychopath based on the inhuman acts she performed. Gunness was a prolific serial killer who killed for greed and to some extent for pleasure (Kelleher & Kelleher, 2001). She is seen as an extreme super sadist who only cared about her pleasure and satisfaction. She would go to any length including killing her own children to satisfy her pleasure.
Mudgett is known to be a sexual sadist. Experts consider sexual sadism to be a mental disorder. The victim of the disorder is generally obsessed with unusual sexual practices. To some extent the victim involve themselves in actual sexual activity either with nonconsensual individuals or with animals. Sexual sadist performs acts for the purpose of fulfilling his sexual, emotional and physical domination over other individuals. This desire is fulfilled when he witnesses the suffering of their victims. Mudgett is known to have been quite antisocial particularly in his early childhood school days. These are clear symptoms of a psychopath. Mudgett being a psychopath just as the name suggests felt no empathy or remorse for his evil acts. He was a charming and charismatic man since he had no difficulties in marrying several wives.
It is justifiable to conclude that the serial killers do not necessarily have the same background or childhood experience. The uncouth behavior to some of the serial killers are only as a result of their own liking or personal experience in their later days. Mudget, for instance, had a very comfortable childhood and good parental care, but he turned out to be a monster in his later years. Gunness, on the other hand, had a terrible childhood. She was brought up in a poor family and was attacked to the point of a miscarriage by a man in her youth. These can be some of the factors that made Gunness stop at nothing to fulfill her desires.
Criminal behavior is practiced with certain motives. Every murderer has a motive and a desire to fulfill when they kill. These motives may defer from one serial killer to another. In certain cases however, the motives are alike to some extent. In the cases of Mudgett and Gunness, both serial killers murdered to obtain wealth. In both cases they got money from life insurance payouts. It is thus essential to study each serial killer individually to ensure that correct information is drawn from the study and to ensure a better understanding of the so-called monsters.