The criminally insane are often used in crime fiction, TV dramas, and movies. Take Hannibal Lector, for instance. Though it’s speculated that he simply outsmarted the jury, he was found criminally insane and placed in a hospital environment rather than prison, where he spent his days painting, conniving with other killers, and writing articles for medical journals.
The criminally insane are an intriguing bunch. In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the terms “psychopaths” and “sociopaths” are lumped under the term “antisocial behavior,” and classified as “dissociative disorders.”
If you have a psychiatrist, say, testifying in court in one of your scenes, make sure they refer to this as the DSM-4, the common term among the psychiatric community.
I’ve added a link to my Crime Writer’s Resource for the DSM-4, updated the resource to include more information, and reactivated all the links (apparently they unlinked in the move). This resource is chalk-full of information for everything you might need when writing a criminally insane character.
What if you’re writing about a psychopathic killer? You should know how they became psychopaths. So, let’s look at that now.
How do you end up with a psychopathic killer?
I watched a fascinating Ted Talk with Neuroscientist Jim Fallon, where he talks about brain scans and genetic analysis that may uncover the rotten wiring in the nature (and nurture) of murderers. In a bizarre twist, he discovers his family history. Someone in his family is a psychopath. Can you guess who?
I’ll reveal the answer later in the post.
It’s a quick video that’s well-worth watching.
Here’s the useful data I gleaned, along with a funny (depending on how you look at it) story…
Jim studied 70 brains to try to discover the interaction of genes, environment, and brain damage, and when these things occurred in life. All 70 serial killers had damage to their orbital cortex (right above the eyes) and the temporal lobe (located in your temples area). So there was a pattern among these criminals.
All of them had the major violence gene, called the MAOA gene. There’s a variable of this gene within the normal population, too. Some of you reading this post may have this gene. It’s on the X chromosome. Meaning, they could only have gotten it from their mother. In fact, this is probably why mostly men are psychopathic killers. You see, women (girls) get their X chromosome from their mother and father. Thus, diluting this gene. But men (boys) get their X chromosome solely from their mother. This is how it’s passed through generations, from mother to son.
The MAOA gene has to do with too much serotonin during development. Normally, serotonin is supposed to make you calm and relaxed, but if you get a surge of serotonin in utero (in the womb), your brain gets bathed in the stuff. Therefore, you become insensitive to serotonin and it doesn’t work later on.
Hence, why psychopaths kill without remorse.
In order to express this gene in a violent way, you must be exposed to a traumatic event–extreme violence, for example–before puberty. Then it’s a recipe for disaster.
In areas of the world where there is constant violence, this tends to concentrate the MAOA gene, resulting in both girls and boys with the potential of becoming psychopaths. Because now, the girls’ gene is activated by her surroundings rather than staying diluted.
Jim was fascinated by his findings and spoke widely on this topic.
One day his mother said to him, “I hear you’ve been talking about psychopathic killers as if you come from a normal family.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, your cousin was Lizzy Borden.”
“Okay, so we have one psychopath. That’s not so bad.”
“There’s more.” With a grim expression, she handed him a book. “Read this.”
Here’s what it said:
The first reported murder of a son killing his mother (aka Matricide) was by his great, great, great grandfather and seven more men on his father’s side were all murderers, too. In his family history, psychopaths occurred about three times a century.
This worried Jim. They were due. Who would it be?
Frantically, he took PET scans and EEGs of every person in his family. All turned out fine. Could it be his grandchildren? Did it skip his kids’ generation? Or did he miss something?
This video doesn’t share who it was. A later post did.
A few housekeeping issues before I give you the answer. Some are confused by the tiny, red social media buttons scattered everywhere (yeah, I know, there’s way too many; the site still needs a few tweaks). Those aren’t sharing buttons. By clicking on a SM site, you’ll be connecting with me, not sharing a post. And I hope you will connect with me. Click away, my friends. The sharing buttons are to the left of the post, and only to the left.
Okay? *smacks hands together* Super.
Need inspiration on how to kill your darlings? Check out my FREE 60 Ways to Murder Your Fictional Characters.
So, did you figure out who the psychopath is in Jim’s family?