Wednesday, April 25, 2012


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¡§She was not asleep, as her roommates had thought when they approached the bed of Joni Lenz on the afternoon of January 4, 174. They found her lying in a pool of blood that was seeping from her head and face. Terrified, her roommates removed the covers from Joni Lenzs body only to find an even more horrible sight. A bed rod had been torn away from the bed and savagely rammed into her vagina. Shortly after her discovery, Joni was transported to the hospital as she lay in a coma, suffering from brain damage that would affect her for the rest of her life. However, she was lucky to be alive. Joni was one of the few victims to survive an attack by Ted Bundy who reigned terror across the United States during the 170s. There were countless more victims before and after Joni who were not so fortunate to have lived. Some thirty-six women may have fallen prey to Bundy, but only he knew for sure. It is a number that Bundy has carried with him to his grave¡¨ (Bell, par. 1). No one could have imagined that the handsome young man by the name of Ted Bundy, a native of Philadelphia, could be responsible for the terrifying reign of vicious rapes and murders that left women across the state of Washington wondering if they would become the next victim on his criminal record. Or how could people fathom the fear that ran rampant as the serial killer known as David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the Son of Sam, brought the city of New York to its knees during the mid 70¡¦s. Then there is the case Albert DeSalvo, who till this very day still brings on debates as to whether or not he is the infamous Boston Strangler who¡¦s victims ranged from the age of 1 to 85 (Lester 1).

Regardless of geographical location, serial killers baffle police departments all across the globe. The obvious question raised when researching these criminals is how they were able to turn the corner from being law-abiding citizens to terrifying and in some cases sadistic maniacs. Upon labelling an individual as a serial killer one must


understand what exactly is it that separates a serial killer from just an ordinary murderer. By popular definition, an individual who attacks and kills and least three to four victims one by one in a series of incidents in a relatively short interval would be deemed a serial murderer. This however is a fairly subjective definition for many reasons. Firstly, if an individual goes to prison after a couple of murders and upon release continues his spree of killings, does his time in prison automatically reduce his victim count to zero? What if the killings were separated by years instead of months is the individual still considered to be a serial killer? Or even so, what if the individual kills twelve people is he only considered being a serial killer after the third victim or is he not a serial killer if he is caught after his second victim? For the sake of argument we will use the definition of a serial killer stated above as the tentative definition for our future references to a serial killer.

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Sociologists have many theories as why people decide to live outside the accepted social standards of living and become deviants. Everything from Robert Merton¡¦s Strain Theory to other theories such as Control Theories, Opportunity Theories and finally Emile Durkheim reasoning that deviance has its positive benefits. Serial killers are the most extreme cases of deviant people who do not live within the constraints of the law but exercise their behaviour outside of the accepted norm. Is this behaviour genetic, hormonal, biological, or cultural? Do these people consciously kill or are they basically a slave to their uncontrollable urges? We all at some point in our lives experience irrepressible rage when we felt that following normal human conduct could take a little breather so we can act strictly on our impulses, but just as we all have these violent urges, we also have internal blockades that keep us from practicing these urges. Be it universal morality or cultural programming, these strongholds do not exist in the mind of a serial killer. Their mind operates seemingly outside of normal consciousness, or does it? Many people would assume that they would have to be insane to slaughter another human being and in some cases dismembering it for that momentary pleasure, but the most chilling fact about a number of serial killers is that they are many times fairly rational beings. As investigator Dennis Nilsen put it, ¡§a mind can be evil without being abnormal¡¨ (par. 4).


So how does a seemingly normal person take the path to becoming a serial killer? In most instances, sociologist looks to the individual¡¦s upbringing for explanations. Some serial killers are precociously sadistic from a very early age as Edmund Kemper, a sexual predator was. As a young child he was beheading his sisters dolls and engaged in sexual games. He once told his sister that he wanted to kiss his own teacher but ¡§if I kiss her I would have to kill her first¡¨ (Scott, par. 1). In other cases, early childhood head injuries could be put to blame as with Earle Leonard Nelson, otherwise known was the ¡§Gorilla Murderer¡¨ who suffered a severe head injury as a child, which left him permanently brain-damaged, which subsequently led to retardation (Lester ). It is important to examine serial killing from different perspectives, first from a ¡§what drives people to engage in this time of criminal activity¡¨ and secondly from a ¡§why some commit crime and why others do not¡¨ (Brym 455).

Roberts Merton, whose best-known work is of the ¡§Strain Theory,¡¨ is a believer that ¡§most criminal behaviour would not occur unless a social context exist that encourages our pushes a person toward crime¡¨ (Brym 455). This believes that criminal behaviour is influenced by society and does not derive directly from an individual. Criminals by default are thus generally brought up in low-income communities and the potential to move up the social rank is not a viable or seen to be an achievable. As a result of this, people resort to crime and other deviant activities as a means to rebel against the ¡§closed system.¡¨ Carl Panzram, a remorseless, vicious, child rapist, often known as the man with no soul, was born to a poor farming family in lower class rural Minnesota in 181. At a very young age he was forced to hard labour to earn money and life was made even more difficult when his parents divorced. A series of bad luck would follow Carl as grew up, ¡§everybody thought it was all right to deceive me, lie to me and kick me around whenever they felt like it, and they felt like it pretty regular¡¨ (Gado, par. 6). Lack of opportunities and economic success can lead people down a road of destruction when they start to believe that God has dealt them an unfair hand. Merton was a strong advocate on the lower class as being more prone to criminal activity, which did draw strong critical reactions (Brymm 455).

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Control Theorist contends that, ¡§deviance and crime occur because of the absence of some kind of control¡¨ (Brymm 457). Young children who do not have close ties to social institutions such as their parents, teachers, and peers and with very weak bonds to conventional values find it easier to live outside society¡¦s norm and would therefore be more likely to submit to their deviant urges. On the other hand, adolescents with strong bonds with conventionality would be less likely to risk breaking society constraints (Brymm 457). Other versions of control theory centre on people with low self esteem who try to get what they want quickly and in some cases forcibly. Naturally this would lead to unconformity and rule breaking. Rapists are usually regarded in the manner of having low self-esteem with woman and therefore would exercise their supremacy over the opposite sex by raping them. Tend Bundy, was a young man who brutally raped and murdered young ladies. He was a very shy child and as he grew up his shyness was directed towards women especially when it was revealed to him that what he once thought was his older sister was actually his birth mother and the parents who he grew up with were actually his grandparents. His break-up with his girlfriend left him depressed and he was never completely able to recover from it (Bell, par. 7-8). According to sociologist, families are the major source of control that can prevent deviance. Early childhood socialization and proper punishment for misbehaviour is crucial in developing a strong foundation for the child. If these control measures are implemented early in life, children will be less likely to be susceptible to negative influences and would be less prone to resort to deviance when feeling strained (Brymm 457).

Opportunity theories make the claim that school shootings are not the product of negligent social institutions but occurred due to the fact that these teenagers have easy access to firearms. The theorist assume ¡§that in the absence of inner controls, such as a conscience, or external controls, such as a police officer on the corner or a lock in the door, most of us would engage in crime,¡¨ however, the type of crime we engage in is strictly dependent on the opportunity that is available to us at the moment (Brymm 458).

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Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who were dubbed as the trench coat mafia, were two teenage boys who were constantly bullied at school. Eventually they came to the conclusion they had no reason to live, as a result they decided to kill themselves but not before taking down some classmates along with them. It was astonishing to people how these kids were able to have the access as they did to weapons but more so, how no one was able to see the tragedy coming. In a letter to the police department, a day before they boys opened fire in their highschool, they blamed the people who ridiculed them and to parents who they believed was responsible for their intolerant children (Ramsland, par. -). Although being mocked at by their fellow peers was motivation enough to take some sort of action, the availability of guns created the opportunity for them to open fire. ¡§Where lethal weapons are more available, then, the opportunities for lethal violence are much greater¡¨ (Brymm 458).

Not everyone who experiences abuse as a child, or severe head injuries become serial killers in their adult years, but there are exceptions. In some cases, the barbaric treatment of a child leaves little wonder how anything less than a serial killer could be produced from such harsh treatments. Many sadistic criminals depict their childhood as an endless nightmare of sexual abuse and torture, leaving little room for a normal upbringing to be present. As we examine childhood abuse as a possible key to understanding how children grow up to be killers, it must be remembered that childhood abuse is not the sole reason why killers are present because very few females who are victimized as children grow up to be extremely violent (Scott, par. -4).

Parents, who abuse their children, instil values of reliance on violence every time a challenging situation approaches. Physical violence not only is damaging physically to a child but also has psychological affects that are hard to forget even as the child becomes an adult. As stated before, the family is the major form of control so naturally a weak bond derived from parental beatings is detrimental for the child who is still learning what is acceptable is society and what is not. The parental institution, which is generally believed to be the essential part of a child developing, is undergoing great social change. Many problems can occur from this social shift but ¡§the main result of this change is the

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decline in the importance of the family¡¦s role in general social life¡¨ (Clinard 67). As a result of this change, other groups and institutions do the significant part of a child¡¦s socialization and because it is impossible for parental supervision to cover a child¡¦s social habits on a consistent basis, many times peers can socialize a child negatively.

Durheim believed that deviance was a necessary part of a functioning society given that it existed in all societies; therefore it must have some beneficial consequences (Brymm 45). He argues that deviant behaviour increases social solidarity because in those circumstances people are united under a common fear and a common need for retribution for the crime committed. He believes deviance allows people to clarify the group¡¦s moral boundaries and to allow societies to adapt to a changing world (Brymm 45). Durkheim realized that too much deviance can lead to chaos but a certain amount can be beneficial. Although it does seems plausible under the right circumstances that a community can be united when facing deviant behaviour it is not necessarily a necessity. Unification of society can occur in many other ways. A good amount of deaths by a serial killer although undoubtedly has the potential to unite a community, it is not an essential element for that community to function productively. The well being of a society can just as well be destroyed by a same amount of deviance that Durkheim argues is necessary for it to function.

Society plays a major role in the development of a serial killer. An atmosphere where violence is common and not controlled can influence children negatively as they see violence is only a natural part of the world. Society many times glorify killing, portraying it as exciting and the media plays a large role in bombarding youths with violence which subsequently leads to the desensitization of violent behaviour in our generation. Violence therefore becomes the norm and is no longer regarded as wrong in the eyes of the naive.

So what is it that makes a serial killer? Are serial killers born or is it forced upon them by unlucky circumstances. For the most part, serial killers are made. In many of the cases, nightmarish upbringings consisting of violence and torture either by the parents or

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the authoritative figure is what most investigators link back to when interviewing serial killers. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz etc, all of which had unfortunate childhood experiences. Despite the fact that most appear to be rational there are those that are clinically insane while killing. Some suffer from sever head injuries; others claim to be under the influence of demons or even have satanic undertones while killing. The majority of cases when examined can be traced back to mistreatment at a young age. So what does this mean to us as a society? Ideally it implies that serial killers can be prevented. When we exclude someone from a group, when we ridicule someone for not keeping with the latest fashion trend, or when we bully a fellow classmate, we should stop and think of the consequences. This negative treatment can leave behind permanent emotional scars on the individual that can further lead to violent behaviour. Although not every victim of harassment becomes a serial killer, it is to the betterment of society that we treat each other as equals and promote unity. Areas in which social solidarity is high as Durkheim argues, experiences lower levels of violence as people are more in touch with one another. Communities should work within themselves to promote social solidarity, thus decreases the opportunity for violent behaviour.

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