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A Sexually Sadistic Serial Killer Profile English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3409 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Female Aggression: A Criminal Profile of the Sexually Sadistic Serial Killer

It is socially accepted that violent acts are committed by men, while women and children suffer from the violent acts committed. When women commit violence the common explanations offered have been involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal balance (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998). The idea of a woman committing the act of serial killing is beyond common thought; however, about one out of every six serial killers is a woman (Hickey, 2001). Monster, a 2003 film starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, introduced its viewers to a woman named Aileen Wuornos. This movie launched an awareness of the female serial killer. Wuornos differs from other female serial killers committing murder with a sexually sadistic signature because she acted alone. Recently, another woman has joined this evolving list of female aggressors. In late January 2006, Juana Barraza was arrested in Mexico City and charged with the serial killings of at least 10 elderly women (USA Today, 2006). She is suspected to be responsible for over 40 murders spanning from the late 90’s to 2006. Although there was no sexual assault, Barraza’s motive for killing the women was the victims reminded her of her abusive mother. The victims were around the same age as Barraza’s mother (USA Today, 2006).

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For the purpose of this paper, serial murder shall be defined as two or more separate murders where an individual, acting alone or with a partner, commits multiple homicides over a period of time, with time breaks between each murder event (Geberth, 1996). Sadism shall be defined as the infliction of suffering for sexual gratification (Vronsky, 2007). Esteemed criminal profiler Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin says that for the sadist, tormenting a victim is a way for them to bolster their egos and self worth. Having complete control over a helpless person makes them God-like in their own twisted world. The worst type of sadists are sadistic serial killers. Dr. Schurman-Kauflin writes in her 2005 book “Vulture: Profiling Sadistic Serial Killers,” that sadistic serial killers spend their entire lives fantasizing about and creating new ways to make a person suffer. They live for causing damage and getting away with it.

Psychoanalytic theory, coined by Dr. Sigmund Freud, is the idea that human beings are in a constant struggle to fulfill their own needs and desires within the constraints of society (Freud, 1920). Freud saw internal conflict as a critical aspect of the human mind. His thoughts were that everything that people do is somehow related to this conflict and to their efforts to resolve or cope with it. Well-being in adulthood is greatly determined by how successfully this conflict is managed early in life (Freud, 1920). According to Freudian theory, the libido, or sex drive, is the driving force in personality development. Freud believed that sexual instinct is present at birth. The libido and other basic urges form a distinct part of the mind called the id. As an instinct, the libido causes a buildup of sexual tension that motivates a person to seek release through gratification. The idea that the libido always seeks to gratify urges is called the pleasure principle. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension (Freud, 1920). According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process, which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

The major obstacle that each person comes against during development is the conscience and the ego ideal, which Freud calls the superego. This part of the personality represents the values, rules, and the consequences of breaking these rules, all of which are instilled by sources such as parents, parental figures, and teachers – our sense of right and wrong. It provides guidelines for making judgments. The superego may counter sexual urges with feelings of guilt, shame, and the fear of “getting caught.” It acts to perfect and civilize our behavior.

The ego stands between the pleasure principle and the superego. It is the rationale and reason between sexual urges and the conscience. The ego is the reality principle. Freud says that the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable to society. This is called the reality principle. The reality principle weighs the pros and cons before deciding to act upon impulses. Where the id, with its primal instincts, is unconscious thought, the superego and ego are the conscious levels of thought. When the ego is damaged, or in some cases absent from the human psyche, the result is deviance.

It is the theory of this paper that the ego of the adult female sexually sadistic serial killer has been so severely damaged that she no longer had a conscious (superego), which allowed her sexual urges (id) to completely take control. Her sense of right and wrong was clouded, disabling her to formulate judgment that was socially acceptable. I believe that this was caused by the abuse she received in her childhood; and the level of abuse she sustained is in direct relationship with the level of sexual violence she is capable of. If a method for early detection is created, it will be easier to create deterrence for possible future violence.

Literature Review

Nearly 20,000 people are murdered in the United States each year (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). At any one time it is estimated that there are between 50-75 serial killers operating in the United States. Of this number, approximately 7-8 are women (Hickey, 2001). Since society has only begun to pay attention to female aggression within the last decade or so, there are not many studies about women who commit acts of violence. What criminalists have learned is that during a 25 year period from 1976 to 2002, there are more adult females among serial killers than adult females among total homicide offenders (Female Homicide Offenders 1976-2002, 2003). The difference between a serial killer and the common murderer is the serial killer has the intent to kill for whatever reason, sometimes fantasizing and planning for years before the actual murders occur (Hickey, 2001). The emotional and/or sexual gratification they receive from the murder compels them to act again. These power-control killers have no remorse or regret. They often work on improving their “technique” and go through great lengths to avoid being caught (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998). This type of revenge killing is not thought to be within the mental process of women. Traditionally, women who commit murder only kill those directly related to her perceived abuse (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998).

Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence are common characteristics in adult female predators (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). According to a study done by Dr. Schurman-Kauflin specifically on adult female serial killers, a pattern is observed in the childhoods of people who mature into serial killers. These patterns shape how that individual views the world. The affects of this pattern begins at birth and continues until the child reaches adulthood. She also points out that these women have come from homes that are neither loving nor stable. The lack of which creates a disconnect from society. It is during this early stage of life that the superego is shaped. Children learn through teaching and behavior examples.

Social isolation is also common. It is during isolation that violent fantasies and thoughts of revenge and domination occur. The purpose of fantasies is to relieve anxiety or fear. An abused child will develop fantasies of destroying the abuser (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). According to a study done by Keeney and Heide, adult female serial killers reported being isolated from others in their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and the time alone was spent on violent fantasies. The escape and control in the fantasy world becomes addictive and if violence, revenge, or murder is part of that fantasy it becomes part of the addiction. If masturbation is added, a sexual component to the fantasy occurs. The fantasy begins to cue orgasms and eventually the fantasy becomes a sexual obsession. This fantasy turned obsession, when left to fester becomes a plan for murder (Schurman-Kauflin, 2005).

The profiling career path became popular through the movie “Silence of the Lamb,” where an FBI agent named Clarice Starling was sent to interview serial killer Hannibal Lecter. The career has remained popular through television shows such as “Criminal Minds” and “Lie to Me.” The job of the profiler is to create a personality composite of someone who kills, and is accomplished by studies of different patterns in crime scenes and how those patterns link to specific types of persons who commit crimes (Schurman-Kauflin, 2005). According to Special Agent Robert Ressler of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who coined the term, serial killers are profiled as being Caucasian males between the ages of 25 and 35 who prey on Caucasian victims (Schurman-Kauflin, 2005). This obviously omits women. Dr. Deborah Schurman-Kauflin profiles the adult female serial killer as being of any race, between the ages of 30 and 40, geographically mobile, and prey on victims of convenience. This is why it is so difficult for law enforcement to catch her. In most cases, when a woman rapes and kills a victim it is done with a male partner (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). When she is caught, the woman plays innocent and blames the male. This strategy has been effective because people do not want to believe that women are capable of such crimes (Schurman-Kauflin, 2000). Dr. Schurman-Kauflin says that it is the gender of these predators that allows them access to almost any type of victim.

In her book, “The New Predator: Women Who Kill,” Dr. Schurman-Kauflin learned that adult female serial killers are drawn to traditionally feminine jobs such as nursing, care giving, teaching, and the sex trade. She is quoted as saying, “These fields give them cover to get close to victims. Like their male counterparts, female sex killers fantasize about rape and murder. However, unlike men, women tend to be less selective about the type of victims they choose. Female predators search for what is easy to get. If she works in a nursing home, she may go after the elderly and rape them in their beds. If the woman works as a prostitute, she will target customers. If she teaches, she often sets her sights on students. These women crave what is familiar to them, and they watch their prey over time to assess how easy it would be to attack.”

There are some commonalities between adult female serial killers and their childhood. Most have suffered from being a victim of child abuse, sexual promiscuity, psychopathic behavior, increased time alone, and attachment to a steady figure, usually male (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998). What is discouraging is that there is usually someone who knew about the dangerous behavior and did nothing to stop it.


The research was based on archival data and case studies.

Four women were specifically chosen for the purpose of this study. All four women have been convicted of serial sadistic sexual crimes. Two women have been released on parole. The third woman is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and the fourth woman has been executed for her crimes. Three of the woman acted in conjunction with a male partner and one woman acted alone. Two of the women have above average IQ’s.

The four women chosen for this study were Debra Denise Brown, Charlene Adelle Gallego, Karla Leanne Homolka, and Aileen Carol Wuornos. Information was gathered on these four women about their childhood, adulthood, crimes, and trials using newspaper articles, court reports, legal articles, and public profiles. A table was formulated of the similarities and differences between the four women. An analysis of the table determined whether the childhood experiences of the four women are related to the crimes they committed in adulthood.


Because this is a selective sample, the research cannot make any generalizations. All females with similar life patterns will not fall under the label of possible serial killer.


Debra Denise Brown

Brown was born to African American parents in November 1962 in Waukegan, Illinois. She was the fifth of eleven children. Because of a head injury she suffered as a child, Brown was diagnosed as being “simple”. Her mild retardation caused her to grow tired of school and she dropped out of high school. She worked for small stores and other menial positions and her employers described her as a passive girl who was easily led. Brown’s life, although simple, was not filled with abuse and neglect.

At age 21, Brown was to be married to a local young man; however, she met Alton Coleman, son of a prostitute, rapist, bail jumper and thief. Shortly after meeting Coleman, Brown broke off her engagement to enter into her new found relationship. They quickly moved in together and Coleman introduced Brown to his style of violent sex. She tolerated his brutality in and out of bed, and his need to dress in women’s clothing. Yet having this willing sex slave was not enough for Coleman. The couple remained in predominately African American areas at first and their victims were African American. This left hunting for the duo difficult for the police.

The First Murder

Coleman and Brown became friends with a Mrs. Wheat and her 9 year old daughter, Vernita. Both Coleman and Brown falsified their identities. On May 29, 1984, Mrs. Wheat allowed her daughter to go on a shopping trip with Coleman and Brown to nearby Waukegan. When the two had the child alone, they beat raped and strangled the little girl. Her body was dumped and was not found until June 19, 1984. When the police began to investigate the child’s disappearance, Coleman and Brown ran. Brown spent the next few months helping her lover rob and kidnap several victims for money and sexual thrills.

The Second Murder

Donna Williams, age 25, is reported to be the second murder victim of this duo. Disguising their names, Coleman and Brown asked Williams to show them her home church on June 17, 1984. Williams was more than happy to oblige, however, on the way she was kidnapped, raped, and strangled with her own stockings. Her body was dumped in an abandoned house and was not discovered until one month later.

The Third Murder

On June 18, 1984, one day after the murder of Donna Williams, the duo struck again. 7 year old Tamika and her aunt, 9 year old Annie, exited a candy store and headed toward home. Coleman and Brown approached the children and asked them if they wanted a ride home. Although they were told not to except anything from strange men, they felt a little more secure because Brown was in the car. The girls accepted. Instead of home, the girls were taken to a nearby wooded area, bound and gagged. Tamika would not stop crying so Brown held her down and tried to smother her cries while Coleman stomped on the girl’s face and torso. She was then raped and strangled with a bed sheet. Once done with Tamika, the duo turned their attention toward Annie. She was forced to perform oral sex on Coleman and Brown. Afterwards, she was raped and stabbed so viciously that her intestines protruded from her vagina. She was left for dead but survived and was able to identify her attackers for the police.

The Fourth Murder

Coleman and Brown arrived at the home of the Ms. Temple and her 10 year old daughter Rochelle in the month of June, 1984. Still running from their previous murders, the duo posed as hitchhikers looking for a place to stay for the evening. Ms. Temple took pity on the couple and welcomed them into her home. She prepared a family dinner and after their meal, Ms. Temple and her daughter were raped and beaten. Coleman and Brown remained in the Temples’ home for a few more days and stored the bodies of their hosts in the crawl space of the home.

The Fifth Murder

The couple moved from Illinois to Indiana. In Indianapolis they met a 15 year old girl named Tonnie. Tonnie was abducted, raped and beaten. When the couple was through with Tonnie they shot her and dumped her body in an abandoned warehouse.

The Sixth Murder

Two days later the couple made their first mistake. The Waters, a middle-class Caucasian couple, were selling their camper van in Ohio. Coleman and Brown disguised themselves as potential buyers. Once inside the camper, the Waters were abducted and beaten over several hours. Mrs. Waters eventually succumbed to her injuries. Mr. Waters, although permanently disabled, survived the attack and was able to identify the duo.

The Seventh Murder

After stealing the Waters car, the couple drove into a car-wash and abducted its 77 year old owner, Eugene Scott. The two beat and stabbed Mr. Scott repeatedly and later shot him in the head 4 times with a .38 caliber pistol. His body was dumped in a ditch and the couple returned to their hometown of Illinois. Mr. Scott was the duos last victim in a killing spree lasting 53 days. When they were finally caught, Brown still had the pistol in her possession.

Arrest and Trial

Coleman and his unknown accomplice were featured on an episode of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ shortly before their re-arrival in Illinois. A citizen recognized Coleman from the TV show and immediately contacted the authorities. Coleman and Brown were apprehended while watching a baseball game. Neither resisted arrest although both gave false names.

In Ohio in May of 1985, Brown was tried for the death of Marlene Waters. During her allocution Brown stated, “I killed the bitch and I don’t give a damn.” For the Waters murder, Brown was given life imprisonment. The following year, she and Coleman were taken to Indiana to be tried for the death of Tamika Turks. During the trial Brown slipped the judge a note that read, “I’m a more kind and understandable and lovable person than people think I am.” The judge disregarded Brown’s note and gave her the death sentence. Two months later she was tried for the murder of Tonnie Stewart and was again given the death sentence. In 1991, an Ohio governor granted Brown clemency and one of her death sentences was overturned. She was instead given life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The Ohio governor granted clemency on the grounds that Brown was declared mentally retarded and was under Coleman’s spell.

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Right before the Vernita Wheat trial in January of 1987, Brown signed a document stating that she was Alton Coleman’s legal common-law wife. He immediately did the same. Coleman and Brown were not tried for all of the murders because the prosecutors chose to focus on the cases with the most evidence in states that carried the death sentence.

In 1997 Debra Denise Brown began her appeal process for her standing death sentence. She is backed by the feminist movement based on the fact that she “feared” her lover and had nowhere else to turn. However, Brown had a family who loved and cared for her and she could have gone home at any time. Her most damaging evidence against an appeal comes from Brown herself. Brown’s words in court suggest that she enjoyed terrorizing her victims. Anti-death penalty advocates continue to support Brown, who is now the only woman at the Ohio Reformatory for Women on Death Row.

Charlene Adelle Gallego

Charlene Adelle Williams was born in October 1956 near Sacramento, California.


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