Natural born killers? The development of the sexually sadistic serial killer

Bradley R. Johnson, Judith V. Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Today's society seems enthralled with serial killers in the news and the media. Forensic psychiatrists often interview serial killers after they have been caught. There are retrospective studies and case reports of individuals who have committed sexually sadistic serial murders. However, there exists a dearth of case reports on adolescents who have expressed serious fantasies about becoming serial killers prior to actualizing their fantasy. This article presents nine clinical cases of 14- to 18-year-olds who have clinically significant fantasies of becoming a serial killer. Similarities exist in these adolescent cases when compared with retrospective studies and case reports of serial killers on the role of sexually sadistic fantasies and actual killings. Since it has been established that sexual paraphilias may develop at a young age, one can surmise that sadistic paraphilias may also develop in some adolescents. The question is posed, can we predict which of these adolescents may go on to actually become serial killers? This article focuses on how the sexually sadistic fantasy can eventually be acted out and possible motives for the act to be repeated multiple times. Finally, recommendations are made about assessing and treating a youngster who expresses violent sexually sadistic killing fantasies so that attempts can be made to interrupt the progression to actual killing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-348
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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