Child Criminology: Early Signs of a Killer

It can seem pretty cute when little Bobby is wrenching the heads off his sister’s Barbie dolls, but some of his adorably morbid actions may foreshadow a dark and bloody future. Over the past few decades, psychologists and criminologists have closely studied what it is that makes a killer into a killer. Are killers born with some sort of homicidal gene? Is it drug-related? Childhood trauma? Too many horror movies? A combination of multiple factors can be the problem, and to this day no one can pinpoint the exact concoction of circumstances that influence a child to grow up into a cold-blooded murderer. 

1. Family History

There are a number of points that indicate a child may grow up to be a criminal, some more obvious than others. A killer lived their childhood most likely in an unstable household, with family members who have histories of crime or mental illness. It isn’t always true that filth breeds filth (plenty of successful adults have risen from the ashes of an abusive family), but coming from an unstable home definitely increases the odds of a child who grows up a psychopath.

The World around Them

Children are extremely impressionable, mimicking those around them and learning about the world through those they look up to — their family, the people they know first and best. Children growing up with abusive parents (whether the abuse is directed at the child, the other spouse, or even the family dog) can severely traumatize that child’s growing mind. The child may harbor hatred toward both parents, and it’s common that a domineering mother acts as both parents in place of an absentee father. Criminologists note that children who grow up to be criminals are often abused themselves. That abuse may be sexual, physical, or psychological — and usually comes from a family member.

2. The Erratic Genius

Criminologists have discovered another pattern among serial killers: they are typically highly intelligent. Well, great — that qualifies millions of children in the entire world that we should be keeping tabs on, right? Actually, it’s intelligence coupled with another notable characteristic that may help us pinpoint disturbed children: erraticness and instability.

Despite the high intelligence level of serial killers, criminologists note that these individuals usually have a hard time doing well in school or holding down a job. The strange genius in your class who’s always failing despite knowing more than the students and teacher combined may be someone to watch out for.  This is not to discriminate from people who are simply too advanced for the watered-down classes provided to the public, but most serial killers are able to be repeat offenders — hence the word ‘serial’ — because of their brains.

Criminal Inclinations

It’s not very easy to avoid capture, especially with all the new advances in forensic technologies, so one has to be familiar with criminology, forensics, and police investigation processes to get away with it. What’s more, is that many serial killers use their smarts for the evil acts of creating torture mechanisms, intimidating their victims, or abducting people successfully and quietly. A serial killer is not the guy who lurks behind the bushes at night. More likely is that he’s the kindly, presentable looking man who gains your trust before you suddenly wake up in a piss-filled dungeon, strapped down to a Satanic-looking gurney and staring death in the face.

3. Suicide and Mental Illness

Most serial killers display signs of a disturbed mind at an early age through behavioral problems or suicide attempts. A child who has visited the psych ward multiple times or for an extended stay is at risk of growing into a serial murderer, as is one who has attempted suicide multiple times. Criminologists were not the first ones to figure out that a mind disturbed from an early age will most likely remain as such as the person ages, but it’s still an important clue to look out for. This makes criminologists question whether or not becoming a serial killer can be somewhat genetic.

4. Fires, Voyeurism, Painful Fetishes

An unnatural fascination with fire, peeping on others, and painful fetishes (whether they receive or inflict the pain) can also indicate that a killer is in the making. Criminologists have found that serial killers are usually into some taboo stuff from childhood — and not just tattoos and piercings. A fascination with fire can be normal – unless your kid is trying to set the neighbor’s house on fire. They may also be compulsively stealing and hoarding lighters.

Voyeurism can also be a natural curiosity, but a rampant display of peeping Tom behavior may be an early warning sign; once the child learns that secretly watching people undress is uncouth, they may continue to do so out of sick desires.


Lastly, sadomasochistic fetishes can be a more obvious warning sign. It can be difficult to separate a child’s natural curiosities and interests from warning signs. This happens especially when the defining factors can envelop both normal and abnormal characteristics. In today’s society, painful processes like plastic surgery and tattoos are normal. That’s why it may be normal for the child to show interest in them. But how can you tell if your kid likes the needles, or the tattoo that comes at the end? Looking at this possible issue in combination with other possible warning signs can help paint a clearer picture.

5. Torturing Small Animals

There is one trait of young serial killers which shows up in cinema the most. This is a demented interest in torturing and killing small animals. Criminologists point out that there may be plenty of small animals who fall victim to the child’s murderous hands. They may just be practice for larger targets. Killing small animals is way more than merely pulling heads off of dolls, which can be a totally normal behavior. When a living creature goes through pain and death, it shows emotions of distress and suffering. As such, something is seriously wrong with the child torturing the poor creatures.

6. Extended Bed-Wetting

Bed wetting past the age of 12 is a bad sign, criminologists say. Trauma may be related to the unstable household or some type of abuse. It can cause the young serial killer to wet the bed for an extended period of time. Over 60% of serial killers wet the bed past the age of 12. So, watch out — it may be more than simple nightmares and slow development.

Summing Up

These are some of the signs experts say they’re showing serial killer tendencies. Of course, they may be connected to other affections or diseases. As such, it’s better to go to a specialist to find out whether there is a real issue.

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