DR Mike Neville is a forensic psychiatrist who has spent 40 years – the majority in the Bahamas – working in the hospitals, courts and prisons at close quarters with offenders. The father of a recently murdered son, he is bringing his experience and expertise to bear in a series in The Tribune designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the rising levels of serious crime here.
Week by week Dr Neville examines the causes, effects and potential remedies of crime, from the cradle to the grave, looking at the reasons behind the increasing catalogue of murders, shootings, armed robberies and sexual assaults.
And we want you to be involved. Every Tuesday, you can comment on his articles in The Tribune and call in to an hour’s live phone-in on KISS FM96.1 from 3pm on 677-0961. Dr Neville will welcome views – unconventional, challenging and supportive - from everyone. Join the discussions via comments on tribune242.com, email to email@example.com or listen and ring into the radio today.
By DR MIKE NEVILLE
A SERIAL killer holds a worldwide fascination, nicknames like “The Ripper” have entered cultural folklore and they have made many fictional writers famous.
It is the eternal battle between good and evil that fascinates us: serial killers are obviously so bad so maybe we are not. Their minds are also so complex that we are drawn into their web of lies, making great efforts to understand concepts that do not submit to ordinary logic.
The description of a serial killer varies, but the general acceptance is a person who kills more than three people with some sort of gratification followed by a cooling-off period. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), however, believes that even two separate murders is enough for the label; the murders usually have a similar modus operandum and there is often a sexual component to the psychological gratification.
The motives, though, can be quite variable with the desire for infamy, anger, excitement, adrenalin rush or simply money. Most authorities see professional hitmen as a separate category as it is argued that they do not have the pleasure component: I am not convinced and tend to agree with the school of thought that holds that there is considerable overlap, the killings giving some of these assassins a sense of power that they enjoy so much that they will kill, even when not contracted to.
It is widely believed that certain wild animals can develop a taste for human blood; lions and – in parts of India – tigers have been implicated in the serial killing of humans. It has been suggested that, as we have far more salt in our blood than wild animals, they love the taste. In fact, it is more likely that as humans venture further into the habitats of wild animals they are selected as an opportunistic feast as we make easy prey, just as serial killers choose victims that present an easy opportunity for killing and avoiding detection.
Prostitutes are often chosen not for religious anger but because the predator realises that society does not care very much for these and other marginalised people.
There is considerable dissonance among psychiatrists as to whether people who become serial killers suffer from mental illness: certainly they are different. They are fortunately not that common but when caught there always seems to be psychiatrists who will testify to the presence of major mental illness such as schizophrenia.
In the small group of serial killers in the Bahamas that I have extensively interviewed, I have not found major mental illness: rather they have all had severe personality disorders. These disorders are not regarded as illness in our present state of knowledge but they are very different from what may be regarded as normal.
We all have numerous personality traits – some good, some not so good. Empathy and caring are viewed as good but too much leaves us open to being taken advantage of; zero empathy and uncaring can be scary. Today, a little paranoia could be protective; too much, and you may never leave your house.
In serial killers the so-called “Dark Triad” of personality types is often found; the callousness and lack of remorse of the psycopath, the egotism and lack of empathy of the narcissist and the manipulation and exploitation of a Machiavelli. Some writers have thrown in sadism to make it a “Tetrad” but I feel sure the concept is clear.
Wikidot.com lists only an American visitor, Shobek, as a convicted serial killer and as he was executed shortly after my return to the Bahamas I never interviewed him. In the 1980s a flight attendant was arrested and charged with multiple murders of women in Nassau and Grand Bahama. It is unclear how many women he killed as he told me: “Even if I told you the truth you could not be sure I was lying.”
I thought that he killed more women than he admitted (over 12) but probably did not kill one of the ladies he confessed to; her alleged killer had already gone to the gallows. He clearly knew what he was doing and that it was legally wrong, but he was devoid of a moral compass. The motive seemed to be sexual pleasure and his own enjoyment with a total disregard for his victims. The diagnosis of a psychopathic personality disorder did not impress the jury and he was hanged at Fox Hill prison in 1983.
The next man accused of murder who fulfilled the criteria as a serial killer was a butcher from a local food store. He explained that he was also an armed robber, he committed his robberies with two accomplices and they usually did a bit of cocaine. On one job the getaway car would not start and they forced a “hacker” at gunpoint to drive them. He described how the hacker annoyed him and so he shot him.
The feeling of power and pleasure was indescribable and so he added the killing of hackers to each of his subsequent robberies and continued until his accomplices went to the police afraid for their own lives. He presented no psychiatric defence, pleading not guilty; the jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death. A bizarre twist of events saw his case go to the Privy Council where evidence from a Trinidadian psychiatrist working in a London teaching hospital presented evidence that the man was suffering from schizophrenia – despite never coming to the Bahamas or meeting with the accused. This was finally not accepted but as he had spent five years on death row it resulted in his sentence being commuted to life imprisonment.
Another case qualifies as a serial killer under the FBI description. A man was accused of killing two female tourists on Paradise Island: like the first case it was my view that he killed purely for pleasure and had a severe personality disorder. There was a number of trials and he was finally found guilty of manslaughter by reason of provocation. The jury apparently accepted that he killed the woman over an argument about the price of coconuts. He was sentenced in 2002 to 25 years in prison.
A young man who had been in the drug unit at Sandilands on two occasions walked into a police station in Grand Bahama and confessed to killing his boyfriend and five young boys. Most people who knew him described him as very nice and helpful and he had not raised any alerts while in the drug unit. But a really horrific story emerged.
He described abuse in his childhood and sexual fixation on young boys, which eventually led him to this killing spree. At his trial the evidence was again of severe personality disorder; the jury rejected the diminished responsibility defence and he was sentenced to death. That was overturned by the Court of Appeal and he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
These are the killers who were caught and convicted, but how many others just passed through the Bahamas, killed and moved on? There was at least one mother and son team that did just that: they were finally arrested after committing further crimes in New York.
The profile of a serial killer is also changing. In the United Kingdom there have been some bizarre and terrifying cases of nurses killing patients on some weird power trip. There has even been the case of a doctor in Manchester, England, who is thought to have killed over 300 patients over a 20-year period. He hanged himself in jail before he was convicted.
The pattern emerges that these murderers kill people who they think are vulnerable and, because of that, they will be able to escape detection.
Who is the new serial killer in the Bahamas? It may be the hired assassin. At first they are paid to kill someone; it seems probable that some will find that they like the sense of power and feelings of god-like invincibility that the murder gives them. This sets the scene: if they enjoy this terrible act they will kill again.
Serial killers are not easy to identify. They can be difficult to catch and convict, but there is reason for great concern if this possible scenario of a new type is lurking on the streets of the Bahamas.
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