A socio-psychological profile of a child killer

Criminology Research Council grant ; (2/84)

This study was based on extensive interviews with two offenders, persons associated, directly or indirectly, with the offenders and arresting police officers involved in a major case of murder. The crime typically can be classified as 'lust' homicide and involved the killing and torture of a 14-year-old boy.

In theoretical terms the study assisted in developing perspectives on lust killers. Though the 'social disadvantage' hypothesis usually advanced as an explanation of such crimes is congruent with the past history of one offender, no such pattern emerged with the other. Indeed, the very 'normality' of the offenders adds weight to an observation increasingly emphasised in the professional literature; that is, that scientific and psychiatric evidence does not lead inevitably to the conclusion that the majority of sexual murderers are mentally ill, either in a medical sense, or as the term is legally defined.

The research publications that have resulted from the project include relevant sections of Murder of the lnnocents: Child Killers and Their Victims (P.R. Wilson, Rigby, Adelaide, 1985) and a major article entitled 'Stranger Child Murder: Issues Relating to Causes and Controls', (International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, forthcoming, 1987). Considerable media and professional attention has been paid to two propositions emerging from the study and publications. The first is the researcher's view, albeit a minority view in Australia, that the defence of insanity should be abolished and that no offender ought to be excused for his criminal behaviour simply because he is judged mentally disturbed. The second proposition asserts, on the basis of analysing the contents of pornography found with the offenders and the nature of the fatal injuries inflicted on the victim, that pornographic material intertwining sex with violence reinforces predisposing patterns of destructive behaviour in individuals who commit lust killings.

The study has significantly contributed towards the generation of two related research projects with important policy implications. The first project analyses, using quantitative techniques, the use, distribution and specific content of video material classified as 'X' or 'R'. The second study assesses procedures used by Australian police forces in tracing missing persons, especially children and adolescents, who disappear.