There is a long standing argument about how a person’s childhood affects their life when they grow into adults. There’s been the argument of nature versus nurture and which has a greater affect on a person’s life and personality.
As many medical professionals and psychologists have come to find is that serial killers often times have similar patterns in their childhood that lay the foundation for them to become the monsters that they later do. From physical and emotional damage, there are several markers in a person’s childhood that could cause them to lash out in violence when they become adults.
There have been studies conducted that looked at some of the most prolific serial killers and their childhoods to find the correlation between childhood abuse and their actions. The results were staggering in that most, if not all, dealt with some form of abuse. The serial killers on this list have gone through the unspeakable including sexual assault, neglect, physical abuse, mental abuse, and more.
These men and women grew into the adults that have names that can make a person shudder when they hear it. Their murderous legacy will likely live on for centuries, but it’s their childhoods that started it all.
15 Charles Manson - Raised By An Alcoholic Mother
A well known name among the serial killer rings, Charles Manson is one of the most infamous killers in the US. At the time of his conviction, he was sent to prison for first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder of 7 people. One of the most famous among his victims was the actress Sharon Tate.
But, years before he became known as one of the most infamous murderers of his time, he had a terrible childhood. Born to a teenage mother in 1934, his childhood started off rough. Mason has described his mother as an alcoholic that generally didn’t have her life together. She did a 5 year stint in prison for robbery where in which her son was placed with his aunt.
After her release, they slept in poorly kept motels and Mason has even said during an interview that his mother once sold him to a waitress in exchange for a pitcher of beer. In a book Mason in His Own Words, he says that his singular joy of childhood was the day his mother returned from jail and they shared the initial embrace.
14 John Wayne Gacy - Given The Belt
The crimes of John Wayne Gacy were nothing short of horrific. Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy was responsible for the murdering of 33 boys and young men. All, except for one, of his victims were murdered by strangulation. They were later buried among the walls of the crawl space in his home, in his backyard, and some of the bodies were disposed of in the river. Gacy was put to death on May 10th 1994.
Before he began his reign of terror, John Wayne Gacy was born to his mother and abusive and alcoholic father in 1942. As the only boy, his abusive father focused most of his emotional and relentless physical abuse on him. From horrific beatings with belts and shaving straps to being ridiculed for seemingly everything, Gacy’s daily life was unpleasant at the least. He also has said in interviews that he was violated by a family friend but never felt that he could confide in his mother and father about the abuse.
13 Albert DeSalvo - No Love Became The Norm
Better known as the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo violated and murdered 13 women in the Boston area. He broke into the homes of various victims and hurt them and used their clothing to strangle them. While he is most well known for the horrific crimes he committed against women, his beginnings as a child is just as awful.
DeSalvo was 1 of 6 children in his family. His father was relentlessly abusive towards his wife and his 6 children. The beatings were almost constant in their household. DeSalvo grew up watching his father beat his mother constantly.
His father even sold Albert and 2 of his sisters to a farmer as slaves for $9.
12 Aileen Wuornos - Abandoned Too Young
Portrayed by Charlize Theron in the film Monster, Aileen Wuornos was a notorious serial killer that killed 7 men from 1989 to 1990 by shooting them at point blank range. Her victims were men that solicited her as a night worker. Her choice of targets makes sense when her horrific childhood is taken into consideration.
As a child, Aileen was born to a teen mother and a father that later abandoned the family and eventually died in prison where he was incarcerated for crimes against children. By the time Aileen was 4, her mother followed in her ex-husband's footsteps and abandoned her children, Aileen and her brother, by leaving them with their maternal grandparents.
Aileen’s grandfather sexually abused and beat Aileen from a young age until she eventually became pregnant by one of his friends. Her hate for men started young and clearly manifested itself throughout her life.
11 Michael Bruce Ross - Surrounded By Chaos
For about 4 years, Michael Bruce Ross murdered eight women ranging from the ages of 14 to 25. After his conviction, he was put to death by lethal injection in 2005. Before his killing spree, Michael was the oldest of 4 siblings and was raised on a chicken farm in Brooklyn, Connecticut. Although Michael was described as smart and had an exceptional school record to prove it, he suffered through years of abuse at the hands of his mother.
His mother had abandoned their family at least once in the past and spent some time being institutionalized. When she was around, she beat all of her children but beat Michael the worst. It has also been said that Michael was touched by an older, teen uncle who later committed suicide. Michael’s life had a turbulent and chaotic start that continued through his early adulthood. He started his crime spree by stalking women during his early years of college and he eventually committed his first violation during his senior yr.
10 Andrew Crawford - Violated In Every Way
A serial killer responsible for the death of 11 women, Andre Crawford is an American serial killer that was active from 1993 to 1999. During his conviction process, journalists and professionals commented on Andre’s clear hatred for women that possibly fueled the attacks that he was later known for.
As a child, Andre’s life started grimly. As an infant, Andre was found by authorities living in filth all alone. His mother admitted to leaving him alone for long periods of time including when the authorities found him. He was placed into foster care as a child. During his case, people close to him made claims that he was abused as a teen physically and sexually. He was touched by an older girl that was also a foster child in the same home as him.
There were reports that said that he was sexually assaulted by family members as well and even prostituted out to friends. All of his abuse stemmed from the women in his life and eventually morphed him into the serial killer he became.
9 Donald Henry Gaskins - Grew Up With A Deadbeat Mom
With an unknown amount of killings under his belt, Donald Henry Gaskins started his life out in the midst of neglect, chaos, and an insurmountable amount of abuse. Donald was the last child born to his mother behind several other illegitimate children. His mother continued to have a string of boyfriends that were abusive both physically and emotionally.
His mother cared so little for Donald that he didn’t know his name until after his first run in with the law where he and a group of other dropouts gang attacked a woman and committed a few robberies. During his early teens, he was sent to a reformatory school for his crimes and was raped repeatedly.
Gaskins spent much of his youth being abandoned, abused, and ridiculed. When given the chance, Gaskins took control in the worst way possible and was eventually convicted of the murders of 9 women though he claimed to have killed over 100.
8 Mary Bell - Exploited Too Young
A murderer from across the pond, Mary Bell was convicted of the murder of 2 young children. Her first killing occurred when she was just a child herself at 11 years old. She later killed her second victim with an accomplice. When she was the same age as her later victims, her life was anything but bright and happy as it should be for a young child.
Born to a young prostitute mother, Mary was often times left all alone while her mother went towns over to work. Mary’s mother attempted to kill her several times from giving her sleeping pills to tossing her out of a window. Eventually she decided that introducing her young daughter to the streets.
The constant troubles definitely took a toll on the young Mary. During the times that she attacked her victims, she targeted children that were around the same age she was when her horrors was said to have started.
7 Anthony Sowell - Witnessed Violence On The Daily
More widely known as the Cleveland strangler, Anthony Sowell took the lives of 11 women who bodies were later found in his Cleveland home. He released his reign of terror from 2007 to 2009 and was later caught and sentenced to death. But, before he earned the infamous title of the Cleveland strangler, Anthony was one of seven children born to his single mother in East Cleveland.
Eventually the seven children of his older sister had to move in with his family after she died. According to Sowell’s niece, Sowell’s mother was abusive to the grandchildren while all of the other children stood by to witness. Eventually, Sowell, along with other older boys in the house, violated his niece that was a year younger than him. It became a daily occurrence. With a crowded and abusive upbringing like his, it is no wonder that he became a terribly aggressive murder.
6 Richard Chase - The Signs Went Unnoticed
Eerily nicknamed the vampire of Sacramento, Richard Chase killed 6 people in the short time frame of a month in Sacramento, California. He was given such a vivid and scary nickname because of his need to drink the blood of his victims after he killed them and had cannibalistic actions in regards to the remains of his victims.
Before he became a the vampire of Sacramento, Richard Chase was a young boy, living with his mom in Santa Clara California. By the age of 10, his mother was abusive. By the time Richard reached his adolescence, he was exhibiting the 3 signs of a future serial killer; bed wetting, cruelty to animals, and arson. Before he’d even hit the age of 18, Richard became an alcoholic and drug abuser. His abusive childhood and substance abuse eventually contributed to his killing spree.
5 Henry Lucas - Forced To Watch The Unimaginable
Claiming that he killed around 3,000 people, though he was only proven to have murdered around 11, Henry Lucas’ childhood was more than just abusive; it was as odd as his confession. For starters, Henry lost an eye as a child due to an infection from getting in a fight when he was 10.
From that point on, Henry was said to have demonstrated frightening behavior in order to get attention. His mother was a night worker that would force him to watch her with clients. She would also force her son to cross dress in public though he didn’t want to.
By the 6th grade, Henry decided to drop out of school and with little to no supervision from his mother, he drifted throughout Virginia. He said that his first murder was committed before he was 18. He later went on to kill his own mother.
4 Ottis Toole - Violated By Those He Trusted
Toole’s murders and life greatly paralleled that of Henry Lucas. He claimed to have murdered a great number of victims, many of which contradicted the claims of Henry Lucas. He recanted some of the confessions and was eventually convicted for the murders of 6 victims. As a child, his mother was abusive and would dress him in girl's clothing and refer to him as Susan. His father was an alcoholic that left the family.
As a child, he claimed that he was molested and experienced incest by many relatives and close family friends. He even claimed that his older sister was among those that sexually assaulted him. He also said that his maternal grandmother was a satanist that exposed him to horrific acts like grave robbing and self mutilation. According to Ottis, most of the abuse started when he revealed to his family that he was gay.
3 Ed Gein - A Mother Who Preached Deadly Things
One of the most odd serial killers, Ed Gein is known as the Butcher of Plainfield. He got that name because he exhumed bodies and used the skin and bones to create creepy keepsakes. He also murdered 2 female victims as well. By the time of the trial, he was considered unfit to stand trial because of his mental state. He was confined to a mental institution until his death.
As a child, he was born to his mother and father on a farm in Wisconsin. His mother hated that her husband, Ed’s father, was a terrible alcoholic that couldn’t keep a job. As Ed and his brother got older, their mother who was a devout Lutheran, contained Ed and his brother to the farm. Outside of school, the boys were not allowed to leave the farm. Their mother would spend time preaching to them from the Bible, mostly the graphic portions that spoke about murder and death. She preached to her boys that women were nothing more than prostitutes and apart of the devil himself.
2 Edmund Kemper - Broken With Words
One of the most gruesome serial killers, Edward spent the 70’s killing several women. He even went as far as to kill his grandparents and his mother. He confessed to engaging in necrophilia as well as consuming human flesh of one of his victims. As a child, Edmund exhibited clear signs that there was something that was off. He killed his family cat, twice, and put their body parts in boxes that he kept in his room until his mother found the remains.
He often times talked about killing women and committing sexual acts. After his mother and father separated, his alcoholic mother took to belittling him, ridiculing him, and verbally abusing him. Edmund’s mother often times made him sleep in a locked basement because she was afraid that he would harm her or his sisters. His feelings of being humiliated and constantly emasculated showed through his choice of victims when he murdered, especially when he murdered his mother and grandparents.
1 Pedro Lopez - Kicked Out Too Soon
Pedro Lopez was convicted of killing and raping 80 girls in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. He claimed to have killed 300 girls between 1969 and 1980. Pedro’s early years started with chaos and terror. His mother was the mistress to his father who was a political figure during a civil war in Colombia. When his mother was just 3 months pregnant with him, Pedro’s father was shot and murdered. Pedro was born into a family of 13 siblings.
He grew up witnessing his mother engage in acts on the streets and eventually engaged in deviant behavior himself. Pedro was caught hurting his sister and kicked out by his mother at the age of 8. He roamed the streets and went on to experience sexual assault and abuse at the hands of a man that picked him up on the road. After spending time with a foster family, he ran away again to live a life of crime because he said that he was being molested. His life was tough from conception and the foundation was laid for a life of crime and terror.