An Interesting Article by Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge


Serial Killers and the Sri Lankan Society

Posted on August 29th, 2011

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

Serial killers kill for the power and control they experience during the murders and for the added ego boost they get in the aftermath from community fears, media coverage, and the police investigations.  –Pat Brown

In 1999 I did a study with the help of Dr A.P Waidyasekara Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Mr Mohan Peris PC, and Mr Priyantha Jayakody of the Sri Lanka Police Force to find any evidence of serial killers in the Sri Lankan Criminal history. Although we dug  in to the criminal history of this country since 1800 s,  I could not find any criminal who would fit to serial murderer profile that is described by the FBI. First I thought Kallathhave Soysaand Kalu Albert would fit in to this category ,  but after studying the murders that they had committed I found that there were huge material motivations behind their  killings. But KaluAlbert showed numerous features of a coldblooded killer and he may have suffered from ASPD (Anti-Social Personality Disorder ). He had no remorse for these  killings and finally he went to the gallows without any emotional outburst . The eyewitnesses say that Kalu Albert went to the gallows with a sardonic smile on his face even challenging death.

While I was doing this study one day Mr Priyantha Jayakody informed me about a person who had killed 16 people during the time  1988- 1999. But later it was revealed that he was a contract killer and was not a serial murderer.

In 2003 a mobile vendor was arrested by the Kandy Police for murdering several women and a child. The investigations were conducted by DIG Nimal Madiwaka and I did contact him to clarify the motives of these killings. The perpetrator was a resident from Madugoda Kandy District. The said person had visited houses to sell domestic items between 10 am to 12 pm and when he found suitable opportunities he used to kill women mostly by strangulation.  He had no specific material gain to commit these murders and there was a certain emotional gratification derived by these senseless killings. He was a deviant character who has had a tormented childhood and experienced paternal rejection when he was very young. He was motivated by free floating anger andferocious instincts. He derived sadistic satisfaction by killing these women. Obviously this person could be the first serial murderer inthe Sri Lankan modern criminal history. In the same year I wrote an article revealing the psychological background of these killings that was published by the Sunday Lakbima newspaper.

In 2002 I was working in the Military Hospital Colombo and I was referred an Army Officer by Dr Neil Frenando – Consultant Psychiatrist to do a comprehensive psychological assessment. The subject was exposed to gruesome combat experiences and sustained a head injury. There was a grenade fragment in his frontal lobe and he suffered from periodical headaches.  These traumatic combat experiences and the head injury may have caused drastic personality changes in him. During the assessment I found some homicidal obsessions in him and it was my professional obligation to inform the authorities about this impending danger.  I informed the relevant authority to get this person to our combat trauma treatment center for further observation and treatment. I specifically mentioned his current mental status and possibledangers to the society. Sadly our request was turned down and the subject went free. In less than two years I heard bad news. He had invited a cab driver to the Manthhottam camp in Mannarand killed the driver, cut the body into pieces then burnt it with gasoline. He had   killed several people secretly after he became psychologically unbalanced. Eventually he was caught by the Wattegama Police. He was charged with manslaughter. When the suspect was at the Bogambara Remand Prison he hanged himself. This was a very unfortunate incident in my professional life and it could have been prevented if not for the unwise administrative decision.

The said officer was not a monster by nature. He came from a good family background and he had studied in a reputed school in Kandy. After finishing school he joined the military to become a career officer. He successfully completed a  defence  degree from the KotelawalaDefence Academy.  He never had murderous intentions until he became a psychological casualty by the War. Unfortunately his combat stress related symptoms were not diagnosed in the early stages and he never had the opportunity to undergo effective prolonged treatment.

According to the Police reports he had murdered several people and sometimes stole the victim’s money and vehicles. He committed his last crime in Wattegama and was caught by the police. What were the true intentions of these murders? According to my understanding his intentions were not purely to rob money or other valuable items. He basically derived sadistic satisfaction by murdering his victims. I still recall the word he used during the clinical interview. He said when I find a victim I prefer to do “PashanibuthaKirema“meansto fossilize the victims. If the authorities gave us a helping hand and the opportunity to treat this officer we could have saved at least five lives. This officer suffered from Posttraumatic Stress and Personality Changes following Head injury.  Based on the psychological profile and his subsequent homicidal actions I think this officer would fit in to the list of Sri Lankan serial murderers.

Another serial murder outbreak was reported recently from Kahawatta. In 2011 Kahawatta in Ratnapura District became under mass fear following mysterious murders. At least seven elderly women were killed and some of the victims had been raped by an unknown assassin. Later the Police arrested several suspects connected with these murders. The Police Department should get help from Psychologists / Psychiatrists to determine whether these suspects are serial murders.

Who are the Serial Killers?

A serial killer is an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time   between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.  Most of the serial killers suffer from Anti-Social Personality Disorder and could appear normal and charming. Sometimes they are highly intelligent.

Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing was the first clinician who wrote about serial killers in detail. DrEbing in his 1886 text book  Psychopathia Sexualisdescribed numerous case studies of sexual homicide, serial murder, and other areas of sexual proclivity.

There are many reasons why serial killers commit murders. The Serial Killers are geared by different motives. As Lee (1988) points out serial killers commit murders following

1)    Profit

2)    Passion

3)    Hatred

4)    Power or domination

5)    Revenge

6)    Opportunism

7)    Fear

8)    Contract killing

9)    Desperation

10)  Compassion

11) Ritual

Generally there is no prior relationship between victim and the attacker. Often the motive is not for material gain and is believed to be for the murderer’s desire to have power over his victim. For the murderer victims may have symbolic value.

The perpetrator has low self-esteem and increasingly violent fantasies. He might look calm and well-mannered generally hiding his inner motives. He may not appear like a conventional criminal. He could attack the victim unexpectedly and leaves no traces. After committing a murder the serial killer is not emotionally shocked by the feelings of guilt. He is apathetic to his victim’s suffering and detached from the feelings of compassion or remorse.  Traumatic experiences and feelings from the past may be dissociated from conscious feelings and the perpetrator is emotionally numbed.

There are many theories that describe how a person could turn in to a serial murderer. According to the Anomie Theory serial killers lack any bonds tying them to society. They feel isolated, alienated and rejected by the society. Many psychologists believe that family history and childhood development play large roles in this. Childhood anxieties such as rejection by a parent, maternal or paternal deprivation, childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse could lead to devastating outcomes. Many serial killers have experienced feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, and powerlessness.

Some research points to brain anomalies in serial killers; possibly due to abnormal development during gestation or the result of an injury. A large number of serial murder studies haveshowed severe damage to the frontal lobe that could lead to violent behavior. There is also some evidence that abnormalities in the nervous system may play a role. Altered brain chemistry is another hypothesis. For instance low levels of serotonin in the brain have been associated with an increased susceptibility to impulsive behavior, aggression and possible violent crimes.

The author goes on to list some famous serial killers and then goes directly into his look at his society and serial killers.

Serial Killers and the Sri Lankan Society

Sri Lankan society experienced the repercussions of an armed conflict for over three decades that negatively affected the mental health of the combatants, militants and the civilians. War trauma still hounds the Sri Lankan society. Social violence, alcoholism and substance abuse, suicides,self-harm, deep mistrust, degradation of communities have increased in the recent past. These circumstances can increase law-breaking in the society.

The War trauma should be identified among the combatants, ex militants and the civilians who were exposed to traumatic war situations. The affected people should be treated appropriately. The Police indicate that the one of the perpetrators who killed the old women in Kahawathha was a disabled soldier. If these accusationsare true this solder may have been suffering from undiagnosed posttraumatic conditions. He cannot be held fully responsible for his actions since he is being psychologically traumatized by the war. There may be hundreds of such individuals walking free in our society and it could be an impending danger to the civil society. Therefore systematic case identification and effective psychological treatment for combat trauma would be essentially needed.

We should not forget that War can create heroes as well as slayers.  After the Vietnam War some distinguished solders became deviant characters as a result of combattrauma and committed crimes. For instance Sgt.Dwight H Johnson who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and distinguished service became an antisocial. After coming from Vietnam he suffered from Post Combat Depression and committed several crimes. In 1971 he was shot during an armed robbery by the Police in Detroit. The DC Sniper (John Allen Muhammad) had served Louisiana Army National Guard for seven years seven years before he became a serial killer. The Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh received Bronze Star for his military services. After his military career McVeigh became an isolated character and probably sufferer from PCS (Post Combat Syndrome).  In 1995 Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb in Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 167 people.

These tragedies teach us a huge lesson. During the Eelam War over 150,000 combatants were in active combat and some were exposed to traumatic and gruesome realties of the war. A considerable percentage of solders (including members of the Navy, Air force, Police) are suffering from combat related PTSD. Similarly there are a large numbers of ex LTTE members in the Northern part of the country and a vast number of civilians from the North and South who suffer from war trauma. Their emotional scars are not yet diagnosed and untreated. Many use negative stress coping methods to deal with their past war traumas. This could be a time bomb in the Sri Lankan society. Our health system should take necessary steps to identify war trauma and treat appropriately. The affected combatants should be provided with appropriate psychosocial support and their mental health must be uplifted.

 From 2002 – 2006 Dr. Neil Fernando and I have treated a large number of patients who were affected by war trauma. Some individuals suffered from malignant PTSD and DESNOS (Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified) Some of these war victims had grandiose urge to see / touch human  blood, kill people by stabbing, manual throttling, shooting etc. These homicidal urges were part of their illness and we were able to treat them successfully evading social calamities. Unfortunately in 2006 this center was closed and today we don’t know what happened to some of our patients who suffered from malignant PTSD. I hope and pray that these individuals are still taking adequate treatment and they are under medical monitoring. Also hope that they will not be a threat to the society.

Recent social unrests connected with Grease Yaka (Grease Devil) indicate frustration and deviant behavior of individuals and groups who get satisfaction by attacking people and disrupting the civil order. People with anti-social personality disorder and sexual deviant behaviors suchas voyeurism, exhibitionism etc have an inclination towers such forms of behavior and these individuals need treatment. Extremist and fundamental groups can always make use of these types of people to gain their egoistic and petty needs. Therefore the society has an obligation to prevent such calamities helping to maintaining law and order.

 The Sri Lankan Police Department needs knowledge and skills to handle crimes committed by these deviant personalities and especially by serial killers.  As a matter of fact higher numbers of serial killers do not exhibit the conventional criminal behavior pattern that is common to most of the criminals that are handled by the Police Force. Therefore the Police offices should be educated and equipped with knowledge and skills to deal with such people and situations.

Sri Lankans are warm and companionate people. Sri Lankan communities are interconnected and people help each other. This allows the people to know about each other and everyone’s movements. This is one of the positive factors in our society that prevented the actions of secretive murderers. We had an innate social buffer against serial killers. In some countries neighbours do not know about each other and people have secluded and isolated lives and such situations help a serial murder to strike easily. Now days these countries introduce neighbourhood watch systems to protect people.  But these social protective systems prevailed in our Sri Lankan society since ancient times. Unfortunately manmade disasters  like war and civil unrests in 1971 and 1988 disintegrated the communities and their positive human touch. People became hostile to one another and suspicion and mistrust   started to grow. Disintegration of extended family systems and breaking of neighbourhood collaboration have endangered people like never before.

Today many mothers go to the Middle East countries leaving their children behind. The Middle East Syndrome has caused maternal derivation creating a deep void in children. Many children grow with severe unbearable   stressors and in unsafe environments.  According to Professor Harendra De Silva a large number of children under go physical, sexual and emotional trauma annually. There is no appropriate safety net to protect these children. Unfortunately these social upheavals have become fertile grounds to breed future serial murderers. Therefore mental health experts should take appropriate measures to prevent such social problems.

The public must work as crime stoppers and start to build positive communities and healthy relationships with the help of community leaders and religious leaders. It is an effective measure to combat crime. Awareness plays a key role to prevent crimes committed by conventional criminals and especially by the deviant killers. Most of the victims who knew to avoid or defense themselves from traditional criminals had no clue to protect themselves from deviant murderers such as serial killers. Therefore they became potential victims.  It is everyone’s duty is to be cautious and vigilant and maintain the optimal social equilibrium to prevent such crimes.

In my opinion he is too ready to excuse actions by certain individuals by saying they are mentally ill.

I do think that he has  some excellent insights though, especially on society and the role it has on crime.

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