Animal Abuse and Violent Crimes


When Rumpydog first suggested that I write a post about the connection between serial killers and animal abuse I thought it would be easy.  I was very wrong.

Seems that although cruelty to animals can be linked to most to serial killers it can also be a red flag for all sorts of violent tenancies.

It is very true that many serial killers begin their slaughter with animals and they begin at a young age.  It is part of what is called the Triad of Sociopathy. The triad links animal cruelty, an obsession with fire starting and consistent bedwetting past the age of 5 to a higher possibility of violent behaviors. This does not just possibly indicate a serial killer but overall violent personalities.

  • Jeffery Dahmer would put the head of frogs, cats and even dogs on sticks. His father had noticed that Jeff dissected dead animals but accepted that Jeff was curious with death and thought that maybe it would lead to a career in science. Dahmer admitted and spoke about how he began capturing, torturing and killing animals out of curiosity and came to enjoy it. He even realized the link between his cruelty to animals as a child and his killing of humans as an adult. (Note, Jeff’s father thought Jeff was just picking up already dead animals. I think he still doubts to this day that Jeff committed animal abuse.)
  • Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, would trap stray animals in crates and shoot arrows at them when he was growing up. He enjoyed not only the killing but the extended suffering this method provided.
  • Keith Jesperson, the Happy Face Killer, was beyond cruel to many animals throughout his life. He really enjoyed hanging stray cats from clotheslines and letting them claw each other to death as a child. When she was young his daughter watched as he did this and Jesperson could not understand why she was so upset.
  • Carroll Edward Cole said that his first act of violence was to strangle a puppy to death when he a child. He said that it made him feel relieved after killing the puppy and that afterwards he began to fantasize about killing his mother and other females.
  • Edmund Kemper buried the family cat alive then dug it up. He also stabbed another family cat to death. He would kill strays and put the heads on sticks to bring home as trophies.

The list goes on and on. Serial killers can commit these brutal acts on animals not just because they consider the animals as ‘things’ but also because they cannot relate to the suffering of the animal. Even a small kitten or puppy crying out in pain does not elicit empathy from the serial killer.

The FBI has also found that in some cases the way the serial killer kills animals as a child is almost practice for what they do to their human victims as adults. Dahmer’s dissecting and investigating animals as child mirrors how he treated his human victims including the use of acid to strip the bones of skin.

Much like he had done with the strays that he killed Kemper would bring the heads of his victims home with him. He would talk to the heads and have sex with the heads until disposing of them. They became trophies to him, just as the heads of the animals were when he was a kid.

School shooters are also known to have histories of animal cruelty.

  • Brenda Spencer would set the tails of dogs and cats on fire while growing up.
  • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would brag to others about the abuse and mutilations that they inflicted on animals.
  • Kip Kinkle was known to torture animals from cats to cows using fireworks, knives and guns.
  • Luke Woodham called the howls of his dying dog a ‘thing of beauty”, he had doused Sparkle in gasoline and lit her on fire as he and a friend beat her to death.

Again the list of school shooters goes on and on with most reporting acts of cruelty to animals. It is a link between them all, a common link. Children and teens that hurt animals for pleasure are a threat to society yet so often even when they brag about the acts or the abuse is discovered no one steps in.

Don’t get me wrong, just because a little kid kicks at the family dog once out of frustration I am not saying he will grow up to be a killer. What is being said is that children and teens that abuse and kill animals for pleasure have a higher chance of being violent as adults. Studies have shown that at least 46% to 56 % of violent prisoners admitted to abusing animals. These were not serial killers; these were run of the mill rapists, robbers and murderers.  Some experts believe that the numbers should be higher since they are based on the offender recognizing, admitting and self-reporting the abuse. I am guessing that if someone had asked Jesperson if he had abused animals he might have said no since he did not understand why his daughter was upset over the abuse of the cats that she witnessed.

Not all serial killers or violent offenders are cruel animals. It seems that some people can rob, rape, torture and kill other humans and somehow be caring towards animals. It does not usually work both ways though. If a child or young adult is finding pleasure in the power that they get from causing pain and death to animals there is a serious problem with that child.

Studies have proven that homes in which spousal or child abuse is occurring are also homes that have animal abuse. Many times when social workers investigate a home where there is physical or sexual abuse of either an adult or a child they also find abuse of animals. In the same vein that a child who is abused is more likely to abuse their child, a child who is being abused is more likely to abuse pets. A child abusing animals has become a red flag for social workers and teachers. We also have to begin to recognize that finding an abused animal is a red flag for other possible abuses in that home.

Children who are abused sometimes react to the feeling of being powerless by exerting power (in the form of abuse) on strays as well as on family pets. Children who routinely see one of their parents abused are also known to take out their frustrations on ‘weaker’ animals.  Sometimes the child learns to abuse animals by watching an abusive adult do it first.

It has also been shown that often abuse in the home begins with the abuser being cruel to family pets or strays from around the home. In a study of women entering “safe shelters” 71% to 83% reported that their partners abused and or killed the family pet. The abuser may start by simply kicking the family dog to vent frustration which can lead to beating or even killing the pet in front of whomever that abuser wants to intimidate or hurt.  It is all too common for a pet to be murdered for revenge in violent homes.

When I first started this I thought that I was going to be able to just say “If a child abuses animals they are more likely to be a serial killer when they grow up” and that it true. Another truth is that even if that child does not become a serial killer he or she is much more likely to become a violent offender in some way. It is also true that if a child is abusing an animal that is a red flag that something is seriously wrong. The child is either a young sociopath or that child is in an abusive environment. Either way society has to take the abuse of animals as a red flag, even as a scream for help.  Society has to act for the child’s protection, the animals protection and ultimately for the safety of others in that society.

For more information click any of the links below. I do want to warn you first that there are many accounts of brutal abuse to animals, children and adults at some of the links below or in the links in the post above. That was the hardest part of this post, reading account after account of abuse. It did open my eyes to some things but it also broke my heart.

An FBI Perspective on Animal Cruelty

The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence by Ascione, Weber and Wood USU

Journal of Interpersonal Violence (FBI)

Warning Signals from Disturbed Youth – USA Today

Serial Murder: A Forensic Psychiatric Perspective by James Knoll

The Links Between Animal Cruelty and Violence Towards People by Cynthia Hodges

Animal Abuser Risk Assessment by Randall Lockwood

What Makes Serial Killers Tick by Shirley Lynn Scott

Warning Over Child Animal Cruelty (BBC)

Abuse Connection – The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Interpersonal Violence

Helping Animals Factsheet

What We Know About the Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Abuse by Mary Lou Randour

Deviant Crimes Web Site

Animal Abuse and Sociopathy Link – NSW Parliment

Animal Cruelty: The Key to Serial Minds by Bailey-Lloyd

The Admissibility of Evidence of Animal Abuse in Criminal Trials for Child and Domestic Abuse

The Bond Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence Humane Education Program

If you don’t want to click on all the links here is an excerpt from a former FBI Agent.

FBI profiler sheds light on animal abuse

O’Toole, now a private forensic behavioral consultant, is the FBI’s leading expert on psychopathy, a disorder in which people feel no empathy toward animals or people. She said research exists that points to a genetic component in psychopathy, as well as environmental factors.

“A psychopath is somebody that has 20 specific traits, and whether you live in Brownsville, Texas, or San Francisco, or Seoul, South Korea, this disorder has been empirically studied for years. And one of the 20 traits is that you lack empathy for other people, not just for people, but you lack empathy for animals, too,” she said.

“So, if you don’t have empathy for people, or animals, you can treat them however you want – and walk away. And you don’t think about them. You don’t care.”

Psychopaths escalating to the level of serial killer are very rare, she said. More often, people who have psychopathy disorder may abuse their spouses and children.

Children manifesting this behavior may kick around dogs and cats without engaging in torture. But O’Toole said that’s just splitting hairs, cruelty is cruelty and there don’t necessarily have to be any stressors to provoke someone to abuse a person or an animal.

“It could be just for the pleasure of hurting another person, and in some instances, it could be for sexual pleasure, as warped as that may sound,” O’Toole said. “It could be simply very intentional, very deliberate thinking that, ‘I like to do this. I like to hear the pain in the victim’s cries or whatever.’ Which is really hideous, but it’s true.”

O’Toole said she has asked numerous serial killers if they were ever cruel to animals, and they always responded, “Oh, no, I loved animals.”

“Who do you go to, to verify if that’s a lie or if that’s truthful?” she said. “So sometimes I go about it the other way, and I’ll say, ‘What was your relationship like with animals?’ And I’ve had them tell me, like in one case, they gave me an example of what they did to a family rabbit.

“They didn’t see it as being cruel because their perception was, ‘I wasn’t being cruel. I own that rabbit. It’s an object. I can do whatever I want with it.’”

  1. Excellent! And you raise a good point about kicking a dog not necessarily being a sign of a future violent offender. But as you’ve shown, the violent ones did far worse than kick a dog.

    • JW
    • December 7th, 2011

    Great research.
    I was just thinking about this topic the other day. For if someone treats animals that way, they are bound to move on to human beings soon after.

  2. Thank god I’m not a serial killer, because I love animals !!

  3. “run of the mill rapists, robbers and murderers”

    what a very sad and frightening phrase

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