Public Administration Assignment Paper on the Potential Causes of Serial Offenders

The Potential Causes of Serial Offenders


Through crime books and other media, serial offenders capture the attention of various technocrats or scholars in various professions such as psychology, Public Administration, and criminology, among others. Kocsis and Irwin (2008) assert that there is a fascination of trying to get into the mind of a serial rapist, killer, or arsonist. This fascination stems from the desire to put a perennial criminal behind bar facing the justice they deserve. Additionally, there is the desire to fill in gaps that may allow professionals to have a better understanding of the factors that are determinant in the making of such criminals, thereby preventing such acts from happening. According to Cooper (1997), various questions to-date remain inconclusive thus the frequent discussions about serial crime and serial offenders. Among the key questions that scholars attempt to understand is, “What prompts individuals to become serial offenders?” Through its simplicity, the question is the genesis of finding the reasoning of a serial offender. The question equally seeks to evaluate the psychological, biological, social, or environmental influences that prompt an individual to commit crimes continuously.


 A serial offender is a person who murders three or more people often under the influence of abnormal psychological gratification (LeBeau, 2007). On the other hand, according to Snook, Canter, and Bennell (2002), this is a misleading part of literature that is accepted as part of the definition of a serial killer but not a serial offender. From the above explanation, it is apparent that a redefinition of the term is pursued by primarily classifying the psychological mechanisms characteristic of serial offenders. That is, part of the definition is expected to explain what drives an individual to actions that would be described as serial crimes. Snook, Canter, and Bennell (2002) state that it expected that a comprehensive definition of serial crime then is expected to focus on the psychological aspect of the serial offender regardless of the particular offense made. Therefore, LeBeau’s (2007) assertion is not the definition of a serial offender but a part of the entire definition of a serial offender. Persons who have committed numerous crimes such as murder, rape, as well as arson can be described in terms of particular behaviors such as evidence in the crime scene, police reports, and the style of victimization. These descriptions are the best indicators that can be used to classify serial offenders.

From the description mentioned above of a serial offender, the names Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, also known as The Ken & Barbie Killers, become synonymous. In particular, Paul Bernardo, also known as “Paul Jason Teale” or “The Scarborough Rapist” or “The Schoolgirl Killer,” fits the above description of a serial offender to perfection. Paul Kenneth Bernardo was born in Toronto, Ontario on August 27, 1964. During his time in the society, he became known as a serial killer and rapist, recognized for the killings he committed with the aid of his wife Karla Homolka in Scarborough, a district in his hometown. According to Williams (2009), Bernardo had been a victim of various influencing factors that led to his life as a serial offender.

Factors that led to the making of Paul Kenneth Bernardo

According to Snook, Canter, and Bennell (2002), a serial offender is a regular person who goes through irregular circumstances. From the information provided, it can be argued that irregular circumstances are the influencers that cause an individual to a criminal profile. Williams (2009) states that there are a variety of influencers that are documented in different cases to have caused an individual adopt a variety of negative traits; however, the principal factors are social, environmental, psychological, or biological. This point is affirmed by Anson (1999) who states that the ‘Bio-psycho-social perspective’ principle offers a clear explanation of the principle as mentioned above influencing factors. Various theories, for instance the Bio-Psycho-Social perspective, have been introduced attempting to explain the onset of psychological disorders. Besides being organic in nature, the disorders encompass social, psychological, and biological factors.

Social Factors as Presented by the Bio-Psycho-Social Perspective

The social component is said to be an influencer that does not work from internal processes as perceived but rather external cues (Anson, 1999). Factors such as culture, religion, ethnicity, among others influence the Bio-psycho-social perspective. Other social cues such as violent media, aggressive role models, environmental factors, and politics of low socioeconomic neighborhoods impact on crime. For instance, a dysfunctional family with the presence of drugs, alcohol, drugs, violence, and criminal activity is more likely to prompt a child into engaging in the learned behavior. One-third of offenders are abused by immediate family members or relatives. Parenting dynamics and family dynamics expose a child to various undefined guidelines. Together with psychological dysfunction, these environmental and social factors often lead to abnormal behavior.

Records of serial killers from different regions of the world exist. The common trait between modern and historic rapists and serial killers is that most of them were raised in dysfunctional homes.. Paul Kenneth Bernardo was born into a wealthy family; however, some issues made his life miserable. Bernardo’s mother was Marilyn; a humble God-fearing woman brought up by upstanding foster parents, Gerald Eastman and his wife, Elizabeth. On the other hand, his father, Kenneth, was a son of an abusive immigrant’s father who frequently hurt his wife and kids physically and mentally through various means. Due to a life full of abuse, Kenneth became like his father and hurt Elizabeth frequently. Marilyn, in her defiance of an abusive husband, decided to have an affair with an old boyfriend- a relationship that led to the birth of Paul Kenneth Bernardo. His father never accepted Paul. As a result, his birth certificate indicated the name of his biological father. Nevertheless, young Paul seemed to cope well with his father’s treatment until the day he was told that he was an out-of-wedlock son. It is at this point that Paul started calling his mother a “slob” and “whore.” 

Paul developed hatred towards his mother, and soon after graduating from the University of Toronto Scarborough, he began to manifest dark sexual fantasies; he enjoyed humiliating women in public. He was also identified as a serial feminist who beat up the women he dated. From the information presented, it is evident that Paul’s abusive father, who was charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl, as well as his daughter, affected his view on relationships. Additionally, his out-of-wedlock birth added more resentment on women, which drove him to develop a sadistic sexual behavior that led him to be a serial rapist. According to Pron (2012), Paul committed eleven rapes in fourteen attempts each time becoming more vicious and dangerous to his attackers. For example, his first four attacks were committed with no weapon; however, the fourth was committed while he held a knife to his victim’s throat. Later, he began stabbing his victims each time causing more physical pain. This behavior was a manifestation of his father’s actions, both by molesting teenagers and beating them up in the process (Bardsley, 2008). It should be that only two of his rape victims were over the age of twenty. It is evident that Paul’s profile during his early days as a serial offender was shaped by his immediate family’s pressure. That is, his father’s abuse and mother’ out-of-wedlock birth.        

Biological Factors as Presented by the Bio-Psycho-Social Perspective

As indicated by the Bio-psycho-social perspective, Biological factors such as genetics, hormones, and brain functioning are significant behavioral influencers (Anson, 1999). Granting there is nothing like a gene for crime, the aforementioned genetic factor can influence an individual into a criminal lifestyle indirectly due to increased aggression. According to Cooper (1997), human beings have a functional polymorphism in a gene linked to the X chromosome. The gene in question is the Metabolizing Enzyme Monoamine Oxidase A (MAOA). It has a metabolizing effect on the brain’s regular balance of neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin, which are known to regulate mood. As indicated by Guzman et al. (2002), a lack of this genetic algorithm would drive an individual into increased aggression. It can be argued that serial offenders who suffer from antisocial personality disorder, voyeurism, fetishism, sadism, masochism, necrophilia, and other disorders displaying narcissistic qualities related to a lack of this gene. It is evident that almost all serial killers have antisocial personality disorder, a factor that makes them devoid of empathy or guilt for other people’s misfortunes, shallow interpersonal relationships, spontaneous behavior, insincerity, and lying.

To-date, Paul Kenneth Bernardo has never been biologically tested in relation to the biological cause of his behavior. Nevertheless, his grandfather and father all highlighted a tendency to violence. Therefore, it is possible that the three individuals have a shared biological trait that saw them become abusive. However, considering the augmentation of stress from other areas such as the social environment, Paul highlighted higher aggression.

Psychological factors as presented by The Bio-psycho-social Perspective

According to Guzman et al. (2002), there exist three types of criminals. The first is the ordinary individuals who are pushed to a criminal life due to external factors. The second type of criminal is swayed by alluring impulses, while the third is a neurotic criminal who is driven by similarly appealing and cataleptic tendencies. As presented by The Bio-psycho-social perspective the third individual is a serial offender. This is based on their pride held by these individuals when committing delinquent criminal actions. Such behavior is witnessed when there is a connection between various factors. These include: the connection between the offense and the neurotic symptoms, that is, when criminal act gives psychological pleasure such as dominating a victim; the link between the punishment and the unconscious guilt that sparks criminal behavior; the connection of a guilty non-sexual act and a guilty sexual one; the connection with a person loved and hated at the same time by borrowing his or her guilt. Therefore, the mind of a criminal is a constant struggle that delivers both pleasure and pain in action. Serial offenders find a connection between the two, thereby driving them to commit multiple offenses. Also, the thrill of not being arrested also encourages the offenders to continue with their activities as they believe they cannot be apprehended.

In the case of Paul Kenneth Bernardo, he highlighted a connection in all incidences. It was understood that Paul got pleasure in humiliating and hurting women in public when he attended the University of Toronto Scarborough. He developed a dark sexual fantasy through the pleasures of hitting women and dominating them physically. It is this pleasure that sexually interested him towards Karla Homolka. Unlike the other girls Paul had dated, she encouraged his sadistic sexual behavior, as well as his acts as the “Scarborough Rapist.” Paul had the unconscious guilt of being a child out of wedlock, almost a bastard. This guilt drove him to abuse his mother inspiring more criminal actions against women verbally. Paul’s first criminal act was rape- an indication of sexual frustration within himself. He was the son of an illegal sexual act between his mother and an unfamiliar man who had his name on the birth certificate. This non-sexual guilt led him to rape. From his childhood, Paul was not a rude or rebellious child. He loved his parents up until he discovered that his father was not his biological father while his mother had an affair of which he was a product. His actions of raping, stumbling, and poisoning children, a character almost similar to his father’s, indicated a love-hate relationship.


As presented by Snook, Canter, and Bennell, (2002), there are two major personalities when it comes to serial crimes or the analysis of a serial offender: psychodynamic and behavioral personalities. Criminal profilers who work for the law enforcement are expected and can come up with a detailed psychosocial profile of the murderer using techniques like those offered by John Douglas (1997) (Kocsis & Irwin, 2008). The author indicates that profilers can divide a criminal profiling process into several primary steps, namely; police reports, the victim’s autopsy, and tan evaluation of the crime scene. Serial offenders are methodical and leave behind a similar trail when they attack their victims. The police, after the arrest of Paul, found a magazine page that indicated a similar kind of rape in Hawaii at a time when he and his wife were there on holiday. Additionally, of his eleven rape cases, nine shared a similar pattern, whereby Paul raped teenagers that he stalked and knew their behaviors. At the time, the police did not analyze any of the factors as mentioned above thus releasing Paul twice after being interviewed. It is a recommendation to law enforcement officers to converse and analyze all related criminal material to indicate a pattern. This would swiftly identify if the criminal in question were a serial offender. Studying the criminal’s history could also help to determine the factors that prompted the individual to engage in crime. Behavioral therapists attribute various traits to an individual’s background, which mostly covers the environment in which they were brought up.


Serial offenders capture the attention of various technocrats in psychology, public admiration, and criminology fields. This is because they portray a varied way of thinking that makes them increasingly dangerous over time. From the information provided in this paper, it is evident that though serial offenders think or are driven to crime differently, unlike regular criminals, they are regular people. Nevertheless, as indicated by the Bio-psycho-social perspective model, they are influenced by social, environmental, and psychological issues, as well as biological influencers. Therefore, they create an environment of no guilt or remorse, which is as a result of the connection between pain and pleasure from a criminal action. The case study used in this paper to give authentication to the study involved Paul Kenneth Bernardo, an individual who was a serial rapist and killer. Paul came from a broken family with an abusive father. Additionally, he was a product of an extra-marital affair between his mother and her former boyfriend. These two factors drove Paul to have a psychological abnormality that saw him gain pleasure from the pain of others. Nevertheless, this case study indicated how serial offenders think, as well as how they act because after being caught, the police landed on information that showed why Paul become a serial offender. The Bio-psycho-social perspective is a theory that was introduced to explain the origin of psychological disorders. It has enabled investigators to find leads in various cases. Persons who have committed numerous crimes such as murder, rape, as well as arson can be described in terms of particular behaviors such as evidence in the crime scene, police reports, and the style of victimization. These descriptions are the best indicators that can be used to classify serial offenders. In the presented case study, the suspect derived satisfaction from the pain endured by the victims, which led him to engaging in more killings.


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