The Criminal Brain or The Reality of Crime

We need criminals.
Before you grab a fistful of rocks to haul at me, hear me out first. I’m not one and have never willingly partaken in crime… (Well, apart from that one time as a little kid, when mum caught me stealing some ice cream from the refrigerator).

Why fridge doors choose to creak so loudly at night, I’ll never quite understand.
Might as well use a loudspeaker while at it. Traitor!

But yes, criminals are needed. They’re such a valuable resource, and deep down, we know there’s something fascinating about them. That’s why we watch crime series. In fictional crime movies, we often love the criminal characters. Who can deny rooting for the bad guys in Oceans 11 or Heist? With actual, nonfictional crime stories, we have a slightly different reaction, exhilarating nonetheless. Think of insanely intelligent criminals like DB Cooper or Ted Kaczynski. Our minds go into detective mode: we wonder about the perpetrator’s life and their motive. We ask a million questions because we were designed to be problem solvers. 

Did they have relationships?
What drove them to commit the crime?
Money? Fame?
Or something grander?

So yes, criminals give us some entertainment and keep us intrigued. Besides, they ensure that law enforcement, detectives, and prison officials have jobs. Criminals are the villains of our world, and life would probably be blander without them.

Just one request, though: make sure I’m not the victim of any of the crimes!

Before we move much further, let’s explore the concept of ‘crime’ – what is it? Certainly, my sneaking a tub of ice cream as an adolescent can’t be categorized as one. 😬
Merriam-Webster dictionary gives some insight and defines crime this way:

1: an illegal act for which someone can be punished by the government, especially a gross violation of law
2: a grave offense, especially against morality
3: criminal activity
4: something reprehensible, foolish, or disgraceful

While this helps, there’s still a lot to unravel. For example, it is well known that statistically, most people break about three laws every year, often inadvertently. Does that then make most people criminals? And before you turn up your noses at me and deny that you’ve ever broken any laws, just answer these questions: Have you ever driven one or two miles per hour above the speed limit? Ever found yourself jaywalking? Have you ever gone to space and broken the law of gravity? That last was a joke, but I’m sure you get the point. 😉

We aren’t all some criminally-minded friends because we’ve been distracted and broken a few of these laws… but what constitutes a grave offense, and who draws the line? Therein lies the cogent question. Most experts believe that there must be a pattern of lawbreaking and disregard for societal norms to earn the tag of ‘criminal mindedness.’ So, if all you did was take a lollipop from a kids-bag when they weren’t looking, congratulations, you’re not a criminal. You just had a sweet tooth and weak self-control that’s typical of many children. 

Whilst psychologists don’t unanimously agree, most believe that criminals think differently from other people. From a tender age, most would-be criminals demonstrate some questionable behavioral and temperamental characteristics that point towards future criminality. They are very often exceptionally active, prone to angry and sometimes violent outbursts. Others find pleasure in abusing or killing small animals. They are also typically stubborn and astronomically self-serving. There are proponents of the idea that a genetic brain malfunction could be responsible for the crime. However, more and more studies recognize a distinct link between childhood trauma or abuse and criminal behavior.

A good example would be the case of Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant to the USA who murdered over a dozen people before he was finally caught in 1985. A bit of digging would show that he’d endured a traumatic childhood that involved a lot of beating from his father, and at age 12 -the same age I was when I was sneaking treats from the refrigerator, he witnessed his cousin graphically killing his wife. Such trauma may have caused irreparable psychological damage to his young, impressionable mind. It is, therefore, of no surprise that he dropped out of school and began breaking into homes and killing shortly after.

Is it always the case that criminally minded people have would’ve shown such tendencies from an early age? Certainly not. The case of the moor murderers, Myra and Ian, who succeeded in shocking the entirety of the United Kingdom and the world at large with their depravity, comes to mind. Although her husband and partner-in-crime, Ian, had endured a troubled childhood, Myra had been a largely sensible child who regularly babysat children in the community as a teenager. She loved reading and even joined the Roman Catholic church at 17. So how did she evolve from such a promising young girl into one who would, with her husband, rape and murder five children?

Dennis Rader, “the BTK strangler,” is another interesting example. He was an American serial killer who blinded, tortured, and killed over 10 people in vicious attacks spanning decades. However, Dennis’s childhood was as normal as they come. He was an average pupil who was a member of the boys-scout and was active at the local church.

From the foregoing, we can see that the question of whether criminality is a function of nature or nurture is not as simple as we might want it to be. Clearly, not all abused children end up as serial killers, and not all criminals had a troubled childhood. Whether those individuals got their criminal tendencies from the inheritance of unfortunate genetics, questionable parenting or some other factors, one thing is certain – their brains work differently from that of non-criminals. This raises the important question: are they helpless and sick, such that the compulsive criminal tendencies are just symptoms? Do they need our support and compassion rather than judgment? What if we are all criminals at heart, who are only scared to manifest our depravity because of the fear of the consequences?

Perhaps, one day science will have unraveled this great mystery in great detail. While we await answers, consider installing a fridge lock if you have adolescents with pesky nighttime ice cream cravings. 😂

Written by (guest post) Laolu Ogundele

Photo: adobe stock, the sun daily, the tab magazine.

P.S. My mother-in-law passed away a week ago. As well as my father-in-law died 2,5 months ago. So, I wasn’t able to produce anything “funny”, but hopefully can get back with Harmless Bullet this weekend. 📚☕️


 

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29 Responses

  1. That must be really hard on your husband Victoria.

  2. Sorryless says:

    First and most importantly, my condolences on the losses in your family.

    As for the need for “bad”, as in bad guys (and girls)? Absolutely we need them. It’s not compelling until the antagonist arrives on the scene, at least not for me it ain’t. And a good villain is worth its weight in page turns. So there’s that.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      :)) true… we tend to fall for the bad guys on the screen & in the books because they r so damn mysterious:)) but in reality – 🥸😱

      I’m fortunate (I guess) – always married only good guys lol 😂

  3. Sorry to hear that hun.

    As for the post, we love the bad and wicked, simple as that. And if they’re handsome, we’ll forgive them any crime as long as they live. When it comes to real serial killers, it’s quite the opposite. Most of us are sensitive to injustice esp toward women and children. Crime stories need to be different, for starters, to catch my attention.

  4. As I said before. I’m so sorry for you and your husband’s loss. My prayers are for you all to find comfort in wonderful memories. We all need bad so that we can keep in perspective what is good. Evil has always been a part of our world wheather we understand it or not. Thanks, VR.

  5. kegarland says:

    Ray, I LOVE true crime stories. I watch Dateline all the time and I’ve just finished a podcast focused on a missing girl they never found. I always wonder what you’ve written above. There has to be something in the wiring of criminals’ brains.

  6. kegarland says:

    Also, sending condolences to you and your family <3

  7. Sorry to hear of your in-laws passing. I hope it was a peaceful transition for them. There is a bit of criminal in all of us, I think. And many find the “bad apples” fascinating. When I took the Criminal Law class in Law School, I was a bit surprised at how many laws I had broken as a teenager. I aced the class. I was also surprised at just how much behavior is criminalized. We tend to be relativistic. So “speeding,” “how is that a crime, it’s not like I killed anyone.” That is the type of rationalization we often use. In all of the great ironies, consider this, how did such a delinquent like myself, who at one time faced serious time in the penitentiary, end up holding one of my State’s top attorney positions 🤣😂😅😁😄😇

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      sorry, late answer 🙂 haven’t been here a week or so 🙂 but yes, we find “bad apples” fascinating or wired differently, but it might be as you said – the seed of crime is already in us 😱 at least a tiny amount…

  8. Eilene Lyon says:

    My condolences to you and your husband. What a tough time.

    You ask some interesting questions about the criminal mind. I think some of those examples you shared make it clear that there is something different going on in the heads of people who torture and kill other people. Stealing is altogether different. A little easier, possibly, to understand that mindset. All writing needs an antagonist, even if they don’t rise to the level of criminal.

  9. Dalen Flynn says:

    This is certainly one intriguing read! You got me hooked into it quite easily haha

  10. draliman says:

    So sorry to hear about your in-laws.

    I don’t like “true crime” stuff, as I don’t like to think that it actually happened to someone. I like the fictional stuff where the criminal gets their just desserts.

  11. kinkyacres says:

    As long as the “crime” involves the woman last pictured, a few accesories and a book on ‘how to kink’! Sort of like removing that ice cream even though the door was creaky!No real crime!

  12. masercot says:

    I’m sorry about your in-laws passing…

  13. markbierman says:

    They kept me employed for over 20 years. 🙂 Yes, that fridge totally ratted you out. 🙂

  14. The first line got me

  15. alexraphael says:

    As long as it’s chocolate ice cream it doesn’t count as a crime 😉

  16. I love your take on crime and criminals! I agree, the world would be a pretty boring place without them. Thank you for educating people on serial killers and busting the myth that all serial killers come from broken homes and traumatic childhood experiences. Although crime and criminals can be a dark subject, your humor made it feel light which I really enjoyed. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future!