The Psychological Basis of Serial Killer Belle Gunnes


Belle Gunnes was the first female serial killer in the history of America. He was born in the year 1856 in Selbu, Norway and letter migrated to America in search of riches. He was married to his first husband in 1884 and was blessed with children. Belle was a woman with desire for marriage and money. So she used the marriage institution to get money. A short while after she was married, her husband died mysteriously of a heart attack but it is alleged that he died of poisoning. Her two children also died mysteriously of stomach upsets at infancy. All these are said to have been planned by Belle so that she could get insurance benefits.

For many decades, men were heard as killers and humans who were capable of doing horrible things to other humans. The story of Belle in the early 19th century gave a different lime light that women were also capable of doing the same.

In her greed for money, she went to the extent of running ads in the local dailies for a partner to join fortunes. This attracted many young men all over American states in the name of joining fortunes. Belle would trick the men and after they were at her mercy, she would kill them and slice up their bodies then burry them. In other cases she would feed her hogs with the remains of the death men. Belle was a very strong woman standing at five feet eight inches.

Who is a serial killer and what are their main motives?

A serial killer is a person who kills a number of people within a given time. Te number could be five or more. Psychologists say that the main motive of a serial killer is manipulation, power, domination and control. Or other occasions, sex could be the other main motive especially for the male serial killers. It takes a lot of time be it months or years for a serial killer to be identified. Mostly, the victims of a serial killer are the same. For example, if they target prostitutes, it will be prostitutes all along, if they target children they will go for children and if they target men the victims will always be men.

The attributes of the victims of a serial killer are alike in terms of age, gender, race, body type or even size. Most of the cases for murder occur by stabbing, strangulation or suffocation of the victim. Serial killing is as a result of fantasy by the person doing the act. It is said that this act occurs as a result of long term fantasy as a child/teen and it is experimented at adulthood. It is for the quest to control and to have power over others.  It is a fulfillment of a dream world that a person develops in the long term thus it is executed when the person becomes an adult.

In every situation of murder, the serial killer may be a little bit dissatisfied with his murder fantasy and may be compelled to try it out again. As these acts occur, the killer develops new ideas and new fantasies and as they develop them, they execute them. This leads to a series of murder and it becomes like a hobby. At a later stage they find fun in murder and that becomes their daily work and they find satisfaction in it. 

Some serial killers act in the response of some visions that they see or hear. Such killers are mentally unstable. Some do so because they find pleasure in murder and others do so because they think it is their responsibility to get rid of people in the society.  Others may also kill for their personal benefits or gains.  Psychologists say that, at times gains or benefits are not the primary priority for serial killers but others take advantage of the situation to rob their victims before they kill them.

Characteristics of a serial killer

Serial killers carry out their murder acts in separate incidents. They hardly occur on a frequent basis but it rises over a period of time. This continues for a very long time as long as the serial killer is not identified. It may only stop when the serial killer is arrested or dies.

The murder incidents are normally on a one on one encounter. The killer faces his/her victim and kills him or her. At times, the killer may attack more that one person in one incident and kills them all.  This is a rare case though.

The person that is killed at many times has no prior connection with the serial killer. It is in rare cases that the serial killer murders a person who they have had contact or whom they are related with. Most of the time, there has never been a clearly defined rational intention behind the acts of the killer.

With the improvement of technology in terms of automobile, serial killers have been able to move very first from one place to another before the incident is discovered. Most of the victims of murder by serial killers are subjected to brutality before they are murdered.

The theories of serial killing

There are several theories that tend to explain the reasons behind the mind of a serial killer. Some of the theorists say that the reason a serial killer decides to kill is because of biological disorder. They argue that serial killers are born and not made.  Biological and sociological theorist believes that serial killers suffer from an unusual brain activity that causes them to do things that is not usual.

According to Looking Glass self, actual social identity theories are that the social events of a person makes one do the thing that they do. They say that the series of activities and events during the childhood of a person or the adolescent age may cause some fracture in the personality of a person. Fracture in this case means a small break in the personality of a person and is not normally seen by people who are around the person. The serial killer normally feels it by themselves and it eats them up alone.

According to the social process theory, serial killers turn to crime because of the company they keep. This can be at home, school or even social places. It states that any criminal activity is as a result of social interaction and influence in social institutions. Families that have a very weak identity and social structure have the high chances of falling into criminal activities including serial killing.

Most children who are used as scapegoats are at many times disposed of their ability to feel guilty and this may result to violence. At times, serial killing comes as a result of anger that is displaced. The person with displaced anger becomes very bitter and as a result finds joy in murder or any other torture activities. Therefore, the social process theory says that a person with lack of identity can easily turn to be a murdered because they do not know where they belong. He can easily be influenced by other people to join anti-social behaviors.

The other theory that gives some insights to serial killing is the military theory.  Studies and investigations show that most cases of serial killing are mainly done by people who have ever been in the military. The applied learning theory and the social learning theory are two theories that are normally used in studying the relationship between serial killing and military training.

The applied learning theory points out that serial killing can be learned, and in the military training, soldiers are trained to kill in the name of protecting the innocent public. In military training, soldiers are trained not to be affected by dead bodies or are desensitized in order to kill a human life. However, it has been argued that serial killing can be unlearned in that people just turn to the act because of dissatisfaction, anger or greed for material benefits.

The social learning theory on the other hand states that when the soldiers are praised for a very long time for their acts of killing robbers, terrorists and other people who go against the law, they develop the behavior that killing is not bad. They feel that for one to be a hero, they have to take a human life. In the minds of the serial killers, many of them want accreditation of what they have done. They want to be noticed and be known for their "bravery acts".

Therefore, both serial killing and military the officer or the offender is completely dehumanized to murder. In this case, the officer does not see his/her fellow officers as humans and the offender does not see his/her victims as human.

The psychological basis of serial killer

According to Canter (2003), in one of his article "The Offender Profiling and Investigative

Psychology," he points out how even the developers of the criminal profiling explains the technique of profiling as being based on the experience and the knowledge of the profiler or the investigator not just  a methodical social science.

He points out that, despite of the scientific soundness of the technique employed; criminal profiling process at a faster rate has acquired celebrity via the media and the pop culture of America in general. Serial killing also gained status and recognition among the Americans due to the media. Therefore the term serial killing, according to Canter has progressed over the years through two separate ways. One is through the American pop culture and the media and the other through social scientists, researchers and investigators.

According to a sociologist, many serial killers have faced a number of similar problems once in their childhood. In the model of Hickey Trauma Control explains that early childhood instance of trauma may set the child for unusual behavior during their adulthood. It argues that the most influential factor of a Childs behavior is the environment in which they were brought up or socialized. Some socialization processes may lead to some homicidal activities in the later life of a child, and this result to such acts as serial killings. 

Therefore, the most prominent stage of the development of a child is the family. The family plays a key role in the way a child comes to behave as they grow up. It influences the kind of behavior that is considered acceptable and what s is not. A strong family background instills a moral sense in a child as they grow and fosters the notion of ethics and morality.

For the case of Belle Gunnes, it is believed that she might have gone through some trauma when she was young that might not have been noticed by her family at that time.  In her later years, she decided to release that anger or internal trauma in killing other people. Psychologists' alluded the problem to a kind of abuse or mistreatment that might have been subjected to her when she was young by a male person. In that quest to feel superior and persona gratification, she opted to killing the males that are close to her.

Other psychologists say that for the case of a female serial killer, they go for people who are very close to them. In most cases, their victims are men and this is the case because they want material gain. They are emotionally connected to their victims and this may be their husbands, spouses or even their own children. They use low profile methods to kill their victims like poisoning and stubbing. According to a US survey on women serial killers, most of their cases happen in specific places like in hospitals or homes.

For the case of Belle, she did the act in her own home after establishing a rapport and connection with the victim. Many cases of female serial killing have been likened to the Munchausen syndrome, though no much research has been done to establish the societal influence that lure them to do so mainly on the gender roles and the many expectations that are expected of women.

The Hickey Trauma model continues to point out that serial killing is all about a person's childhood. When a child or a teen seeks attention either from parents, friends or peers and is rejected, they tend to sought it somewhere else. There self esteem is lowered and as a result they start to develop their own fantasy world in which they feel like they are in control. Serial killing is therefore, caused by early trauma which is followed by some facilitators like drugs, alcoholism and porn and also the inability for someone to be attached.

Wilson and Seaman (1990) carried out a research on imprisoned serial killers to find out what they felt was the mainly dominant factor that led to their murderous activity. Approximately the serial killers featured in the study had undergone some kind of environmental tribulations in some time of their childhood. Some of the problems included lack of discipline, a broken home, drug abuse or even sexual abuse. Majority of the serial killers came either from a separated home, divorced home or even lack of parents. In addition, virtually half of the serial killers had gone through some type of sexual and physical abuse and even more of them had gone through emotional neglect.

When a parent has alcohol or drug problem, the consideration in the household is on the parents fairly than the child. This desert of the child may affect the self-esteem of the child and as a result helps developing a fantasy world in which they feel that they are in control. Many children, who have a problem with controlling the mistreatments that they undergo, develop a fantasy world of their own and start to be in control. In this case, serial killers may have the same problem in wanting to be recognized and have control in the world that they live in.

Belle Gunnes may have undergone some hardships in the past during her growth of neglect, abuse or even lack of attention. It is probably the reason that she targeted the males and the people who were more close to her. 

According to a documentary that was aired in Norway in 2006 by Anne Berit unfold some insights on the reason why Belle turned to be bitter and inhuman. It was revealed in the documentary that Belle had attended a country dance in Norway in 1877, and while at the stage, a man appeared and kicked her on the belly and she lost her baby in that circumstance. After that incident, it is said that the behavior of Belle changed remarkably.

She might have felt vulnerable at that point and psychologically developed some kind of animosity towards men. It is said also that Belle came from a poor family and she worked hard to get money to travel to America for greener pastures. It is reported that Belles sister said that Belle was so aggressive for money. Psychologists relates Belles need for financial gain to the social background she was brought up in. she wanted to compensate what she did not have and she found the only way was through luring of her victims.  

It was easier for Belle to attack the victims from an emotional point than the physical side. Being a woman she needed to be tactical so that she is not overcome by the male strength. She therefore managed to execute her plans very well in a way that took some time for people to recognize her. Her low profile murder is typical of any other woman serial killer.


Based on the social cognitive theory, people learn how to behave by watching what other people around them are doing and that the human thought process are very key to knowing personality

While social dogmatists believe that there is a just amount of control on development that is generated by cultured behavior that is portrayed in the environment in which one grows in, they therefore believe that the person (and for that reason cognition) is just as significant in shaping the moral development of that person. People learn by seeing what others do, with the environment in which they are in, behavior and cognition all being the key factors in the process of influencing development.

For the case of serial killers there are some numbers of issues that may make them do what they do. This depend on the situation that the person was brought up in. it could be a trauma that was developed during childhood or adult hood. For the case of Belle, her trauma may have been throughout her poor childhood and the traumatic scene at the drama gala during her teenage life.