Professor of Forensic Psychology Katherine Ramsland distills her years of experience studying extreme offenders into 12 fascinating episodes that plunge you inside the troubled minds and infamous crimes of serial killers, spree killers, and mass murderers, including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Extreme Offenders: Psychological Insights
Katherine Ramsland is a Professor of Forensic Psychology and the Assistant Provost for Special Programs at DeSales University. She holds graduate degrees in Forensic Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Criminal Justice, and Philosophy. She has been honored as a distinguished alumna by Northern Arizona University and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The author of more than 1,000 articles and 68 books, Katherine spent five years working with Dennis Rader on his autobiography Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. Among her other books are How to Catch a Killer, The Psychology of Death Investigations, The Mind of a Murderer, Beating the Devil’s Game, and The Devil’s Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics. Her background positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book The Cases That Haunt Us and to cowrite books with former FBI profilers Gregg McCrary and Mark Safarik. She also coauthored The Real World of a Forensic Scientist with Elaine M. Pagliaro and renowned forensic criminalist Henry C. Lee. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today.
Katherine trains law enforcement professionals and speaks internationally about forensic psychology, investigative psychology, jury dynamics, suicidology, and extreme offenders. She is an executive producer of Murder House Flip and has consulted for CSI, Bones, and The Alienist. She has also appeared on more than 200 documentaries and shows, including 20/20, 48 Hours, and Nightline. She is a go-to consultant regarding perpetrators of the most deviant forms of criminal behavior.
01: Rage and the Serial Killer: Joseph Vacher
Forensic psychology first got its start in the late 19th century, which is where this series begins. Joseph Vacher’s vicious spate of murders in France, earning him the name “the South-East Ripper,” would make him an instructive subject on compulsive rage, manipulation, and violent sexual domination.
02: Cruelty and Lust Murder: Peter Kürten
It’s the rare type of criminal who becomes sexually aroused by the sight of their victim’s blood. A classic lust killer, Peter Kürten demonstrates how a lack of remorse, coupled with narcissism and the need for violence as a stimulant, encourages the conditions for paraphilias and serial sexual murder.
03: Killing Husbands for Gain: Belle Gunness
Some extreme offenders are motivated by anger and lust; some just want money. Meet Belle Gunness, the enigmatic “Indiana Ogress” of the early 1900s who drew the attention of some of the world’s most prominent criminologists in search of psychological reasons why a woman could be so bloodthirsty.
04: A Life for a Life: Leonarda Cianciulli
Some extreme offenders operate with a firm sense of purpose while others are simply delusional. Unlike other extreme offenders in this series, Leonarda Cianciulli believed in the supernatural. In fact, her decision to kill was justified as an act of faith, love, and protection—namely, to spare the life of her military-age son, Giuseppe.
05: Deceptions of a Fatal Chameleon: Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy is practically synonymous with the term “serial killer.” He presents the allure of the attractive, confident narcissist who firmly believes he is untouchable. Take a closer look at how, in the end, Bundy’s distorted perceptions of reality undermined him and proved he was not that special or unique.
06: Comorbid with Serial Murder: Rodney Alcala
In this discussion of the serial murderer Rodney Acala (who also appeared on the The Dating Game TV show), take a closer look at the nature of psychopathy. During the time of Acala’s early psychological evaluations, it seems likely that psychopathic traits—impulsivity, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and manipulativeness—were misdiagnosed as other conditions.
07: The Path to Psychopath: Edmund Kemper
Co-ed killer Edmund Kemper’s case demonstrates how deviant murderous thoughts that become acts can start while the perpetrator is quite young. There exists, fortunately, a treatment program designed to treat specific personality and behavioral issues, and to help re-socialize persistently aggressive juvenile offenders.
08: Need to Harm: Joseph DeAngelo
What makes an extreme offender successful? Use Joseph DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer, as a lens through which to study how major categories of predatory rapists (the “gentleman rapist,” the power-assertive rapist, the anger-retaliatory rapist, and the sexual sadist) set goals, identify escape routes, evaluate obstacles, and react to cues.
09: The Mask of Insanity: John Wayne Gacy
Begin looking at claims about mental illness and its impact on aberrant behavior with the case of John Wayne Gacy, who killed at least 33 young men—but who also resided for several years over the decomposing bodies in the crawlspace under his house. Why did his case so confuse a jury?
10: Isolation of a Zombie Maker: Jeffrey Dahmer
Why do homicidal sex offenders report mostly deviant sexual fantasies and tend to mutilate their victims? Get inside the mind of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who exemplifies how predatory homicidal offenders can often show a greater incidence of fantasy based in paraphilias than non-homicidal offenders.
11: Dracula Delusions: Richard Trenton Chase
While some extreme offenders might fake a disorder when the stakes are high for punishment, sometimes a serious mental instability has been well documented in an offender’s past. Case in point: Richard Trenton Chase, whose history of mental illness manifested in some truly bizarre—and truly bloodthirsty—behavior.
12: The Retribution-Day Killer: Elliot Rodger
Unlike mass murderers, who kill four or more people in a single event and at a single location, a spree killer slaughters three or more people in at least two locations. Here, meet Elliot Rodger, a spree killer and a symbol of justified violence to men known as “incels,” or involuntary celibates.