The relational component
is simply the fantasized relationship between the offender and the victim.
Below are just a few of the most prominent themes I have noticed in the
While reviewing the literature for this project, I came across numerous
references to offenders sharing this fantasy component. On many occasions,
these offenders were highly organized and documented their fantasies
elaborately with journals, video or audio tapes, and photographs. There were
also occasions when the offender rehearsed their fantasies inanimate objects
such as dolls and photographs prior to committing their crimes. Since the
literature also states that offenders are commonly cruel or sadistic to
animals prior to their offenses, this most likely provides evidence of
"practice" for future offenses.
Leonard Lake is probably the most referenced serial murderer with a
Master/Slave fantasy. This offender built a bunker /shelter for survival of
a perceived threat. Within this bunker was a hidden room where he kept his
victims. This man's fantasy was so elaborate, that he videotaped himself
describing the fantasy and later also videotaped his victims as he carried
out his fantasy.
Master/Slave relationships are most commonly seen with sexual sadists and
power /dominance offenders. In this relationship, the victim is seen as an
object to be used for the offenders psycho-sexual gratification. I will not
go into detail about the acts committed by these offenders or the fantasies
involved. I have been studying these offenders for years and have become
desensitized to some extent. However, I realize that many readers of this
article are not. If you would like a good reference to read that goes into
great detail on the crimes, and thought processes of offenders with a
Master/Slave fantasy, I would suggest reading Vernon Geberth (2003). Be
warned however that this material is horrifying and not for everyone. There
is also a video by Anna Salter (19) that would be of interest to those
wishing to learn more about the Master/Slave relationship.
The relationship between a parent and child is one of nurturing and safety.
If an offender has lacked this sort of relationship with his parents during
childhood, he may have compensatory fantasies, or that which has been absent
in his life. The offender's parents may have been perceived by the offender,
(in many cases justified), as a controlling, abusive, or unloving
individuals. This may hold significance to the offender, and he may search
for victims that remind him of his parents. This does not necessarily mean
that the offender will actively seek out victims of the same age as the
parents object. He may in fact select victims that remind him of a parent at
any age, however the victim will demonstrate some trait that reminds the
offender of a parent. In these cases, the offender may be murdering victims
to displace the aggression brought on by the Parent/Child relationship.
In the case of Ed Kemper, his mother was one of his final victims, and
shortly after killing his mother, he surrendered to police. Perhaps when
Kemper finally killed the object of his relational fantasy, he had finally
realized the ultimate goal of his fantasies. This author strongly doubts
this, and believes that there is good reason Kemper has not been released
from prison, even though he has been eligible for parole. Although the
object of Kemper's rage has been destroyed by him, in his fantasies, she
still may exist, and thus, he is still a danger to society.
Previous abuse in children has been reported in the histories of many serial
murderers (Ressler et al., 1988). As just discussed, the Parent/Child
relationship may contribute to compensatory fantasies when neglect or abuse
has occurred. When fantasies surround an Abuser/Victim relationship, the
fantasies take on a retaliatory theme, and extreme anger and violence will
Other times this same dynamic may lead the offender to attempt to become the
abuser to relieve the tension of being a victim in life. This may also be
explained by learning theory as the offender growing up in an abusive home
simply repeats the cycle of abuse with others. Many abused children develop
into abusers later in life, many others do not. In my experience working
with aggressive individuals, most share experiences of extreme abuse in
childhood. Notably however, most do not have a history of domestic abuse,
but rather become aggressive against strangers, leading to prison sentences
for assault or attempted murder.
Serial murderers may also develop a similar dynamic, which would help
explain why most victims of these offenders are not family members. It is of
interest to note that when these offenders are finally apprehended, they
often return to the victim role and blame other or the previous abuse for
Certainly everyone has had some experience with bullying. Either through
personal experience of being a victim or knowing of someone who has been
bullied. We also all have an idea of the trauma this can cause for the
victim. Bullying is so common, in no way could there be a direct causal
effect on serial murder. Yet, as victims of bullying often state, there is a
sense of fear, loss of control and anger.
The literature on serial murder is filled with references to control as a
need of the offender. The fantasies of serial murderers with bullying
content could stem from being a victim at some time in their lives. Cruelty
to animals or children is often found in the histories of serial murderers.
Perhaps they were bullies in the past and the acts of homicide are simply an
extension of this behavior. Just as victims of abuse may become violent
later in life for retaliatory reasons or release of long-standing feeling of
anger, the victims of bullies may harbor violent fantasies for the same
Several serial murderers have had fantasies involving good and evil. Victims
are seen as evil for some reason and must be destroyed. The histories of
serial murderers many times include witnessing mother figures being
promiscuous or prostituting themselves. This can cause a deep hatred for
women in general or prostitutes specifically. This will create a victim
demographic and will be recognizable as the series continues.
More often than not however, prostitutes are chosen by serial murderers
because they are easily accessible, which also lowers the risk of being
apprehended because this specific type of victim may not be reported missing
for some time. Still there are documented cases of Good/Evil fantasies with
serial murderers and are therefore mentioned here for consideration.
It is difficult to discern whether a series of murders is for the carrying
out of a Good/Evil relational fantasy or has a functional purpose. Most
likely, if a Good/Evil dynamic is suspected, it would not be verified until
the offender communicated with authorities or was apprehended.
In serial murder, the Hunter/Prey relational fantasy must be considered. Any
time an offender stalks, plans, or has rituals, a Hunter/Prey fantasy may be
involved. Even seemingly "opportunistic" offender may have Hunter/Prey
fantasies, yet do not have the patience, intelligence or skill to make their
relational fantasies a reality.
One serial murderer took his Hunter/Prey fantasy to the extreme. This
offender would bring his victims up to a remote cabin in Alaska and gave
them time to escape. He would then hunt the women as if they were any other
big game animal. The Zodiac also made reference to hunting humans in his
letters to authorities. For offenders such as these, it is probable that the
hunt is more satisfying than the act of killing. It is the thrill or
rush of hunting their prey and witnessing the reaction of their
victims (or the public) that is the most satisfying aspect of their
This relational fantasy is what I call a caveman mentality. In the
offender's fantasies, the woman is seen as an object to be used in whatever
way t satisfy the needs of the offender (man). I would speculate that most,
if not all offenders with this relational fantasy have a extensive
collection of pornography that depicts the degradation of women. When the
offender is not killing a victim, he will also be known for making degrading
remarks comments about women.
This offender many or may not have high specificity in terms of victim
demographics. Some may generalize where any victim will suffice as long as
the victim is a woman, while others may have a need to degrade /kill a very
specific victim (see victim demographics). Offenders that generalize will
appear disorganized and impulsive, while offender that are more specific
will appear organized and ritualistic. The difference between these two
offenders will directly point to the amount of time spent in fantasy and
will become more apparent as the series continues.
These are but a few possible relational fantasies that may be involved in
serial murder. Many more may exist and only be understood by the offender.
Relational fantasies become more apparent if the victim survives to state
what the offender said or did, and made the victim say or do. In rape this
is possible, in serial murder it is less likely to happen. There are
occasions when an offender will document their crimes and the relational
fantasy is revealed, but when this type of evidence is not available,
relational fantasies can be about anything one might imagine.
Geberth, V.J. (2003). Sex related homicide and death investigation:
Practical and clinical perspectives. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Ressler, R.K., Burgess, A.W. & Douglas, J.E. (1988). Sexual homicide:
Patterns and motives. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Salter, A. (1998). Sadistic versus non-sadistic sex offenders: How they
think, what they do. Videotape Series. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.