In Canada, the media is going wild with the gruesome story of Luca Rocco Magnotta who allegedly killed and dismembered a young man. Allegedly, he ate parts of the body and then shipped other parts around before he left the country. The first 2 parts arrived in government offices. The following week, 2 arrived in Vancouver schools. We hear this news reiterated on radio, TV and in the newspapers at a frequency of about every five minutes. The question being: where will the next one land?
The good news is that Magnotta was found in Germany and brought back to the country to face charges. Police departments throughout North America are checking their files to see if he could be responsible for some of their unsolved cases.
The real life horror story grows, fueled by details of despicable cat videos he posted on the Internet and his wild lifestyle. In the media it’s a feeding frenzy. So why would I want to add to such a ghoulish story?
The Vancouver Sun ran an interesting article exploring the ideas we’ve gathered around psychopaths (Are Psychopaths Hardwired to Hurt? by Sharon Kirkey 12-06-09, p. B3). What causes people to become so evil? For some time, the “Nature” camp has said it’s genetic (i.e., they are born that way…it’s in their blood), the “Nurture” camp has said it’s a result of societal conditions the individual grew up in (i.e., blame it on the parents<grin>), and then there’s the “Middle” camp that believes it’s a horrible mixture of the two. As Kirkey outlines in her article the debate is now fueled by research on the brain:
“…over the past decade, there has been a rush to research the brains of society’s worst criminals, with a stream of studies linking psychopathic bahaviour to physical abnormalities.”
The findings state:
“According to their brain scans, the prisoners with psychopathic traits had significantly smaller amounts of grey matter in regions associated with processing empathy, moral reasoning and self conscious emotions, such as guilt and embarrassment.”
“…One gene in particular has been implicated – MAO-A, which an enzyme which breaks down serotonin which affects mood and can have a calming effect.”
She also looks at the Nurture side:
“…abuse in childhood is common among those with psychopathic traits–abuse so relentless, ‘he has to anesthetize himself against it…and in the process…he also loses any touch of his own humanity.’ (Leyton)”
I still favor the middle position.
“…a combination of biological, biochemical, personal psychology and social environment that come together, very rarely to produce this kind of abomination.”
I think we should focus on diagnosing mental illness early on. Ask any school teacher. They know which kids act out and have no remorse, or empathy. With school budgets constantly being cut, any counseling time that remains is used to put out fires and to help teachers implement proactive programs. It’s not enough. In a healthy society our public education system would be funded sufficiently to address the mental health of its students. It just makes sense.
How does this effect my writing? My villains tend to be molded mostly by nasty backgrounds, because that’s believable to me and addresses my concern about society, how it treats children,and the poor. It also leads to what I feel is one of the biggest issues in the murder mystery genre: justice. What is true justice?