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Kill crazy about you: A brief overview of erotophonophilia (aka ‘lust murder’)

Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from murdering (or imagining they are murdering) someone. Many academics in the forensic field refer to such killings as ‘lust murder’. However, there are countless slightly different definitions of sexual murder depending on which academic text you read. For instance, Dr. Louis Schlesinger in his 2004 book Sexual Murder noted all these slightly different terms and definitions for sexual killing:

  • Lust murder: “The connection between lust and desire to kill” and “The sadistic crime alone becomes the equivalent of coitus” (Krafft-Ebing, 1886)
  • Sadistic lust murder: “After killing the victim, the murderer tortures, cuts, maims, or slashes the victim … on parts [of the body] that contain strong sexual significance to him and serves as sexual stimulation” (De River, 1958)
  • Sadistic murder: “Distinguished from the sadistic homicide by the involvement of a mutilating attack or displacement of the breasts, rectum, or genitals” (Hazelwood & Douglas, 1980)
  • Lust murder:A sexual factor is clearly apparent … or deeper study will sometimes reveal that sexual conflict underlies the act of aggression” (MacDonald, 1986)
  • Sex murder: “Murder with evidence or observations that indicate[s] that the murder was sexual in nature” (Ressler, Burgess & Douglas, 1986)
  • Erotophonophilia: “Murder associated with sexual sadism as defined in [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders]” (Money, 1990)
  • Sexual homicide: “Involves a sexual element (activity) as the basis for the sequence of acts leading to death” (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess & Ressler, 1992)
  • Sadistic murder: “The offender derives the greatest satisfaction from the victim’s response to torture” (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess & Ressler, 1992)
  • Sexual murder: “The killing may also be closely bound to the sexual element of an attack … the offender’s control of his victim, and her pain and humiliation, become linked to his sexual arousal” (Grubin, 1994)
  • Lust killing: “The primary goal is to kill the victim as part of a ritualized attack … the motivation … is the enactment of some type of fantasy that has preoccupied him or her for some time” (Malmquist, 1996)

For many, erotophonophilia (or whichever definition you care to choose from the list above) is the most heinous of all paraphilias. Erotophonophiles have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). Most erotophonophiles are male although females with the paraphilia are known to exist. Lust murderers are known to be psychologically and behaviourally different from those who kill out of revenge or anger displacement.

Complete fantasy fulfillment is rarely achieved and the fantasy continually evolves based on experiences with prior victims. This is one of the reasons that the behaviour may be repeated continually until they die or caught by law enforcement agencies. Erotophonophilia may overlap with other sexual paraphilias including necrophilia, sexual sadism, and/or sexual cannibalism. Such behaviour may be fuelled by use of extreme pornography and/or psychoactive drug use (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, etc.). Unsurprisingly, the group of people most likely to be erotophonophiles are serial killers. Such people utilize sexual torture as a mechanism to degrade, humiliate, subjugate, and ultimately control their victims. However, Professor Don Grubin has written papers in journals such as Criminal Behavior and Mental Health and the British Journal of Psychiatry arguing that not all sex murderers are sadists.

Erotophonophiles typically choose their victims on the basis of sexual attractiveness although there might be one particular physical attribute that is sexualized by the killer (such as a particular body shape, hair style, skin colour, etc.). This is referred to as an erotophonophile’s “ideal victim type” (IVT). After a victim has been selected, and prior to the killing, the erotophonophile may engage in a range of predatory behavours (such as stalking).

Influential research carried out by Dr. R.P. Brittain in the 1970s and followed up by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the 1990s described a number of characteristics of typical lust murderers. They were characterized as over-controlled, timid, introverted, sexually inexperienced, highly deviant, and having violent sadistic fantasies. However, more recent research has not necessarily supported the early claims made by Brittain. Professor Grubin’s work suggests much of this early work is a composite picture of a lust murderer based more on clinical impressions as opposed to systematic research.

One of the most cited studies in the area of lust murder is a 1990 paper by Dr. P.E. Dietz and colleagues published in the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. They examined 30 sexual sadists (most of which were sexual murderers). They found that the majority were employed white males (75%), married (50%), had a history of homosexual experience (43%), and cross-dressed (20%). They also reported that they had parents who had divorced or had marital infidelities (50%), suffered physical abuse (23%), suffered sexual abuse (20%), and abused drugs other than alcohol (50%). Almost all the sample had planned their offences (93%), the majority of which the victim was unknown to them (83%). The victims were typically abducted, held against their will for over 24 hours, blindfolded, bound and gagged. All victims were tortured, and typical activities included forced oral sex, rape, and forced insertion of foreign objects vaginally. Many subsequent studies have reported similar findings. However, the main problem with many of these studies is that there was no (non-sadistic) control group against which the results could be compared.

A study by Dr. T. Gratzer and Dr. J.M. Bradford published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences compared their results with that of the Dietz study by examining both sexual offending sadists (n=28) and non-sadists (n=29) many of whom were sexual murderers. Results were similar to those of the Dietz study, including high rates of offence planning (82%), torture (78%), and physical abuse during childhood (43%). However, they also noted some differences including greater use of bondage, and anal rape.

Studies carried out by the FBI have reported that that sexually sadistic murderers exhibit psychopathy and narcissism. However, other more recent studies have not found relationships with psychopathy so it has been suggested that FBI samples may represent a particularly extreme group of sadistic sex murderers compared to other published studies. Research by Professor Grubin (comparing 21 men who had murdered a woman during a sexual attack with 121 rapists who did not kill their victims) found that sexual murderers had significantly higher rates of social isolation and difficulties within sexual relationships. However, sexual murderers and rapists didn’t differ in their utilization of pornography and deviant sexual fantasy.

Finally, a couple of recent book chapters on sexually sadistic murderers (published in 2005 and 2006) by Drs. J. Proulx, E. Blais, and E. Beauregard (2005) have found that sadistic sexual offenders were more likely than non-sadistic sexual offenders to have (i) planned to kidnap their victims, (ii) used bondage and weapons, (iii) engaged in expressive violence, humiliation, and torture of victims, (iv) inserted objects into the victims’ vaginas, (v) strangled their victims, and (vi) engaged in intercourse and mutilation of their victims after death.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Bartholomew, A., Milte, K., & Galbally, A. (1975). Sexual murder: Psychopathology and psychiatric jurisprudential considerations. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 8, 152– 163.

Brittain, R. (1970). The sadistic murderer. Medicine, Science, and the Law, 10, 198-207.

De River, J.P. (1958). Crime and the sexual psychopath. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Dietz, P.E., Hazelwood, R.R., & Warren, J. (1990). The sexually sadistic criminal and his offenses. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 18, 163–178.

Douglas, J.E., Burgess, A.W., Burgess, A.G., & Ressler, R.K. (1992). Crime classification manual. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gratzer, T., & Bradford, J. M. (1995). Offender and offense characteristics of sexual sadists: A comparative study. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40, 450–455.

Grubin, D. (1994). Sexual murder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 624–629.

Hazelwood, R.R. & Douglas, J.E. (1980). The lust murderer. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 49, 1–5.

Hickey, E.W. (Ed.), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1886). Psychopathia sexualis (C.G. Chaddock, Trans.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

MacDonald, J.M. (1986). The murderer and his victims (2nd Edition.). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Malmquist, C.P. (1996). Homicide: A psychiatric perspective. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Money, J. (1990). Forensic sexology: paraphilic serial rape (biastophilia) and lust murder (erotophonophilia). American Journal of Psychotherapy, 44, 26-36.

Proulx, J., Blais, E., & Beauregard, E. (2005). Sadistic sexual offenders. In J. Proulx, E. Blais, & E. Beauregard (Eds.), Sexual murderers: A comparative analysis and new perspectives (pp. 107–122). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Proulx, J., Blais, E., & Beauregard, E. (2006). Sadistic sexual aggressors. In W.L. Marshall, Y.M. Fernandez, L.E. Marshall, & G.A. Serran (Eds.), Sexual offender treatment: Controversial issues (pp. 61–77). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Ressler, R.K., Burgess, A.W., and Douglas, J.E. (1988). Sexual homicide: Patterns and motives. New York: Free Press.

Schlesinger, L.B. (2004). Sexual murder: Catathymic and compulsive homicides. London: CRC Press.

Cruel proof: A brief overview of zoosadism

Zoosadism refers to the pleasure – often sexual – that individuals attain by causing sadistic cruelty to animals. In many people’s minds, violence towards the animal is often automatically implied when they think of bestial acts. However, as I pointed out in a previous blog, recent academic research indicates that sex with animals by zoophiles is often considered by them as “sensual and loving” and does not necessarily include force, violence and/or sadism. In fact, in her book Love, Violence, and Sexuality in Relationships between Humans and Animals, Dr. Andrea Beetz said that: “zoophilia itself does not represent a clinically significant problem and is not necessarily combined with other clinically significant problems and disorders, even if it may be difficult for some professionals to accept this”.

Despite such research, links between sadistic sexual acts with animals and subsequent behaviour such as human sexual sadism and sexual murder has been much researched. Those who inflict pain and suffering on animals are more likely than those who don’t to be violent towards humans. It has been well documented that some rapists and murderers have sadistically hurt and/or killed animals in their childhood, and that some have engaged in bestial acts. Furthermore, some studies have shown that around a third to a half of all sexual murderers have abused animals during childhood and/or adolescence (although sample sizes of such studies are usually relatively small). However, most research has reported that one of the most important ‘warning signs’ and risk factors (specifically relating to the propensity for sex offending), is animal cruelty if accompanied by a sexual interest in animals. In a study of psychiatric patients who tortured cats and dogs published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development by Alan Felthous, he reported that all of them had high levels of aggression toward people including one patient who had murdered a boy.

In Dr. Louis Schlesinger’s 2004 book Sexual Murder, he provided in great detail some particularly gruesome stories of compulsive homicide killers. One such case was Peter Kürten, who terrified Düsseldorf, Germany.

“At age nine, Kürten committed his first murder by throwing a boy off a raft and preventing another youngster from rescuing the child. Kürten was also a thief and a burglar, and he spent a number of years in prison for assorted offenses. While there, he poisoned several inmates in the prison hospital. After his release, the offender attacked 29 people and killed several others including a 5-year-old girl. He also broke into the home of a 13-year- old girl, strangled her, and killed her by cutting her throat with a knife… Until he was apprehended, the compulsion to kill became overwhelming. Kürten attacked men, women, and children, killing them by knifing, choking, and cutting their throats”.

Kürten’s background was also disturbing. As Schlesinger wrote:

“Kürten had sex with his sisters; however, his preferred form of sexual activity in his developing years was bestiality. He became friendly with a dog catcher who taught him how to torture and masturbate animals. From ages 13 through 15 he engaged in numerous sexual acts with pigs, sheep, and goats, sometimes stabbing the animals to death while having intercourse with them”.

In Germany, there have been an increasing number of violent crimes against horses. This offence of “horse ripping” (i.e., violently cutting, slashing and/or stabbing of horses) has been accepted as a criminal phenomenon in Germany and has led to a number of studies on the topic. Horse ripping has been defined as a destructive act “with the aim to harm a horse or the acceptance of a possible injury of a horse, especially killing, maltreatment, mutilation and sexual abuse in sadomasochistic context”. In 2002, German researchers Dr, Claus Bartmann and Dr. Peter Wohlsein (Institut für Pathologie der Tierärztlichen Hochschule, Hannover) reported a study examining 193 traumatic horse injuries over a four-year period. They reported that at least ten of the injuries (including wounds from knives, spears, and guns) were acts of zoosadism. Also in 2002, Dr. Alexandra Schedel-Stupperich (Georg Elias Müller Institute for Psychology, Göttingen) examined all the incidents of horse injuries from 1993 to 2000 (of which there were 1,035). One-quarter of all the injuries (mostly cuts and stabs using knives or spears) involved the horses’ genitals and another quarter involved injuries to the horses’ necks and/or heads. Most of the horses injured were female and which Schedel-Stupperich described as rape.

Another German study by Wochner and Klosinski (University of Tübingen, Germany), examined 1502 aggressive children and adolescents requiring treatment at their Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Unit. They reported that 25 (all boys) of them had engaged in zoosadistic activities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the incidence of zoosadistic acts increased with age. The authors speculated that the zoosadistic acts may have been connected to problems of puberty and proving virility.

A recent 2011 paper by Dr Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine proposed a new classification of zoophilia including ‘sadistic bestials’ and ‘homocidal bestials’. Unsurprisingly, ‘sadistic bestials’ derive sexual pleasure from the torturing of animal. According to Dr. Aggrawal, sadistic bestials use animals for sexual excitement but do not engage in sexual intercourse with them. Dr Aggrawal defined homocidal bestials as zoophiles that need to kill animals in order to have sexual intercourse with it (i.e., what he also described as necrozoophilia). According to Aggrawal, homicidal bestials are capable of having sexual intercourse with live animals, but their need for sexual intercourse with dead animals is greater.

In a 2006 book chapter on paraphilic crime signatures, Hickey reported that the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994) collected animal roadkill, dissected the remains, and masturbated over the animals he had cut up, because he “found the glistening viscera of animals sexually arousing”. In Schlesinger’s book on sexual murder, it was reported that: “Dahmer dissected roadkill, butchered small animals, nailed cats and frogs to trees behind his house, and once put a dog’s head on a stick”. Aggrawal also reported the case of 20-year old Bryan Hathaway from Minnesota (USA) who was arrested for having sex with a deer carcass. He had been cycling and by chance came across the dead deer. He was later charged with violating a law against “sexual gratification with an animal” and fits Aggrawal’s classification as a necrozoophile (although Hathaway didn’t actually kill the animal himself).

Finally – and as I noted in my previous blog on zoophilia – there have also been papers and editorials published in the Veterinary Journal (VJ) about the violent sexual abuse of female calves. Vets – who often have to deal with the animals that have been sexually abused by humans – do not like the term ‘zoophilia’ as it tends to focus on the human perpetrator, with no attention being paid to the harm that might result for the animal. A 2006 editorial in the VJ claimed that the sexual abuse of animals is almost a last taboo – even to the veterinary profession. As Piers Beirne (University of Southern Maine, USA) argues, the sexual abuse of an animal should be understood as sexual assault because: (i) human–animal sexual relations almost always involve coercion; (ii) such practices often cause pain and even death to the animal; and (iii) animals are unable either to communicate consent to us in a form that we can readily understand, or to speak out about their cause.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Bartmann, C.P. & Wohlsein, P. (2002). Injuries caused by outside violence with forensic importance in horses. Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr, 109, 112-115.

Beetz, Andrea (2002). Love, Violence, and Sexuality in Relationships between Humans and Animals. Germany: Shaker Verlag.

Beirne, P., 1997. Rethinking bestiality: towards a concept of interspecies sexual assault. Theoretical Criminology, 1, 317–340.

Felthous, A.R. (1980). Aggression against cats, dogs, and people. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 10, 169-177.

Hickey, E.W (2006). Paraphilia and signatures in crime scene investigation. In Hickey, E.W. (Ed.), Sex crimes and Paraphilia (pp.95-107). New Jersey: Pearson

Ressler, R., Burgess, A., & Douglas, J. (1988). Sexual homicide: Patterns and motives. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Schedel-Stupperich, A. (2002). [Criminal acts against horses–phenomenology and psychosocial construct]. Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr, 109, 116-119.

Schlesinger, L. (2004). Sexual Murder. New York: CRC Press.

Wochner, M. & Klosinski, G. (1988). Child and adolescent psychiatry aspects of animal abuse (a comparison with aggressive patients in child and adolescent psychiatry). Schweiz Arch Neurol Psychiatry, 139(3), 59-67.