Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Iain  Banks

Ashley  Kelly 

Serial Killers: The Childhood Trauma of Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ed Gein

Iain Banks: Overcoming Feelings of Insignificance in Times of Upheaval

Iain Banks’ works, Dead Air, The Crow Road, and The Wasp Factory, reveal strongly opinionated characters that struggle with feelings of powerlessness in societies from which they are cast out as outsiders. In light of personal or societal upheaval, Banks’ male narrators all experience feelings of insignificance, which they are only able to overcome by reconsidering a character or idea with which they originally disagreed. For example, in The Crow Road, the narrator Prentice disagrees greatly with his father about religion, but after his death he takes on a similar view that “faith is idolatry.” Banks highlights several aspects that affect his characters’ feelings of insignificance, such as religion, love, and death, as factors that can create positive change in the lives of these individuals. Together, Iain Banks’ characters represent the ability to overcome challenging situations that affect their declining worth in society, ranging from childhood abandonment to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Similar to these character’s feelings of powerlessness, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ed Gein were serial killers widely known for using disturbing tactics in the murders of dozens of victims in order to feel a sense of power in their own lives. Unknown to most, these killers were crippled with childhood trauma that had a major impact on their development as adults. Jeffrey Dahmer, who would go on to murder and dismember 17 young men in his twenties, faced sexual abuse, bullying, and isolation from his parents throughout his childhood. John Wayne Gacy was victim of both physical and psychological abuse from his father, as well as bullying from his peers. He would later molest and murder 33 young men throughout his lifetime. Similarly, Ed Gein faced extreme psychological abuse from his mother Augusta, a key factor in his eventual targeting of women and female corpses. In light of Jeffrey Dahmer’s cannibalism, John Wayne Gacy’s molestation, and Ed Gein’s organ excavation, the experience of childhood trauma heavily influenced both the occurrence of and tactics used in these murderous crimes, forever altering the investigation of serial killers.

Major Works Consulted:

Banks, Iain. The Crow Road. London: Little, Brown, 2013.
---. The Wasp Factory. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Dobbert, Duane L. Psychopathy, Perversion, and Lust Homicide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
Frasier, David K. Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century. Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland, 1996.
Photo Credit: “Iain Banks.” Edrants.