A country of one serial killer
In Finland, serial killers exist only in TV-drama and in books. In real life the social aunties and the police prevent such things. Only one documented case is known.
By Anna-Stina Nykänen
One bumps into serial killers on television, in movies, and on the pages of detective stories on a daily basis. In real life, however, they don't exist in Finland, says Docent Hannu Lauerma , the Medical Superintendent at the Psychiatric Hospital for Prisoners, a part of the health care services of the Finnish Prison Service.
Lauerma’s book Pahuuden anatomia (”The Anatomy of Evil”) was published last Thursday by Edita Publishing Oy, a subsidiary of one of Finland’s largest publishers of non-fiction.
"Dont exist" is a tiny exaggeration: in fact, Lauerma knows of one serial killer in Finland. But only one.
According to Lauerma, this serial killer is a transvestite who has committed three sex-related murders. The first victim was his mother, after whom he killed two other women.
”The case resembles the story of Norman Bates, the main character in the classic thriller Psycho”, Lauerma notes.
Taking into account prison sentences, the periods between each homicide have been so long that the cases have not attracted special attention - not even among the police.
However, the perpetrator meets all criteria for an American serial killer, Lauerma says.
The psychiatrist’s obligations of professional secrecy prevent Lauerma from revealing more detailed information about the case.
A serial killer is a person who typically murders three or more people and his or her motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.
Such a person does not commit a crime for money, in order to avenge something, or - in the classic Finnish homicide mode - in a drunken rage.
”Typically, the modus operandi employed by the perpetrator during each crime is similar, and the killer has become addicted to the excitement it provides for him or her”, Lauerma reports.
For serial killers, violence is an instinct: after satisfaction and release the pressure gradually grows just like it does for the next sexual intercourse, Lauerma explains.
Serial killers are typically referred to as psychopaths who do not feel sympathy for their victims, but enjoy torturing them.
Sometimes they can also retain some of their victims’ body parts as trophies.
The underlying factors for such murders date back to the childhood of these perpetrators.
”Typically, serial killers have had a ghastly childhood, and this allegation is not based only on their own pitiful stories, which are often designed to bring out sympathy”, says Lauerma.
Provedly, nearly without exception all serial killers have been sexually abused, molested, or victims of mental violence when they were children.
They have been humiliated and insulted.
”For example men have been punished by dressing them up like girls when they were children”, Lauerma notes.
In addition, serial killers suffer from a genetic mental disorder: they are unable to keep their violence under control.
After suffering agony and shame for a long time, they can therefore begin to repeat their earlier experiences in reverse: to torture victims whom they have first rendered helpless.
In Finland serial killers are rare in occurrence, thanks to the authorities’ rapid intervention in cases of suspected child abuse.
”Here people look after each other, which protects children”, Lauerma says.
School nurses and social services - the "flower-hatted aunties" so often disparaged - also do their share, and the rest is taken care of by the police.
In Finland, the number of solved capital crimes is also exceptionally high, though in fairness to other police forces around the world one might say that many Finnish homicides are not that difficult to resolve.
In any event, a person convicted of murder faces a life sentence, which means at least 12 years behind bars.
”When the life of a serial killer for certain reasons often tends to be short, he or she simply has no time to commit many murders”, Lauerma notes.
And in a small country with a high degree of access to information about people, it is also easier to get caught.
The largest numbers of serial killers are found in the Anglo-Saxon area, where models for such crimes are available, and the upbringing of children can sometimes be authoritarian and humiliating.
”Equality is also insufficient. For example, Britain is still a class society, while in the United States it is money that talks, which leaves people feeling frustrated”, Lauerma adds.
The former Soviet Union also used to have serial killers. In primitive cultures, such people are more difficult to detect, Lauerma points out.
Female serial killers are rare. One of the most notorious serial killers was Aileen Wuornos (who incidentally had a Finnish background through her maternal grandparents), a prostitute who killed seven truck drivers.
Wuornos was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in the USA in 2002.
A film telling her story - Monster - was released in 2003, with Charlize Theron winning a Best Actress Oscar for the lead role.
As popularised by the entertainment industry, serial killers are often described in extreme forms as members of an arrogant upper class or brutal lowlife.
They bring thrills and horror to books and movies.
In fantasies people have the ability to identify with the almost-divine despotism of serial killers.
Lauerma himself is not entertained by stories about serial killers, since for him they represent everyday life.
However, he did read American crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s book Portrait of a Killer - Jack the Ripper: Case Closed.
”Yes, it is well-written trash. Absolute nonsense”, Lauerma declares.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.5.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
Police say suspect in Heinola poisoning could be serial killer (27.3.2006)
ANNA-STINA NYKÄNEN / Helsingin Sanomat