of the Lambs Research Paper
Buffalo Bill suffered from
various psychological disorders, and the first disorder is an Antisocial
Personality Disorder (ASPD). The text states that ASPD is a “psychological
condition exhibited by individuals who are unsocialized and whose behavior
pattern brings them repeatedly into conflict with society” (Schmalleger, 2017,
p. 132). Bill would imprison overweight woman victims that he abducted in
a large dry well in the basement of the home. He showed no guilt for keeping
his victims in the well, who most of the time left in the dark. He enjoyed the
thought of them feeling confused and disoriented and that they sat hopelessly
in the dark. Bill also made his victims clean themselves with lotion and
deprived them of food. He would tell his victims “It rubs the lotion on
its skin. It does this whenever it’s told” (Demmer, 1991). Bill did not feel
guilty for starving his victims because his end goal was to skin them after
they are killed. He would threaten to spray his victims with a water hose as
punishment if the did not comply with his orders. There was no remorse for his
actions. Bill would threaten his victims and say “It rubs the lotion on
its skin, or else it gets the hose again” (Demmer, 1991). His regard for life
was non-existent and felt his actions were justified. Bill was disconnected
with the feelings of others and showed no concern for right and wrong.
Due to the ASPD disorder,
Bill was “unable to feel guilt or to learn from experience and punishment”
(Schmalleger, 2017, p. 132). The text describes that “a lack of love or the
sensed inability to unconditionally depend upon one central, loving figure
(typically the mother in most psychological literature) immediately following
birth is often posited as a major psychogenic factor contributing to the
development of ASPD” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 132). It is unfortunate that Bill’s
mother was not a dependable “central, loving figure,” that she was always busy
prostituting and ultimately abandoned him. He lacked the basic needs of
connecting with the most influential person in one’s life, his mother. Bill
didn’t connect with his feelings. He didn’t receive or know how to give love.
The connection between experiencing and receiving love which created a
negative psychogenic factor which eventually, led to him developing ASPD.
Bill also suffered from
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which described in the book as “a serious
condition that can develop in an individual who has undergone or witnessed
traumatic and terrifying experiences, such as crime victimization. PTSD is
characterized by both psychological and physical symptoms, and people who
suffer from it will experience impaired functioning in various aspects of their
lives” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 246). In the film The Silence of the Lambs, the
screenplay doesn’t provide too much insight on Bill’s childhood, but there are
implications that he had a traumatic childhood due to abuse. If the film The
Silence of the Lambs provided additional information on Bill’s early life, we
could have a better understanding of any specific traumatic or terrifying
experiences that lead to the development of his PTSD.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the
film The Silence of the Lambs, tells Detective Clarice Starling “Billy was not
born a criminal but made one by years of systematic abuse” (Demmer, 1991). Due
to his PTSD, it was clear that he had intense feelings of anger, self-hatred
and had the desire to kill women so that he could ultimately become a woman by
stitching a “woman suit” made from the skin of his victims that he’d wear for
himself. Bill ultimately wanted to turn himself into someone that didn’t
hate. He was a transgender and wanted to be a woman. The fact that
he was a male angered him, his history of murders, personality tests, and other
factors did not qualify him to be transgender. These feelings and anger were a
combination of both the Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) and also
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Due to the combination of
Bill’s Psychological disorders, these disorders played a part in the way he
thought and the way that he treated, thought and behaved towards his victims.
It is clear that his psychological disorders brought him lots of anger, gave
him the inability to feel love, guilt, and remorse. Psychological disorders are
real and cause people to act in ways that are uncommon when compared to those
who do not suffer from a Psychological disorder(s).
There are multiple theories
that apply to Bill’s behaviors. The first theory is the Attachment Theory. The
Attachment Theory states that for healthy personality development to occur,
“the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous
relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both
find satisfaction and enjoyment” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 142). His mother was a
prostitute who abandoned him. Because Bill is rejected, he was placed into the
Foster Care system at the age of two. He was in and out of foster homes
until he was ten years old. According to the Attachment Theory
“delinquent behavior arises when non-secure attachments are created”
(Schmalleger, 2017, p. 142). At around ten years of age, he is adopted by his
grandparents who he ultimately killed. They were the first of his victims.
Due to Bill not having a
motherly figure, being in and out of foster homes, and murdering his
grandparents who were his legal guardians, he failed to develop any secure
attachment to any loving adult. The text states that “studies have shown that
children who are raised in insecure environments are likely to engage in
violent behavior as adults and that childhood insecurity leads to a relative
lack of empathy” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 142). The text states that when
“children do not receive empathy from those around them, they also appear to be
unable to see others as deserving of empathy and become more likely to inflict
injury on others” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 142). One of the main sources of
the lack of Bill’s empathy and the way that he treated his victims or “it’s”
was due to the Attachment Theory.
The Moral Development Theory
can also be applied to Bill in continuation to the Attachment Theory and may
help explain part of his crime causation. The Moral Development Theory as
described in the text that individuals “become criminal when they have not
completed their intellectual development from childhood to adulthood. As
children grow and learn they can reflect on their actions- acquiring a sense of
the unspoken rules that govern human interaction” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 134).
The Moral Development Theory consists of four stages, which are central
to the moral development from birth to age sixteen. The first stage is
known as the “Sensorimotor Stage” starts at birth and lasts until age two.
During the Sensorimotor Stage children are “extremely egocentric, and learn
about the world through physical senses and the movement of their bodies”
(Schmalleger, 2017, p. 134).
The second stage is known as
the “Preoperational Stage” which starts at age two and lasts until age seven.
During the Preoperational Stage, children are “not able to reason well,
or use logical thinking, but egocentrism begins to weaken” (Schmalleger, 2017,
p. 134). This stage is dominated by “magical thinking” where children start to
believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus and other similar types of
characters. The third stage is known as the “Concrete Operational Stage” which
starts at age seven and lasts until age eleven. During the Concrete
Operational Stage children “start to develop the ability to reason and to think
logically, although they are very concrete in their thinking, and often require
practical aids such as buttons or coins to aid in counting and arithmetic”
(Schmalleger, 2017, p. 134). At the end of the Concrete Operational Stage,
children have developed out of the egocentric mind frame and are “able to
appreciate the needs and feelings of others” (Schmalleger, 2017, p. 134). The
final stage in the Moral Development Theory is the “Formal Operational Stage.”
The Formal Operational Stage starts at age eleven and lasts until age sixteen
and then continues into adulthood. During the Formal Operational Stage, the
“developing adolescent acquires abstract reasoning skills and learns how to
think and reason within the need for external aids” (Schmalleger, 2017, p.
As previously mentioned in
the Attachment Theory, Bill did not have a continuous relationship with a
mother or a permanent mother substitute. After he killed his grandparents he
was immediately transferred to a Juvenile Facility and learned to be a tailor.
After he was released from the Juvenile Facility at the age of 19, he
joined the Navy. Bill had emotional issues that had not been resolved.
Those maladaptive behaviors keep building year after year because he was unable
to experience all of the four developmental stages of the Moral Development
Theory. The fact that he was abandoned by his mother, lived in the foster
system, killed his grandparents, lived in a juvenile facility, and then went
straight to the military, made it hard for Bill to develop the necessary skills
and unspoken rules of human interaction that were needed for him to become an
emotionally adjusted adult,
According to the text, when a child can go through the
four steps as described in the Moral Development Theory they can more easily
“reflect and examine themselves in the process, they learn right from wrong”
(Schmalleger, 2017, p. 134). He lacked the skills to love and be loved. He
didn’t understand human emotions or the need to care for anyone but himself.
The basic understanding of right and wrong were not understood. If he had the
opportunity to have gone through the four steps as described in the Moral
Development Theory, he would have been more likely to develop the necessary
skills and unspoken rules of human interaction.
When we look at the
combination of the Attachment and Moral Development Theories, we can understand
on how these play a major part in the helping us understand why Bill may
have treated, thought and behaved towards his victims. Many criminals lack the
love, understanding, empathy, and connection for others. It is clear that when
children are raised in unstable environments and when children are not able to
go through the four steps of the Moral Development Theory, consequently, the
necessary skills and unspoken rules of human interaction are not formed, and
often violent behavior is a result.
Although he suffered from
various psychological disorders, his disorders can’t justify how he treated his
victims. Bill had an odd obsession with butterflies and moths, whose
metamorphosis, strangely enough, inspired him to commit murder. His Modus
Operandi (M.O.) was consistent, where he would approach an overweight woman pretending
that he was hurt, ask that woman for help and after that woman would help him,
he would assault her, beat her until she was unconscious and kidnap her.
Bill would then hold these women captives against their will in a dark
pit in a basement, starve them, and force his victims to do things against
their will such as cleaning their bodies with lotion preparing themselves for
their imminent deaths. With his first victims three victims, he led them to
believe that he was going to allow them to shower. Bill lead them up a
stairwell from the basement, where at one point he would slip a noose around
their necks and push the victim down the stairs causing them to strangle to
With his fourth victim, he chose not to strangle his victim but
instead shot that victim in the back of the head. With each of his victims, he
would take skin from a different part of their bodies, and dispose of the
bodies in a nearby lake which would wash away any evidence that would lead
police back to him. Bill ultimately kidnapped, starved, neglected,
murdered, desecrated and improperly disposed of human remains which were each
crime that he inflicted on each of his victims.
As a society it is our
responsibility to have resources available to could help “treat” the behavior and
thought a process of psychopaths like Bill, but it is practically impossible to
cure them of their psychological disorders. It is clear that he had a different
thought process compared to a regular person, where punishment for a regular
human being wouldn’t even impact him. He suffered from so many psychological
disorders that it would have been difficult for him to rehabilitate. There is
no magic pill to give someone like Bill to make them feel empathy. There’s no
“pep talk” that would have suddenly made him bad for what he had done. No
rehabilitation program could have curbed his “craving” to commit murder and no
article of clothing that would suppress his appetite for constructing a
“woman’s suit” from his victim’s skin.
Society could argue that
approaches such as group therapy, individual therapy, drug therapy,
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), and psychoanalysis treatment could help with
Bill’s mental disorder, but there has been no proven evidence that psychopaths
are treatable. These approaches could have the reverse effect and make him find
new ways to manipulate to satisfy his needs. As a society the best thing
that we can do as a whole, is to work together to identify any warning signs
that may indicate that someone suffers from a psychological disorder and make
sure that they are connected with the right resources and get the help that
they need. There also needs to be resources to help those who are at risk for
such disorders. As a society, we need to be more diligent identifying
situations where babies/children are at risk and providing them with the
necessities of life. Understanding those with maladaptive behaviors is
difficult but are not impossible to treat. There is hope but as a society we
need to be aware and recognize psychopaths who may be in our own families, our
neighbors, or strangers on the street and get them the help they need before
it’s too late.
Demme, J. (Director). (1991). The Silence of the
Lambs. Motion Picture. United States, Orion Pictures.
F. (2017). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction. Hoboken: Pearson.