forensic pshychology


Friends of the Forensic Science Club, this week we present the paper “Necrosadism: exploring the sexual component of post-mortem mutilation of homicide victims” by Pettigrew, M. (2022), in which the author examines a real case of four homicides perpetrated by the same man, investigating whether there was necrosadism or not and why.

Necrosadism is a topic that hasn’t been researched like necrophilia-related behaviors and, as a result, is not only misunderstood, but poorly defined, according to the author of this article.

Normally, it is understood as “sexual contact with a dead person”, and necrosadists are defined as “people who commit murder to have sex with the corpse of the victim”.

It is in 2009 when Aggrawal defines more correctly what necrosadism would be: “the sexual paraphilic disorder that involves deliberate attacks on corpses, subjecting them to considerable humiliation and senseless mutilation.”

It has been argued in some cases that the term “necrosadism” is somewhat contradictory, since the essence of sadism is domination, degradation. It is the gratification derived from inflicting pain through psychological or physical suffering. Therefore, if the recipient of such behavior is a corpse, it is not a living being, it is incapable of feeling and, therefore, what is done to it are simply acts of gratuitous, unnecessary and cruel destruction. This is reflected in some legal systems that do not recognize necrophiliac acts as sexual in nature.

However, there is an important debate around the term, and although in the eyes of the author it is somewhat contradictory, the term “necrosadism” persists in its use.

Post-homicide behaviors are important areas of analysis in two ways: the psychology of the offender and law enforcement.

Regarding the psychology of the criminal, we can say that while the modus operandi of a criminal may change, his signature remains relatively unchanged. This signature is what relates to the psychodynamics of the offender. This term refers to the mental and emotional processes that underlie human behavior. The victim is treated as an accessory that’s used to fulfill the offender’s violent sexual fantasies, and this will leave its mark at crime scenes.

For example, when an offender puts the victim in a specific position, inserts certain objects, mutilates his/her corpse…, he may be enacting sexual fantasies.

All this is something that has been gaining interest for experts on criminal behavior, however, it seems that not much attention has been paid to it when sadistic, paraphilic and necrophilic behavior occurs between men against men.

For this reason, the author decides to explore a real case study through police interviews, crime scene reports, autopsies, crime scene photographs, witness statements, etc.

The offender was a 49-year-old single white male who committed four murders. He enjoyed sexual relations with men, within which he carried out sadomasochistic practices (BDSM), slavery, discipline, sadism in general…, and he was always the dominant part of the couple. His sexual arousal and the humiliation of his sexual partners seemed indissoluble.

His first victim was approached at night, there was a verbal exchange and the offender pounced on him, stabbing him frantically, receiving a total of 27 stab wounds.

In such a frenzied attack, it is conceivable that the criminal could have stabbed the victim post-mortem without knowing that he had already died, so this point needed to be clarified. The offender confirmed that he did know the victim was dead at the time he pulled down his pants and stabbed his buttocks. He also admitted a necrosadic desire to inflict puncture wounds on the victim’s limp body, as he went to pick him up the next day to continue stabbing him.

Another victim was also stabbed, post-mortem, intentionally. A different victim was found in a cruising area, with his penis exposed and stabbed.

Although the criminal’s modus operandi varied, the way of killing remained constant. There were wounds that were inflicted after death, and the offender admitted knowing that the victims had died before he made those wounds. In addition, the offender commented that he returned to the scene of the crime the next day and searched for the body to continue attacking him.

The offender was sexually aroused by inflicting the injuries, as noted by forensic psychiatrists.

It is the time factor that confirms the necrosadic impulse. An offender may stab or mutilate the victim during the homicide, and some of these injuries may be inflicted post-mortem, but this is not necessarily indicative of necrosadism. The necrosadic behavior, in this case, is confirmed by the time lapse between death and the making of the post-mortem wounds, in addition to the fact that the offender wanted to return to his victims within hours of having committed the murder to inflict more wounds on them.

It is the certainty that the victim was dead that provides evidence to say that there was a necrosadic component. As such, and considering that the author stabbed his victims in the penis and buttocks, it is logical for the author to point out that there is a relationship between necrosadism and paraphilias, leaving a door open for future research.

The author recommends that researchers focus on the gratification produced by these behaviors, study the offender’s sexual history, his perception of himself, among other more detailed aspects in the original article.

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