Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

David Parker Ray: The Toy Box Killer

The Sadist

Peter Kürten, the Vampire of Düsseldorf
Peter Kürten, the Vam-
pire of Düsseldorf

Karl Berg wrote a book called The Sadist about serial killer Peter Kürten, and it was one of the first psychiatric works devoted to the subject of a person who tortures others for his own pleasure. (Kürten would chew on his victims during sex, killing them.) The word derives from the 19th century work of Richard von Krafft-Ebing, in his book Psychopathia Sexualis, in which he set out to collect various sexual crimes into medical categories. He based the concept of deriving pleasure from humiliating or inflicting pain on other sentient beings on the writings of the eighteen-century Marquis de Sade, whose philosophical pornography detailed violent sexual episodes, including murder. Krafft-Ebing thought that sadism in males was a distortion of the sexual instinct, and he was so certain it was exclusive to males that he never studied female sadists.

Drawing of young Marquis de Sade, by Van Loo
Drawing of young Marquis de
Sade, by Van Loo

In Hickey's Sex Crimes and Paraphilia, Lisa Shaffer and Julie Penn spell out the nature of the paraphilia known as sadism. They indicate that it may or may not involve consent, and for some offenders it's definitely more exciting to inflict pain on nonconsensual victims. Most sadists begin as masochists, these authors say, who are aroused by the receipt of pain or humiliation. They then move into a dominating role and find they prefer it. Some even develop such a hunger for sadistic arousal that they become rapists and murderers. Among the most notable examples, besides Ray, are Robert Berdella, who tortured young men before killing them, and the Canadian team of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, who killed three young women. They kept two as temporary sex slaves.

Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo on their wedding day
Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo on their
wedding day

The types of activities sadists enjoy include whipping, handcuffing people, hanging them, choking victims into unconsciousness and then reviving them, stomping on them, using substances to induce altered states of consciousness, electrocuting, piercing, raping, cutting, and keeping them imprisoned. They might also enjoy inflicting humiliations such as covering victims in excrement. Some sadists even hire themselves out to masochists to inflict a controlled, choreographed scenario.

While there are differing opinions on this condition, and its causes remain obscure, it appears to form during certain associations in adolescence. Even so, more than one-third of people with this condition report discovering their condition well into adulthood; they enjoy the feeling of power and authority that arises from having their way with a vulnerable human being. There is no known effective therapy for those who compulsively harm others in a nonconsensual, illegal manner.

Ray had yet to be convicted, but one FBI agent who had seen the contents of Ray's Toy Box stated that the time, money and effort spent on building up his extensive and varied inventory supported the fact that he was among the most extreme of sexual sadists. It was time to get him into court.

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