Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Westley Allan Dodd

Why Children?

Dodd's apartment appeared normal at first glance (POLICE)
Dodd's apartment
appeared normal at first
glance (POLICE)

Everyone wanted to know why this happened. Westley Dodd seemed so "normal." No obvious signposts indicated severe trauma in his childhood. While Dodd's own theories offer little insight into the "whys," he did have something to say on the "hows," once the pornographic details were shucked away from his narrative.

Certainly, Dodd's case should be discussed and examined. What Dodd did to children has happened before, and it may happen again. Dodd should never have been out on the streets after his repeated arrests for molestation. The justice systems that allowed Dodd to go free with minimum incarceration and flimsy monitoring failed miserably. According to the Oregon Criminal Justice Center in Portland, at the time of Dodd's capture, 87% of convicted child abusers were given probation and remained within their communities (the excuse was overpopulated prisons.)



The court-ordered counseling that Dodd underwent had little effect on him. His sexually deviant behavior began at the age of 13, when he would stand in the window of his home, exposing himself to the children who walked by. His behavior escalated to more intrusive, violating episodes of molestation. No one seemed to notice that his arrest record was growing, and that his offenses were becoming more severe. Even though the courts ordered Dodd to stay away from children, he sought any opportunity to be near them, working as a camp counselor, babysitter, and living close to playgrounds. By Dodd's own admission, he would have kept molesting and murdering children until he was permanently incarcerated or executed.

Family background

"For children growing up, the quality of their attachments to parents and to other members of the family is most important to how these children as adults relate to and value other members of society," wrote Robert Ressler, Ann Burgess, and John Douglas in Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives. Dodd remembered feeling abandoned by his parents when his two younger siblings were born, and never seemed to have developed an emotional attachment to anyone in his family. He described his family as cold and unloving — his mother hit him and his father was distant. (Dodd's siblings, however, disagree with this assessment, insisting that their family was emotionally healthy.) For whatever reason, Dodd did not "bond" with his family. He behaved in a distant manner. In fact, the memories that intrigue him the most do not involve love, but sex. He seemed fixated on incidents of prepubescent sexual experimentations with his cousins.

Another important factor in the backgrounds of sadistic murderers is a "high degree of instability in home structure," which includes frequent dislocation and a "minimal attachment to a community (Ressler et al.). The Dodd family moved often, disrupting Westley's ability to maintain friendships with his peers. His parents fought often, finally divorcing when he was 15, the age when he began molesting school children. Westley seems to have no essential relationships within the family or the community.

Psychologist Kenneth Von Cleve wrote, "Mr. Dodd can be described as an individual who has had no intimate relationships with anyone over the course of his life. As such, he remains extremely emotionally immature and totally unable to function as an adult on an emotional level. His responses indicate a basic distrust of relationships. This likely accounts for his tendency to isolate himself and to stalk and assault young children who are safe and not in a position to reject him."

Was Dodd sexually abused?

Many child molesters had once been victims of sexual abuse. Although no one knows for certain, Dodd insisted that he had never been sexually abused as a child. He indicated a few sexual incidents in his childhood, but they appear to be little more than childhood curiosity, never involving coercion or violence. At the age of 9, he saw his cousins comparing their genitals, and asked him to show them his. Later he played a game of "you show me yours/I'll show you mine" with a neighborhood girl, but was offended when she showed little interest in Dodd's display.

When Dodd was 9, his mother insisted that he try on school clothes in front of her and his aunt. He was humiliated by having to strip down to his underwear in front of them. "Could that incident have contributed to my starting to expose myself four years later? I don't know," he speculated. But he brought it up frequently as a possible excuse.

Dodd's sexual curiosity took a more ominous turn when he was 11 years old. He became interested in film footage of World War II Holocaust victims in Nazi concentration camps: "As long as I saw nude people, it didn't matter if they were alive or not," he wrote.

Living in a fantasy world

Westley Allen Dodd (AP)
Westley Allen Dodd

Although Dodd said he killed the boys to escape detection, his diaries clearly indicate that he became more obsessed with the acts of torture and murder than with sexual molestation. Dodd could be categorized as a sadistic murderer. According to Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas, the sadistic lust murderer "kills as part of a ritualized, sadistic fantasy. For this murderer, aggression and sexuality become fused into a single psychological experience — sadism — in which aggression is eroticized."



Isolated from others, sexual sadists compensate by living in a fantasy world where they can control and dominate others. "No, I don't want to let the fantasies go," said Dodd, after he was caught. "I enjoy them, and I like what I did." The more time spent daydreaming, the more dependent they become on the fantasies to bolster their sense of self. Eventually, homicidal sexual sadists may feel compelled to act out their cruel fantasies, subjugating their victims into objects for their own pleasure. Based on many studies conducted over the last thirty years, many experts believe that "fantasy drives murder," and after the initial crime has been committed, the offender will retreat even further into an extensive fantasy realm where he can exert control over the situation (Ressler et al.).

Dodd's fantasy world extorted a high rent — he was willing to sacrifice the lives of children to stay insulated in the dark shadows of his imagination.

Antisocial behavior

Dodd didn't necessarily like kids, but he fooled a lot of people who thought he was good with kids. He befriended children so that he could manipulate them for his own desires. "I'm only nice to the ones I want sex from," he wrote after his capture. Dodd was most certainly a sociopath, incapable of harboring genuine feelings for others. He used children to satisfy his need for control and domination.

He knew that molesting children was wrong: "And it would stop me for a while. But after a while things started to build up again, stress, things on the job, things just not going good. And at a point, I couldn't really control myself any longer." Sociopaths exhibit poor impulse control. They also get bored easily. One possible explanation to Dodd's behavior might be due to a bad fall. As a child, he fell off a fence and knocked himself unconscious. Although many children take hard falls, sometimes a blow to the head can cause brain injury, which can be a factor in antisocial behavior. Inhibitions are less controllable. Recent studies indicate that sociopaths have a dulled sense of stimulation, including a higher pain threshold. They will sometimes engage in risky and often hurtful behavior to increase stimulation. Dodd was almost certainly a sadomasochist: at age 14 he began inserting pins into his penis, "often trying to break my previous record by seeing how many pins I could get in at one time." He also stuck a stick up his anus and rode his bike, naked, letting the stick get rattled by the rear-end tire. The stick was bloody by the time he was done, but it didn't seem to hurt him much.

Manipulating innocence

Like many sociopaths, Dodd masqueraded as a nice guy. He knew how to charm the kids, and how to coax them into doing what he wanted. Most of his molestations did not involve physical force. Instead, Dodd developed the ability to cloak his desires as a "game" to be played with children. He befriended them, became one of them. He understood their curiosities, their innocence and trust, and knew exactly when to back down if a child became confused or fearful.

Dodd's bed with restraints (POLICE)
Dodd's bed with restraints (POLICE)

Children often play games where they dare one another to do something dangerous or gross. Dodd exploited that, insinuated himself in as one of them. He knew which games to evoke: "truth or dare," strip poker, skinny-dipping, and spin-the-bottle were all part of his routine to get kids to undress and touch him. As a camp counselor and babysitter, he learned how to gain a child's confidence. The fact that many of his victims were repeatedly abused because they trusted him, and didn't understand that what Dodd was doing was wrong, indicates Dodd's masterful manipulation of their innocence.

Why pedophilia?

Psychologist John B. Cochran believes that there are roughly two kinds of pedophiles: the "regressed" type, who typically feels like he is under performing in life, and, due to pressure, goes back to a "more primitive level of functioning." The "fixated" type has always directed his sexual drives toward children, and has no "normalizing" sexual experience with adults. Dodd avoided sexual relationships with adults. If he did get involved with a woman, it was because she had young children. If a child had any pubic hair or pubescent development, Dodd lost interest.

Is pedophilia a fetish, or a more deeply rooted psychological disorder involving the need to control and dominate? Dr. Kenneth Von Cleve, who interviewed Dodd before the murders, compared pedophilia to other fetishes, which can develop out of almost incidental events. "If you trace back in a sexual history, you can usually find the time when imprinting began occurring. It's usually in adolescence where a kid began masturbating to something. For example, a mother used to lock her son in the closet for punishment. Well, he'd sit in there and masturbate. He sat on the floor with all her shoes. Well, lo and behold this guy's got a fetish now at age 30, where its just horrible with women's shoes. So it's the little insignificant thing that occurred back there in his sexual development that became a full-blown fetish as an adult."

Although the origins of pedophilia are debated, experts believe that pedophiles nurture their fantasies of children, and these fantasies ingrain themselves into their sexual drives. If the pedophile also harbors fantasies of aggression and domination, this person would be classified as a sadist "because he derives his main satisfaction from the terror that is brought on in the child," said Cochran. Dodd was certainly a sadist, and his victims were the most defenseless in our population.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'