Broadcast Thought is the collective name for a creative cabal of three forensic psychiatrists (H. Eric Bender, M.D., Praveen R. Kambam, M.D., and Vasilis K. Pozios, M.D.) who also happen to have a vast and unquenchable thirst for pop culture knowledge.
Last week we published Part One of their look inside the head of Pamela Voorhees and now it’s time to conclude the process. Which means we’re getting to the REALLY juicy stuff. You might want to refresh a bit by visiting last week’s article first. Then come back here and dive in.
Be sure to follow BTdocs on Twitter and head below to go Inside The Head Of Pamela Voorhees!!
DISCLAIMER 1: In real life, we would need an adequate evaluation:
Various diagnoses might help explain Pamela Voorhees’ mental state as seen in Friday the 13th (1980), but to truly understand her struggles, we would need to conduct a psychiatric evaluation and gather necessary information to properly diagnose anything. It might be tough to interview her given that she’s been decapitated.
DISCLAIMER 2: There is an overblown link between mental illness and violence:
While we can try to offer hypothetical explanations for Mrs. Voorhees’ behaviors, clinical mental illness, in and of itself, doesn’t typically increase one’s risk for violence except in a few narrow circumstances (e.g., alcohol and drug use disorders, acute paranoia).
We know that most serial killers can’t be classified as “insane,” and that her status as one wouldn’t be directly related to a mental illness. That being said, was Mrs. Voorhees a serial killer?
Dr. Bender: Technically, yes, according to the 2005 FBI Serial Murder Symposium’s definition of serial killing: “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.” Also, it appears Mrs. V had a “cooling off period,” or period of time in which no killing occurs, between her killings, which is an element of serial killing.
Dr. Pozios: But we may not really consider Mrs. V a serial killer, even if she meets the FBI Symposium’s definition. In the real world, the semantics of the definition and intuitively knowing that someone is a serial killer are two separate things. Additional characteristics that aren’t formally part of the definition would be considered – things like motivation, modus operandi, rituals, and signature aspects of the murders.
Dr. Kambam: These characteristics are also carefully analyzed by law enforcement agents, like members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units, in the investigation of possible serial murders. The agents might also consider whether the killer is getting any gratification from the killing. Most experts would argue that the killings of serial killers involve some sort of psychological gratification – and often some aspect of sexual gratification.
Dr. Bender: Instead of psychological gratification, it could be that the purpose of her killing was to try to shut Camp Crystal Lake down and keep it closed. In this way, she might be considered an instrumental offender: the killings were simply business. Instrumental killers, like mafia hitmen, kill for such gain and are generally not considered to be serial killers, even though they may meet the semantics of the FBI Symposium’s definition.
Dr. Pozios: Unlike an instrumental offender, she seemed emotionally invested in the killings and was not killing to achieve an external material gain, such as money or goods. Mrs. V’s killings seemed more vengeful, much like some school shooters or disgruntled employees “going postal.”
Dr. Kambam: But back to arguments for her being a serial killer… Mrs. V’s killings perhaps reflected some rituals – need-based behaviors that are unnecessary for the successful commission of her crimes – like posing a body, displaying a body, overkill. Ritualistic behaviors are often seen in the acts of serial killers; her tying up Steve’s body and displaying Bill’s body might have reflected such rituals. And perhaps Mrs. V could be categorized as a “visionary” serial killer, a type of serial killer that experiences psychotic directions or commands to kill. Mrs. V may have experienced commands from Jason to kill the counselors, as she conveyed when talking with Alice. Additionally, like most visionary serial killers, Mrs. V is focused on the act of killing itself, rather than getting than getting off on the a longer process of torturing and killing (she’s “act-focused” as opposed to “process-focused”).
Dr. Bender: Mrs. V’s pinning of Bill’s body to the door and throwing Brenda’s body through the window could be viewed as meaning to induce fear in the remaining victims, right?
Dr. Pozios: Possibly, but Mrs. V’s style of killing may be considered more “disorganized” rather than “organized.” (Visionary serial killers typically engage in more disorganized killing. The disorganized nature of the killings and crime scene may be an extension of disorganized thinking, due to psychosis).
Dr. Kambam: Right. An organized killer will usually kill in one place and deposit the body in another. They painstakingly plan out their killings and are careful about not being detected. Disorganized killers, on the other hand, are haphazard in their killing. They are more impulsive and will often leave murder weapons and the bodies of their victims where they were killed. Recall the axe in the bed left by Mrs. V…
So was she insane? If she had been caught and charged with these multiple counts of murder, would she have been able to plead insanity?
Dr. Kambam: To examine this question, we need to talk about what it means to be “insane?” Insanity is actually a legal term, not a colloquial term meaning “crazy” or even a medical term. And each state has its own definition or guidelines for insanity. Current New Jersey insanity statutes (http://www.newjersey-legal-guide.com/) indicate that someone is not criminally responsible for his or her actions when acting as he or she did if “at the time of committing the act the defendant was laboring under a defect of reason such that he did not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” [Note: In real life, we would need to use the legal statute in effect at the time of Mrs. V’s acts, i.e., 1957 (killing of two counselors), 1958 (poisoning of the water supply), and 1980 (murdering several counselors and a camp organizer).]
Dr. Bender: Okay, so, let’s tackle the first part of this: Did she have a mental disorder at the time of her crimes? Well, there is some evidence that Mrs. Voorhees might have had some sort of psychotic disorder or dissociative disorder at the time of her crime(s) as we discussed previously.
Dr. Pozios: For the other part of the insanity test, what evidence do we have that Mrs. V knew that what she was doing was wrong?
Dr. Kambam: Even if Mrs. V were genuinely experiencing a hallucination of hearing Jason’s voice telling her to kill, there is no evidence that she believed that killing wouldn’t be illegal. What’s more, even if she were genuinely experiencing a delusional belief that the camp personnel let Jason die, this belief would not prevent her from understanding that killing is illegal.
Dr. Pozios: She also had the rational alternative motive of seeking revenge (maybe partially driven by guilt) for Jason’s death as opposed to killing because of psychotic command auditory hallucinations.
Dr. Bender: More evidence to show that Mrs. V knew wrongfulness is reflected in her possible efforts to avoid detection and capture. She presumably cut the phone line (although we don’t see her do this). She turns off the generator and lights (so as not to be seen). When she needs to find Alice to kill her, Mrs. V later turns on the generator and lights. Mrs. V hid Ned’s body (hiding evidence) from the others. She hid under Jack’s bed, then grabs him before spearing him through neck. She also tied Steve’s body to a tree branch (presumably so no one finds him).
Dr. Pozios: Okay then, what about evidence that Mrs. V knew the nature and quality of her acts (and therefore was not legally insane)?
Dr. Kambam: Even while possibly psychotic and having a conversation with herself, Mrs. V explicitly talked about killing and not letting Alice live. This indicates that she understood that she was not only killing but killing a person, not a doppelganger, alien, or some other non-human entity. She also specifically targeted the camp personnel because she thought that they failed in their duties as counselors to supervise children in the camp. This indicates that she understood that they were human beings with a specific job.
Dr. Bender: We all know the lawyers would argue about this… The defense would undoubtedly bring up various counterpoints. They might mention that Brenda was already dead when Brenda was thrown through the window. And Mrs. V displayed Bill’s dead body by pinning it to the cabin door with arrows. If Mrs. V were trying to avoid detection, why would she do this?
Dr. Pozios: Well, the prosecution’s argument would probably be that Mrs. V was trying to induce fear in the surviving counselors.
Dr. Bender: But Mrs. V didn’t wear any disguises, gloves, or clothing to conceal her identity. She didn’t run away from the camp to avoid capture after her acts.
Dr. Kambam: Maybe she just wasn’t finished killing yet. She wasn’t caught in the past.
Dr. Bender: Her hiding and turning off the lights may just indicate that she was trying to ensure that her actions were carried out without resistance (i.e., an effort to most effectively attack her targets). If she believed that what she had been doing wasn’t wrong, she would want to ensure that her actions were carried out.
So there you have it. Mrs. Voorhees, based on the evidence at hand, was technically a serial killer. And, while she might have had psychotic symptoms or episodes, she would not be a good candidate for the insanity defense since most signs point to her knowing that what she was doing was wrong. But, as evidenced above, this case is just as complicated as Mrs. Voorhees herself.
Happy Belated Mother’s Day, Pamela.