Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Inside the mind of a psychopath: the psychology of Ian Brady

The appalling murder of five teenage children in Manchester by the serial killer Ian Brady and his female accomplice, Myra Hindley, are the most infamous killings in Britain in the 20th century.

A recent Channel 4 documentary, "The Endgames of a Psychopath", went some way into explaining some of the psychology of Ian Brady, and how he has remained one step ahead of his psychiatrists and advocates during his four decades of imprisonment.

Before I go more into that, and the mind games played by Ian Brady even up till his old age, one thing that marks Brady out as being distinct from other incarcerated serial killers/ psychopaths is that more than ten years ago he published a self-written book analysing the mentality of serial killers, called "The Gates Of Janus". There is an academic review of this book here. As far as I am aware, this is the only case of a convicted psychopath and serial killer publishing an "academic" book about serial killers and their psychology.
The book itself, from what the review mentioned above says, reads like a quasi-academic piece of work, albeit one that is used as a way seeing murder as a morally ambiguous action, using the thinking of Nietzche and others to justify his perspective. In reality, what this means is nonsense, and is often logically contradictory, but that's besides the point. One one side, the book is an exposition of Brady's views on morality in society (and justifications for crime and murder), while also a study of a number of other serial killers, analysed through the mind of another serial killer. What is most striking is what this tells us about Brady's self-perception: like fictional serial killer-psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, he sees himself as someone above morality, seeing the morality in society as hypocritical, with his as the supreme intellect, able to use it to justify his own actions; and at the same time, (also like Hannibal Lecter) he claims to be altruistically using his "perspective" to help the police and authorities to understand (and therefore more easily identify) other serial killers.
The fact that he was able to convince an agency to publish such a book in the first place is worth pausing over (while the anger caused to the victims' families doesn't bear thinking about, but that is no doubt Brady's point). In his mind, Brady probably saw the fact that his book was allowed to be published as a) proof that society retains a macabre interest in serial killers, and b) that publishers have have as little conscience as he does; meanwhile, it was a way of promoting his own perspective on morality and society, and giving him even further sick gratification from the publicity. So, the publication of the book was a "victory" for Brady on many different levels.
Brady's publication of "The Gates Of Janus" was an ignominious moment in cultural history. Here was where life imitates art: like Lecter, Brady was offering his "experience" and "intellect" to the police and society to offer his "unique perspective". Of course, this is absolute nonsense in reality: like with Lecter in "Silence Of The Lambs", Brady was using it as an opportunity to seize moral and intellectual control over his moral guardians, while playing duplicitous games with authority: this true psychopath seizing any opportunity to advance his cause.

Even Brady's "justification" for the child murders has been contradictory, but again that's part of his cunning and duplicitous nature. In  his book, Brady claimed that the killings were not for pleasure: the "pleasure" he gained was from the torture of the children, while the murders were to make sure him and Myra Hindley were not caught - however, Brady also has said that the murders were an "existential experience", while also criticising the moral hypocrisy of society over encouraging state sanctioned violence in the military but discouraging in other areas. Again, we simply see a psychopath playing games with his psychiatrists and watchers: this contradicting is consistent with the continual performance to keep others guessing as to Brady's real psychology and him in control; his justifications differ depending on his whim.

Brady is the nearest thing to an "extreme" living psychopath behind bars in Britain today. His biography as a child and teenager fits in with all the classic behaviour and environmental factors that are seen in developing a psychopathic character. He showed all the early signs of sadism, manipulation and cunning, being involved in petty crime till he got a "legitimate" job as a book-keeper after years in borstal and prison (though he had been intent on using this as a cover for further crimes). It was there he met Myra Hindley, an initially naive and impressionable young woman who he was able to charm and manipulate to completely change her personality and appearance, and into being an accomplice to his horrific crimes. Ever since has he shown no remorse for them.
Ever since incarceration, Brady has been playing games of control with the authorities: like the character Hannibal Lecter, he has been able to, when applicable, charm or terrify his psychiatrists and advocates. He has been able to manipulate the authorities into transferring him into more comfortable surroundings.He has been playing grotesque games of psychological control with his victims' families; by sending letters to them in a disingenuous attempt to re-gain their trust. He even convinced the authorities to allow him back to the scene of the crime in a (no doubt faked) bid to help locate the body of the final, undiscovered victim (while being able to perversely savour the moment and his secret knowledge) . He has been on hunger strike for a number of years in protest to his conditions, hoping to get transferred to Scotland (where he was born and "raised"). And now, in a final twist to the story, has evidently been able to charm and manipulate his advocate into claiming the existence of a letter written by Brady, containing the possible whereabouts of the last undiscovered victim. If this letter exists in reality, no one knows except Brady and the advocate. But now the victim's mother has died without knowing the burial site of her murdered son; no doubt as Brady intended.
Brady's final "victory" is that he has written an auto-biography, which he has given instruction to his solicitors to publish upon his death: thus Brady gets to promote his own perspective on events, espouse his "morality" and justifications further, and provide a further insult to the victims' families from beyond the grave. You really can't make this kind of stuff up.

This whole saga has the feel of some kind of twisted psychological crime thriller - something like Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" and "Silence Of The Lambs".

But this is reality. And it's true that reality often feels more unreal than fiction.

A more general description of the psychology of psychopaths can be found here.
Other examples of serial killers who may also be called "psychopathic narcissists" can be found here.