5 Killers Who Had A Terrible Relationship With Their Mother

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

Parenting—and in particular, being a mother—isn’t easy. The balance between structure and letting your child be who they are can be precarious and hard to navigate at times. At the end of the day, every mother just wants their child to grow up to be a healthy, happy, contributing member of society. But imagine what it would be like to be the parent of a serial killer?

Dennis Rader, aka BTK’s, mother wondered whether the time she dropped her son on his head when he was a baby contributed to his future as a murderer. Looking back at her son’s childhood, she couldn’t pinpoint any other red flags that she should have picked up on at the time. She wondered if something she did was to blame for how he turned out, and realistically, it isn’t a nature vs. nurture debate. Serial killers become who they are because of a mix of inherent traits and their circumstances.

It’s true that most people can’t say they had a perfect upbringing and relationship with their mother, and not every person who has a terrible relationship with their mother will turn into a killer—but these five people did.

Edmund Kemper
Despite standing at 6’9 and 250 pounds with a reported IQ of 145, Edmund Kemper managed to give off an nonthreatening vibe. That’s how he was able to pick up and murder six female hitchhikers from May 1972 to April 1973, and become known as the Co-ed Killer. But those weren’t the only people he killed. When he was 15, Kemper shot his paternal grandparents with a rifle, killing them both. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a psychiatric hospital.

Thanks to his high intelligence, Kemper was able to manipulate his psychiatrists and on his 21st birthday, he was released from the hospital into the care of his mother, Clarnell. They picked up where they left off with daily fights. According to Kemper, his mother was domineering, critical, and neurotic. He also said when he was a child his mother would mock him for his size, belittle and abuse him, making him sleep in the locked basement and calling him “a real weirdo”.

One night, near the end of his killing spree, Kemper bludgeoned his mother to death with a claw hammer. He then decapitated her and did a number of unspeakable things to her body—all of which he claimed were “appropriate” because of the ways she treated him. He then went on to kill his mother’s best friend the same night and then turn himself in.

Henry Lee Lucas
Henry Lee Lucas was a drifter and serial killer who was eventually convicted of 11 homicides. Although he confessed to over 3000 murders, many of his stories were inconsistent and lacked credibility. Growing up, Lucas was often neglected and abused by both of his parents. His mother was a sex worker who would often force him to watch her have sex with clients. She also forced him to dress as a girl for a number of years. When Lucas was about 23, he became engaged, but his mother disapproved. She wanted him to live with her to take care of her as she got older.

During one argument, Lucas claims his mother hit him over the head with a broom stick and he retaliated by stabbing her in the neck. He fled the scene but was arrested not long after his mother died. He claimed self defense but was convicted and sentenced to 20 to 40 years anyway. He ended up being released 10 years later due to prison overcrowding. He went on to live the drifter life, befriendiing fellow serial killer Ottis Toole, and killing an unknown number of people until he was finally caught.

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz, AKA Son of Sam was adopted when he was a baby and he grew up believing his biological mother died during childbirth. He later found out that his adoptive parents had lied to him, and according to him, that make him feel like he was “an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born—unwanted.” Not only did Berkowitz have no relationship with his birth mother, but he also had a dysfunctional relationship with his adoptive mother, Pearl. They were reportedly extremely close, but not in a normal way. Berkowitz allegedly killed her pet parakeet because he felt it got too much of her attention.

Pearl passed away when Berkowitz was 14, and when he didn’t connect with his father’s new wife, he was left without a positive maternal figure. He managed to track down his birth mother and found out she got pregnant with him while having an affair with a married man. Finding out the truth about his birth is thought to be the “primary crisis” in his life that, in addition to his strained relationships with other women in his life, started his killing spree. Berkowitz went on to kill six people and injure nine more in the span of a year. He was finally caught and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences, which he is currently serving.

Mary Bell
Mary Bell was only 11 years old when she strangled two young boys to death and was convicted of manslaughter. She was described as displayed classic signs of psychopathy as well as being potential dangerous to other children. During her time behind bars, Mary’s mother sold stories about her to the press and attempted to benefit financially from her daughter’s crimes. Mary’s mother was a prostitute who reportedly abused Mary and even forced her to participate sexually with her clients. Other members of the Bell family also report being suspicious that Betty (Mary’s mother) had tried to kill Mary on various occasions when she was a young child.

Mary was released from prison at the age of 23 and given a new identity to protect her anonymity from the press. She’s since had a daughter and reportedly become a grandmother. She was also interviewed for a book on her life called Cried Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell, where she talked about the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her mother.

Ed Gein
Also known as The Plainfield Butcher, Ed Gein had a very unhealthy relationship with his mother growing up. She was a strict Lutheran who taught her son that the world was innately immoral, in particular the evils of drinking and that all women (except her, of course) were prostitutes and pawns of the devil. Gein was described by teachers and classmates as shy and strange. His mother’s goal was to keep him as sheltered and isolated as possible and she would even punish him if he tried to make friends.

After the death of his brother (who Ed may or may not have murdered), his mother had a massive stroke and Ed devoted himself to taking care of her. He relied on her presence in his life and when she passed away he was devastated. Gein took to graverobbing, digging up corpses of women he thought resembled his mother and stealing their skin to make a “woman suit”. He also murdered two women and after he was arrested, police searched his home and found a number of disturbing things including a lampshade made from the skin of a human face, a belt made out of human nipples, and bowls made out of human skulls, among many other creations made entirely out of skin.

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