“Nature or nurture?” is a question that has long been asked to explain the behaviour of murderers. Are they the result of a dysfunctional upbringing or an accident of nature – perhaps defective human beings? The question has never been properly answered but reality may be somewhere in between.
What is beyond dispute however is the supreme importance of the relationship between mother and child, and this may well be a dominant driver in the behaviour of the future criminal. Particularly violent and sadistic murderers seem to share the common thread of disturbed childhoods – in particular the relationship with their mother. This series examines such relationships in the cases of some of the most depraved and violent killers of recent times and looks at whether they were born this way – or made – by their mothers.
Peter Moore was described as a “miracle baby” by his mother, who had been trying for years to become pregnant. Throughout his childhood the relationship between mother and son was especially close and she was utterly devoted to him.
This contrasted sharply with his father who was perpetually irritated by his son – especially by what he saw as emerging feminine mannerisms.
Peter grew up to be gay, in an era when this was regarded as shameful, but he was consoled by his mother, who always placed him at the centre of her universe.
Although appearing to be an upstanding member of the local community around Kinmel Bay in North Wales, he developed a sinister life after dark, when he attacked other men without warning, beating them with a rubber truncheon and sexually assaulting them. Dozens of men were attacked in this way across a period of some 20 years.
A traumatic event occurred in his life in May 1994, with the death of his beloved mother and this appeared to remove any controls he had over his dark side. The early manifestation of this was that he swapped his rubber truncheon for a knife.
Over the next 4 months, dressed in his trademark black outfit, he stabbed 4 men to death in frenzied attacks that included strong elements of sexual deviancy and sadism.
On 19 August 1987, Michael Ryan, a loner and misfit who was obsessed with firearms, snapped. He walked around his hometown of Hungerford, in west Berkshire, England shooting randomly at people crossing his path, including those in passing cars.
After an hour into his murderous rampage he had killed 16 people, wounded 16 others, and then in a final act of horror, shot himself dead. Up until then it was the deadliest mass shooting on British soil by a lone gunman.
Ryan was an only child who had been totally indulged by his doting mother and was given virtually whatever he wanted.
His relationships with others – including his classmates at school – were generally dysfunctional and he became withdrawn and very much a “loner”.
As he entered his teens he grew increasingly obsessed with firearms and gradually amassed a large collection, including handguns and semi automatic rifles. These were all legally purchased through the official granting of standard firearms certificates he applied for at the time.
After the death of his father, Ryan gradually descended into a fantasy world where he wore military type clothing and adopted the persona of a commando operative – activities that were either encouraged – or at least tolerated – by his mother.
In perhaps the most terrible irony of the murder day, one of Ryan’s victims, discovered near the family home was his mother, who had given him everything he had wanted throughout his childhood. She had been shot to death while trying to persuade him to put his gun down.
Northern England lived in fear across an extended period during the latter half of the 1970’s. Thirteen women had been brutally murdered from blows with a hammer and frenzied stabbings with a knife. Another seven had been seriously injured and the fact that some of the women had been prostitutes led the media to dub the killings as the work of “The Yorkshire Ripper”.
It was to take an immense police investigation to finally identify Peter Sutcliffe as he murderer and then backtrack into his past to try and understand the demons that controlled him.
He was a sickly young lad from a dysfunctional family. His father was a hard drinking womaniser, but his mother idolised he boy, and he, in turn, had mentally placed her on a pedestal as an example of the ideal woman.
Bullied at school Peter Sutcliffe became a sullen and resentful loner and as he progressed to manhood he began visiting local prostitutes.
His antisocial tendencies were later amplified when he found that his much adored girlfriend Sonia had been cheating on him, sowing the seeds of a dislike of women that would grow into a raging hatred over the following few years.
A traumatic event followed when he discovered that his beloved mother was having an extra marital affair,
and this shocked him deeply, reinforcing his growing conviction that women could never be trusted.
Five years later, in 1975, the killings began.
On the morning of 16 July 2013 the body of 48-year-old Tina Wardle was found in her bedroom at a house in Leicester, England. Multiple stab wounds were identified in what appeared to be a frenzied knife attack. Police arrested the prime murder suspect, and in a shocking development this turned out to be her 21-year-old son, Mark.
Mark Howe lived with his single mother Tina, and sister Ann in a loving family where he was given all the care and attention that his mother could provide.
Inexplicably, in his teen years, he became increasingly sullen and withdrawn, spending more and more time alone in his bedroom, immersed in a world of violent video games and surfing the Internet on his computer.
This situation was worsened by his increasing use of cannabis, a situation that deeply worried his mother.
Tina remarried in 2011, and this appeared to anger Mark further with rows erupting whenever Tina challenged him about his lifestyle. His anger towards his mother spilled over to his online social media comments where he called her a whore, and ranted about how much he hated her.
He changed his name to Spike Luck by deed poll in 2012, with his Facebook profile picture set to that of Dexter Morgan, a fictional television character who was a serial knife-wielding murderer.
In the early morning of 16 July 2013, when his stepfather was away, Mark Howe brutally attacked his mother in her bedroom with a 30 cm knife, stabbing and slashing her in the face, mouth, neck, chest and arms. 53 individual stab wounds were later identified.
At his trial the judge described the attack as “akin to torture” but Howe claimed he could not remember the actual event. The Judge was unimpressed and sentenced him to a minimum of 21 years and six months behind bars.
At around 9.30 am on 13 March 1996, shop owner and one-time scout leader Thomas Watt Hamilton, drove to the Dunblane Primary School near Stirling, in Scotland. Armed with four handguns he entered the school gymnasium and opened fire on a class of twenty-eight year one students, mostly between 5 and 6 years of age.
In the next 4 minutes he murdered 16 children and one teacher before killing himself with a gunshot to the mouth. It was the deadliest mass shooting in British history, and produced a wave of revulsion and outrage across the world.
43 year- old Hamilton had a troubled history, beginning with his early childhood when he lived with his sister and parents, becoming known as a loner and outsider through his school years.
In a bizarre twist to his family life he discovered that his sister was really his mother – and the older couple were her adoptive parents. This discovery reportedly distressed him deeply.
However he finally gained a real sense of purpose as a young man through joining the local Scout Movement where he became a leader.
But complaints had been made about his behaviour with young boys
and this had led to a withdrawal of his Scout Warrant, with the County Commissioner remarking that he was “suspicious of his moral intentions towards boys”.
Hamilton indignantly denied the accusations and responded by setting up his own boys clubs – the Dunblane Rovers
– that were initially very popular around the area. However further community criticism followed, with rumours circulating that Hamilton was exhibiting paedophile tendencies.
He became increasingly resentful, and wrote letters of complaint to various local officials, including the local Member and even the Queen, claiming persecution by the police and the Scout movement. Significantly he also blamed the teachers at Dunblane Primary School whom he thought were deliberately turning their young boys against him.
This resentment festered away in Hamilton’s psyche and unbeknown to anyone else, be planned a brutal revenge against the society that had humiliated him. This took place on 13 March 1996, with the unprecedented slaughter of innocents that shocked both Britain and the world.
After the tragedy firearm restrictions were introduced across much of Britain and school security was ramped up, particularly for primary schools. At Dunblane Primary School itself the gymnasium was demolished and replaced with a memorial garden.