Serial killers make up most of our nightmares but getting to know what’s in their mind spark interest in many.
Studies of known serial killers show that there are different factors that motivate these infamous figures to commit despicable crimes, and many of them encompass similar developmental issues.
In the book Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky, it is said that infancy, childhood and relationships with their mothers are often among the key parallels of serial killers.
Among other factors, these serial killers’ relationship with their mothers has been highlighted time and time again, as these mothers tend to breed men who hate women. Though this idea irks feminists as somehow blaming women for the downfall of these men, the notion is supported by studies that 66% of known serial killers were raised by mothers who were a dominant figure.
This Mother’s Day, let’s take a look at the women who raised and birthed these “monsters” and see if the deranged Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho said it best, “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
Clarnell Stage, a victim of her own son, the ‘Co-ed Killer’
Edmund Kemper is infamous for being a brutal serial killer and rapist who has 10 murders under his belt, most of them college women that earned him his moniker “The Co-ed Killer.” He targeted women specifically because they reminded him of his mother, Clarnell Stage.
Ed’s parents separated when he was young and he initially lived with his mother and two sisters. Clarnell—who was thought to have borderline personality disorder—claimed to fear Ed, who was already over 6-feet tall when he was just 15 years old.
Clarnell would regularly insult and berate Ed, reportedly calling him “a real weirdo” and denied him physical affection as she believed it would turn him gay. She also reportedly let Ed sleep in a locked basement for fear that he might hurt his sisters.
At 15 years old, Ed ran away and sought shelter with his father, who also turned him away. Ed was left to live with his grandparents, who were his first victims. After killing them, he turned himself to the police and it was Clarnell whom he called first, asking her for advice on what to do.
After being in a maximum-security facility for over 6 years, Ed was released from prison and had his record expunged after he was considered by psychiatrists as not a danger to himself or society. This, of course, turned out as false because right after getting out of the facility, he moved in again with Clarnell and started his brutal killing spree, targeting college girls.
He once said that he buried some of his victims in his mother’s garden and left them facing upward to her bedroom because, according to him, he “always wanted people to look up to her.”
After just over a year of moving in with his mother, Ed, eventually killed Clarnell who was bludgeoned to death in her sleep. He also decapitated her and hung her head on the wall, screamed at it for hours and made it a target for darts.
According to reports, after killing Clarnell, Ed cut her tongue and larynx and placed them down the garbage disposal but they clogged the drain. “That seemed appropriate,” Ed later said. “As much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me for so many years.”
Kathleen Maddox was 15 years old when she gave birth to the future infamous cult leader Charles Manson out of wedlock. According to records, Kathleen listed her son’s name in the birth certificate as “No Name Maddox” for three weeks before allowing her mother to name her child Charles. He was given the last name from Kathleen’s new husband, William Manson, whose relationship soured quickly.
Kathleen was described as “impulsive and rebellious” early in her life, and as a mother many accounts painted her as an "alcoholic prostitute" and neglectful. There were stories of how Kathleen once gave a young Charles to a waitress in exchange for a pint of beer. Many believe that Kathleen’s inept parenting was one of the reasons behind Charles instability.
(In Charles’ 1986 book Manson in His Own Words, he described how writers portrayed his mother mostly in a bad light. “Other writers portrayed mom as a teenage whore. Because she happened to be the mother of Charles Manson, she is downgraded. I prefer to think of her as a flower child in the ‘30s, thirty years ahead of her times.)
When Charles was around six years old, Kathleen was jailed for armed robbery and left Charles to family members. When Kathleen got out of jail, Charles was already into petty crimes. They lived in run-down hotel rooms and Kathleen eventually placed Charles in Gibault School for Boys, a Catholic school for delinquents, when he was 12 years old.
Charles managed to escape these reformatories and started his string of crimes that led him to be sent to a maximum security prison and eventually to a federal prison in California. Kathleen reportedly uprooted herself and transferred to California to be near Charles and his wife Rosalie Jean Willis and son Charles Jr.
Kathleen lived through the horrors of Charles’ involvement in gruesome murders. At the time Charles was convicted for the Tate/Labianca killings, Kathleen was living a quiet life into her third marriage and a nine-year-old daughter.
For years, Kathleen had been blamed for much of what the unremorseful criminal and notorious cult leader Charles Manson had become. She once claimed that Charles was not an abused child growing up contrary to what many believed. She said she over indulged him to make up for the time she was away in jail.
“I think that made him over confident. He never had to take a fall, not till he was a grown man. Everything was just handed to him, I must admit,” said Kathleen, who died in 1973.
Augusta Gein is the mother of the “most depraved” serial killer—Ed Gein, a mama’s boy who was the inspiration for fictional characters with mommy issues like Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Fanatically religious, Augusta was verbally abusive towards Ed, who was also subject to physical abuse from his father George.
Being religious, Augusta also preached that sex and women were sinful and Ed should have nothing to do with either. He would later on become a necrophile.
Despite this, Ed was said to have an unhealthy attachment to his mother, almost worshipping her and calling her a saint. When Augusta suffered a stroke, Ed cared for her until his death.
He loved his mother so much that when she died in 1945, Ed was distraught and sealed off a room in his house as a shrine to his mother.
Following Augusta’s death, Ed took interest in cannibalism and Nazi atrocities. Soon after, he started mutilating bodies of recently buried women in cemeteries and fashioned their body parts into everyday items as macabre trophies like belts made of nipples, skulls made into soup bowls, leggings made from human leg skin and a corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulder to waist.
Ed also reportedly dug up his mother’s remains 18 months after her death, removed her head and took it home to shrink.
Body parts of two women he murdered were also made into grotesque display items, some of them he cooked in his infamous cauldron.
The women ‘Son of Sam’ called mother
Pearl Berkowitz was the adoptive mother of serial killer David Berkowitz, also known as “Son of Sam,” who murdered six people in New York City in the ‘70s.
David was born to a Jewish mother named Betty Falco but was immediately adopted by the Berkowitzes when he was just a few days old. Pearl notably overindulged David and expect perfection from him, which brought a lot of pressure to the teenager. David may have had a dysfunctional relationship with his adoptive mother but he was distraught when Pearl died of breast cancer when he was 14 years old.
He later on searched for his birth mother but was only disappointed because they did not connect. Following David’s failed reconnection with Betty was his string of crimes in New York where he targeted young female strangers who were white with dark wavy hair, and resembled his late adoptive mother.
After he was arrested in 1977, David admitted that he targeted women “so they wouldn’t have children who were unwanted like he was.”
David, who is currently incarcerated at the Shawagunk Correctional Facility in New York, wrote in his blog ariseandshine.org (run by his fellow Christian supporters) a letter to both Pearl and Betty for Mother’s Day in 2019.
“I will be forever thankful for my two Moms—my adoptive mother, Pearl, who raised me, and my birth mother, Betty, who brought me into this world, whom I was fortunate to have met when I was in my early twenties. They were great moms whom I miss very much,” said David who is now 67 years old and a devout Christian.
In the letter, he admitted that he was a “problem child” whose behavioral and mental issued caused his adoptive parents grief and frustration but never stopped loving him nevertheless. As for his birth mother, David was aware that she was brokenhearted when he went to prison but was thankful that he is able to meet his birth family.
“Life truly has its twists and turns. Some for good, and some for bad. I had both. But on Mother’s Day, I want to publicly honor two wonderful women.”
Eleonor Louise Cowell
Eleonor Louise Cowell never questioned the innocence of his son, serial killer Ted Bundy, and stood by him until he was executed in 1989.
Eleonor was 22 years old when she gave birth to Ted out of wedlock. Eleonor was urged to have him adopted because of the social stigma but her parents took Ted and raised him as their own, instilling in him that Eleonor was his older sister.
As their living conditions at her parents’ home were not conducive to raising a child, Eleonor moved away from to Washington where she met Johnny Culpepper Bundy, with whom she had four kids. Johnny also adopted Ted, who took his stepfather’s last name.
It was said the Eleonor enjoyed being a housewife and taking care of her children but she noticed that Ted was slowly being detached from the family.
As Ted grew farther away from them and got involved in petty crimes like burglary and theft, Eleonor thought of Ted as just sad because they uprooted themselves from Philadelphia. Little did she know that the future would lead to Ted killing at least 36 women, making him one of the most notorious serial killers of the 20th century.
On the day of Ted’s execution, Eleonor reportedly called him twice and wrapped up the second call with, “You’ll always be my precious son.”
Eleonor was 88 years old when she died in 2012.