AN FBI PERSPECTIVE ON ANIMAL CRUELTY
By Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., and Ann Church
The HSUS has a long history of working closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to combat cruelty to animals. Many of these agencies have become acutely interested in the connection between animal cruelty and other forms of violent, antisocial behavior. They have found that the investigation and prosecution of crimes against animals is an important tool for identifying people who are, or may become, perpetrators of violent crimes against people.
Earlier this year , Senator William Cohen of
As law enforcement officials become more aware of the connection between animal abuse and human-directed violence, they become more supportive of strong anticruelty laws and their enforcement. We are encouraged by this development. We were granted permission to visit the
HSUS: What is the history of the Behavioral Science Unit/ISU?
BRANTLEY: The Behavioral Science Unit originated in the 1970s and is located at the
HSUS: You have said that the FBI takes the connection between animal cruelty and violent crime very seriously. How is this awareness applied on a daily basis?
BRANTLEY: A lot of what we do is called threat assessment. If we have a known subject, we want as much information as we can obtain from family members, co-workers, local police, and others, before we offer an opinion about this persons threat level and dangerousness. Something we believe is prominently displayed in the histories of people who are habitually violent is animal abuse. We look not only for a history of animal abuse, torment, or torture, but also for childhood or adolescent acts of violence toward other children and possibly adults and for a history of destructiveness to property.
Sometimes this violence against animals is symbolic. We have had cases where individuals had an early history of taking stuffed animals or even pictures of animals and carving them up. That is a risk indicator.
You can look at cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans as a continuum. We first see people begin to fantasize about these violent actions. If there is escalation along this continuum, we may see acting out against inanimate objects. This may also be manifest in the writings or drawings of the individual affected. The next phase is usually acting out against animals.
HSUS: When did the FBI first begin to see this connection?
BRANTLEY: We first quantified it when we did research in the late 1970s, interviewing thirty-six multiple murderers in prison. This kind of theme had already emerged in our work with violent criminals. We all believed this was an important factor, so we said, "Lets go and ask the offenders themselves and see what they have to say about it." By self report, 36 percent described killing and torturing animals as children and 46 percent said they did this as adolescents. We believe that the real figure was much higher, but that people might not have been willing to admit to it.
HSUS: You mean that people who commit multiple, brutal murders might be reluctant to admit to killing animals?
BRANTLEY: I believe that to be true in some cases. In the inmate population, its one thing to be a big-time criminal and kill peoplemany inmates have no empathy or concern for human victimsbut they might identify with animals. Ive worked with prisoners who kept pets even though they werent supposed to. They would consider someone else hurting their pet as reason enough to commit homicide. Also, within prisons, criminals usually dont want to talk about what they have done to animals or children for fear that other inmates may retaliate against them or that they may lose status among their peers.
HSUS: Where is violence against animals coming from? Are criminals witnessing it in others? Convicted serial killer Ted Bundy recounted being forced to watch his grandfathers animal abuse.
BRANTLEY: For the most part, in my experience, offenders who harm animals as children pretty much come up with this on their own. Quite often they will do this in the presence of others and teach it to others, but the ones with a rich history of violence are usually the instigators. Some children might follow along to be accepted, but the ones we need to worry about are the one or two dominant, influential children who initiate the cruelty.
HSUS: What components need to be present for you to think a child or adolescent is really in trouble?
BRANTLEY: You have to look at the quality of the act and the frequency and severity. If a child kicks the dog when somebodys been aggressive toward him, thats one issue, but if its a daily thing or if he has a pattern of tormenting and physically torturing the family dog or cat, thats another. I would look to see if the pattern is escalating. I look at any type of abuse of an animal as serious to begin with, unless I have other information that might explain it. It should not be dismissed. Ive seen it too often develop into something more severe.
Some types of abuse, for example, against insects, seem to be fundamentally different. Our society doesnt consider insects attractive or worthy of affection. But our pets are friendly and affectionate and they often symbolically represent the qualities and characteristics of human beings. Violence against them indicates violence that may well escalate into violence against humans.
You also need to look at the bigger picture. Whats going on at home? What other supports, if any, are in place? How is the child doing in school? Is he drinking or doing drugs?
HSUS: We are familiar with the "classic" cases of serial killers, like Jeffrey Dahmer, who had early histories of animal abuse (see the Summer 1986 HSUS News). Are there any recent cases you have worked on?
BRANTLEY: The Jason Massey case jumps out as being a prominent one. This was a case from 1993 in
He was convicted of murder. I was brought in for the sentencing phase to testify as to his dangerousness and future threat to the community. The prosecutors knew that he was a prolific killer of animals and that he was saving the body parts of these animals. The prosecutor discovered a cooler full of animal remains that belonged to Massey and brought it to the courtroom for the sentencing hearing. It caused the jurors to react strongly, and ultimately the sentence was death.
HSUS: Mr. Massey had been institutionalized at his mothers request two years before the murders since she was aware of his diaries, which recorded his violent fantasies and his animal killings, yet he was released. Do you think that mental health officials have been slower than law enforcement agencies in taking animal abuse seriously?
BRANTLEY: Weve made this a part of a lot of our training for local police, and I think most police recognize that when they see animal mutilation or torture that they need to check it out; but police have triage and prioritize their cases. We try to tell people that investigating animal cruelty and investigating homicides may not be mutually exclusive.
We are trying to do the same for mental health professionals. We offer training to forensic psychiatrists through a fellowship program and provide other training to the mental health community. I think psychiatrists are receptive to our message when we can give them examples and case studies demonstrating this connection. The word is getting out.
HSUS: Do you think more aggressive prosecution of animal-cruelty cases can help get some people in the legal system who might otherwise slip through?
BRANTLEY: I think that it is a legitimate way to deal with someone who poses a threat. Remember, Al Capone was finally imprisoned for income-tax evasion rather than for murder or racketeeringcharges which could never be proven.
HSUS: Have you ever encountered a situation where extreme or repeated animal cruelty is the only warning you see in an individual, where there is no other violent behavior? Or does such abuse not occur in a vacuum?
BRANTLEY: I would agree with that last concept. But lets say that you do have a case of an individual who seems not to have had any other adjustment problems but is harming animals. What that says is that while, up to that point, there is no documented history of adjustment problems, there are adjustment problems now and there could be greater problems down the road. We have some kids who start early and move toward greater and greater levels of violence, some who get into it starting in adolescence, and some who are adults before they start to blossom into violent offenders.
HSUS: Do you find animal cruelty developing in those who have already begun killing people?
BRANTLEY: We know that certain types of offenders who have escalated to human victims will, at times, regress back to earlier offenses such as making obscene phone calls, stalking people, or killing animals. Rarely, if We know that certain types of offenders who have escalated to human victims will, at times, regress back to earlier offenses such as making obscene phone calls, stalking people, or killing animals. Rarely, if ever, do we see humans being killed as a precursor to the killing of animals.
HSUS: How would you respond to the argument that animal cruelty provides an outlet that prevents violent individuals from acting against people?
BRANTLEY: I would disagree with that. Animal cruelty is not as serious as killing human beings, we have to agree to that, but certainly its moving in a very ominous direction. This is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign that this individual is not mentally healthy and needs some sort of intervention. Abusing animals does not dissipate those violent emotions; instead, it may fuel them.
HSUS: What problems do you have in trying to assess the dangerousness of a suspect or a known offender?
BRANTLEY: Getting background information is the main problem. People know this person has done these things, but there may be no record or we havent found the right people to interview.
HSUS: Thats one of the reasons why we have put an emphasis on stronger anticruelty laws and more aggressive enforcementto get such information on the record.
BRANTLEY: A lot of times, people who encounter this kind of behavior are looking for the best in people. We also see cases where people are quite frankly afraid to get involved, because if they are dealing with a child or adult who seems to be bizarre or threatening, they are afraid that he or she may no longer kill animals but instead come after them. Ive seen a lot of mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and private citizens who dont want to get involved because they are afraid and for good reason. There are very scary people out there doing scary things. Thats largely why they are doing it and talking about it: they want to intimidate and shock and offend, sometimes regardless of the consequences.
HSUS: Is there hope for such an individual?
BRANTLEY: The earlier you can intervene, the better off youll be. I like to be optimistic. I think in the vast majority of cases, especially if you get to them as children, you can intervene. People shouldnt discount animal abuse as a childish prank or childish experimentation.
HSUS: Have you ever seen any serial killers who have been rehabilitated?
BRANTLEY: Ive seen no examples of it and no real efforts to even attempt it! Even if you had a program that might work, the potential consequences of being wrong and releasing someone like that greatly outweigh the benefits of attempting it, in my opinion.
HSUS: There is also a problem in trying to understand which acts against animals and others are associated with the escalation of violence, since police records, if they exist, are often unavailable or juvenile offenses are expunged. Sometimes only local humane societies or animal-control agencies have any record. The HSUS hopes to facilitate consolidating some of those records.
BRANTLEY: That would be great. If animal-cruelty investigators are aware of a case such as a sexual homicide in their community and they are also aware of any animal mutilation going on in the same area, I would encourage them to reach out to us.
Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., is HSUS vice president, Training Initiatives.
Ann Church is HSUS deputy director, Government Affairs.
This information is provided with permission from The Humane Society of the