Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Francis Heaulme, a French serial killer known as the ‘Criminal Backpacker.’ He is thought to have taken 9 or more victims, who were raped and either strangled or stabbed. Here are my answers to their questions, published on 9th August 2012.
Francis’s father beat him. But Francis would regularly witness his dad being laughed at by other relatives for his thick regional accent. What affect would this have had on the young boy?
Francis’s father was clearly taking out his anger on his son. In order to cope with being bullied and made to feel small, he re-enacted the same bullying behaviour he was experiencing with his own son, who would have also felt small and weak in comparison to his father. This set up a pattern for Francis to later go on to take out his own anger on those weaker than himself. Francis learned from a very young age that you endure pain from those who are superior and give pain to those who are inferior. This was, in many ways, the cycle of life for Francis, rather like the animal kingdom where superior animals attack inferior animals to survive and establish their place in the world. Francis was establishing his ‘place’ in the world when he committed these horrendous crimes.
Are children who grow up with alcoholic parents more likely to become alcoholics themselves? Why should this be?
Children of alcoholics are as much as four times more likely than other children to become alcoholics. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, children learn from watching their parents drinking behaviour and thus alcoholism is somewhat normal to them. Secondly, some research shows a genetic aspect to addictive behaviours such as alcoholism. This is not to say, however, that all children of alcoholics will become alcoholics. Indeed, in many cases, children of alcoholics go in the complete opposite direction and remain abstinent due to the impact they have seen alcohol have on others.
On 5 April 1989, Francis killed a 9-year-old boy. He then went to a psychiatric hospital and told the staff what he’d done. Why would someone in his position do that?
I don’t feel that Francis realised the full extent of his crimes, nor did he feel like his crimes were such ‘a big deal.’ Indeed, he often downplayed the murders by referring to them as ‘pépins’ or ‘trifles.’ While serial killers are often intelligent and calculated, evidence suggests that Francis was intellectually lacking and did not necessarily understand the severity of his crimes.
What gratification would he have got from facilitating and watching rapes? And why would he kill the victim after his cousin had raped her?
Since Francis had Klinefleter Syndrome, he could not partake in the rape aspect of these joint attacks on innocent women. He could, however, exert his masculinity via taking the victims life after she had been raped. Murder, for Francis, was the equivalent of rape and the taking of something valuable from the victim – in this case, their life.
He was fascinated by beaches where he could watch women sunbathe, and yet he seemed sexless himself. How would he have coped with this conflict between sexual desire and sexual inability? If, of course, he felt any conflict at all.
Francis would have coped with the conflict between sexual desire and sexual inability by obsessing over women, watching others in sexual acts (as he did with 14-year old Laurence Guillaime), and by exerting his masculinity in other ways, such as murder. If Francis had come from a different background he might have developed other coping mechanisms, but his father taught him to express anger and masculinity through violence.
In police interviews, he referred to his crimes as pépins, or trifles. But he also went into great details about how the crimes had been committed. Why was he so keen to trivialise them on the one hand, and glorify them on the other?
Referring to the crimes as pépins or trifles, Francis was doing exactly the same as when he provided details regarding his crimes – bragging. By implying they were mere ‘trifles,’ Francis was indicating that the crimes were easy for him, unlike other things in life such as sexual relations. It appears that a huge motivation behind his crimes was to express masculinity and to prove that despite his sexual problems he was still a strong, powerful man. He used bragging to intensify this message.
He claimed his victims had provoked him by wearing skirts etc. Could he have believed this to be true?
Yes. Serial killers need very little excuse to kill – a look; an item of clothing; the victim being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. It is not uncommon for serial killers to find ‘messages’ in the subtlest of details, such as a skirt being an invitation to kill.
After his arrest, he was diagnosed with Klinefleter Syndrome. Would the physical and mental effects of this condition, and his own relationship with them, have played a part in his crimes?
Most certainly. As described throughout, Francis was driven by a need to exert his masculinity. Some of the symptoms of Klinefleter Syndrome challenge feelings of masculinity – abnormally large breasts, less than normal amount of pubic hair, and sexual problems. These symptoms are likely to have been both physically and mentally distressing.