Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Luis Garavito, also known as ‘La Bestia’ (‘The Beast’). Garavito is a Colombian rapist and serial killer who admitted to the rape and murder of 147 young boys. Here are my answers to their questions, published on 23rd August 2012.
How did being the oldest of seven siblings in a very poor family affect Luis?
Birth order does affect us. Being the oldest child within a large family is not easy. Garavito would have been, according to psychologists, ‘dethroned’ each time a younger sibling arrived. This can lead to jealousy, anger, and a huge amount of pressure to regain parent’s attention. Being the eldest within the family brings responsibility and parents will often look to the eldest child for support with looking after the younger children. Being the eldest in such a large family is particularly stressful and can lead to a child having to take on adult responsibilities – losing out on their childhood.
And does poverty in general affect children in a negative way?
While there has been little research on how poverty affects children, more is known about how poverty during childhood impacts later adulthood. Young adults who experience poverty as children have been found to be in more trouble with the law and have spent time in prison. School truancy, which is common in families struggling financially, can lead to loss of opportunity and unemployment in adulthood.
Did his rape as a child motivate in some way his later crimes?
Rape was the key motivator within Garavito’s killing spree and it is likely that his own experience of sexual abuse played a role in this. Garavito wanted to put himself on the other side of the experience – he no longer wanted to be the victim or the vulnerable child; he wanted to be the one in control, the one with the power. Of course, not all people who have experienced sexual abuse go on to commit the atrocious acts that Garavito did, but along with his experiences and his biology, the rape he endured manifested into the rape and murder of what he once was – a young boy. In many ways, murdering these boys could have been Garavito’s attempt to ‘murder’ his own trauma.
He had a limited education of no more than five years and went to work on the streets as a peddlar. Does a lack of education have a part in the crimes he committed?
Limited education can impact behaviour in a number of ways. Children not receiving education tend to be involved in illegal acts, drugs, and risk-taking behaviour. Lack of education generally leads to fewer opportunities in life, which can lead to social exclusion and feelings of anger. It does appear that poverty impacted Garavito’s education, which in turn contributed to his crimes.
What role does alcohol play in Luis’s story?
Alcohol played two key roles in Garavito’s story. Firstly, he had a long history of abusing alcohol. Secondly, he would use promises of alcohol (among other things) to lure in his victims. Tangled within his alcoholism was depression and suicidal tendencies. Garavito seemed to use alcohol to escape feelings of depression and yet it was when drunk that he committed most of his crimes. Alcohol has a tendency to exaggerate the emotion already being experienced – in this case, feelings of depression. This would have made Garavito much more likely to look for other means to escape these dark feelings. When intoxicated people generally have less inhibitions, which is extremely dangerous in situations where the drinker is psychologically damaged.
He beheaded each of his known victims. How could he bring himself to commit such a violent act?
The fact that Garavito was drunk during these attacks can in part explain his ability to be so violent – lack of inhibition in the hands of a depressed, angry, and abused man can, alarmingly lead to such violent acts. For most of us, beheading someone is seen as violent, but Garavito had his own definition of violence, which clearly had no limits when intoxicated.
When he was arrested, he was very helpful to the police, drawing them maps of his victims’ burial spots. Why would a killer do this?
There could be a number of motives behind why Garavito was so helpful to the police. One motive is the hope of getting a lighter punishment. We know this would never happen due to the severity of his crimes, but Garavito would have been desperate at this point and grasping at straws. Another motive is to present an air of power and authority – to ‘show off’ as he points to where his victims were. Lastly, Garavito might have felt remorse and wanted to demonstrate this by finally helping put his victims to rest.