The Sexual Sadist

What do David Parker Ray, Robert Berdella, Lawrence Bittaker, Ian Brady, Mike DeBardeleben, Gary Heidnick, Leonard Lake, Hermann Mudgett, Gary Taylor, and Fred West have in common? They all made the list of the top ten worst sexually sadistic killers.

Sexual sadism is considered a mental disorder; it is one of several paraphilias. A paraphilia is characterized by an obsession with unusual sexual practices and/or with actual sexual activity with nonconsensual persons and animals. Pedophilia, voyeurism, and exhibitionism are additional types of paraphilias. It is estimated that sexual sadists are responsible for between seven and ten percent of all sex crimes. Sexual sadists are predominately male, however there is a prevalence of female domatrixes in sadomasochism pornography.

A sexual sadist has intense fantasies and/or performs acts because he desires complete sexual, physical, emotional or psychological domination over another person. Sexual sadism may be either physical or psychological in nature. Sadistic acts range from behaviors that do not physically harm another, (although it may be humiliating to the other person such as, being urinated or defecated on), to criminal, violent, and potentially deadly behavior. The essential feature of sexual sadism is not in the feeling of sexual excitement resulting from the infliction of true pain on the victim, but rather it is from witnessing his or her suffering. In extreme cases, sexual sadism can lead to serious injury or death. Mental health experts agree that these catastrophic results are more likely when the sadism is diagnosed as severe, and when it is associated with an antisocial personality disorder (a psychopath).

Sexual sadism needs to be differentiated from normal sexual arousal, behavior, and experimentation between consenting adults. Some forms of mild aggression, such as love bites, pats or scratching, are within the range of normal behavior during sexual intercourse. With a consenting couple the sadistic behavior generally only involves mild pain and/or the simulation of more dangerous pain. The intent is mutual excitement.

The true sexual sadist is cruel and his actions are not wanted by the victim. For example, spanking involves only minimal pain; whereas whipping, shocking, burning, beating, stabbing, strangling, raping, mutilation and murder indicate torture and suffering. Restraint between adults is very different than imprisonment in a cage shackled with chains. Mild sadism is referred to as S&M and frequently involves bondage, discipline, dominance and submission. Mild sadists seek out masochistic partners, and their behaviors are consensual. Major sadism however is not consensual and can involve injury and death. The sadist wants not only complete control and compliance; he wants his victim to feel fear. It is this fear that turns him on.

Sexual sadists tend to relate to people in terms of power versus affection. In general, they commit more violent crimes than other offenders and are more aggressive. This corresponds with the psychopathy they display. Psychopaths are predatory; they lack the ability to feel empathy or remorse. They plan and they rehearse. Psychopaths are also traditionally charming and charismatic. The psychopathic sexual sadist usually has no problem finding a partner or several accomplices to his crimes if he so desires.

Dr. J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, provides additional characteristics of a psychopathic sexual sadist:

  • Impersonation of law enforcement
  • Abduction of victim to a pre-selected location
  • Binding of the victim
  • Emotional detachment during attack
  • Rape often leads to murder, usually by strangulation
  • Murdered victim is generally concealed
  • Offender records his activities
  • Victims are most likely strangers
  • Attack is methodical and repeated from one victim to another
  • In virtually all cases of sexual sadism, including sexual homicide rehearsal fantasy is a prerequisite

There are several types of rapists ranging anywhere from the opportunistic to the sexually sadistic to the gang rapist. The anger-excitation rapist, also referred to as the sexually sadistic rapist, is the most dangerous. These sadistic rapists actually despise women; considering them as bitches, sluts and whores. He seeks complete control over this enemy. He has a plan that he knows how to execute, and will do it over and over for as long as he can get away with it. The torture will intensify if he has the time. He rehearses every detail, and he has all of the necessary equipment to play out and his fantasies.

David Parker Ray is suspected by police to have murdered as many as sixty people in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Ray tortured and killed his victims in a $100,000 homemade torture chamber he called his "toy box" that contained a gynecological exam table and was equipped with whips, chains, pulleys, straps, clamps, leg spreader bars, an electronic generating device, a motorized breast stretcher box, as well as surgical blades and saws. A closed circuit television and camera were wired into the torture chamber so that a victim could be forced to watch their own torture. Along with numerous sex toys and torture implements there was a shocking device that was used in torture.

Another prolific serial sexual sadist murderer, James DeBardeleben, wrote out several hundred pages of note, creating a how to workbook for complete sexual control and domination. His "advice" included:

  • Get your satisfaction early
  • Isolate her and keep her dependent
  • Make all decisions
  • Prevent her from acquiring any skills
  • Don't let her get educated or have any power
  • Be ready to cut her loose if necessary
  • Never show weakness

DeBardeleben even offered his own definition of sadism: "the central impulse to have complete mastery over another person, to make him/her a helpless object of our will, to become her god." Sexual sadists frequently have violent fantasies that begin in childhood, however the onset of actual sadistic behaviors most often occur in early adult life. Once the sadistic behaviors begin, it will invariably continue on a chronic course. Acts of sexual sadism tend to grow more bizarre or violent over time. However, as male sadists grow older their ability to commit such acts decrease. Sexual sadism is rarely diagnosed in men over fifty. The prognosis is poor; there is no cure for sexual sadism; and an effective therapy and/or psychotropic medication regimen has not been developed.

Law Enforcement and the Sexual Sadist

Former FBI profiler Robert Hazelwood offers the following suggestions and tips for investigating a sexual sadist:

If, as a law enforcement officer, you are involved in a case with a suspected criminal sexual sadist realize that they can be, and often are, quite noteworthy adversaries. These criminals are psychopathic; cunning and sophisticated liars. The sadist views himself as more intelligent than the rest of society, especially law enforcement personnel. Additionally, he has usually mastered the art of deception. Even if he is confronted with hard evidence he will invariably rationalize his actions. He will not be moved by pleas for compassion; he is unable to feel guilt or remorse.

Finding witnesses to come forward can be a challenge as the sadist is sometimes able to force a victim into a compliant partner. Additionally, many victims may be unwilling to provide information due to the embarrassing nature of the crimes committed against them. Your best sources of information will come from ex-girlfriends and former spouses; they ended their relationship with the sadist usually due to his sexual fantasies and behaviors targeted towards them.

The search warrant will be one of your most effective tools. Sexual sadists ritualistically keep mementos from their victims, crime paraphernalia, written or audio/visual recordings of their crimes, weapons and other torture devices, and camera or video equipment; all of these items should be listed in your warrant. Additionally, the sexual sadist is usually a collector of pornography, women's underwear, sexual toys, detective magazines, and bondage paraphernalia.

Interviewing the sexual sadist is frequently difficult and exhausting. The interviewer should know everything possible about the suspect, including his strengths and weaknesses, prior to the initial questioning. Sexual sadists will frequently be agreeable to an in interview with law enforcement, even after being advised of their rights. They fully believe that they have the ability to outwit the detective and are convinced they will not divulge any incriminating information. More importantly, they expect to learn more about the status of the investigation during the interview.

The ideal detective is older, of larger stature and higher intelligence than the suspect; and should portray an image of confidence and relaxation. The suspect invariably remains calm during the primary interview, and because he craves attention may prattle for hours. He will try to manipulate the conversation, especially if he believes the detective is being friendly towards him. The interview needs to be conducted in a formal setting and with professionalism. Questions should be planned and structured so that the suspect cannot answer with a simple "no". A sexual sadist will probably attempt to anger, antagonize, or even shock the interviewer. Any demonstration of human emotion by the detective could undermine the interview; the suspect will view this as a victory and as further proof of his superiority.


It is essential that law enforcement officers understand the distinction between cruelty and sadism. A lot of your "impulsive" offenders are physically cruel to victims and may resort to violence during commission of a crime. The sexual sadist intentionally and methodically cruelly victimizes others for the sole purpose of self sexual-arousal. The sexual sadist is essentially the great white shark of sexual crimes. He is the ultimate predator. These criminals are ritualistic and psychopathic offenders who have no conscience.