Why Do Serial Killers Often Wet The Bed As Kids?

Our interest in serial killers is easily explained, according to Time. True crime stories can reportedly cause an influx of adrenaline in the viewer or reader, a sort of fearful fascination in these awful incidents. Beyond this, though, we're also desperate to try to understand what drives people to commit the worst of acts.

The most infamous killers often had troubled childhoods. Jeffrey Dahmer, per ThoughtCo, was a joyful and energetic child, before having a hernia operation at 6 years old. After this, he withdrew. He seemed detached from his emotions, and in his adolescence and early adulthood, Dahmer secretly collected the dead bodies of animals that he found in the roads to keep the bones that fascinated him so. Gathering roadkill may be something of an alarming anomaly, but there is one childhood trait that many serial killers seem to have shared — wetting the bed. 

The Child Psychology Service reports that youthful bedwetting (or enuresis) needn't be indicative of a problem in and of itself. There are a variety of factors at play: the frequency of wetting, the age of the child, and whether the incidents are primary (occur before a child is fully toilet-trained) or secondary (after a child is toilet-trained) must be considered. However, the potential underlying causes are what lead to the serial killer connection.

Childhood trauma and the connection to violent crime

The Child Psychology Service also states that there's a possible link between urinating in the bed and childhood trauma. Children who have tragically been neglected, for instance, may have been left in soiled diapers. Others may have been punished for having an accident or otherwise not received the care, attention, and encouragement required to master the bathroom. Insecurity, anxiety, and trauma such as this characterize the Macdonald Triad, a list of three traits that supposedly suggest that somebody may become a serial killer.

This "triad," according to Healthline, is named for J.M. Macdonald, a psychiatrist who published a 1963 study of previous research into links between childhood behavior and later violent crimes, including serial killing. It indicated three particular behaviors that could be contributory: animal cruelty, starting fires, and bed-wetting. 

The former two, according to Healthline, were linked by Macdonald to a feeling of helplessness (about their situation or their mistreatment at the hands of an adult) — a need to act aggressively against something they could overpower or control. Bedwetting, meanwhile, is connected in the report to a feeling of overriding humiliation that also instigates the other two behaviors.

As Psychology Today reports, the so-called Triad of Evil has a lot of detractors for its limitations (lacking depth and small sample sizes). Still, it has been very influential in spreading the story that serial killers often wet the bed as children.