The Investigative Significance of Fantasy in Sex-Related Incidents

©2004 Vernon J. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation
Excerpt from Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation: Practical and Clinical Perspectives
CRC Press, LLC, 2003

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Human sexuality is a complex dynamic comprised of three components. The three components of the human sex drive are biological (instinctive), physiological (functional), and emotional (psychosexual). The emotional or mental component is the manifestation of the culmination of our psychosexual and psychosocial development coupled with parenting, modeling, culture and environment. Basically, the integration of cognitive, emotional, sensual and behavioral experiences of the individual provide for a unique personal pattern of sexual activities that formulate a template or "roadmap" of an individual's sexual behavior, desires and fantasies.

According to experts, the psychosexual or emotional component is the strongest of the three, accounting for approximately 70% of the human sex drive. Since emotions are controlled by the mind, it follows that, "The mind controls the act". Hence, if the mind has constructed a roadmap of deviant psychosexual means of expression the actions of the individual will be equally dysfunctional.

Fantasies, which are conjured up in the mind based upon our psychosocial and psychosexual development are a "normal" consequence of our human sexuality.

All human sexual activities are initiated through fantasies, which are mental images usually involving some fulfilled or unfulfilled desire. Fantasy plays a major role in everyone's sexual behavior. It is the drive factor for sexual expression. Sexual fantasies normally consist of imaginations and/or a series of mental images that are sexually stimulating. The contrast of these "normal" fantasies would be the aberrant development of bizarre mental images involving grotesque unnatural distortions of sexual imagery.

For the sexual predator:

1.  The underlying stimulus oftentimes is expressed through sexual aggression, domination, power and control.
2.  Sexual fantasies constructed around such themes begin to develop shortly after puberty.
3.  The individual becomes aroused with thoughts and fantasies of sexual aggression.
4.  Clinically speaking, the subject has developed a Paraphilic Lovemap where lust is attached to fantasies and practices that are socially forbidden, disapproved, ridiculed or penalized.

This paraphilic lovemap becomes resilient through repetition illustrated by the use of sadistic pornography and fantasy stories featuring sexual sadism. The "Signature" aspect is the end result of a number of biological, psychological and psychosocial factors that have combined to influence how an individual seeks sexual satisfaction or is able to sexually perform.

The nucleus of the "Signature" element begins at an early age and is reinforced through repetitive fantasy, masturbatory activity and situational "acting-out" of these themes in various non-criminal scenarios. "Acting out" these themes with consenting partners coupled with masturbatory activities eventually formulates the subject's "template" or "roadmap" which we refer to in law enforcement as the "signature" of the offender. In many cases the offenders used their girlfriends or prostitutes to "act-out" their sadistic fantasies. Interestingly, from an investigative perspective, the sexual crimes committed by the offender and the activities they engaged in with their consenting partners were almost mirror-image scenarios.

The signature aspect of a violent criminal offender is a unique and integral part of the offender's behavior. This signature component refers to the psychodynamics, which are the mental and emotional processes underlying human behavior and its motivation. (1)

The individual who is aroused with thoughts and fantasies of sexual aggression oftentimes incorporates elements into his life, which serve to enhance the fantasy in the form of engrams. An engram is a "mind picture" which is conjured up in the imagination and/or fantasy. Or, it may be predicated on a mental re-creation of an actual event. (1)

The author has investigated, supervised, consulted on, assessed and researched numerous cases in which photographs, drawings, video tapes, books, pornography in men's magazines, women's lingerie and clothing along with anatomically correct dolls were employed by offenders and/or persons who died as a result of autoerotic fatalities to stimulate themselves. In fact, empirical studies indicate that many sex offenders reported having masturbatory fantasies before acts of sexual aggression and that the content of the fantasy was similar to the nature of their sexual offense. In the author's opinion most sexual assaults and/or homicides are a direct result of an offender acting out a sexual fantasy.

Offenders and/or persons vested in a sexually arousing setting oftentimes use pictures from magazines and photographs to create or enhance fantasies. I consulted on a case involving an offender, who fantasized and enhanced his pornography by adding bindings to the women models. While engaged in consensual sex with a young woman, the offender couldn't perform. He proceeded to beat her about the face and head with a metal weapon. He then took a stick off the ground and rammed in into her vagina with such force that it broke off near her heart. He then posed the body at the scene with her legs spread apart and held in that position with a vine from the trees. This pose was the same as his pornography with the added bindings.

The author has numerous examples of this method of acting-out sadistic fantasies from criminal sexual assaults cases as well as autoerotic fatalities. Offenders use drawings and paintings as well as pornographic magazines and regular magazines to create specific and vivid presentations. I remember consulting one specific case where the subject had hundreds of drawings and paintings of women depicting gunshot and knife wounds. During the course of a domestic argument with his wife, the man became "out of control" and extremely agitated resulting in a Brief Psychotic Episode. This acute psychotic reaction would be described clinically as a temporary break from reality. It was during this psychotic break that the husband acted out his most primal and perverse sadistic fantasies on his wife's body. The wounds on his wife's body as well as the knife protruding from her chest bore an eerie resemblance to the drawings and paintings detectives located throughout the house.

In some cases the subject may alter existing photographs from pornographic magazines or even regular magazines in an attempt to visualize a fantasy. The alterations might include drawing blood marks or wounds on the photograph or adding bondage devices. The subject may even cut and paste other objects or parts of bodies onto existing pictures. The author reviewed a death investigation involving a male who had died during an autoerotic event. During the search detectives came upon a five-drawer metal cabinet, which contained hundreds of pornographic magazines, most of which dealt with bondage. The subject had cut and pasted various objects and faces on the models in the magazines. He had also created his own bondage fantasy by accenting the models pictures with objects placed into their sexual orifices.

The use of pornography to stimulate or enhance sexual activity can also provide an offender with the opportunity to re-live an actual event. The pornography can be used to reinforce a fantasy or in some cases the offender will have videotaped his victims in bondage or torture scenarios. I have several cases where offenders recorded their sexual assaults and even murders. These tapes are quite disturbing especially when one realizes that the victim, who is being sexually tortured and is pleading for her life, will soon be dead. The victim and her pleas for mercy are meaningless to the psychopathic sexual sadist, who views their struggles and pain as a form of entertainment, which he can replay over and over again for sexual satisfaction.

Maury Travis was a serial killer, who was estimated to have killed approximately 20 prostitutes in both Missouri and Illinois. He was arrested after an intensive investigation. He would dump his victim's bodies in different jurisdictions to confuse the authorities. When the detectives executed a search warrant on his house they discovered that he had videotaped his victims as he acted out his perverse and brutal fantasies on them. Travis was heavily vested in S&M bondage fantasy and sexual slavery and had accumulated a number of Internet website references and materials that were significant to the investigation. Detectives found evidence of the murders in the house including the videotape as well as ligature, ropes, blood and some of the victim's clothing. Investigators also located several drawings and information that Travis had gathered relative to building a concrete block cell in the basement of his residence, which he could use to hold his captives.

I consulted on a serial murder case involving the sexual murder of five young women by an offender, who used his van as a torture chamber. Once he completed the sex act, he stripped and tortured them for hours using his tools from the van. He would then display their bodies. The cases were linked by the distinctive injuries caused by the tools he was using as well as the killer's focus on causing pain to the victim's breasts.

The significance of fantasy in this case was graphically revealed when pursuant to a search warrant detectives went to the killer's home and retrieved a number of items including a pornographic videotape entitled, "The Taming of Rebecca." This videotape contained a number of scenes, which were similar to what the offender was doing to his victims. The breast assault and paddling activities appeared to be based upon this sadomasochistic videotape, which seemingly fueled his increasingly sadistic activities. The offender used this videotape as a sexual turn-on and then reinforced his fantasies by "acting-out" the scenes with his live victims.

I have included some examples of actual writings of sexual sadists to present how significant these fantasies become in the actual analysis of the crimes.

"When I got to Denver there were a lot of sex shops. There I found bondage magazines and videos. Magazines with photos of beautiful women and young girls tied, bound and gagged in just about every way possible. I was in heaven. I bought lots of mags (sic) and videos. After a year or so of looking and watching I wanted the real thing. I wanted a woman to bound up and sexually abuse. It only changed though as the fact that I didn't want a willing partner as (NAME WITHHELD) had been. I wanted an unwilling partner. I would go out and walk the streets and visit clubs looking for the right woman or girl but that seemed about all I could do."

The offender described in his journal how he acted-out a bondage fantasy which was remarkably similar to the actual crimes he committed. It was also interesting to note that the Sexual Bondage & Discipline magazines he had purchased were reflected in his behavior with the consenting partners as well as his victims. The difference in his mind was that he was "Only Playing" with the consenting partner. The reality is evident in the actual police reports of his conduct with the victims. My review of the Journal entries as well as the police reports indicated a progression of activities as the offender repeatedly acted-out the scenarios depicted in the magazines and incorporated the pictures of the bound women into his fantasy system.

"I ordered her into the bedroom, stripped her nude, blindfolded her and taped her hands and feet. I forced her on her knees and made her (describes sex act)" She looked so incredible, nude and tied helplessly, forced to (describes sex act)"

"I ordered her to strip for me and made her wiggle her cute little ass as she took off her panties. Handcuffed her, forced her on the bed, tied her handcuffed wrists to the top of the bed frame, blindfolded and gagged her then (describes sex act) her."

A serial killer, who had disclosed to his fantasies to a cellmate, provided an excellent example of the time and effort a sexual sadist would devote to a fantasy driven expression of sexual violence.

The offender wanted to build underground caves out in the woods where he could keep his victims alive for a week or two before killing them. These caves would have "play rooms" where he could act-out his fantasies with his slaves. He was also going to construct long escape tunnels in order to avoid apprehension.

According to the cellmate, the subject would fantasize about torturing and killing young women so intensely that he would experience an orgasm. The cellmate reported that there was an emotional intensity in the subject's eyes once the subject began talking about his fantasies.

The subject fantasized about mutilating his victims with his knife while they were still alive. He wanted to cut off his victim's breasts and vaginas and shove beer bottles and other instruments into their sexual orifices. This proved quite significant considering what the subject did to two of his actual victims.

Many times an offender will have an extensive collection of downloaded materials on his computer hard drive as well as listings on his "favorite" sites, which may prove advantageous in the criminal investigation.

The advent of the Internet, which certainly represented technological progress, provides an abundance of information and contacts that can be effectively utilized to make our lives more comfortable. Today, computers and Internet access are affordable and available to everyone.

The down side to the Internet is that it also provides contacts, materials and information that might not be so beneficial. One of the most potential evils of this technological development is the proliferation of pornography and the easy access to this material on the net In fact, the Internet has proven to be a new sexual threat as predators use the net as a tool to seek out victims, stalk their prey and literally sneak into your home through the telephone lines.

The number of pedophile and sex-related events associated with the Internet that law enforcement has encountered is undeterminable. However, the author can state unequivocally that there has been a definite increase in sex-related events since the explosion of the Internet.

Serial Killer John Robinson, who used the Internet to advertise for women interested in becoming sex slaves is an excellent example of the downside of the Internet as well as the potential for evil. Robinson was charged with the murders of eight women, some of who were sexually assaulted before death. His computer was a treasure trove of information including downloaded materials and e-mail correspondence with this victims.

Prior to the Internet and the distribution of sexually explicit materials, the pervert or sex offender was ostracized by society. This effectively neutralized the sexual offender. However, an offender can go "on-line" and look for materials related to his specific sexual interest. The sexual pervert can go into chat rooms and meet other perverts just like him. He is, therefore, able to validate his perversion by discovering that there are others "just like him" and what he does is quote/unquote "perfectly normal" and acceptable behavior.

David Parker Ray created a Torture Chamber in which he would systematically engage in physical and psychological torture of his victims, whom he referred to as his "slaves." He was evidently was excited by the sight of his victim's suffering and helplessness, as he photographed and videotaped them. He reportedly experienced pleasurable sexual arousal through the infliction of various forms of both physical and emotional pain on the young women, whom he treated as objects. When he finished "playing" with them he would kill them. Ray would then get rid of the bodies of his victims by taking them out to rural areas around a large lake.

Inside the cargo trailer was a gynecology chair, with restraints and electrical wires. The silver wires running across the chair were used to cause pain and force the victim to move in various positions. He then would attach jumper cables to the victim's nipples and groin area. David Ray had placed TV monitor in the right-hand corner of the trailer so his victims, who were secured to the chair as he tortured them, could see what he was doing to them by looking at the monitor. He had a video camera focused on the gynecology chair to view his "operations." On the ceiling of the trailer were chains and pulleys directly over the gynecology chair. The walls of the cargo trailer were lined with shelving, photographs and drawings. On the shelves were various instruments. Authorities collected hundreds of items that had been used to torture victims. These included surgical tools, various sexual devices, different size dildos, ropes, chains, a mechanical dildo device, straps and harnesses, electric shock machines, First Aid supplies, anatomically correct dolls, which had miniature chains attached through their nipples.

David Parker Ray had incorporated his sadistic fantasy into a sickening reality. His live-in girlfriend Cindy and his daughter Jessie also participated in the sexual torture of many young women. Ray was suspect in the murders of over thirty missing women. The "Introductory Tape," which was played for each victim provided a graphic description of the tortures and sexual humiliation the "slave" would endure. The tape was in effect, David Parker Ray's sexual fantasies spelled out in his own words. In fact, authorities recovered eight audiotapes that David Ray recorded that go into precise details of the tortures and sexual abuse. The scope of the significance of this sadistic sexual fantasy was not realized until the tapes had been transcribed and the "Living witnesses" had been debriefed by authorities.

In this article we discussed how important fantasy was to the offender and how fantasy plays a major role in the offender's sexual behavior acting as the drive factor for sexual expression. In sexual predation the underlying stimulus is expressed through sexual aggression, domination, power and control. These individuals are aroused with thoughts and fantasies of sexual aggression which they reinforce through repetition illustrated by the use of sadistic pornography, drawings, video tapes, books, women's lingerie and clothing along with anatomically correct "Barbie Dolls" and fantasy stories featuring sexual sadism.

The accumulation of materials, including "rape and/or murder" kits that the offender used to control his victims and enhance his sexual fantasies are an integral part of the offense and can be introduced into evidence as an example of the role of fantasy. Therefore, the investigator should incorporate into his or her search warrant application a list of the type of materials one would expect to recover from the offender's residence or workplace.

Detectives involved in the investigation of sex-related homicides and deaths should be aware of the role of fantasy in sex-related homicides and accidental deaths due to sexual asphyxia. Fantasy fuels the mental and emotional processes underlying human behavior revealed in the crime scene or accidental death event. The presentation in an autoerotic death case is oftentimes manifestation of a particular theme based on a sexual fantasy. Fantasy also serves as an indication of the "signature" of an offender, which enables detectives to link an offender to a particular series of crimes committed by that offender.

Sexual sadists rely heavily on fantasy and ritual to obtain sexual satisfaction. There is an element of compulsivity as well as an obsession on the part of the sexual sadist to keep trophies and recordings of the event. Photographs of the victims played a significant part in their rituals as well as their ability to recall their sadistic acts.

Therefore, the author recommends that any search warrant applications in these type cases should certainly reference photographs as well as any records, scripts, letters, maps, diaries, drawings, audiotapes, videotapes, and newspaper reports of the crimes as possible evidence to be seized.

Vernon Geberth, M.S., M.P.S., retired from the NYPD Homicide Division with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He may be reached at

(1) DeRiver, J.Paul. Crime and the Sexual Psychopath. Springfield, IL.:Charles C. Thomas & Co., Inc. 1958.

These copyrighted materials have been excerpted with permission of the author from Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigations: Practical and Clinical Perspectives CRC Press, Boca Raton Florida, 2003.

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