Richard Trenton Chase: a psychobiography of the "Dracula Killer"
This study is a psychobiography of serial murderer, Richard Trenton Chase (1950 – 1980). Serial murder is a complex phenomenon that seems to remain with humankind despite multiple efforts to understand and reduce its occurrence. The workings of the minds of serial murderers continue to bemuse and fascinate scholars and even in our modern-day existence more can be learnt in this regard. The primary aim of this study was to explore and describe the psychodynamic life of Chase with specific reference to (a) his psychosocial personality development through the use of Erikson’s (1950, 1963, 1968, 1977) theory, and (b) his functioning as a serial murderer through the use of Claus and Lidberg’s (1999) Schahriar syndrome model. Within this single case psychobiographical research design the theory and the model were systematically used to reinterpret and reconstruct Chase’s life into an illuminating psychological narrative. Chase was an American serial murderer who killed six people in the span of a month in Sacramento, California. He was selected as the subject for this psychobiography through a non-probability purposive sampling procedure. “The Vampire of Sacramento” and “The Dracula Killer” are his famous nicknames because he usually drank his victims’ blood and cannibalised their remains. Although his case is often lectured about in the fields of forensics and investigative services, Chase’s personality development, motivations and psychological underpinnings as serial murderer have not yet been comprehensively explored and/or studied. Furthermore, no psychobiography had previously been done on Chase. Chase’s life history was uncovered in this psychobiography through systematic and consistent collection, analysis and interpretation of available biographical data which consisted mostly of published materials. Five significant historical life periods were highlighted and salient themes in the collected data were identified and extracted for analysis through the use of Alexander’s (1988, 1990) model. Additionally, data were organised and integrated in a conceptual matrix which further guided the analysis and the presentation and discussion of the findings. The secondary aim of this study was to informally test the content and aspects of Erikson’s (1950, 1963, 1968, 1977) psychosocial personality development theory and Claus and Lidberg’s (1999) Schahriar syndrome model through analytical generalisation (Yin, 2009). The findings of this study suggested that Chase had difficulty with his psychosocial personality development and that it was largely unfavourable. According to the findings, Chase also exhibited the five primitive psychic mechanisms in his functioning as serial murderer and thus fulfilled the criteria of the proposed Schahriar syndrome. Furthermore, this study supported the applicability and relevance of Erikson’s (1950, 1963, 1968, 1977) theory for gaining a psychological understanding of the individual. In addition, the findings supported the use of Claus and Lidberg’s (1999) Schahriar syndrome model to provide a systematic psychological understanding of serial murderers’ functioning.