One of history’s most notorious and blatantly evil psychopathic serial killers is the Scottish born Ian Brady (1938-2017), murderer of five young children on the Moors of northern England in the 1960s, along with his accomplice Myra Hindley (1942-2002).
The crimes they committed were horrific and are still shocking to read about today. Hindley and Brady lured young children into their car and then took them to their house or up on the Moors, sexually assaulting and killing them before burying them there. Some of their behavior was sickeningly evil and made them hate figures in the public up until their death.
Unlike most psychopaths, with Ian Brady there has never been any facade of normalcy or mask of sanity. He never showed any remorse for the killings he committed nor the damage and pain they caused in the lives of the victim’s families and was engaged in ongoing legal battles with authorities about his treatment right up until his death in May 2017, seeing himself as the one being wronged.
He never had the faintest understand he had done anything wrong, seeing the killings as an “existential exercise”. This is a more extreme example of the empathy failure all psychopaths are known for, though few go as far as Brady did in the acts of evil. He stands almost alone amongst even serial killers in the evil of the acts he committed and the brazenness with which he admitted to and refused to apologize for them.
Brady displayed many classic psychopathic traits which we will go into in this article, but the most prominent one is the extreme need for control over his environment and over others, which seemed to dominate his life. A lack of empathy was also clearly apparent, as well as denial, dishonesty and the relentless projection of blame onto others. Let’s look at some of these traits in more detail.
2012 Documentary on the Psychopathy of Ian Brady
Ian Brady eventually died in May 2017
Brady’s Pure Evil and Psychopathy
The psychopathic traits of Ian Brady were so obviously extreme that the term “evil” is most often used to describe him. There can be no other way to describe the things he did to vulnerable children, and his complete lack of remorse for his actions right up until his death. He was surely one of the most evil people who has ever existed.
His killings revealed a deep cruelty and sadism to his character, with nothing seemingly off limits to him in terms of what he would do for his “existential exercise”. His sadism is what gave him pleasure in the fear and terror he induced in his young victims, as well as his extreme need for control over others.
He even went as far as recording audio tapes of one of his killings, and kept “trophies” of the killings in terms of personal possessions of the victims as is common with psychopathic killers. He frequently returned to the burial sites of his victims with Myra Hindley to cement his sense of control over them.
All of these behaviors reveals a deep sickness and abnormality which defined Brady’s character, going beyond even what most other psychopathic killers are capable of. To do what he did shows a complete lack of empathy for his victims and this added to the lack of remorse makes the diagnosis of psychopathy as easy as it will ever be for someone.
Psychopathy as Incurable
Ian Brady gave the best possible demonstration of the fundamentally incurable nature of psychopathy in his life in various prisons and mental hospitals. He refused to show any remorse for his actions until his death and psychologist Jeremey Coid, who interviewed Brady in 2003, summed up the brutal approach he had as such:
“When I interviewed him, he was absolutely adamant that he had no remorse whatsoever, and he told me everyone would wait til doomsday before he would express any remorse for what he had done”
This is typical of psychopathy and reveals a very deep psychological sickness inside Brady which no amount of treatment could ever hope to cure. Psychopaths are simply not wired the same way as normal, feeling people and have the crucial emotional fail-safes missing that most people have, such as empathy, compassion, remorse and so on.
Moreover, Brady was a cast iron example of the fact that attempts to punish a psychopath into changing are bound to failure. He was engaged in legal battles throughout his incarcerated life over his treatment, mainly around his belief that he should be allowed to die.
Judges and authorities refused him this request, the implicit message being that he should face prison for his entire natural life for the crimes he committed and not be allowed to take what was seen as “the easy way out” by allowing himself to die.
Authorities hid behind the judgement that he was not mentally fit to make a decision on whether to end his life by himself, and thus justified a decision to continue to keep force feeding him against his will. This so called “hunger strike” was later exposed to be a charade, but is symptomatic of the power games psychopaths like to play with anyone who tries to control them.
Obsession With Control
One factor that stands out in Brady’s character, both in the documentary above and in other accounts of his life, is an obsessive and extreme desire for control that is symptomatic of all psychopaths. Seemingly everything Brady did appeared to revolve around control of those around him.
Time and again, those who have interacted with him since his incarceration, including the numerous psychiatrists who assessed him, have all confirmed that control is a crucial factor in Brady’s personality. All interviews with him are battles of will and control. He is trying to manipulate anyone he comes into contact with for his own ends.
This desire for control in the psychopath essentially derives from a lack of control and order within their psyche. Their attempts to control the outside world of people and things is a consequence of the lack of control they have psychologically inside themselves. Their internal world feels a mess so they try to control the external world as a kind of compensation.
The more extreme the internal pathology, the more extreme the need for control over the outer world, and so this is the way it played out with Brady. The depth of his mental sickness determined the depth to which he tried to control others.
He controlled Hindley with his poisonous ideologies of Hitler and others, he controlled his victims before he killed them, and he also controlled them afterwards by revisiting their burial sites and taking sick photos of him doing this with Hindley.
His control also extended right up until his death in his refusal to reveal the burial site of Keith Bennett, the only one of his five known victims whose remains were never found. Despite multiple appeals and pleas from Bennett’s mother and others, he would never reveal the burial place and this is another aspect of maintaining some sense of control over the situation to shore up his own disordered psyche.
He did at one point visit the Moors, ostensibly in an attempt to help police locate the body, but the account of the incident is interesting and possibly hints at more games being played by Brady. He is said to have moved purposefully in a certain direction, before then claiming to be disorientated by changes in the landscape. The body was never found. See the embedded documentary for an account of this incident.
Psychiatrist Professor Malcolm MacCulloch offers an interesting possible interpretation of this event in the sense of another game being played, with Brady again perhaps secretly finding but withholding the location for his own entertainment and sense of control:
“It’s just possible that Ian Brady was on the Moor, and checked the site, without letting on as it were. Final control is the possession of the body. ‘I know, you don’t know, you want to know, and I’m not gonna tell you'”
This sounds like an of an extreme interpretation for a normal person but is totally possible for a psychopath, given the extreme need for control and the malevolence of Brady. Unfortunately we will now never know since Brady died in 2017 and Bennett’s body has never been found.
Brady also wrote a letter to Keith Bennett’s mother – covered in the above documentary – but instructed it only be opened after his death. The contents were unknown but may possibly have been the burial site of Bennett.
Bennett’s mother sadly died in 2012 without finding her son’s body but again this was about control and a power play by Brady. He was quite possibly playing on the fact that authorities were not allowing him to die, and so in response he was saying “If you’re not going to allow me to die, I’m not going to tell you where Keith is buried”.
In that sense, by trying to control Brady in terms of not allowing him to starve himself, they were playing into his hands and allowing him to hold power over Bennett’s mother. Would it have been a better approach to allow Brady to die earlier, which would have then possibly allowed Winnie Bennett to open the letter and possibly find her son?
We will never know, and the letter itself may have been a hoax and contained no information about his resting place. Such is the problem dealing with psychopaths; you cannot easily separate fact from fiction and lies from honesty. They are constantly trying to manipulate situations and people for their own ends. Their staying in control comes before anything else.
There is something basically missing in psychopaths that makes them not completely human emotionally and this was never more obvious than in Brady.
There is basically something incomprehensible normal, feeling people find about the extreme serial killers we see like Brady. There is a level of evil and inhumanness there that we cannot relate to. Psychiatrist Jeremy Coid summed up this fundamental, incurable sickness in Brady as follows:
“This is someone who has had grossly abnormal personality traits – sadism, intermittent mental illness, but most of all the psychopathic personality. And this has been present since childhood. throughout his adolescence, has continued, and although he’s older, the same features of his abnormal personality are as live today as they were right back at the beginning”
Professor Jeremy Coid, psychiatrist
This emphasizes that despite his convictions, the public hatred and vilification, pleas to humanity from the victim’s families, and assessment by numerous psychologists, he has remained completely unrepentant and unremorseful for the evil crimes he committed. He never thought he did anything wrong, right up until his death.
This touches upon the issue of psychopathy as coming from a sense of moral deviancy and being an act of wilfull evil and destructiveness. We have touched on this in our article on whether psychopaths can be cured.
The Ian Brady’s of the world are actively directing their will towards being the sadistic psychopaths they are, and actively resisting any efforts to change or reform them. Any attempts to do so make them all the more determined to be the way they are, and any attempts to control them only provoke them to take action to re-establish some sense of psychological control.
There is no hope of ever reaching these people; we can only hope that research into psychopathy can spot these characters earlier, before they can commit so much evil in the world and destroy the lives of others.
See also this interesting article by Professor Jeremy Coid, a psychiatrist who interviewed Brady in 2003.