Serial Killers Information Sheet

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In the United States at least, serial killers are most often white males. Other ethnicities that have
been involved include: African American, Hispanic, Native American, Arab, African, and Asian.
Females have consistently only accounted for 16% of all serial killers known since 1800. The
African American incidence is rising, from 10% of the total in 1975 to 21% of the total in 2004.
Most frequently, but not always, serial murder is intraracial - whites killing whites, blacks killing
blacks. Victims are often robbed, and many are raped before or after being killed, and bondage,
torture, dismemberment, and cannibalism are not uncommon. Motives speculated upon include
profit, ritual, political factors, social factors, moral factors, attention (mothers killing their
children), and compassion (frequent in medical-type serial murders).

 In many cases, the killer and victims are strangers who just recently met. Hickey (2002) reports
that 70% of serial killing is stranger crime (at one time called "stranger-on-stranger" crime, and
also at one time considered a type of "mass murder"), and 87% had at least one stranger in their
death count. Serial killers prey on strangers for unknown reasons (and there are sufficient
exceptions to the stranger pattern to say serial killers will also turn on those near them if
necessary). In almost all cases, the perpetrator carefully covered their tracks, reassumed a
normal-looking facade (e.g., farmer, doctor, businessman, harmless drifter, schoolteacher, law
school student, deputy sheriff, office manager), and waited days, weeks, or months before killing
again. Some studiously read police investigative manuals and familiarized themselves with all
aspects of police procedure. About a third are highly mobile and travel thousands of miles a year.

Experts argue with the FBI definition over how many victims (3) are required to define a serial
killer. Most agree that the "cooling-off" period and/or the fantasy reenactment cycle are the most
important component of definitions. Some killers get caught while others "burn out" or reach a
point where killing no longer satisfies them. Estimates vary over how many serial killers there
are; Giannangelo (1996) estimating 6,000 a year. Various authors have suggested that cooling
off periods should be defined as 15 days or 30 days, but this does not fit all known types of serial

Serial killing has been on the increase since 1970 (between 1950 -1995, 80% of all known serial
killers made their appearance) presently accounting for at least part of the 11,800 unsolved,
"motiveless" murders every year by persons unknown in the U.S. Worldwide, it occurs on every
continent, and appears to be rising more slowly in the Third World than in industrialized nations.
Nations with the most serial killings are the U.S.A, England, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark,
and Belgium. In Latin America, the nations are Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador mostly; in South
Asia, Pakistan; in Asia, China; in Africa, South Africa. Serial killing appears to be incurable:
neither time nor prison, convicted serial killers report, fully relieves the desire to kill.

   1. Serial killers are the same as mass murderers

Confusion often arises regarding the difference between a serial killer and mass murderer. The
difference is a temporal one. Serial killers kill several people over a period of days, weeks,
months, and even years. It is not a one-time event. The serial killer kills in cycles, shifting
between an active period and a cooling off period. A mass murderer, conversely, kills several
people in a matter of hours at most, murdering in an outburst without a cooling off period.
Usually mass murderers take all of their victims from one location, as in the recent tragedy at
Virginia Tech.

   2. Serial killers are complete losers who cannot function in society

Actually, this is the exception with serial killers and the reason why so many serial killers are
successful in their endeavor to get away with multiple murders. Ted Bundy is a perfect example
of such a serial killer. He was considered to be very charming, quite the lady's man. He seemed
to lead a very normal life, being someone that no one would have suspected to be the monster
that he was. It is for this reason that so many serial killers are successful in their endeavor to get
away with multiple murders.

Types of Serial Killers

Serial killers can be act-focused (who kill quickly), or process-focused (who kill slowly). For
act-focused killers, killing is simply about the act itself. Within this group, there are two different
types: the visionary and the missionary. The visionary murders because he hears voices or has
visions that direct him to do so. The missionary murders because he believes that he is meant to
get rid of a particular group of people.

Process-focused serial killers get enjoyment from torture and the slow death of their victims.
These include three different types -- lust, thrill and gain -- and power-seeking killers. Lust
killers derive sexual pleasure from killing. Thrill killers get a "kick" from it. Gain killers murder
because they believe they will profit in some way. Power killers wish to "play God" or be in
charge of life and death.

There are four main types of serial killers, based on motive, as well as further subdivisions based
on organization and methodology. We will begin though with an understanding of the different

  1. The Visionary Motive Type: Serial killers of this type are considered to be insane, even
     psychotic. It is not uncommon for this type of killer to report that they committed the
     crime because voices in their head told them to.
   2. The Missionary-Oriented Motive Type: Although not apparent to the community around
      them, killers of this type are on a mission to rid the world of those whom they deem
      unacceptable for whatever reason.

  1. The Lust Killer: The lust killer is sexually motivated, killing for the pure turn on. These
     killers derive pleasure from torturing their victims. Most serial killers are of this type.
     Unfortunately, this type of serial killer is very difficult to distinguish from the average
     person as they are quite apt at maintaining relationships and functioning in society.

   2. The Thrill-Oriented Motive Type: These guys kill for the fun of it...They get a high from
      killing. Of the four types, this one is the one who enjoys killing very sadistically. He is
      into the killing for excitement and as he gets better and better, the crimes continue to

   3. Gain Motive Type: They believe they will somehow profit from killing. Most criminals
      who commit multiple murders for material ends (such as organized crime hit men) are not
      classed as serial killers, because they are motivated by economic gain rather than
      psychopathological compulsion. There is a fine line separating such killers, however. For
      example, Marcel Petiot, who operated in Nazi-occupied France, could be classified as a
      serial killer. He posed as a member of the French Resistance and lured wealthy Jewish
      people to his home, claiming he could smuggle them out of the country. Instead he
      murdered them and stole their belongings, killing 63 people before he was finally caught.

   4. 6. Power-Seeking Motive Type: They believe they are “God” and play with people as if
      they are toys. Their main objective for killing is to gain and exert power over their victim.
      Many power/control-motivated killers sexually abuse their victims, but they differ from
      lust killers in that rape is not motivated by lust but as simply another form of dominating
      the victim

The Holmes typology

The Holmes typology is based on obsessive-compulsive characteristics of the serial killer as
indicated from verbal interview data on the reasons they kill. It contains an implicit theory of
interpersonal (socio-emotional) development, based upon their position in a cycle of violence.
Here, we examine the first part of it -- the distinction between "disorganized" and "organized"
offenders. The labels "disorganized" and "organized" refer to the degree of personality
aberration, which is evident in how chaotic or controlled the crime scene is. The labels "asocial"
and "nonsocial" refer to whether the person is a loner because of weirdness or by choice. It
should be noted that mixed types are also possible, and profilers do not feel constrained to
choose between the two types presented here.
IQ below average, 80-95 range                     IQ above average, 105-120 range
socially inadequate                               socially adequate
lives alone, usually does not date                lives with partner or dates frequently
absent or unstable father                         stable father figure
family emotional abuse, inconsistent              family physical abuse, harsh
lives and/or works near crime scene               geographically/occupationally mobile
minimal interest in news media                    follows the news media
usually a high school dropout                     may be college educated
poor hygiene/housekeeping skills                  good hygiene/housekeeping skills
keeps a secret hiding place in the home           does not usually keep a hiding place
nocturnal (nighttime) habits                      diurnal (daytime) habits
drives a clunky car or pickup truck               drives a flashy car
needs to return to crime scene for reliving       needs to return to crime scene to see what police
memories                                          have done
may contact victim's family to play games         usually contacts police to play games
no interest in police work                        a police groupie or wanabee
experiments with self-help programs               doesn't experiment with self-help
kills at one site, considers mission over         kills at one site, disposes at another
usually leaves body intact                        may dismember body
attacks in a "blitz" pattern                      attacks using seduction into restraints
depersonalizes victim to a thing or it            keeps personal, holds a conversation
leaves a chaotic crime scene                      leaves a controlled crime scene
leaves physical evidence                          leaves little physical evidence
responds best to counseling interview             responds best to direct interview

The words "asocial" and "nonsocial" refer primarily to a set of ideas closely related to the history
of prisoner classification systems. Modern prison populations are divided into the following
categories: aggressive, general population, and non-aggressive (protective custody). The
reasoning is primarily inductive. Offenders who are observed to be alone because they are
inexperienced and lack basic social skills (weirdness) are regarded as "asocial" in other ways
(note that asocial is not the same as antisocial). Offenders who are observed to be alone out of
choice and preference for solitary confinement are regarded as "nonsocial" in other ways. If we
connect these terms with inadequate socialization -- the most frequently cited variable in
criminology -- i.e., "asocial" with undersocialized and "nonsocial" with unsocialized, then we
can also make inferences about the abnormality of the offender's upbringing via the usual broken
home literature (Wells & Rankin 1991).

The words "disorganized" and "organized" may be oversimplification by law enforcement by
FBI profilers. There are important differences between a psychotic individual with a diagnosable
mental illness and a psychopathic individual (aka- antisocial personality disorder) with only a
character disorder. These differences are inferred via inductive reasoning from crime scene
 A "disorganized" (psychotic, mentally ill) individual is inferred from a chaotic, lots of evidence
left behind, disorganized crime scene. An "organized" (psychopathic, knows right from wrong
but shows no remorse) individual is inferred from a controlled, planned, premeditated, little
evidence left behind, organized crime scene as indicated by Owen, 2004. Some serial killers, as
they progress through their fantasies and hone their skills, show a mix of disorganized to
organized. Similarly, as a serial killer continues his conquests, he may deteriorate, becoming
unglued, manifesting more disorganization in his methodology.

Disorganized: Victims of disorganized killers are often battered about the face or sometimes
blindfolded, reflecting a need to depersonalize the victim, or because the victim might resemble
someone in the killer's life for whom he feels fear or anger. Any sexually sadistic acts committed
will usually be done after the victim is dead, and if the body is left at the crime scene, it will
usually be in plain view, but some disorganized killers take the victim's remains with them as
trophies. Footprints, fingerprints, and sometimes even the weapon are found at the crime scene
or discarded nearby. Often the crime scene itself will be chaotic and in total disarray. FBI
research shows such killers are often below average in intelligence and socially inadequate.
Within a family, they are usually among the younger children, with a father who combines harsh
discipline with an unstable employment history. The disorganized killer will himself have a poor
employment record in an unskilled job, after possibly dropping out of school, and will tend to
live on his own, or with an older family member, with minimal contact with people outside the
family, and often tend to go out only after dark. They will have poor hygiene and low self-
esteem, showing little to no interest in the news media, and will tend to live or work near the
crime scene. They will either have no personal transport, or the vehicle they have will be old and
badly maintained. Because they commit crime under stress, this can trigger changes in behavior,
such as increased use of drugs, alcohol, or a turn to religion. They often return to the scene of the
crime and sometimes turn up at the victim's funeral or memorial service even occasionally
placing "In Memoriam" messages in the local paper. Some keep a diary.

Organized: There will be signs of planning and care to avoid detection and identification, and
the location will be carefully chosen, by organized killers, as the site(s) the victim is seized and
taken. Organized killers usually personify their victims, selecting them according to a preference
by type, age, gender, appearance, occupation, lifestyle, and very well other details which would
seem trivial to anyone else. They will usually be socially confident enough to strike up a
conversation, present themselves as non-threatening, and not appear odd or suspicious. He is
usually above average height and weight, with impressive appearance and clothing. He uses his
own vehicle or the victim's vehicle for transport. In many cases, the victim will be raped before,
or even instead, of being killed. Any weapon used will usually be taken away afterwards, as will
any restraints such as chains, ropes, belts, gags, or blindfolds. The body too will often be taken
away, to be disposed of carefully, making discovery less likely.

Similarities & Differences: Both types may return to the scene of the crime. Both types tend to
have few genuine friends, but the organized type is a loner by choice, because he feels superior
to others, has a stable employment history in skilled or specialist work, also being sexually
competent, usually living with a partner in a long-term relationship, being among the older
children with a father in stable and well-paid work, with an inconsistent style of discipline.
Organized killers usually have an earlier background history with drugs and alcohol, usually
have their own transport, in good condition and well-maintained, and also tend to keep in touch
with the local newspaper and broadcast coverage of the crime, to enable monitoring of police
efforts and keep in close touch with the level of threat to themselves. After commission of the
crime, an organized killer may well decide to change jobs or move as a precaution against being
caught. His better education and greater confidence allows him to transplant himself.

Souvenirs: Serial killers often keep mementos of their victims. Agent Robert Keppel places
these collections into 2 categories: souvenirs and trophies.
        Souvenirs: Personal items allow the killer to enjoy the memories of the crime.
        A trophy can become something of a shrine

Signatures : Some serial killers repeatedly, leave psychological markers, called a signature.
Signatures include posing, concealing victims, or inserting objects in the bodies after death for
the killers gratification. As a killer needs to punish and degrade victims intensifies as they may
develop unique preferences. A signature goes beyond the act of murder, such as posing, which is
present in less than 1% of murder cases. Inserting objects in a body after death is even rarer.
Posing is not staging, moving a body to cover the crime and mislead pursuers.

The Psychological Phases of Serial Killers

In 1988 the psychologist Joel Norris described the psychological phases that serial killers
experience. Norris worked on the defense teams of several convicted killers from Georgia and
completed 500 interviews with such individuals, during which he identified the following phases.

   1. The killer begins with an aura phase, in which there is a withdrawal from reality and a
      heightening of the senses. This phase may last anywhere from several moments to several
      months and can begin as a prolonged fantasy, which may have been active for a short
      time or for years. The killer may attempt to medicate himself with alcohol or drugs.

   2. The trolling phase consists of the behavior patterns that a particular killer uses to identify
      and stalk his victim. Norris described how Ted Bundy strapped his arm in a sling and
      asked for help with books, packages, or even the hull of a sailboat to lure the victim into
      his car. Some victims escaped and said he never seemed out of control until the moment
      he actually attacked them.

   3. The wooing phase is that time period when most killers win the confidence of victims
      before luring them into a trap.

   4. The capture phase may include the locking of a door or a blow that renders the victim
      helpless. The killer savors this moment.

   5. Norris described the murder phase as the ritual reenactment of the disastrous experiences
      of the killer's childhood, but this time he reverses the roles.
   6. The next phase Norris described is the totem phase. After the kill, murderers sink into a
      depression, so many develop a ritual to preserve their "success." This is why some killers
      keep news clippings, photographs, and parts of the victims' bodies, or eat parts of the
      victims, wear their skin, or show parts of victims' bodies to later victims. The trophy or
      souvenir (see above) is meant to give the murderer the same feelings of power he
      experienced at the time of the kill.

   7. The last phase is the depression phase. A victim, now killed, no longer represents what
      the killer thought he or she represented, and the memory of the individual that tortured
      the murderer in the past is still there. Ressler compares the murder to a television serial
      with no satisfactory ending because the serial killer experiences the tension of a fantasy
      incompletely fulfilled. In each subsequent murder, he attempts to make the scene of the
      crime equal to the fantasy. Norris notes that there is an absence of the killer's sense of self
      and, during this phase, the killer may confess to the police before the fantasies start once
      more. However, because victims are not seen as people, recollections of murders may be
      vague or viewed as the killer having watched someone else. They may have a memory
      for tiny details about the murder, which is dissociated from the event as a whole.

                                       WORKS CITED
Burkhalter-Chmelier, Sandra, Serial Killers, Encyclopedia of Death and Dying,, May 18, 2007

Newton, Michael, Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Facts on File, New York, New York 2000.

“Psychological Profiling”, Forensic Science, 2004-2005,, May 1, 2007.

Scott, Shirley Lynn, “What Makes Serial Killers?”, Crime Library: Criminal Minds and
Methods, CourtTV,
     2007 <> April 15,

Serial Killers, Crime Magazine: An Encyclopedia of Crime,
    August 6, 2000.

Sycamnias, Evan “Evaluating a psychological profile of a serial killer”, Criminal Psychology,,
     <> April 22, 2007

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