Serial Murder : An Introduction



Serial Murder : In the last three decades the USA has been troubled by an approaching problem, the serial killer.  A serial killer is a person who kills a number of people(usually considered over five) with a cooling off period between each murder(usually one murder at one given time, but two murders at one time occasionally happens) and these murders may go on for a period of months or years until the killer is caught.  Throughout the last three decades the US serial killer rate has risen 940% and it is estimated that by the next millennium it will claim an average of 11 lives a day.  Serial Murder is an epidemic, there are at least 35 serial killers active in the USA today who claim one third of the annual murder rate.  The USA has 6% of the world's population yet it has three quarters of all serial killers.  Not only are serial killers appearing in more numbers in the US but all over the world countries are terrorised by serial killers which are appearing in more numbers year and year after.


Killer Trait : A serial killer is a typical white male, 20-30, and most of them are usually in the USA.  Their main motives are sex(even though the act of sex may or may not take place), power, manipulation, domination and control.  The sex motive is usually rape for an organized killer and sadism for a disorganized killer.  They act in a series of   5 or more murders with a cooling off period between each murder.  Serial killers can go on for months and years before they are usually caught.  The victim is usually the same for every killer - prostitute, hitch-hiker etc.  Their victims may also have the same or similar attributes in gender, age, race, general look, residence etc.  Serial killers also stick by their modus operandi very closely and may change it with experience.  Most murders occur by strangulation, suffocation, stabbing etc.   Serial killers act by a sex-murder fantasy based with their control, they usually live in this dream world in their teens until they act it out for real when they get into the adult stage.  As each murder occurs a serial killer may be disappointed by his murder fantasy and may act it out again to achieve it to their own satisfaction.


Serial Killer Characteristics :

1. Killings are seperate ('serial'), occuring with greater or less frequency, often escalating over a period of time, sometimes years, and will continue until the killer is taken into custody, dies, or is himself/herself killed.

2. In common with normal homicides, killing tends to be one on one.  There are however instances where a serial killer has struck down more than one victim in a single incident.

3. There is no (or very little) previous connection between the perpetrator and the victim, the persons involved rarely being related.

4. Although there may be a 'pattern' or 'victim trait', individual murders within a series rarely display a clearly defined or rational motive.

5. An increasingly greater spatial mobility (since the advent of the automobile) has enabled killers (if they wish) to move rapidly from one place to another, often before a murder has even been discovered.

6. There is usually a high degree of redundant violence, or an 'overkill', where the victim is subjected to a disproportionate level of brutality.


Motives : These are the motives a serial killer might display(some killers display various motives).


Mobility : These are the classifications for the stable killer and the transient killer.

The Stable Killer (eg. Gacy, Dahmer) -

The Transient Killer (eg. Bundy, Lucas) -


Organization : There is the disorganized killer and the organized killer.  Most serial killers(about 3/4) are organized and their victim counts seem to be higher, that is also because they are usually above average intelligence.  The disorganized offender is lonely and his murders usually display his anger, most are of a low IQ and suffer from some mental disorder, the killing is not planned and is a usually spur of the moment thing.  It should also be noted that some serial killers display both the characteristics of a disorganized and organized killer, these killers are typed as being 'mixed'.  These are the basic typologies -

Organized Killer(eg. Gacy, Bundy) -

Disorganized Killer(eg. Berkowitz, Chase ) -


Origins : The term 'serial killer' was coined in the mid 1970's by Robert K. Ressler(an FBI Behavioural Science Unit agent); before it was known as being a 'serial killer' it was referred to as a 'stranger killer' because the killers victims were usually unknown to him, but Ressler concluded that sometimes the killer did kill people he knew so the word 'serial'(by meaning series) applied to this sort of killer; the term serial killer was then adopted to and used.  The first cases of serial killers probably go back into early times of history with no or few records; some of the oldest recorded serial killers are Gilles De Rais and Elisabeth Countess Bathory who go back into the 1500's(most of these old century killers were thought to be vampires or werewolves!).   Jack the Ripper is widely seen as the first serial killer because the nature of the crimes(with the typical sexual motive) line up more with the more recent common ones, therefore serial killers are widely accepted to be only 125 years old.


Solutions : In the late 1970's the Behavioural Science Unit(BSU) of the FBI took a bigger step to battling serial offences by undertaking profiling and larger behavioural studies.  Profiling is understanding the offender, looking at a crime scene and judging by the evidence there what the possible killer is like and what he has done, to achieve this the FBI established the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program(VICAP) and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime(NCAVC).   VICAP is a program used to evaluate unsolved crimes and is used to evaluate similarities in crimes, most of this has been done by putting certain information into a computer database.  NCAVC is a department in the FBI which pools in such resources as behaviour studies, profiling, research etc. and using specially trained agents to operate it and assist in investigations around the US; it must be said now that the FBI's purpose is not to solve a case but to aid police with a profile and/or information to help the police solve it.  One man at the fore-front of the activity is now retired FBI agent Robert K. Ressler.  Ressler played a major part in the BSU in the late 1970's by undertaking the Criminal Personality Research Project(CPRP) which was interviewing known killers such as Speck, Berkowitz, Kemper, Manson and many other killers known and unknown; this helped with the basis of profiling and other behavioural research.  Ressler then took on profiling and other behavioural projects such as doing lectures, studies, psychology etc; he also helped establish VICAP and NCAVC.  The FBI plays a crucial part in serial murder and perhaps without their assistance serial killers would be more rampant.



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Modus Operandi - Serial Killers