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Before we can discuss what serial killers do, we must first define what a serial killer is. Some people
might place serial killers into the same group as mass murderers. This would be incorrect because they are
two totally different types of killers. While both of these individuals may kill many people, the difference
lies in the reason they kill and the period over which they kill their victims.An event or a build up of
circumstance triggers mass murderers and causes them to act. This may be the result of a stressful situation
or frustration either at work or in their private lives. For whatever reason, they may choose to use a weapon
and kill people that they feel are responsible for their problems. They may also kill total strangers in a bid
to get even with whomever or whatever they feel wronged them. Whatever their reason, they are usually
cooperative and quite often docile if they survive the episode. It seems that this one-time outburst of
violence, once enact!
ed, puts an end to any future events of this type for that individual. While the mass killer may kill many
people in one attack, when the attack is over, their mission is complete. The mass killer’s victims may not
be chosen for any other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Serial killers are a totally different and more dangerous threat to society. They may not kill many people
at one time, but they may kill for many years without being detected. They are able to kill again and again
without being caught because they are careful in their choices of victims. They typically pick victims who
are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves such as children, the elderly or women. They also pick
victims who will not be missed by society, such as migrant workers, prostitutes, hitchhikers or
homosexuals. They may even pick victims based on specifics such as physical build or hairstyle.
Because of the fact that many serial killers may be mobile, similarities in crime scenes may go
undetected by law enforcement agencies. The nation’s police departments often lack the modern equipment
and technology needed to track and recognize connections between cases. It is generally accepted that
many cases of serial murder have not been reported because of lack of evidence or the person murdered is
never noticed to be missing.
The U. S. has had more than 150 documented cases of serial killers since 1800. Retired FBI analyst
John Douglas believes that at any one time, there may be from 30 to 50 serial killers active in the U. S.
Good locations for serial killers include any city or area large enough to support prostitution, drug cultures,
runaway children or street people. They can and do operate successfully in rural areas.
Serial killers were once considered a rarity. Even though reports in Europe go back as far as the fifteenth
century, only a few were written about prior to the mid twentieth century. One of the most widely written
about was Jack the Ripper, who claimed only 5 victims in a three-month period. This would put him in the
bottom of the class by today’s standards. During the past twenty years, serial killings have become more
frequent. We have even seen up to a half dozen of their cases on the news simultaneously. Cases such as
San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer; New York City’s Son of Sam; Atlanta’s child murderer, Wayne Williams;
Los Angeles’s Hillside Strangler; and Milwaukee’s own, Jeffrey Dahmer. Many times, they fit into a
pattern, but sometimes there is no pattern. The phenomenon is world-wide, from England’s Yorkshire
Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe’s killing of 13 women prior to 1981, to Russia’s Rostov Cannibal, Anderei Chikatilo,
who slaughtered and partially consumed at least 53!
men and women over a 12 year period prior to 1990.
It is hard to predict whether a person will become a serial killer. A set of childhood characteristics
believed by many to be symptoms of violent behavior has been named the “McDonald Triad”. Named after
psychiatrist John M. McDonald, it speculates that three factors in a person’s childhood may determine
violent behavior. These three factors presumably linked to homicidal behavior are bedwetting, firesetting,
and torture of small animals.There is evidence that many serial killers have some or all of these factors in
their past. The fact remains, there are many people with symptoms of the McDonald Triad who do not
become serial killers; unfortunately some do. One of the Hillside Stranglers, Kenneth Bianci, had a
bedwetting problem and had killed a cat before as a prank. The Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, had set
many fires, kept a diary and even nicknamed himself the “Phantom Fireman”. Alaska’s Robert Hansen,
murderer of at least 17 women, was convicted of arson as a y!
outh. An important fact is the “McDonald Triad” is not believed to be a cause of violence, but only a set of
The typical serial killer is a white male in his late 20s or 30s and murders his victims by beating or
strangulation. He may appear cold, show no remorse for his actions and might deny responsibility for his
crimes, but psychosis or severe mental illness is rarely present. Only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of serial
killers are women. Males are much more likely to use extreme violence such as bludgeoning, beating,
strangling, or torture. Women on the other hand favored poisoning or smothering their victims. Where men
would normally stalk their victims, the female serial killer would lure her victim to their death.
Researchers Anne Moir and David Jessel believe that serial killers lack the voice of conscience that
prevents most of us in doing things we should not. Their research made them to believe that serial killers
usually have a sexual motive and an inability to appreciate the feelings of others. They only survive
because they are able to conceal their identities !
and appear to be normal.”Most unexpectedly, in background, in personality, and even in appearance, the
mass murderer is extraordinarily ordinary. This may be the key to his extraordinary “talent” for murder:
After all, who would ever suspect him.”
Dr. Donald Lunde, a psychiatrist who studied 42 murderers over a 5-year period, determined that there
are two types of mentalities involved with these types of crimes. The first of these is paranoid
schizophrenia which may be characterized by an aggressive, suspicious demeanor, hallucinations (usually,
hearing voices in their minds), or delusions of grandeur or persecution. The second type is sexual sadism,
which is distinguished by killing, torturing, or mutilating victims for achieving their own sexual arousal.
These killers view their victims as objects or life-size dolls or enemies of normal people.
A good example of the paranoid schizophrenic murderer is David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the
Son of Sam. He said he killed because a man named “Sam” told him to through demonically possessed
dogs. A look, growl, or bark from the dog would tell him who and where to attack. During one instance, the
signal was a sign of crossed dog feces on the ground that set him off. He left notes for the police and even
corresponded with a newspaper, raving that he was the “Duke of Death.” Some believe Berkowitz is only
making excuses for his behavior and we may never know the whole truth. For whatever reason, he held one
of the most powerful cities in the world, New York City, in a state of fear. Even the heads of several
organized crime families were reported to have sent out their soldiers to find him. His rampage ended in
August of 1977 and left six dead and nine wounded.
The classic example of the sexual sadist type of killer is the six foot nine inch, 280 pound, Edmund
Kemper. At the age of fifteen, he shot and killed both of his grandparents resulting in his being committed
to a maximum-security hospital for four years. This was only the beginning for Kemper, and upon his
release he shot, stabbed and strangled to death six coeds as they hitchhiked from college. He also severed
their heads and limbs, attempted to have sex with the corpses, and devoured their flesh. He kept their heads
preserved so that he could use them for his sexual fulfillment. He later murdered his own mother and her
good friend. He then decapitated his mother, tore out her larynx, and threw it down the garbage disposal.
That way, in his opinion, she could never gripe and yell at him again. From childhood, he had displayed
signs of psychological disorders. Kemper was fascinated by weapons and had cut the head and hands from
one of his sister’s dolls. He also tortured!
and killed the families cat, which he beheaded and cut into pieces. He often fantasized about killing girls
and later explained, “if I killed them, you know, they couldn’t reject me as a man.”
It is highly likely that the rise in reported serial killings is due to the increasing law enforcement ability
to recognize the patterns. There has also been a real increase in the rate of serial murders, and this may be
due to a decline in law enforcement’s ability to capture the murderers. This makes solving the murders
difficult because often the motive is missing or not obvious. It is accepted that many serial killers were
probably caught early in their careers, before their becoming experts. The nationwide rate of cleared
homicides before 1966 was 92 per cent. This rate hit 64 per cent in 1992, meaning that unsolved homicides
increased to about 8,400, which is almost as many as the total number of murders in 1965. . This is further
explained by the fact that more and more murders are being committed by and against strangers. In the past
most violent crimes and murders were easy for police to solve. They usually involved or resulted from
greed, anger, jealously, pro!
fit, or revenge. The serial killer differs in that he does not stop until he is caught. He gets better at his crime
each time he performs it and continually perfects his style.
Psychiatrists, along with the FBI crime analysts have taken the lead in getting into the minds of serial
killers. Psychiatrist Shervert Frazier interviewed 42 murderers, including seven serial killers that had killed
3 to 13 victims each.
They also interviewed families, teachers, friends, police, and probation authorities. Most of the serial killers
were cooperative. Frazier found that many of them had been subjected to brutal treatment as children.
Many were beaten repeatedly or sexually abused as children. They became more confused as adolescents
and adults, suffering from gender confusion, cross-dressing, and abnormal sexual behavior. They suffered
from hostile and murderous emotions, but were also organized enough to plan and execute several murders.