Since we can remember serial killers have been a popular topic in today’s world, dating back all the way to the 1400’s. A simple definition for a serial killer is person who murders usually three or more people with a “cooling off” period between each murder and whose main intention for killing is mainly for their personal gratification. Many think that they suffer from a disorder called Antisocial Personality Disorder. They are usually not psychotic, and therefore may appear to be quite normal and even charming, a state of adaptation which some people call a “mask of sanity.”
In the last three decades the USA has been troubled by an approaching problem, the serial killer. Throughout the last three decades the US serial killer rate has risen 94% 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 76% of the world’s serial killers. Not only are serial killers appearing in more numbers in the US but also all over the world countries are terrorized by serial killers, which are appearing in more numbers year and year after.
One question that we often ask ourselves is what makes a serial killer? How can a normal human being turn into a cold-blooded killer? Some say that your born with the mentality that killing is okay but others believe that our violence filled society plays a big part too. There is violence in 80% of primetime shows and cartoons show about 18 acts of violence per hour. By the time the average child will have reached the age of 18, he/she would have viewed more than 16,000 television murders (“What makes a Serial Killer”). We are also born with the predisposition to be a serial killer. This means that we have the ability to be a serial killer but our environment can help us think otherwise.
While the previous analysis portrays the serial killer as a lost, lonely, abused little child, another theory gives a completely different view. In this analysis the killer is only rejected by his family because they are repeatedly disobedient, sneaky, and threatening. Parents seem to give up on the child and giving them the space that they long for. This shows that the media doesn’t have an influence on the child but that the child shapes their parents more than they can shape him/her (“What makes a Serial Killer”).
A typical trait for a serial killer is a male between the ages of 20-30, and most of them are usually in the USA. Their main motives are sex, power, and manipulation. The sex motive is usually rape for an organized killer and violent behavior for a disorganized killer. Serial killers can go on for months and years before they are usually caught. The victim is usually the same for every killer which is a prostitute, hitchhiker or someone in similar vulnerable situation.
For the most part, the victims are all similar including their age, sex and ethnicity. Serial Killers tend to target more women than men some kill only strangers. The sexual impulse supports the idea that serial killers tend to have specific criteria and sexual interests that narrow down their selection of certain victims. This victim selection process sets serial killers apart from other types of killers. One serial killer who acted in this fashion was Jeffrey Dahmer. He was an American serial killer who murdered 17 men and boys. Most of which were of African or Asian descent and the majority of them took place between 1987 and 1991. The murders were particularly gruesome, involving rape, torture, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism.
Serial killers also stick by their “modus operandi” which is also known as their method, very closely and may change it with experience. While in their teens up until they are adults, Serial killers act by a sex-murder fantasy. They see themselves as teens and continue to do so as adults. By gaining personal gratification on each murder, if one does not go as planned it is repeated. We often think of serial killers as people who all have the same thing wrong with them. But actually there are different types of Serial killers. Some descend from organized killing but the other can descend from a more violent and more impulsive killing.
Organized Killers (Nonsocial Killers) are characterized as intelligent killers. They are well aware o the crime scene and have much knowledge about forensics. The killings are well thought out and pre-meditated making the body count higher. While luring their victims, the killer will try to relate to them in an emotional or sympathetic way. As for their personal lives, they lead somewhat normal lives including a career and a family. They rarely show any signs of mental illness. They follow the media on each murder and often take pride in their killings.
A good example of an Organized Killer is Ted Bundy. He murdered numerous young women throughout the United States between the years of 1974-1978. Although he grew up being fascinated with images of sex and violence, he was a very bright man who graduated from the University of Washingtonwith a degree in Psychology. When he would approach his victims, it was usually in a public place, during the daytime or in a crowd. In order to gain their trust he would fake injury or act as an authority figure. While luring one of his victims, Carol DaRonch, he impersonated a policeman. (www.wikipedia.com)
Disorganized Killers (Asocial Killers) on the other hand, are known as the less intelligent killers. They have no knowledge about the crime scene and forensics. When choosing their victims they are apt to obtain their victims by chance or the “luck of the draw.” If an opportunity arises, they take it. While killing their victims, certain rituals are performed including cannibalism and mutilation. The bodies are usually left where found and never disposed. Disorganized killers often have a past of mental illness and have little or no social life.
Ed Gein was a Disorganized Killer. He was an American Serial Killer who would also dig up old graves. Growing up in a very conservative family, Ed Gein was not allowed any contact with other children only to avoid them having an influence on him. His Mother, Father and brother all died within five yearsand he was left alone by the age of 39. When he was first suspected of being involved in a disappearance of a Hardware Store owner, the police entered the shed on his property to find a horrific scene of the store owner’s body being decapitated and the torso was completely drained out. (www.wikipedia.com)
He would keep skulls and create things out of the body parts of the victims including: Human skulls mounted upon the corner posts of his bed, Skin fashioned into a lampshade and used to upholster chair seats, and Human skullcaps, apparently in use as soup bowls, A window shade pull consisting of human lips , A vest crafted from the skin of a woman’s torso, A belt made from several human nipples , Socks made from human flesh and A sheath made from human skin.
Serial Killers often have different motives for why they commit such terrible crimes. Similar to a common opinion given by some serial killers, they are rarely insane or provoked by hallucinations or voices in their heads. They can be categorized as Visionary Serial killers, which claim to be forced to kill people because of these “voices.” Many claim to be, usually as a way of trying to get acquitted by reason of insanity. In 1988, Ronald Holmes, a criminologist at the University of Louisville that specialized in the study of serial killers, identified four subtypes of serial killers.
Missionaries, who simply kill to get rid of that certain type of person (Prostitutes, hobos and runaways). They think it is their responsibility to rid society of unwanted elements. Some kill just for the pleasure of it. They become obsessed with the thrill and the hunt for their next victim. These are known as Hedonistic/Lust Killers. The BTK (Bind Torture Kill) Strangler, who killed 10 known victims, enjoyed both the hunt and torturing his victims after capturing and subduing them. Both of these killers would also be categorized as Thrill Killers who kill because of a desire for acts that are usually sadistic or Gain Killers who kill for personal gain. While gain is not the main motive in a murder some serial killers have took the Power opportunity to steal from their victims for their own personal gain.
The word Serial Killer can also be known as Mass Murders and Spree Killers or simple Multiple Murderers. A mass murderer kills four or more people at one location during one continuous period of time, whether they do it within a few minutes or slowly over a few days. The columbine high school that occurred on April 20, 1999 is one example of a mass murder. Students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting rampage, killing 12 students and a teacher and wounding 23 others and then finally committing suicide.
Another is the Virginia Tech Shooting that took place on April 16th, 2007. The shooter was student Seung-Hui Cho. He killed 32 students and also committed suicide. Killers, who murder several members of their family, also fall into the mass murderer category. Mass murderers do not happen often and when it does, the people that happen to commit them fall into a tediously predictable group and usually, the ones that fall into that group have little to no friends. Studies show that 95% are male and 98% are black and white.
Spree Killers also fall under the category of Multiple Murderers. Spree Killers kill one or more victims in several locations. There is no “cooling off” period so all these murders are committed in one single act. Robert Polin is an example of a spree killer. In October 1975 he killed one student and wounded five others at an Ottawa high school and raped and stabbed a 17-year-old friend to death earlier that day. (“multiple murders”,2008)
In the late 1970’s the United States decided to take a stand. They wanted a solution to all these killings and began the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). The FBI took a bigger step to battling serial offenses by profiling larger behavioral studies. Profiling understands the offender, looking at a crime scene and judging by the evidence there, what the possible killer is like and what he has done. The FBI established the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) which is a program used to evaluate unsolved crimes and is used to evaluate similarities in crimes by putting certain information into a computer database. The FBI’s purpose is not to solve a case but to aid police with a profile or information to help them solve it www.fortunecity.com.
The term “Serial Killer” finally came about in 1975, but before it was known as a “Strangler Killer.” Robert K. Ressler was a FBI Behavioral Science Unit and because the killer’s victims were usually unknown to him, he called it the “Strangler Killer.”Ressler concluded that sometimes the killer did kill people he knew so the word ‘serial’ was useful 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. Some of the oldest recorded serial killers go back into the 1500’s. One of the wealthiest men in France, Gilles de Rais, is said to have abducted, sexually assaulted and killed at least 100 children, mainly boys, whom he had abducted from the surrounding villages and taken to his castle.
Another is the Hungarian aristocrat Elizabeth Báthory who was arrested in 1610 and subsequently charged with torturing and butchering as many as 600 young girls. Both of these serial killers were not arrested for years because they were rich, powerful and royalty. The authorities refused to believe the allegations blaming them for the deaths until they could not be ignored anymore.
Jack the Ripper who is widely seen as the first serial killer because the nature of the crimes line up more with the more recent common ones. He carried out 5 sadistic murders in the London’s East End within four months in 1888. Each of his victims were Prostitutes and were all found with their throats cut, their bodies mutilated and like most murders usually are, sexually aggravated. Jack the Ripper left little to no clues on his identity and is still to this day, an unsolved mystery.
One thing that was obvious was that the killer was familiar with East End streets. During the time of the murders, letters were sent to the police and media claiming to be that of the ripper. One such letter was enclosed with half a kidney, the writer said “I send you half the kidney I took from one woman. The other piece I fried and ate”. The Ripper struck two times on the 30 September, killing Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes, unusually Stride was not mutilated suggesting the Ripper had been interrupted.
On a building near the crime scene someone had written “The juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” and was later wiped clean on order of the police commissioner. The last victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was the only one to be mutilated indoors. After her death, the murders suddenly stopped and although there were many suspects none were proven to be the famous Jack the Ripper.