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Signs of a Serial Killer

Updated on January 24, 2016

Serial Killers Identified

Serial killers have long fascinated people with good reason. As the largest majority of us are law abiding and non-murdering it stands to reason that we are interested to know what makes these people tick. There are several traits that differentiate a serial killer from the average murderer. There are crimes of passion; an example would be if someone caught their spouse cheating and then pulls out a gun out of pure rage and jealousy. There are drug addicts who act seemingly out of their own control, they will rob and kill a store clerk maybe or do a home invasion. Some people murder out of greed, say for money. Though cruel and unjust these actions are somewhat understandable when you know that the killer was under the grip of a strong addiction, emotional trauma or selfishness. Then we have the weirdo’s that do it for the pleasure of it, and these are the psychopathic serial killers. Some debate is involved as to exactly how to categorize them and no true legal definition is available. The actual laws define them as in the following quote taken from the FBI website:

The term ‘serial killings’ means a series of three or more killings, not less than one of which was committed within the United States, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.

Take from that what you will, but the general unofficial consensus agrees that it is when murders are committed, a pattern or Modus operandi followed through each crime, such as choosing victims that are of a certain race or stature. These are the details that will differentiate the serial killings from say, a mass murder. An example of a mass murder is when someone shows up at their school where they were bullied and randomly kills a bunch of students. Spree killing is also different in that though there are multiple murders there is no break time between incidents; there is a burst of activity with no criminal acts leading up to it or following. A key element to serial murders is that there is a ‘cooling off’ period between crimes so that each one is isolated from the other.

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Some Famous Serial Killers You May Have Heard About

Jeffrey Dahmer – (1960 – 1994)

A famous convicted sex offender and serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer shocked the public with his depraved acts of cannibalism, sexual assault, necrophilia and murders of 17 boys and men. He was active in his crimes from 1978 to 1991. He was ironically murdered by another inmate while in prison at the Columbia Correctional Institute.

Ted Bundy – (1946 – 1989)

This guy confessed to murdering 30 women before he was put to death in the electric chair for his crimes. His crimes also include kidnapping and necrophilia as well as sexual assault. Ted is most famous for his charm that he used to lure his victims.

Charles Manson – 1934 - present)

He is most famous for orchestrating the murder of six people, most notably the actress Sharon Tate who was pregnant at the time. Charles Manson currently resides in Corcoran California State Prison. He applied for parole in April of 2012 and was denied. He is not eligible to apply for parole again for 15 years, at which time he will either be 92 or dead.

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka (no dates)

This creepy Canadian duo would lure young women into trusting them and subsequently kidnap, sexually assault, murder and dismember their victims. They stupidly filmed their crimes to be enjoyed after the fact and this is what led to their convictions. Karla claims to be yet one more of Bernardo’s victims and that she was coerced into participating in the crimes orchestrated by Bernardo, who she was married to at the time.

Early Signs of a Serial Killer

Serial killers share many obvious qualities such as the ability to charm and manipulate their victims as well as people in their communities. Psychologists and criminal profilers have come up with a list of common traits that serial killers are most likely to exhibit in early childhood. As sad as it is to think that these people were once innocent children themselves, the fact is that they indeed were. Not one of them was born as a full-blown lunatic. Although the specific qualities vary, there are a few that are common to all. Dr. Phil of Oprah fame lists 14 such traits and some experts such as the Crime Museum name only a few. This list is by no means a definitive measure of a serial killer; it is a general guideline that outlines common characteristics that these people share.


Serial killers often ‘graduate’ from being peeping toms to murdering. This is a deviant trait that is not harmless and should be taken very seriously.

Harming Animals

Torturing and killing small animals with no remorse is a way of dominating at a young age. Children who participate in this disgusting behaviour can easily graduate to hurting people as adults

Setting Fires

Arson is a big red flag, especially if it is a behaviour that repeats itself. I remember setting fire to my neighbourhood skating rink, but this alone is not an indication of a future serial killer. I was scared and never played with fire again.


This is especially true of children who were previously very social and then change to the polar opposite.

High I.Q.

Serial killers usually have a high I.Q of about 105 to 120, which is considered to be at the high end of average.

Dr. Phil goes on to list a few more indicators of serial killer behavior. These include suicide attempts, unstable families, being abandoned by father and having a domineering mother, physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as wetting the bed beyond the age of 12.

Talk to a Professional

Any one of these qualities can be dismissed, but taken as a group, especially the more vile signs such as voyeurism and torturing of animals should raise red flags. For example, if a child wets his/her bed and they happen to also be a loner is not a definitive indication of a future serial killer. I am by no means a criminologist or expert; all of this information is to be taken as a guideline and not a psychological diagnosis. If you are a person with real concerns about someone in your life you should seek professional guidance. This is my official disclaimer and advice to anyone who is reading this.

Tell me What You Think About Serial Killers

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    • LadyLola profile imageAUTHOR

      Lanie Robinson 

      5 years ago from Canada

      I'm truly honored to receive praise from someone in the field. Thank you for your compliment!

    • FalseHonesty profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a very interesting article! The study of serial killers is actually what led to me getting my degree in criminal justice and psychology.

    • LadyLola profile imageAUTHOR

      Lanie Robinson 

      6 years ago from Canada

      You are correct, no one person can be put in a box to define their personality or predict their future actions. As I wrote, these are merely guidelines and warning signs of a mentally disturbed person. It may indeed be a coincidence that a large majority of the serial killers share these traits more frequently than the average person.

    • profile image

      Al Sharpton 

      6 years ago

      There are many serial killers that did not have these traits just like there are many people that are not serial killers but have those traits. So, this is just a bunch of hogwash by the so called experts.


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