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10 Popular Myths of Serial Killers

Updated on July 5, 2015

Myth 1: The Epidemic of Serial Killers

In shows such as Criminal Minds, there seems to be a widespread problem in the United States with regards to serial killers. The characters in the show are constantly swamped with new cases; however, this is a gross misrepresentation of the actual number of serial killers. Between 1975 - 1995 there have only been 153 known serial killers. This means that only 7 - 8 serial killers are known to exist per year. Of course, none can determine how many undetected cases of serial killings there are; but the undetected cases very likely do not skew the number of serial killers much.


Myth 2: Serial Killers are Unusual in Appearance and Lifestyle

Above is a picture of Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer known for his cannibalism. It shocked people that Dahmer was so attractive and normal, despite his evil deeds. In fact, most serial killers are rather ordinary, which helps them to cleverly carry out their mischief unnoticed. Like the character Dexter Morgan, serial killers are actually spectacular at presenting themselves as regular people by having a family, a place of employment, and societal responsibilities. Rarely do serial killers even leave state boundaries in their hunt, unless a traveling job facilitates this. Overall serial killers are outwardly just like you and me.

Myth 3: Serial Killers are all Insane

In a medical sense, serial killers overwhelmingly tend to be sane and rational people. They know right from wrong and they can control their desire to kill. Unlike popular belief proposes, the majority of serial killers do not experience hallucinations, a thought disorder, or severe depression. Nonetheless, serial killers are very likely to suffer from sociopathy, which allows them to be so cruel to their victims without the burden of internal struggles.


Myth 4: All Serial Killers are Socipaths

Although a lot of serial killers do have sociopathic tendencies, some can still feel morally bound to society. They are likely to dehumanize their targets so that they do not feel guilt; this is why a lot of serial killers attack prostitutes or the homeless. Serial killers justify their evils through a variety of means. Jeffrey Dahmer even suggested that his crimes were a sign of love and affection. So, not all serial killers are given the relief of socipathy on their consciences.

Myth 5: Serial Killers are Inspired by Pornography

In his death row claim, Ted Bundy argued that pornography was what led him to kill. And, most serial killers do possess sadistic porn; also, experimental evidence reveals that prolonged exposure to violent pornography tends to desensitize men to the plights of victims of abuse. But, if pornography was the direct cause of serial killing, then a lot more serial killers would certainly exist. It is very dubious that pornography could create such a vicious personality.

Myth 6: Serial Killers are Products of Bad Childhoods

The media tends to focus on the bad childhood factor as a cause to why people kill. Kenneth Bianchi was said to have killed because he was an adopted child. Nonetheless, these explanations try to reconstruct the past in order to get answers for the now, but that is not a valid approach. What about the millions of people who were adopted in the United States? Most of them do not kill. Also, if serial killers became that way due to a bad childhood, why is it so rare to find killers who are children or teens? The fact is, the bad childhood explanation is a poor one that works off of case studies instead of experimental data.

Myth 7: Serial Killers can be Identified in Advance

Hindsight is 20/20. When people discover that a neighbor or relative is a serial killer, they tend to focus on the warning signs and say something to the effect of "he seemed not quite right." These people did not actually have any idea that this person could be a serial killer. Jeffrey Dahmer even had the gross stench of dead corpses and formaldehyde emanating from his apartment, but the other tenants did not think anything was wrong until they found out he was a serial killer. In reality, the prediction of serial killings is impossible because, as discussed before, serial killers are simply too ordinary.


Myth 8: All Serial Killers are Sexual Sadists

Serial Killers can be classified into three categories, each with two subtypes. The first category is thrill. These serial killers seek excitement in there kills either through control (dominance) or sexual abuse (sexual sadism). While the majority of serial killers do kill for sexual satisfaction, a lot do not have any sexual goals in their kills. The second category is mission. These serial killers have an underlying, large goal for all their kills which is either reformist (making society better) or visionary (hallucinations that guide them in a disorganized fashion). The last category is expedience. These people kill to make a profit or gain protection in order to cover their criminal activity. The expedience category is the most rational. It is apparent that serial killers act off of a variety of reasons and sexual sadism is only one of them.

Myth 9: Serial Killers Select Victims who Resemble their Mothers

Although some serial killers do possess a deep hatred for their mothers, most kill opportunistically. Serial killers tend to kill people who are vulnerable, such as hitchhikers or the sick elderly. While serial killers may project negative feelings onto their victims, it is very unlikely for a serial killer to select a victim on the sole basis that she resembles the killer's mother.

Myth 10: Serial Killers want to get Caught

Popular shows often depict a serial killer as leaving a signature or clue at the crime scene. In reality, the majority of serial killers try their utmost to conceal the fact that a crime was ever done. Serial killers often dispose of victims away from where the murder was taken, hiding the victims in some type of impromptu grave. Serial killers generally do not kill for the thrill of being hunted down by the police and they do not want to get caught. As a result, physical evidence is scarce and the motive of the crime is unknown in most cases.

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