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Identifying a Serial Killer

Updated on September 25, 2017
JY3502 profile image

I became a news reporter for the Marine Corps in the early 70s. I'm now retired and write on a wide variety of subjects in my spare time.

Serial killers

Wikipedia defines a serial killer as a person who murders three or more people, usually in service of abnormal psychological gratification, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant break "a cooling off period") between them.

It's estimated there are 25-50 active serial killers in the United States at any given time. Who are they? Maybe a neighbor, coworker, or perhaps a family member. Any normal person would want to avoid them if possible. The problem is how to identify them. There are traits many have in common.

While not all have the same traits, some have similar backgrounds, lifestyles, or motives:

  • Mental illness.

  • Victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

  • Fetishism, partialism, (concentration of libidinal interest on one part of the body (as breasts or buttocks) or necrophilia.

  • Captivation with setting fires.

  • Sadistic childhood (such as torturing animals).

There is no set of guidelines

However, having any of these traits doesn’t necessarily mean a person is a serial killer. There is no set of guidelines to determine whether someone will become one. But researchers have noted a few indicators of why someone may be motivated to become a serial killer. There are four basic kinds:

Visionary. The visionary usually has a severe mental disorder and lost touch with reality. They have delusions and hallucinations urging them to murder. Some believe they were doing what God or Satan told them to. The “Son of Sam” is a classic example.

Mission-oriented. Mission-oriented serial killers aren't typically considered psychotic. They kill those they view as undesirable and believe it's their responsibility to eliminate them. Therefore, many victims are usually from a different religion, culture, or race. They may also kill based on sexual orientation (homosexuals and prostitutes).

Hedonistic. This type of serial killer is one you’d expect to see in a horror movie. They take pleasure in killing. They can further be broken down into three subcatagories: thrill, lust and comfort killers.

Power/control seekers. Such killers murder to exert power and dominance over their victims. Although they sometimes sexually abuse their victims, it's generally not related to lust. Many serial killers were victims themselves.

Many believe serial killers have above average IQ's. However studies have shown this to be false. In fact, studies suggest, serial killers tend to have an average or low-average IQ.

It's difficult to say what makes a serial killer. However, the most common denominator seems to be childhood development and trauma. Many came from broken homes, a lack of discipline or absent parent. A number of them were victims of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse and neglect. Without support from others and positive relationships, a child is unlikely to recover from in a positive way, But fortunately, most who’ve experienced childhood trauma don't grow up to be serial killers.

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    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I never thought much about the characteristics of serial killer, but this is an excellent article. I read a lot of murder mysteries, but that is just fiction.

      I enjoyed reading the actual facts. Voted up.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 

      12 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      John, I found this well-written and educational. You have presented an excellent base line format to identifying and being alerted to the presence of a potential serial killer.

      This particular field of study is an ongoing and in depth search for the eventual discovery of genetic, chemical and biological markers in the human brain for this anomaly.

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