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What is a Serial Killer?

The need for psychological gratification distinguishes serial killers from other types of murderers.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
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A serial killer is someone who kills at least three victims one by one in a series of sequential murders, with a form of psychological gratification as the primary motive. The need for psychological gratification distinguishes serial killers from other types of murderers, who usually murder for things like profit or revenge. Because an element of psychological instability is involved in serial killing, many serial killers are committed to mental institutions if and when they are caught, reflecting a general belief that they are not of sound mind.

While many people think of serial murder as a crime which emerged in the 20th century, it is actually quite ancient. Documents from places like China indicate that serial killers were operating well before the common era, and some particularly notorious serial killers like Erzsebet Bathory and Jack the Ripper date to periods before the 20th century. It is true, however, that the number of serial killings seems to have increased in the 20th century, perhaps due to increased population or social and cultural shifts.

As a general rule, someone does not start out life as a serial killer. The progress from ordinary individual to serial killer may begin early in life, but it proceeds in stages, beginning with crimes like arson, progressing to animal abuse, and then moving into the realm of human abuse. The reasons why people develop into serial killers are not known, although many show signs of childhood trauma and abuse.

Psychologists believe that all serial killers demonstrate some form of antisocial personality disorder, along with other psychiatric conditions which cause them to have a view of the world which is fundamentally different from that of other people. Many psychologists further divide serial killers into so-called “organized” serial killers, who put their high intelligence to use when planning their crimes, and “disorganized” serial killers, who strike out in a much less disciplined way with intelligence below the norm.

A serial killer can also be further classified by the types of murders he or she commits. Some serial killers commit their crimes because they are motivated by visions, for example, while others do so for pure, hedonistic pleasure. Some, like Jack the Ripper, are missionary serial killers, using their deeds to send a message, and some kill for a sense of power and control.

The discovery of a serial killer in a community can be extremely stressful for citizens, who may fear that they are potential targets, especially in cases where victims appear to be chosen at random. Law enforcement agencies maintain staffs of psychologists and other experts who can be deployed to the sites of suspected serial killings to apply their knowledge to the case in the hopes of catching the murderer quickly.

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anon304268
Post 5

Its a rare combination of genetics and environment that create a serial killer. It's never just one thing, but rather a combination of many.

Babalaas
Post 3

A few years back, we had a couple of serial killers in phoenix going on a killing spree at the same time. The Baseline killer and the Phoenix Shooters were responsible for at least 14 murders and more than 50 attacks. The killers were committing murders at the same time, but were completely unrelated. The murderers terrorized the valley for about two years until they were finally caught.

One of the serial shooter was actually an employee at the phoenix sky harbor airport. I remember the media attention to this case very well because my sister and I were on a trip to Vermont and one of the security lanes was closed because CNN was interviewing employees about the serial murderer. They had just arrested him, so they were doing interviews.

Alchemy
Post 2

There is currently a serial killer on the loose in Philadelphia. This psychopath is going around raping and strangling drug addicts and prostitutes. There have been at least three murders in the last few months, and a few attacks where victims have escaped. He has been snatching women, dragging them into the alleyways and strangling them. One woman was able to get away from the attack, and of course like a coward, the attacker ran away. At least she was able to give a description of her attacker. The police also said its likely the killer lives within the ten block area that the attacks occurred.

Horrible, horrible stuff. I hope they catch this murderer as soon as possible.

anon80491
Post 1

well i don't think a serial killer was born that way i think parents are at fault: not enough love. not enough encouragement, not enough finance. screw a child up and they will be screwed for the rest of their lives.

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