Serial killers account for 10% of all murders in the United States and it is believed that almost 75% of all serial killers are within the states (Miller, 2014). The term serial killer was brought about in by FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler during the “Son of Sam” killings in New York city in the 1970’s. Since then, media coverage and fascination of these killers have grown in popularity due their unusual and sadistic nature. The public is unfamiliar with this kind of crime because it does happen rarely and when it does, it takes time to connect the dots and find the killer. To this day there are serial killers who have never been caught and ones who went on for years killing innocent humans before they eventually got caught. Many characteristics of serial killers have been studied over time and each play an important role in catching them. A key part in serial killings are the “signatures” they leave on their victims. It acts as a way for these people to express themselves with their killings and sometimes explain motive. Most of the characteristics related to the elements of serial killing are one of a kind to modern societies. Modern societies have shaped the way serial killers fall under certain categories and typologies.
Serial killers can be defined as, “those who, either alone or with an accomplice, kill at least three people over a period of time, with “cooling-off” periods between the murders, indicating premeditation of each killing” (Miller, 2014, pg. 4). Basically, it’s a person who commits first degree murder repeatedly with a motive outside of the ordinary. Because it is over a period of time and premeditation is given with each kill, they are not classified as mass murderers. They are known for acting out fantasies and enjoying the kill; they tend to be slow and methodical in their murder activities using low-tech weapons to gouge or flay at a close range. A massive amount of research has gone into categorizing serial killers. The demographics of a typical serial killer is a white male in his 20s to 40s. They are often loners or in some cases are married or live in stable relationships. Also, they may look charming and intelligent from an outside perspective with either a balanced home and job life or often changing jobs and residential locations frequently. Furthermore, serial killers tend to have a certain criminal record. On one hand, they have a perfect criminal record with no run-ins with the law or they have an escalating pattern of offenses. Two crimes in particular that can be associated with serial killers are burglary and rape. Both of these offenses, “involve the willful violation of another person’s intimate self, either their home or their physical body” (Miller, 2014, pg. 4). It is an extreme violation of a human’s privacy and this pattern of crime escalates to the final breach of a person’s body: murder.
Another important aspect to these killers is their characteristics of the crime. The victims tend to be young, white females but in some cases, they are interracial in nature. Most killers collect “trophies” from the victim or scene. A trophy is a memento from the killings and can be jewelry, clothing, or body parts. A remarkable amount of serial killers take part in some form of post-mortem manipulation, cannibalism, or mutilation on their victims. In most cases when serial killers are identified, it is because they left characteristic signature on the victim body or at the crime scene. These signatures can include patterns of attack, type of killing, forms of bondage and torture, and dress or undress. These are all key aspects to finding the killer and creating a profile for future ones. To conceptualize, the selection, stalking and capture of a killer’s victim represents their version of foreplay, while the torture and killing act as their climax. Some of the characteristic behaviors a killer may get involved with is, “fetishism, sexual preoccupation with body parts, inanimate objects, or bizarre activities, transvestism, dressing in the opposite sex’s clothing, exhibitionism, public sexual displays, and voyeurism, surreptitious watching of others’ sexual activity” (Miller, 2014, pg. 5). Another fetish that serial killers tend to do is blind folding the victim. It is yet another way to dehumanize the victim and make them unaware of what is happening. It instills more terror on the victim. Just like blind folding, some killers will gouge out the eyes of their victims premortem or postmortem. This counterats the shame that may break through to the killer.
The media is in the celebrity making business and has influenced these serial killers in a negative way which severely impacts our society. Rather than reporting the activities on certain individuals the media needs to make eye catching headlines to attract viewers and earn money. Most of these killer’s revel in their own popularity and actively seek out media attention. For example, one of the most notorious serial killers Wayne Gacy, “took pride in his sinister celebrity, bragging that he had been the subject of eleven hardback books, thirty-one paperbacks, two screenplays, one movie, one off-Broadway play, five songs, and over 5,000 articles” (Haggerty, 2009, pg. 174). This is extremely dangerous in today’s society because new serial killers are going to want to stand out even more to gain the medias attention which will inevitably cause more damage and pain to victims. Before modern times, serial killings were something a person did, now a serial killer is something a person can be.
Serial killings are, in most cases, extremely impersonal. The victim plays no role in the killer’s current life and are reduced to a means towards a particular end. They are an object meant to, “fulfill a psychic desire for control and self-aggrandization” (Haggerty, 2009, pg. 178). The lack of empathy displayed by serial killers is the most obvious sign of how they are complete narcissists with no morals. This narcissism represents a good way of coping with the anxieties and tensions of modern life with the influences of social conditions bringing out narcissistic traits that are present in everyone at varying degrees. Furthermore, serial killers cannot comprehend the severity of the crime they committed because of how they dehumanize the whole situation. This can be seen in the killer’s tendency to associate their victims as vermin or a plague to society. One specific type of victim serial killers’ prey on are prostitutes. They are easily accessible and work at night in dangerous neighborhoods and are expecting to get into cars of unknown men. Because of this, they are the most common type of victims related to serial killings. By preying on workers of a nonuniform job, serial killers reduce the likelihood that their actions will be noticed, and if detected, the urgency that which an investigation will ensue is low. These killers are smart enough to pick out the right victim type and plan the whole scenario.
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In modern society there tends to be four main types of serial killers. These typologies include the following:
(1) sexual sadists who kill for the intense pleasure derived from the domination, control, torture, humiliation, and murder of another human being; (2) delusional killers who are on a psychotic or ideologically-driven mission to rid the world of “undesirable” persons; (3) custodial killers who are often health care professionals and who murder helpless or dependent persons in their charge; (4) utilitarian killers whose motive at least partly involves some practical financial or other material gain, although this motive may be mixed with anger or revenge. (Miller, 2014, p. 9)
Sexual sadists and custodial killers fall under the Deitz typology which focus on the murder and inflicting pain on someone in vulnerable states. Custodial killers involve “angel of death” cases where nurses in hospitals and nursing homes murder ill or elderly patients usually by medical overdose or asphyxiation. The most well-known sexual sadists include Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy due to their extreme pleasure in the torture and the killing of their victims. Delusional killers fall under the Holmes typology which focuses more on the styles of interactions with victims such as of restraints, mutilation, and torture rather than simply focusing on an individual’s motivation. Motivation is a key source of information in pursuing a serial killer but in most cases these styles tend to be associated with signatures. Signatures are left to express the killer’s internal feelings or is a result of psychological deviance. Utilitarian killers can include hit men and assassins used to gain a personal advantage or revenge on their victims. They can also be angered spouses wanting to end a bitter divorce. These types of killers are the most common and extremely dangerous to modern society.
From here, most serial killers can fall into two categories: organized or disorganized. This was developed by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and is getting increasingly controversial. An organized killer is intellectual and thinks of them self as superior to other people. They are meticulous in their grooming and appearance making sure to show why they are better. Their killings are planned carefully and usually done away from their place of living. Stalking and following are involved in their selection of the victim and they usually pick the victim based on behavior, looks, and other specific qualities. These killers tend to have a prepared torture kit with them and trophies are taken during the killing. Furthermore, they are familiar with the procedures of law and enjoy taunting the police. Each time they kill, the crimes committed get increasing sophisticated and their tactics become more elusive. For disorganized killers, they tend to have below average intelligence and be a loner. They consider themselves less than adequate and are seen as creepy by other people. The crime scenes tend to be more careless and their plans are sloppy. Typically, the killing consists of blitz attacks that, “are intended to silence the victim quickly through blunt force trauma, following which, death usually follows quickly” (Miller, 2014, pg. 7). It is common for post mortem activities to occur which involve mutilation, biting, masturbation, and insertion of foreign objects. Trophies are less common in disorganized killings. However, it is now being seen that crime scenes are involving the properties from both an organized and disorganized killer; this is called a mixed killer. Authorities are now starting to agree that this organized-disorganized system is more of a continuum rather than a division of ideas.
The ideas behind serial killers extends far beyond wanting to kill just to kill. When this term was first coined, it had varying effects amongst the world but when seriously heinous crimes ensued, this term answered the questions on why. As people did more research they found commonalties between different killers and the way they killed. This is where different typologies and categories were found. That being said, since times are changing and technology is advancing, these terms may lose their meaning and new terms will have to be defined. Modern day technology has had its great deal of influence on society by its story telling media. With an ever-expanding population of people, the likelihood of new torture methods and types of killers being presented is extremely likely.