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Serial Killers
Serial Killers Pt. 2 – Traits

Serial Killers Pt. 2 – Traits

If you have yet to check out Part 1 of this series on serials killers, you may want to start there first! Have you ever wondered if someone you know is a serial killer?  I think at one time or another everyone has looked at someone and thought “Ok, that person is definitely a serial killer”.  How can you be sure?  Well, the FBI has some thoughts on the subject.

One of my favorite books about serial killers is The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter In it, I learned that in 1984 FBI Agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas, with Professors Ann W. Burgess and Ralph D’Agostino presented a paper listing the ten general traits of a serial killer, based on the interviews they did with thirty-six convicted killers.  At a Symposium in 2005,(fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder) the FBI listed the myths about serial killers, which is basically an update to the 1984 list.  This is what both lists state:

  • Serial killers are mostly single white males.  This was updated in 2005 to include women and to reflect the fact that there are serial killers of many other ethnicities. 
  • They tend to have an above average IQ (E.g: Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper, Rodney Alcala).   This was updated in 2005, as further studies show a range of IQs. 
  • They don’t do well in school and generally become unskilled workers (E.g: BTK, Green River Killer).  The 2005 update shows that most hold down good jobs and are respected in their community.
  • They come from troubled families, many have been abandoned by their father and raised by a domineering mother (E.g: Ed Gein, Arthur Shawcross).
  • They have family histories of psychiatric problems, criminal behavior, and alcoholism. 
  • As children, they have been abused either psychologically, physically, or sexually, leaving them feeling humiliated and helpless (E.g: Richard Kuklinski, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer). 
  • They have trouble with male authority figures because of resentment towards their fathers and hostility towards women because they resent their mothers
  • They showed psychiatric problems when they were young and may have been in an institution (E.g: Peter Woodcock, Richard Case).
  • They were isolated socially and as teenagers felt a hatred towards everyone, including themselves, often feeling suicidal (E.g: Herb Baumeister, Leonard Lake).
  • They have interests in deviant sexuality and are sometimes obsessed with fetishism, voyeurism, and violent porn (E.g: Jerry Brudos, Fred West).

 The 2005 list added this additional information:

  • Serial killers aren’t all loners or weirdos.   The majority of them are pretty much hiding in plain sight.  They are married, have families and jobs, and are seen as nothing more than a normal person in the community (E.g: Green River Killer, John Wayne Gacy).
  • With a few exceptions, they don’t travel out of town or state to commit their crimes.  They have a “comfort zone”, usually close to home where they find their victims. Some killers who traveled are Israel Keyes and Samuel Little.
  • Contrary to popular belief, not all serial killers are incapable of stopping until they are caught.  There have been a few that have stopped killing, for various reasons.
  • They do not want to get caught.  The more they kill, the better they get at it.  They eventually convince themselves that they CAN’T be caught (E.g: Zodiac).  This usually leads to shortcuts or mistakes that lead to their arrest (E.g: Golden State Killer, Texacana Moonlight Murderer, BTK).  

So there you have it, straight from the people who know.

Speaking of serial killer behavior… I’m pretty sure there’s a serial killer living down the block from me.  Now to be fair, I’ve never met him.  However, no joke, there was a circular saw going in the dark backyard in the middle of the night (on more than one occasion), they’re very reclusive, and they dug a bunch of holes around the property which were all filled a couple of days later!  Are these signs of a serial killer?  Your guess is as good as mine!


The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter


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