Discussion board #1 Motives of A Serial Killer
Discuss the various strategies for determining the appropriate qualitative research method for a particular study. If you were to do a qualitative study for your dissertation, what approach/design would you choose, and why? Provide specific examples from the required reading and other credible sources.
DUE BY 10am SUNDAY August 28, 2022 NO LATE Work.
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criminal lawCriminal Justice
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Assignment 1: Due by 10am Sunday August 28, 2022 (NO LATE WORK!)
Discuss the various strategies for determining the appropriate qualitative research method for a particular study. If you were to do a qualitative study for your dissertation, what approach/design would you choose, and why? Provide specific examples from the required reading and other credible sources
Each original thread must have a title-header, a subtitle for each discussion question, a minimum length of 500 words, at least two citations (scholarly articles, and incorporate ideas and citations from all of the required read and watch items for the assigned Learn material), and a Biblical integration. Further, each paragraph should have a minimum of four complete sentences with supporting citation(s).
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European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
ISSN (online): 2183-1904
ISSN (print): 2183-3818
Nine Types of Childhood Environment That
Actually Produced Mass Murderers Based on the
Information in Lay Literature and on the Internet
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Toin University of Yokohama.
1614 Kurogane, Aoba, Yokohama 225-8503, JAPAN
Abstract: Mass murderers have received relatively little academic interest compared with serial murderers. Although a solid
basis set for understanding mass murderers already exists, there seem to
be certain inconsistencies in the understanding of the
environmental backgrounds of mass murderers, especially from the viewpoint of the presence or absence of abuse, bullying,
and isolation. This study examines the environmental backgrounds of 28 mass murderers to see if there are some patterns that
appear repeatedly. In particular, this study focuses on clarifying whether these patterns are neglect-oriented, abuse-oriented,
or both and whether various factors are of equal importance in creating mass murderers. This preliminary research
intentionally used lay literatures on true crimes and Internet-based information that are normally overlooked in academic
Keywords: etiology of mass murder, childhood backgrounds, family environment, environmental factors, neglect, pattern
Mass murderers have received relatively little scholarly
interest compared with serial murderers . Fox and Levin
suggest that this could be because mass murderers are either
found dead at the crime scene or ready to surrender after
their mission, their crimes lack sexual/sadistic
characteristics, and they do not cause the same degree of
anxiety or media sensation as serial killers due to their short
acting period . Nonetheless, they are of great interest to
behavioral scientists and mental health professionals ,
and there is already a solid basis set for understanding mass
Mass murder is defined as the slaughter of four or more
victims by one or a few assailants within a single event,
lasting for a few minutes to several hours . Mass
murderers have a clear-cut motive most of the time, which
is often revenge for what the victims have done or represent
, . According to Bowers et al. , some of their traits
are antisocial personality, narcissism, oversensitivity,
rigidity, obsession, self-righteousness, grandiosity, and
impulsivity. For mass murderers, every day is a constant
battle with surrounding influences and their own negative
thoughts. Mullen coined the term autogenic massacre to
describe the actions of those who “indiscriminately kill
people in pursuit of a highly personal agenda arising from
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
their own specific social situation and psychopathology” [7,
p. 311]. In 1986, Dietz grouped mass murderers into three
categories . The head of the family who murders his
entire family out of jealousy, revenge, or loyalty is a family
annihilator. A pseudocommando is the type who takes
anger out on society to draw attention to himself or to teach
society a lesson. A set-and-run killer bombs buildings or
vehicles, sets fires, or tampers with foods or products,
escaping before the murder actually takes place . In place
of the set-and-run killer categorized by Dietz, Holmes and
Holmes added the disgruntled employee, someone who
takes revenge on his former work-place to right a perceived
2. Research questions
However, despite these basic understandings, there seem to
be certain inconsistencies in the understanding of the
environmental backgrounds of mass murderers, which seem
to need clarification. Levin and Madfis argue that many
school shooters had experienced chronic strain for years at
home and were quite hostile toward their parents and other
members of their family . They claim that almost half
of the school shooter sample in their study came from
homes wrought with conflict. Harper and Voigt and Fox and
Levin also seem to agree that parental abuse is a part of the
family backgrounds of homicide-suicide subjects , .
On the contrary, Kimmel and Mahler claim that almost all
the adolescent shooters came from intact and relatively
stable families, with no history of child abuse . Others
point out that social isolation and bullying experiences are
key factors in the development of the mass murder
personality. Knoll asserts that pseudocommandos were
bullied or isolated as children, turning into loners who felt
despair over being socially excluded , . Ferguson,
Coulson, and Barnett also describe the popular image of a
school shooter as a socially inept loner experiencing
constant bullying . Mullen seems to support this
position, characterizing offenders as: “(i) male, (ii) under 40
years of age, (iii) a social isolate, (iv)unemployed or
marginal work, (v) bullied and/or isolated as a child, (vi)
fascinated with weapons, and (vii) a collector of guns” [7, p.
319]. Based on their view that mass murderers are from
abusive family backgrounds, Levin and Madfis further
hypothesized five stages by which school shooters develop
. First, the subject experiences long-term negative
experiences at home, school, work, or in his neighborhood
early in life or in adolescence (chronic strain). This leads to
the subject’s lack of bonds with family and society, and he
is less restricted by conventional standards of behavior
(uncontrolled strain). A particularly devastating short-term
event then occurs, which triggers the desire to carry out a
murderous act (acute strain). After this, the subject actually
starts planning his actions. Finally, he acts out his school
massacre. Levin and Madfis called this whole
developmental process cumulative strain, in which each
stage builds on the previous stages. Although their model
was originally designed to describe school massacres, Levin
and Madfis indicate the possibility of extending this process
to mass murders in general, comparing each stage with the
corresponding stage in the development of adult mass
murders. They characterize school massacres “as one
particular subset of the mass murder phenomenon” [10, p.
Thus, regarding what happens at the chronic strain stage,
there are stances which assert abuse, no abuse, and bullying
and isolation. However, these inconsistencies are
significant; neglect, physical abuse, and psychological
abuse each have a different psychological effect on a child’s
development. Although physical abuse produces aggression
toward others, psychological attacks and criticism by
parents appear to be specifically associated with low
self-evaluation [16, pp. 360–361]. Neglect, on the other
hand, is associated with more severe cognitive and
academic deficits, social withdrawal and limited peer
acceptance, and internalization of problems than physical
abuse [17, p. 690]. Thus, it seems necessary to look into the
details of mass murderers’ environmental backgrounds to
clarify what exactly caused their chronic strain, including
whether the chronic, acute, and uncontrolled strains are
indeed of equal importance in generating mass murders,
which Levin and Madfis seem to imply.
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
3. Data source
Unlike serial murders, there are official data sources
available for mass murders. However, they are mainly used
to assess prevalence and patterns, such as offender age, race,
sex, weapon use, and the nature of the victim/offender
relationship . These do not necessarily cover offenders’
upbringings. Thus, it is highly difficult to obtain official
records of the detailed personal backgrounds of a wide
range of mass murderers. Family problems are also not
directly perceptible by traditional measures
In general, lay literatures and the internet have been
considered unreliable and thus inappropriate sources of
information for academic research, and as such, these
sources have never been turned to. The authors of these
sources often tend to emphasize shocking details to attract a
larger number of readers. In addition, their sources are often
suspicious, and their factuality is not fully confirmed.
However, despite the lower credibility of these source, the
information they offer is also obtained through some level
of research conducted by the authors and could include
some accurate information. Thus, if a wide range of such
information is gathered and compared to discover
commonalities, there is a possibility that untruthful
information could be discovered and eliminated, leaving
only limited true information. Considering the current
official tendency to largely ignore mass murderers’
backgrounds, such research could serve as pilot research,
which could inspire further research on this subject.
Furthermore, in this age of information, information from
lay literatures and the web cannot simply be ignored. Thus,
in this research, we made the very first attempt to utilize lay
literatures and on-line information as the sources to look
into mass murderers’ backgrounds. At the least, this
research could reveal the patterns of what authors who have
a strong interest in this field consider important to the cause
of mass murders, which influence the formation of public
views on this subject. Because mass murder develops
unintentionally, often due to environmental factors beyond
control, and because a strong body of research on which
this research could build is absent, it was also considered
more desirable to—as much as possible—avoid any special
conditions in the selecting process of subjects.
In this study, the environmental backgrounds of 28 mass
murderers were examined to see if there are some patterns
that appear repeatedly. We particularly focused on
clarifying the types of chronic strains, specifically whether
they are neglect-oriented or abuse-oriented or both, and
whether the chronic, acute, and uncontrolled strains are of
equal importance in generating mass murders. The
information used in this preliminary research was mainly
derived from lay literatures on true crimes and internet sites
such as Murderpedia, Crime Library on truTV, Wikipedia,
radford.edu, YouTube, and so forth, which contain a great
deal of information from sources directly connected to the
subjects. The subject was included as long as ample
information was available from either of the two types of
sources to help clarify the above questions. As a result,
most of the cases included turned out to be those that were
once most extensively reported on by the media. Because
this research was qualitative, we avoided examining too
many cases, for this might hinder a careful examination of
each case. At the same time, too few cases would not
produce the credible common patterns we discussed.
Considering the limited availability of information on mass
murderers compared to that available for serial killers ,
we initially set the number of the cases that we would
examine at around 30. (All the lay literatures referred to are
listed after the references.)
Qualitative content analysis was used to analyze the
collected data. Because this research was preliminary in
nature, specific assumptions were not set in advance, as in
deductive qualitative analysis -. We first extracted
from the sources all the information pertaining to mass
murderer subjects’ childhood backgrounds. First, the
outstanding features that characterize the backgrounds of
half of the cases were underlined. They were condensed by
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
deleting all unnecessary words and paraphrased into a short
form. These short forms were transcribed on a coded sheet,
and common categories were generated. These categories
were then checked with the remaining half of the cases and
revised, when necessary, to assure inter-coder consistency.
Finally, the one category that best represents the
environmental background of each case was decided by
comparing it with similar cases. Although each case
actually involves multiple factors, the subject was placed
under this one category.
The results are shown in the tables below:
Table 1 Nine Types of Environmental Backgrounds That Produced Mass Murderers
Type Subjects under Category
Left alone unattended due to parental unconcern/financial
Thomas Hamilton, Ronald Simmons,
Joseph Wesbecker, James Huberty
Intentionally left out of the family/scapegoated
One Goh, James Ruppert, Eric Borel,
Postnatal neglect/no skin contact due to peculiar
personality/mental disorder of mother
Martin Bryant, Anders Breivik,
Howard Unruh, Adam Lanza, Dylan
No normal communications between parents due to their cold
James Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho
Highly rigid parent(s)
Baruch Goldstein, Nidal Hasan
Cannot express true feelings due to insecure/demanding family
Timothy McVeigh, Charles Whitman,
Julian Knight, Jacob Roberts, Mark
Lepine, George Hennard, Eric Harris
Highly intoxicated secondary psychopath
Richard Speck, George Banks
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
Note. aThe difference between type 1 and type 2 is whether there is malicious intention by parent(s)/parental figure(s). bIn
type 3, the subjects were deprived of basic care after birth. This type was separated from other types of neglect that occur
after the neonatal stage due to its even greater damage , . cType 5 killers often take on religious/philosophical
outlooks. However, it is the parent’s inflexible personality that contributes to the violent urges, and not the religious or
philosophical viewpoint itself. dThe overprotective mother is highly intrusive and does not allow the child to behave
independently. As a result, the child becomes depressed. In the worst case scenario, the child could even develop
schizophrenia . eIn the family that “cannot express true feelings,” the subject acts as an ideal child, being afraid of his
parents’ divorce or losing his own niche at home. f“Secondary psychopath” refers to those who cannot stop their habitual
offenses despite the guilty feelings they experience each time .
Table 2 Experience of Isolation and Bullying at School
The subjects suspected of having been isolated at
Marc Lepine, Martin Bryant, Adam Lanza,
Howard Unruh, Seung-Hui Cho, James Ruppert,
Michael Ryan, George Banks, George Hennard
The subjects suspected of having been bullied at
Timothy McVeigh, Martin Bryant, Adam Lanza,
James Ruppert, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold,
Michael Ryan, George Banks
Table 3 Major Incident(s) in Mass Murderers’ Childhoods and their Age at that Time
Subject Incident Age
Timothy McVeigh Parents divorced 10 years
Julian Knight Adopted
James Huberty Contracted polio
Mother abandoned family
Ronald Simmons Father died
Marc Lupine Parents separated (lived with
other families, seeing mother
only on weekends)
Eric Borel Sent to mother’s parents after
Joseph Wesbecker Father died (passed from place
to place, including orphanage for
almost a year)
Andrew Kehoe Mother died (a family of 13
Jacob Roberts Mother died (later lived with
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
Adam Lanza Parents divorced (diagnosed
with Asperger’s syndrome/judge
ordered a parenting education
Seung-Hui Cho Immigrated to U.S. 8 years
Anders Breivik Parents divorced
Two reports filed concerning his
mental health to instruct removal
from his parents
Richard Speck Father died 6 years
There were nine types found from the environmental
backgrounds of 28 mass murderers. Almost one third of
these 28 subjects were isolated or bullied at school,
including those who felt they were bullied. In regard to the
type of maltreatment, neglect is clearly prevalent, at least
from type 1 to type 4.
Some of the confusing cases are discussed below. Some
researchers point out that Adam Lanza’s mother doted on
him. This could be true. However, from the fact that she
was shot four times in the head before his rampage at
school, it seems that Lanza harbored some anger toward his
mother. An unidentified witness reported that Lanza, who
had Asperger’s syndrome, thought that his mother loved her
students at Sandy Hook elementary (where she volunteered)
more than him. The witness also stated that Lanza hated his
mother because he was jealous of her students (Mail
Online). Considering this, it is more likely that, at least in
Lanza’s own mind, his mother neglected him. It is also
pointed out that Nancy Lanza was rigid, indicating her strict
and emotionally distant disposition (Yahoo News) and that
Lanza did not allow anyone to enter his room; he and his
mother communicated only via e-mail. Nancy allegedly
stayed at a New Hampshire hotel for two days before the
shooting as part of an experiment in letting her son stay
home alone to be independent (Mail Online). Considering
Nancy’s trial to leave Adam alone before the incident, it is
quite likely that this type of rigid attitude toward him
started very early. Abe and Kato suggest that environmental
factors might facilitate symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome,
such as dissociation, anxiety, depression, persecutory
delusions, and antisocial behavior . Thus, Lanza was
placed under postnatal neglect/no skin ship.
The true backgrounds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
of the Columbine High School Massacre seem unclear.
Some researchers point out that they were the bullies rather
than the bullied. Indeed, there are cases suggesting that
those once bullied later turn into bullies . However,
when considering the etiology of their criminal acts, their
initial “bullied” aspect better shows their original
personalities. Eric, who was considered the principal
offender of the two, called himself a “God of Sadness,” and
once said, “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many
fun things.” Dylan likewise wrote down in his journal, “I
have always been hated by everyone and everything”.
Princeton sociologist Katherine Newman points out that
they were not loners; they were just not accepted by the
kids who counted. The parents of his then close friend
Brook Brown stated, “[Dylan’s parents] weren’t touchy,
feely parents… It was more clinical, but they cared about
their kid” (YouTube). It is also pointed out that, although
Dylan enjoyed getting dirty, Sue Klebold was an intellectual
and a stickler for cleanliness, and the Klebold house was
always orderly . Because of his mother’s academic
orientation, Dylan was placed in a special elite course
during his elementary school years. Dylan later developed a
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
Eric’s father was in the army, and he moved around
frequently. Eric was a solitary boy who could not put down
his roots anywhere. A minister later testified that although
the Harris family was a great family—friendly, outgoing,
and caring—Eric’s father did not tolerate misbehavior in his
home, and punishment was swift and harsh, which
happened all in his family undiscernible from outside .
A little league team mate commented that Eric was the
shyest of the group. His coach added that he was not afraid
of the ball, but he just did not want to fail. Principal Frank
DeAngelis described Harris as a deceptively polite teen,
saying “Eric was the type of kid who, when he was in front
of adults, would tell you what you wanted to hear” .
Around age 12, Eric walked around burning things .
There was also an episode in which Eric’s father turned a
deaf ear when the mother of Eric’s friend Brook informed
him that Eric intentionally broke the front shield of her
son’s car. Eric’s father allegedly disregarded her claim,
saying that it was just a trifling thing between kids. Eric
himself later confessed that he was forced to be railed to be
an angel , hinting that he was forced to pretend to be an
obedient child under the unspoken family pressure.
Considering all these pieces of information, Eric was placed
under “cannot express true feelings,” and Dylan under
“postnatal neglect/no skin ship” under the suspicion that his
mother’s cold attitude started right after Dylan’s birth.
There are some researchers who claim that Seung-Hui Cho
spoke with his family weekly, and that they were an integral
part of his life. However, according to a child psychiatrist
who counseled Cho’s family, he did not talk much about his
life, even with his sister, who was supposedly one of the
very few people that Cho felt comfortable with (YouTube).
His dormitory roommate testified—based on interactions he
observed, such as when Cho’s mother dropped Cho off at
campus—that there was unusual coldness between Cho and
his parents, and there were no normal family interactions.
Cho’s psychiatrist also disclosed that his father described
himself as being an introvert. Both of Cho’s parents worked
long hours—sometimes seven days a week—and were
rarely at home. Cho was diagnosed with selective-mutism;
thus, he was placed under “no normal communication.”
After losing his father—with whom he was very close—to a
heart attack at the age of six, Richard Speck was
psychologically abused by his stepfather. George Banks was
constantly bullied because of his mixed-racial status as the
son of a white woman and a black man. Both of them seem
to have developed normal affects: Speck also had caring
sisters, while Banks had a close relationship with his
mother and some friends. However, because of their
adverse environments, they developed secondary
psychopathy; they got into fights and repeated petty crimes.
At the time of each crime, Speck was high on both alcohol
and drugs, and Banks on a mixture of prescription drugs
and straight gin, which he took the night before. In both
cases, the ingestion of the substances was believed to play a
major role in triggering the mass murder. Thus, Speck and
Banks were labeled specifically as highly intoxicated
secondary psychopath, although they share characteristics
with other categories.
Jared Loughner’s family was described by his neighbor as
being very private. Loughner also kept to himself, not even
responding to others. His girlfriend when he was 15 also
points out that he had a difficult relationship with his
parents; his father “picked on him” . Loughner’s
girlfriend also stated that his parents never let her come into
his house, and she claimed that he had definite dysfunction
in his family; his parents rarely acted as parental figures.
Eventually, she left him because of his anger management
problem. His close friend at high school testifies that there
was a change in his personality after he broke up with his
girlfriend. Loughner began to abuse alcohol and other drugs,
specifically LSD and Salvia divinorum (a natural
hallucinogen illegal in some states), and his life began to
unravel. Thus, although he shares traits of “intentionally left
out of family,” taking into account that his drastic
personality change happened after his drug abuse, Loughner
was labeled specifically as drug-induced schizophrenia.
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
After carefully examining the types—except for the last two,
which include abuse of alcohol and drugs—one can
conclude that “highly rigid parent(s),” “overprotective
mother,” and “cannot express true feelings” also seem to
belong to neglectful environment type as with type 1
through type 4. Rigid parents do not respond to—and thus
neglect—their child’s needs. Both maternal overprotection
and psychological control are known to lead to depression
because they do not allow the subject to develop
psychological independence , ; lack of independent
development is also caused by neglect. It is reported that
out of all other forms of abuse and childhood trauma,
neglect produces the unhappiest and dependent children,
who suffer from the lowest degree of self-confidence/ego
control and are the most preoccupied with negative
relational dynamics . It is possible that the negative
influences of neglectful environments caused mass
murderers to have difficulty with relationships, which lead
to their later isolation and bullying experiences .
Regarding whether the chronic, acute, and uncontrolled
strains are of equal importance, the fact that the
environmental backgrounds of mass murderers seem to
have certain clear patterns suggests that chronic strain plays
the major role in generating mass murders. Uncontrolled
strain can follow once certain mentalities are established by
chronic strain, with acute strain being only a trigger. The
age at which such negligent conditions began for the
subjects should also be discussed. As Table 3 shows, some
incidents, such as parental divorce, happened at relatively
older ages (e.g., 8, 10, and 12). However, the negative
impacts of troubled marriages on children start taking place
well before actual divorce . Negligent conditions due to
parental preoccupation with spousal quarrels are more
likely to have started at very early ages. A child is known to
develop a cognitive framework called an internal working
model around the age of three , . A person’s later
interactions with others are guided by memories and
expectations from this internal working model . If the
child’s basic needs for comfort, affection, and nurturing are
not met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others
are not established, the child develops a rare but serious
condition called reactive attachment disorder, in which an
infant/young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments
with parents and caregivers . Furthermore, it is known
that five sixths of the human brain grows postnatally, and
this growth lasts well into the second postnatal year . If
necessary early bonding experiences do not occur during
this time period due to parental neglect, prewired synaptic
connections are pruned, which could even lead to
permanent deficits . Taking all these factors into
consideration, it is hypothesized that neglected children at
the least develop a distorted internal working model. In the
worst case scenario, they develop reactive attachment
disorder or a neurologically impaired brain, which all result
in their preoccupation with negative relation dynamics,
psychological isolation, and even avoidant attitudes toward
others , . It could be this mental state that later leads
to their violent urges, which are represented by pathological
envy, revenge fantasies, and unexplained anger , ,
,. Their chronic strains accumulate and are later
ignited by acute strains, resulting in acts of mass murder
As was mentioned in the beginning of this paper, this
research is utterly preliminary, with its information based
on lay literatures and web sites. Nevertheless, the fact that
several clear environmental types surfaced out of the 28
subjects’ childhood backgrounds suggests that there is a
good possibility of producing similar, more reliable patterns
by utilizing more credible official records of mass
murderers’ backgrounds. As Lee et al. states, “genetic
aberration per se is not the sole reason leading to violence;
environmental factors such as childhood adversities play a
significant part in the development of violent behavior” [42,
p.445]. Further research is highly recommended.
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 Cullen, D. (2009). Columbine. New York, NY: 12.
 Brown, B., & Merritt, R. (2002). No easy answers: The
truth behind the death at Columbine. New York, NY:
 Thomas, P., & Friedman, E. (2010, January 13). Jared
Loughner’s ex-girlfriend ‘knew he had problems’. ABC
News. Retrieved from
 Barber, B. K. (2008). Parental psychological control:
revisiting a neglected construct. Child Development, 67(6),
 Horwitz, A. V., Widom, C. S., McLaughlin, J., & White,
H. R. (2001). The impact of childhood abuse and neglect on
adult mental health: a prospective study. Journal of Health
& Social Behavior, 42(2), 184–201.
 Kelly, J. B. (2000). Children’s adjustment in conflicted
marriage and divorce: a decade review of research. Journal
of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,
 Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss:
Vol. 1: loss. New York: Basic Books.
 Schore, A. N. (2000). Attachment and the regulation of
the right brain. Attachment & Human Development, 2(1),
 Bretherton, I., & Munholland, K.A. (1999). Internal
working models revisited. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver
(Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and
clinical applications (pp. 89–111). New York: Guilford
 Allen, B. (2011). The use and abuse of attachment
theory in clinical practice with maltreated children, part II:
treatment. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 12(1), 13-22.
 Dobbing, J., & Sands, J. (1973). Quantitative growth
and development of human brain. Archives of Disease in
Childhood, 48, 757-767.
 Glaser, D. (2000). Child abuse and neglect and the
brain—a review. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry, 41(01), 97–116.
 Hemple, A. G., Meloy, J. R., & Richards, T. C. (1999).
Offender and offense characteristics of a nonrandom sample
of mass murderers. Journal of the American Academy of
Psychiatry and the Law, 27(2), 213–225.
 Meloy, J. R., Hempel, A. G., Mahandie, K., Shiva, A.
A., & Gray, B. T. (2001). Offender and offense
characteristics of a nonrandom sample of adolescent mass
murderers. Journal of the American Academy of Child &
Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(6), 719–728.
 Lee, J., Lee, T., & Ng, B. (2007). Reflections on a mass
homicide. Annals-Academy of Medicine, 444–447.
List of Lay Literature
All the lay literature referred to is listed here only in a brief manner to avoid unnecessary extension of References section.
Timothy McVeigh (Aitken, 2001)
Charles Whiteman (Lavergne, 1997)
Julian Knight (Haddow, 1998)
Jacob Roberts (La Corte, 2012)
Marc Lepine (Gagne & Lepine, 2008)
Martin Bryant (Wainwright & Totaro, 2009)
Adam Lanza (Lysiak & Shapiro, 2013)
Jim Jones (Reiterman, 1982)
Howard Unruh (Albright, Rose, & Kniss, 2011)
James Holmes (Castillo, 2012)
Seung-Hui Cho (Ferenc, 2007)
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Cullen, 2009)
Anders Breivik (Orange, 2012)
Eric Borel (Karacs, 1995)
David Koresh (Haldeman, 2007)
Joseph Wesbecker (Ames, 2005)
Andrew Kehoe (Bernstein, 2009)
James Huberty (Kavanagh, 2009)
Jared Loughner (Berger, 2011)
One Goh (Ames, 2012)
European Journal of Academic Essays 2(7): 45-55, 2015
George Hennard (Hayes, 1991)
Ronald Simmons (Marshall & Williams, 1991)
James Ruppert (Wayne, 1995)
Michael Ryan (Josephs, 1993)
Baruch Goldstein (Greenberg, 1999)
Richard Speck (Altman & Zoporyn, 1967)
George Banks (Sisak, 2011)
Thomas Hamilton (Cullen, 1996)
Nidal Hasan (Dao, 2009)
Kenji Abe, Ed.D. researches into environmental impacts on
the development of antisocial personalities from the
perspective of understanding the globalization and social
Aggression and Violent Behavior
19 (2014) 1–11
lists available at ScienceDirect
Aggression and Violent Behavior
Laurence Miller ⁎
Royal Palm Medical Centre 1599 NW 9th Ave., Ste. 206 Boca Raton, FL 33486 United States
⁎ Tel.: +1 561 392 8881.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
1359-1789/$ – see front matter © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All ri
a b s t r a c t
a r t i c l e i n f o
Received 8 July 2013
Received in revised form 5 October 2013
Accepted 8 October 2013
Available online 14 November 2013
Part I of this two-part article outlines the history of serial killing and describes the varying patterns and motives
for this type of crime. It reviews the assorted typologies of serial killers that have been elaborated by different
researchers and offers an integrative classification of primary serial killer subtypes. In addition to the commonly
cited male, heterosexual, solitary sadistic sexual homicide offender, this article describes a number of subpopu-
lations of serial killers, including sadist–masochist, female, couple, homosexual, and professional serial killers.
Part II will examine the developmental factors, neuropsychodynamics, and forensic applications of serial killing.
© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All ri
1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2. History and concept of serial killing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
3. Definition and description of serial killing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
4. Characteristics of serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
4.1. Demographic and descriptive features . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
4.2. Criminal history . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
4.3. Characteristics of the crime . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
5. Typologies of serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
5.1. Deitz typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
5.2. Holmes typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
5.3. Rappaport typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.4. Sewall and colleagues typology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.4.1. Competitively disadvantaged offenders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.4.2. Psychopathic offenders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.4.3. Sadistic offender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.5. Serial killer typologies: conceptual commonalities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.6. Organized–disorganized dichotomy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.6.1. Organized serial killer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
5.6.2. Disorganized serial killer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6. Special populations of serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.1. Sadist–masochist serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.2. Female serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.3. Couple serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
6.4. Solo versus couple-based female serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
6.4.1. Solo, purpose-oriented serial homicide offenders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
6.4.2. Partnered, pleasure-oriented serial homicide offenders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
6.5. Homosexual serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
6.6. Homosexual serial killer typologies: conceptual commonalities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
2 L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
6.7. Professional serial killers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
7. Summary and conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Question: how is a great white shark like a serial killer? According to
a study by Martin et al. (2009) in the Journal of Zoology, except for the
water, it might be hard to tell them apart. In an interesting twist on
ethological research, marine biologists teamed up with a criminal profil-
er and applied the investigative methodology of geographic profiling to
the study of shark predation. The researchers found that the sharks do
not attack their prey at random, but stalk specific victims, lurking out
of sight. The sharks hang back and observe from a not-too-close,
not-too-far base, and hunt strategically. They prefer prey animals that
are young and alone, then typically strike from below, and try to attack
when no competing sharks are in their territory. Older sharks are
stealthier and more successful than younger sharks, indicating that
these oceanic predators, like their human counterparts, learn from
experience and improve their hunting technique over time.
In the United States, homicide accounts for approximately 20,000
deaths annually (Flowers, 2002). In ordinary civilian life, most people
do not kill, but we may enjoy watching others do it on television and
at the movies, or by reading about it in books or on websites. Scholars
busy themselves studying murder and other crimes, which is a way of
intellectually objectifying and emotionally detoxifying these uncom-
fortable subjects. Perhaps some of us have secret fantasies that resemble
those of the murderer; yet, we retain control of our actual behavior and
remain law-abiding members of society. For serial killers, however, such
fantasies outgrow their vicarious function and become a cognitive
staging ground for the actual commission of their crimes (Hickey,
1997; Simon, 1996).
The serial killer watches the same spy movies and police shows we
do, cultural narratives where street detectives or glamorous interna-
tional agents doggedly and cleverly pursue malfeasors (the lead charac-
ter of one such popular 1980s TV detective series was actually named
“Hunter”), for the greater good of society. At the same time, the nascent
killer also absorbs society’s fascination with media portrayals of the con-
scienceless power of rogues and outlaws who “don’t play by the rules,”
and he feels the same tingle of exhilaration at the opportunity to vicar-
iously track down and destroy those who “have it coming.”
However, whereas our involvement in such mayhem begins and
ends at the level of fantasy, the perpetrator of serial killing, or serial
murder, or serial homicide (the most common terms) goes further. For
the serial killer, such fantasies are not cathartic, but facilitative, the first
step, not the last. His fantasies build, along with a neuropsycho-
dynamically driven hunger that only the orgiastic release of torturing
and murdering another human being will provide. What for most people
(typically men) may constitute a momentary journey into cruelty during
the “heat of battle,” as, for example, in military service, becomes for the
serial killer his life’s guiding purpose and mission. That is why he is so
relentless. That is why he will always continue to kill until he is dead
or securely confined.
2. History and concept of serial killing
Ancient Roman emperors, such as Caligula, indulged their sadistic
inclinations at will, as no doubt did many a despot with a cruel streak,
who could exert state-sanctioned power over other people. In the
1400s, the French nobleman Gilles de Rais raped, tortured, and killed
several hundred children, reportedly deriving more pleasure from
their agonies – which included dismemberment, neck-breaking, and
decapitation – than from the act of sex with them (Benedetti, 1972).
In 16th-century Europe, the brutal mutilations inflicted on some serial
homicide victims led to the deaths being blamed on werewolves, since
only a supernaturally and bestially malevolent being could possibly be
responsible for killings of such savagery (Schlesinger, 2000).
In 1866, Richard von Krafft-Ebing published his classic text,
Psychopathia Sexualis, which contained the first comprehensive
tract on serial sexual homicide in the modern era, presenting a care-
ful description of many of the characteristics that serial homicide in-
vestigators still use today to profile crimes. These include the
tendency to lie and manipulate, take souvenirs from the crime
scene, use ligatures, prolong torture for increased sexual arousal
and pleasure, engage in an escalation of sadistic behavior, use por-
nography, humiliate and degrade victims, and carefully plan the
murders to avoid detection. von Krafft-Ebing also noted that these
offenders often displayed no obvious signs of major psychopatholo-
gy. Finally, he described signature aspects of the crime, which repre-
sent the killer’s idiosyncratic touches on the crime scene believed to
reflect his personality and psychopathology, and which is often used
as a key datum in modern criminal profiling (Geberth, 1996; Hicks &
Sales, 2006; Palermo & Kocsis, 2005).
Probably the most famous serial murderer of all time, Jack the Rip-
per, terrorized Victorian England in the late 1800s (Begg, Fido, &
Skinner, 1991). Like many modern serial killers, Jack specialized in mur-
dering prostitutes, stabbing, disemboweling, sexually mutilating the
victims and, in some cases, carefully removing their internal organs
and arranging them around the victim or taking them from the crime
scene. The surgical precision with which these eviscerations were per-
formed led to speculation that the Ripper may have been a practicing
surgeon at one of the local hospitals in the Whitechapel district of
London; such a “double life” is not uncommon in the histories of
many serial killers today. A further similarity to some modern cases
was Jack’s proclivity for sending taunting letters to the press, threaten-
ing to continue and escalate his crimes. As with many modern unclosed
files, the Ripper case remains unsolved to this day: Jack’s killing spree
apparently ended as abruptly as it began and his identity was never
Resembling more a milquetoast than a monster, Albert Fish was a
bow-tied sadist, masochist, pedophile, serial murderer, and cannibal
who operated from the 1920s to the 1930s in New York (Schechter,
1990). In one instance, he abducted a schoolgirl under the guise of tak-
ing her to a birthday party, strangled her, cut up her body, made a stew
of her remains (complete with potatoes and vegetables), and consumed
this dish over the next several days. As a final sadistic touch, six years
after the murder, Fish sent a letter to the child’s mother, detailing how
he had killed and eaten her daughter. This led to his arrest shortly
after the letter was traced to his home. In addition to serial murder,
Fish engaged in a variety of sadomasochistic behaviors, including eating
his own excrement, inserting rose stems in his penis, and inserting 29
sewing needles into his groin, clearly visible on X-ray years later. As
discussed further below, the Albert Fish case illustrates the heterogene-
ity and versatility of sadomasochistic behaviors displayed by serial
killers that appear to involve the common intertwined phylogenetic
themes of sex, death, and eating.
One of the more famous serial killers of modern times was Albert
DeSalvo, commonly known as the Boston Strangler, who killed 13
women over an 18-month period in the early 1960s (Rae, 1967).
DeSalvo displayed the kind of escalation in violence often seen in serial
homicide careers, first as a voyeur, then progressing to burglary, later
becoming a rapist, and finally a serial murderer. Also typical of many
3L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
serial killers was his penchant for using charming seduction to gain
entry to his victims’ homes, often posing as a repairman or a scout for
a modeling agency. The victims were strangled and stabbed, and
broomsticks and other objects were inserted into their bodies. His sig-
nature behavior often consisted of placing a bow made from the victims’
stockings around their necks.
The term serial murderer was coined by FBI Special Agent Robert
Ressler during the “Son of Sam” killings (which were actually shootings
of young women, not sexual homicides per se) in New York City in the
1970s. Up to that time, there were probably less than 10 serial mur-
derers identified in the United States. By the 1980s, the FBI calculated
that approximately 35 serial killers were active in the U.S., and in recent
years that estimate has swelled to between 200 and 500, accounting for
2000 to 3500 murders a year, more than 10% of all murders in the U.S. In
fact, with only 5% of the world’s population, some authorities believe
that the U.S. may have up to 75% of the world’s serial killers, perhaps
due to the open, mobile nature of American society. The increase in
the number of serial killers captured and recorded may be due an actual
surge in the rate of this crime or to better profiling and crime-solving
techniques. However, despite the singular successes glorified in the
popular media, the case clearance rate (proportion of crimes that are
solved) of serial murders is fairly low. Thus, serial killers are precisely
so dangerous and frightening because they rarely stop killing unless
they die or are apprehended (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003; Chan
& Heide, 2009; Flowers, 2002; Hickey, 1997, 2003; Holmes, 1989;
Holmes & Holmes, 1994, 1996; Johnson & Becker, 1997; Miller, 2000;
Palermo & Kocsis, 2005; Simon, 1996; Volavka, 1999).
Since the late 1970s, the media and the public have become increas-
ingly fascinated by serial killers (Table 1). However, because human na-
ture and behavior are relatively stable across time and place, virtually all
of the contemporary offenders chronicled in modern clinical case histo-
ries and media narratives could find familiar chapters within the pages
of Krafft-Ebing’s 1866 treatise. For example, prostitutes continue to be
a favored target of serial killers, either because of psychodynamic preoc-
cupation with the sins of tainted womanhood, or because they are con-
veniently disenfranchised victims (Miller, 2008b; Miller & Schlesinger,
2000; Spungen, 1998) who are easy to find, isolate, and kill without
arousing too much of a public outcry—as opposed, for example, to
preppie college students or young urban professionals.
Also recently seen are cases of vampirism and cannibalism: Jeffrey
Dahmer could trade recipes with Albert Fish on their mutual taste for
Some famous American serial killers.
Albert Fish: Active 1928–1935. Kidnapped, tortured, mutilated, and ate children. For at least som
and ate human feces. In one case, he sent a detailed letter to a murdered little girl’s parents,
Henry Lee Lucas: Active 1960–1983. Initially boasting of mutilating and killing up to 500 peo
Albert DeSalvo: Active 1962–1964. The “Boston Strangler” sexually assaulted and strangled wo
in the 1969 Rolling Stones’ song, Midnight Rambler.
John Wayne Gacy: Active 1972–1978. Posed as a police officer, detained boys and young men
Arthur Shawcross: Active 1972–1990. Strangled or beat to death young women, mainly pros
Ted Bundy: Active 1974–1982. Charming and seductive, he raped, killed, and mutilated his f
Unsuccessfully tried to feign multiple personality disorder as an insanity defense.
David Berkowitz: Active 1976–1977. Terrorized the New York City area as the “Son of Sam,”
from his neighbor’s dog. Stalked young, brunette, long-haired women and shot them to de
Dennis Rader: Active 1976–1986. Called himself the “BTK Killer” for “Bind-Torture-Kill.” Tortur
18 years, then re-emerged, with new media messages, which led to his arrest.
Wayne Williams: Active 1979–1982. Convicted of murdering 21 African-American children in
research has shown this not to be the case.
Jeffrey Dahmer: Active 1987–1991. Lured boys and young men to his apartment, drugged the
body parts around his home. Also experimented with making “sex slave zombies” out of s
Aileen Wuornos: Active 1989–1991. A rare female serial killer, she shot seven men to death, cl
her was titled, Monster, although it could be argued that her crimes were considerably less
John Allen Muhammad: Active 2002. Teaming up with a young protégé, Lee Boyd Malvo, thes
9–11 terrorist attacks. The duo killed a total of 10 people with a single hunting rifle from t
might be wrought if a dozen or a hundred dedicated snipers were to coordinate such attac
anthrophagy, that is, eating of humans. Children also continue to be vic-
timized: John Wayne Gacy would feel right at home in the 1400 s with
Gille de Rais. Many contemporary offenders are highly intelligent and
outwardly charming, yet often with histories of fire-setting and
animal cruelty, and some still send taunting letters to the press. In the
popular imagination, extraterrestrial aliens have now replaced
werewolves as suspects in particularly gruesome livestock mutilations
which may in reality represent training exercises for a few disturbed
individuals who might later go on to carve up humans. And like their
predecessors, many modern serial murderers have had seemingly
stable relationships with girlfriends or wives, many of whom claim
ignorance when their mate’s double life is exposed or who, in some
cases, may be complicit in the crimes (see below).
Indeed, so great is the public’s fascination with the kind of con-
scienceless power embodied by the serial killer, so great is the thrill
that many people get from momentary vicarious identification with
such pure remorselessness, that some serial killers – much like
gangsters – have achieved the status of criminal rock stars, appearing
in numerous crime anthologies, on T-shirts, in song lyrics, and especially
in movies and on TV (Table 1). For example, Ed Gein wore the skin of his
victims during his autoerotic transvestite rituals: this became the inspi-
ration for the “Buffalo Bill” character in Silence of the Lambs (LaBrode,
But at the same time that we are enthralled by the serial killer, we
are also afraid of him. Surveys have shown that the public puts their
fear of serial killers second only to the fear of terrorism (Schlesinger,
2000). Again, this reflects the fact that one’s idiosyncratic notions of
“good” and “bad” human behavior are often determined by individual
personalities, circumstances, ideology, and culture (Miller, 1990,
2012). Vegetarians think meat-eaters are barbarians. Steak-lovers
chomp on their juicy morsels with gusto, but would retch at the thought
of eating the flesh of another human being. Fore Islanders of New
Guinea eat the brains of their recently deceased relatives as a religious
ritual and would regard as profoundly disrespectful any family member
who declined. The patriarchs of the Old Testament routinely practiced
animal sacrifice as a devotion to God, but regarded as an abomination
the human child sacrifice practiced by contemporaneous worshippers
of Baal. Eating one’s enemy to assimilate his strength and power, or
the taking of body parts as trophies, has characterized victorious war-
riors in every age; as recently as September, 2010, U.S. Army soldiers
were charged with keeping leg bones, finger bones, and teeth from
e of his crimes, he claimed he was ordered by God to carry them out. Also self-mutilated
describing in sadistic detail what he did to the child; this, fortunately, led to his capture.
ple, he later recanted many of these claims and was convicted of murdering 11 victims.
men from 19 of 85 years of age. Once of the first “celebrity serial killers,” he was lyricized
at his home, sexually assaulted them, strangled them, and buried their bodies under his
titutes, and dumped their bodies along a river in upstate New York.
emale victims, displaying trophies, including severed heads, in his apartment.
based on his letters to the press claiming to receive demonic messages and commands
ath with a handgun, leading to another moniker, the “44-Caliber Killer.”
ed and murdered his victims and sent letters and packages to the media. Disappeared for
the Atlanta area. At the time, black serial killers were thought to be a rarity; subsequent
m, sexually assaulted, murdered, mutilated, and cannibalized them, and stored multiple
ome of his victims by performing crude lobotomies on their brains.
aiming they had tried to rape her while she was working as a prostitute. The movie about
monstrous than those of many of the male serial killers described here.
e “Beltway Snipers” paralyzed the Washington DC area, which was still reeling from the
he trunk of an old car, leading pundits to speculate nervously about what kind of havoc
ks around the country.
4 L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
slain Afghanis. Thus, the study of serial killers – by whom we are simul-
taneously fascinated and repelled – must be interpreted in the context
of our own clinical and cultural environment.
3. Definition and description of serial killing
By the FBI’s operational definition, serial murderers are those who,
either alone or with an accomplice, kill at least three people over a peri-
od of time, with “cooling-off” periods between the murders, indicating
premeditation of each killing. When serial killers are identified, it is
sometimes because, in acting out their fantasies, they leave their charac-
teristic signatures on their victims’ bodies or at the crime scene.
Serial murderers are distinguished from mass murderers, who kill
multiple victims in a single incident, and whose fantasies tend to
involve revenge against actual or imagined persecutors. Whereas the
torture and murder activities of serial killers tend to be slow and
close-up, involving low-tech weapons that gouge, flay, or strangle, the
typical goal of mass murderers is to kill many as many victims as possi-
ble, quickly, efficiently, and at once, using the highest level of lethal
technology available to them to do the most damage — handguns,
assault weapons, explosives, or arson (Dietz, 1986; Fox & Levin, 1994,
1998; Holmes & Holmes, 2001a, 2001b; Meloy, 1997; Miller, 1999,
2006a, 2006b, 2007, 2008a; Palermo, 1997; Simon, 1996).
4. Characteristics of serial killers
Although heterogeneity exists within any psychological or crimino-
logical category (also see below), certain common features characterize
4.1. Demographic and descriptive features
The typical serial murderer is a white male in his 20s to 40s, although
older cases are seen, especially for killers who have escaped detection
for many years. Minority groups are becoming increasingly represented.
The individual is often a loner, although many are married or live in
relatively stable relationships. He often appears to others as intelligent
and charming. He may be stably housed and employed or he may
change jobs and residential locales frequently (Chan & Heide, 2009;
Fox & Levin, 2003; Hazelwood, Dietz, & Warren, 1992; Holmes & De
Burger, 1985; Lester, 1995; Palermo & Kocsis, 2005; Rappaport, 1988).
4.2. Criminal history
Although many serial killers, when apprehended, are found to have
no prior criminal record, other studies have found that more than half of
serial killers and other multiple homicide offenders have a past criminal
history, and a few have shown a lifelong, often escalating, pattern of
antisocial and criminal behavior (DeLisi, 2001, 2003, 2005; DeLisi &
Scherer, 2006; Farrington, 2000; Fox & Levin, 2003; Harbort & Mokros,
2001; Nagin & Farrington, 1992; Piquero et al., 2003).
A frequent association appears between serial homicide and two
other crimes: burglary and rape (DeLisi & Scherer, 2006; Douglas &
Olshaker, 1998; Hazelwood & Douglas, 1980; Prentky et al., 1989;
Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas, 1983; Ressler, Burgess, Douglas, Hartman,
& D’Agostino, 1986). While the reasons for this particular association
are not settled, it seems evident that both of these crimes involve the
willful violation of another person’s intimate self, either their home or
their physical body. Burglaries and rapes are, in essence, both invasions
of another person who has been dehumanized, much as past and pres-
ent armies of conquest have engaged in rape and pillage of a conquered
enemy’s home territory, and so-called moralistic street robbery is often
used by urban gangs to demoralize rivals (Jacobs & Wright, 2008). It
should not be surprising, therefore, that this pattern of behavior may
frequently escalate to the ultimate violation of a person’s body: murder.
4.3. Characteristics of the crime
The victims of serial murder are predominantly female, white, and
young adults, although same-sex murders are not uncommon, and
some serial killers target children (see below). The majority of crimes
are intraracial in nature, although a few serial killers have targeted
ethnic groups different from themselves. As a notable exception to the
general rule that we are most likely to be killed by someone we know,
serial sexual homicides are twice as likely as other homicides to involve
strangers (Flowers, 2001; Schlesinger, 2004, 2007).
Many serial killers collect trophies from the crime scene that they
keep as mementos of the kill. These can range from articles of jewelry
or clothing to internal organs or other body parts. Other serial killers
engage in necrophilia, having sex with the dead body, some even pre-
serving the body, or parts of it, for later use, or returning to the hidden
crime scene to have repeated sexual contact with the decomposing
corpse (LaBrode, 2007; Schlesinger, 2000; Schlesinger & Miller, 2003;
Stein, Schlesinger, & Pinizzotto, 2010).
A significant number of serial killers engage in some form of post-
mortem manipulation, mutilation, and/or cannibalism of their victims,
some drinking the blood or eating parts of their victims at the crime
scene or later, a practice called anthropophagy. Albert Fish made stew
from at least one of his victims. Jeffrey Dahmer cannibalized several of
his victims, storing the remains in his freezer like cuts of meat from
the deli. He described the experience of eating his victims as sexually
exhilarating (Ressler & Schactman, 1997).
In Reinfield’s syndrome, also known as clinical vampirism, the killer
feels a compulsion to drink the victim’s blood. A number of researchers
have commented on the similarity of these behaviors to the activities of
predatory animals, including the common house cat, as well as to the
customs of some preindustrial human societies, where drinking the
blood or eating a body part (e.g., the heart) of a slain adversary is
believed to convey the dead foe’s power to the victor and to protect
the warrior from vengeance by the victim’s spirit. Examples include
Maori warriors who taste the blood of their slaughtered enemies and
executioners in Niger who lick the blood of their victims from the
knife (Reiwald, 1950). In the contemporary movie and TV series,
Highlander, a fictional secret race of immortals battle one another for
supremacy, assuming their adversaries’ knowledge and power by
Indeed, this fusion of killing, dismemberment, sex, and eating high-
lights the primal interaction of these life and death forces in the
survivalistic world that ancestral humans evolved in. In this sense, the
serial killer frightens us all the more because his behavior strips away
the veneer of civilized behavior and starkly illustrates the dark places
our human natures can go (Miller, 1990, 2000, 2012).
As noted earlier, when serial killers are identified, it is often because,
in acting out their fantasies, they leave their characteristic signature on
the victims’ bodies or at the crime scene. These are unique traces of
behavior, thought to be idiosyncratic for that particular offender, that
are often used as clues in profiling serial crimes. These may include pat-
terns of attack, forms of bondage and torture, such as piquerism (intense,
focused injury to the breasts of the victim), type of killing, postmortem
body positioning, dress or undress, postmortem mutilation or dismem-
berment (necrosadism), and trophy-taking.
Recent evidence suggests that such signatures do not necessarily re-
main uniform for any single serial killer and that patterns of attack and
crime scene characteristics can change over time (Schlesinger, Kassen,
Mesa, & Pinozzotto, 2010). However, most authorities agree that serial
sexual murderers act out an intense fantasy relationship with their
victims, and thereby require the victims to be essentially anonymous
props on whom they can inflict torment and death to achieve the
exhilaration of sexual gratification. In this conceptualization, the selec-
tion, stalking, and capturing of their victims are essentially their version
of foreplay, with the torture and killing culminating in the orgasmic
climax (Arrigo & Purcell, 2001; Chan & Heide, 2009; Geberth & Turco,
5L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
1997; Hickey, 2003; Holmes & Holmes, 2001a, 2001b; Johnson &
Becker, 1997; LaBrode, 2007; Langevin, 2003; Malmquist, 1996;
Purcell & Arrigo, 2006; Schlesinger et al., 2010; Simon, 1996; Starr
et al., 1984).
Some of the characteristic behaviors of serial killers may involve one
or more paraphilias, such as 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)
(Arrigo & Purcell, 2001; Kerr, Beech, & Murphy, 2013; Myers, Husted,
Safarik, & O’Toole, 2006).
One common fetish is the tendency for many serial killers to blind-
fold their victims (Holmes, 1989). This probably has little to do with
fear of identification, since the perpetrator intends to kill his victim
eventually. More commonly, the motive involves injecting additional
terror into the victim who cannot see what is happening to her, as
well as effecting a further dehumanization of the victim by avoiding
her gaze; for similar reasons, enucleation (gouging out of the eyes) is a
common signature practice of serial killers, premortem or postmortem.
Some authorities (e.g., Malmquist, 1996) also believe that blotting out
the victim’s eye contact is a means of counteracting the shame that
may occasionally threaten to break through the serial killer’s defenses,
although the general consensus seems to be that most of these
perpetrations have far too little conscience for shame to be a significant
The serial killer devotes a tremendous amount energy and intelli-
gence to the planning and execution of his attacks, becoming more pro-
ficient each time he kills. Many serial killers are fascinated by police and
detective work, and educate themselves in police procedures by reading
books, taking courses, watching detective shows, doing online research,
and speaking with local law enforcement officials. Some serial killers
have impersonated police officers, and in some cases, have even
inserted themselves into the investigations of the very crimes they
have committed. John Wayne Gacy kept a police radio in his home;
Wayne Williams photographed crime scenes; Ted Bundy once worked
for the King County Crime Commission; Dennis Nilssen served a year
on the London Police Force; and Edmund Kemper hung out at a bar
near police headquarters, pestering off-duty officers with questions
about the very murders he had committed (Simon, 1996; Starr, 1984).
5. Typologies of serial killers
Considering the amount of clinical and criminological attention that
has been devoted to serial killers, it should not be surprising that a
plethora of typologies has been developed to classify different types of
perpetrators. The more well-known typologies are described below
to illustrate the commonalities in observations among different re-
searchers studying the same phenomenon.
5.1. Deitz typology
Dietz (1986, 1987) has proposed a typology that divides multiple
murderers into five categories:
Psychopathic sexual sadists kill for the sheer pleasure of torturing and
murdering their victims in a sexual way. This has also been termed
lust murder or erotophonophilia (Hickey, 2003; Schlesinger, 2004).
This is probably closest to the classic serial sexual homicide perpe-
trator that is the subject of most descriptions. Examples include
Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.
Crime spree killers embark on one or more jaunts of murder, usually
in association with other crimes, most commonly robbery, but they
also derive a thrill from the power and opportunity to flaunt author-
ity that their acts entail. An historical example would be Bonnie and
Clyde. A fictionalized cinematic portrayal appears in the 1994 film,
Natural Born Killers.
Organized crime functionaries consist of professional or semiprofes-
sional “hit men,” individuals who kill primarily for money, although
they almost certainly enjoy a sense of power and control from being
in this line of work. Other examples would include political assassins
and territorial dispute killings by rival criminal gangs (Schlesinger &
Custodial killers murder vulnerable victims who are supposed to be
in their care. The most common examples include “angel of death”
cases involving nurses in hospitals or nursing homes who surrepti-
tiously murder ill or elderly patients, usually by asphyxiation or
medication overdose. This group is likely to contain the highest
number of female serial killers. An historical example is “Jolly” Jane
Toppan, a nurse who, from 1895 to 1901, killed at least 31 hospital
patients in Massachusetts (Raine, 2013).
Psychotic killers murder under the influence of some form of delu-
sion, such as defending themselves against malevolent pursuers
(persecutory delusion) or receiving a divine command to rid the
world of certain types of people (grandiose delusion).
5.2. Holmes typology
Another widely-used typology of serial killers (Holmes & De Burger,
1985, 1988; Holmes & Holmes, 1996) uses the following descriptors:
Spatial mobility killer. This typology maintains a clinical and forensic
distinction between geographically stable serial murderers who live
in one area and kill in that same or a nearby area, and geographically
transient murderers who travel to other locales to commit their
Visionary serial killer. This type of killer is induced to murder by delu-
sions and/or command hallucinations which impel him to act. His
victims are typically strangers, and his psychotic state at the time
of his crimes sometimes results in the invocation of an insanity
defense. This type appears closest to one variety of Dietz’s (1986,
1987) psychotic killer, discussed above.
Mission serial killer. This may represent another type of Dietz’s
psychotic killer, who is following a religious or political imperative
to eradicate a certain group of people. In the Holmes classification,
the mission killer need not be grossly psychotic, but simply affected
by what would be described as a delusional disorder in DSM-5 (APA,
2013), or he may have no diagnosable mental disorder at all and may
simply be acting on an extreme ideological belief that it is necessary
to eliminate some identifiable class of “bad” people.
Comfort-oriented serial killer. This killer’s motive for murder contains
at least some utilitarian purpose. It may include the hired assassin
who kills purely for profit or the individual who murders family
members for financial gain, in which case the profit motive may be
admixed with feelings of hatred and revenge.
Hedonistic serial killer. This is the type of serial murderer who derives
sexual pleasure from the act of killing, which is usually prolonged
and contains acts of mutilation, torture, dismemberment, and/or
necrophilia. This is probably closest to Dietz’s psychopathic sexual
sadist, as well as to the classic description of the serial sexual homi-
Power/control serial killer. Similar to the above type, this murderer
derives pleasure from the prolonged torture and killing of another
human being, but here the emphasis is more on the control and
domination aspects of the killing than the sexual component per
se. Of course, there is likely to be a great deal of overlap between
these two categories.
A empirical study of the Holmes serial murderer typology was
carried out by Canter and Wentink (2004), based on an analysis of
crime scene evidence from 100 U.S. serial murders. They found limited
support for aspects of the lust, thrill, and mission serial killer categories,
and features of the power/control serial killer were found to generalize
to serial killers as a whole, rather than forming a distinct type. The
6 L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
findings suggested that more attention should be paid to styles of inter-
actions with victims, such as use of restraints, torture, mutilation and
theft of property, rather than just inferring the motivations of individual
5.3. Rappaport typology
Rappaport’s (1988) typology describes five types of serial killers:
Spree killers kill a series of victims during a continuous span of mur-
der and are basically similar to Dietz’s and others’ descriptions of the
crime spree killer.
Functionaries of organized criminality are the contact killers, assas-
sins, and hit men familiar from previous descriptions.
Custodial killers are medical personnel, foster parents of disabled
children, or other caretakers who poison or asphyxiate victims for
financial gain, revenge, ideology, or twisted altruism (“angels of
mercy/angels of death”).
Psychotic killers murder under the influence of delusions and/or
hallucinations, familiar from above descriptions.
Sexually sadistic killers are murderers who derive sexual pleasure
through inflicting pain on their victims, which describes both Dietz’s
psychopathic sexual sadist and Holmes’ hedonistic serial killer.
5.4. Sewall and colleagues typology
Recently, Sewall, Krupp, and Lalumiere (2013) have pointed out
that the crimes of sexual homicide perpetrators frequently occur in
the context of a long and varied criminal history, involving an assort-
ment of petty and violent crimes. Incorporating this data, these authors
propose a serial killer typology containing the following three offender
5.4.1. Competitively disadvantaged offenders
These are life-long offenders whose criminal careers begin early,
often in childhood or adolescence, and involve numerous and sundry
crimes, ranging from petty theft to sexual assault and murder. They
frequently are developmentally and cognitively impaired, socially dis-
advantaged, and lead a marginalized, criminal lifestyle. They would
probably correspond to the definition of antisocial personality disorder
described in DSM-IV-TR and DSM-5 (APA, 2000, 2013). When it occurs,
sexual homicide is characterized by an impulsive, angry sexual attack,
often in response to sexual rejection, and may begin as an attempted
sexual assault that then escalates to murder.
5.4.2. Psychopathic offenders
These offenders also begin their variegated criminal careers early,
but they are more neurodevelopmentally intact and able to maintain
relatively stable lifestyles coexisting with their criminality. Cold and re-
morseless, their crimes are likely to involve far more cunning and con-
ning than the previous type, and they would probably correspond to
the classic psychopath in criminological literature (Cleckley, 1941;
Hare, 1993, 2006). Their primary motivation is the quest for thrills and
excitement, which they obtain by manipulating, exploiting, and domi-
nating other people. At times, this may include various forms of sexually
sadistic behavior, but deliberate murder is likely to be the exception
and, again, may occur in response to sexual rejection or in the course
of a sadistic sexual act that gets out of hand.
5.4.3. Sadistic offender
For this perpetrator, preoccupation with sexual torture and murder
has become a lifestyle, at first nurtured by fantasies and pornography,
later perhaps practiced on animals, and finally expressed in acts against
human beings. Intriguingly, this individual may have little or no crimi-
nal history beyond his sexual homicides, and he is also likely to possess
the controlled predation characteristics of the psychopath, here focused
exclusively and intently on his pursuit of gratification through sexual
domination, torture, and murder.
5.5. Serial killer typologies: conceptual commonalities
The commonalities of typological descriptions coming from different
observers in different times and places attests to a certain construct
validity of the categories described by each. These appear to boil down
to a basic set of common serial or multiple murderer subtypes:
Sexual sadists who kill for the intense pleasure derived from the
domination, control, torture, humiliation, and murder of another
Delusional killers who are on a mission, either frankly psychotic or
more ideologically-driven, to rid the world of persons they consider
Custodial killers who murder helpless or dependent persons under
their care. Note that this group may overlap with the above, e.g.
the health care worker who believes that society should not waste
resources on sick or disabled people or that God has commanded
that it would be more merciful to put them out of their misery.
Utilitarian killers whose motive at least partly involves some practical
financial or other material gain, although the motive may be mixed
with anger or revenge, as in the aggrieved spouse who wants to
put a final end to the wrangling over a bitter divorce.
5.6. Organized–disorganized dichotomy
Probably, the best-known, and increasingly controversial, classifica-
tion scheme of serial killers is the one developed by the FBI’s Behavioral
Science Unit (BSU), which divides serial killers into organized vs. disor-
ganized subtypes (Geberth, 1990; Geberth & Turco, 1997; Hazelwood &
Douglas, 1980; Hickey, 1997; Palermo & Kocsis, 2005; Ressler, Burgess,
& Douglas, 1988; Ressler et al., 1986).
5.6.1. Organized serial killer
This perpetrator is above average in intelligence and considers him-
self superior to other people. He is meticulous in most aspects of his life
and takes great care with personal appearance, grooming, and belong-
ings. His crime is well thought out and carefully planned. The crime is
usually committed away from his area of residence or work and he is
quite mobile, often traveling long distances to commit his crimes. Fanta-
sy and ritual are important to the organized killer, and he typically
selects a stranger whom he considers the “right” type of victim in
terms of age, physical appearance, behavior, and other qualities. The
killer often carries a carefully prepared “torture kit” containing his pre-
ferred implements of bondage and mutilation. He may follow and stalk
this victim for hours or days, and he may take great pride in verbally
manipulating his target into a position of vulnerability. His capture
and control of the victim are calculated to afford him maximum
power over his hapless prey. Alcohol is often used during the murder.
He often takes a souvenir or trophy from his victim that he may
later use to relive the event or enhance his fantasies surrounding the
The organized serial killer is often familiar with police procedures
and takes great pride in thwarting investigations and taunting law
enforcement officials by the careful placement or concealment of evi-
dence. In some cases, he is currently or has formerly worked in some
branch of law enforcement or security, or aspired to do so. He may be
a “student” of previous or contemporaneous serial killers, reading up
on their exploits and even corresponding with them in prison. He
typically learns from each of his own crimes and becomes increasingly
sophisticated in his predatory and elusive tactics. Although casual
observers may describe some serial killers as solitary and strange in
7L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
their daily behavior, just as commonly he may appear normal and a
“regular guy” to coworkers, family, and neighbors.
5.6.2. Disorganized serial killer
This killer is average or below average in intelligence. He is often a
loner and a recluse. He is typically an underachiever, feels sexually
and interpersonally inadequate, has a poor self-image, and is considered
“weird” or “creepy” by acquaintances. He typically engages in such sex-
ual activities as voyeurism, exhibitionism, lingerie thefts, and fetish bur-
glaries, and uses sadistic and fetishistic fantasy and pornography in
autoerotic activities. He is less careful about planning, and his crime
scenes typically display more haphazard behavior. The violent offense
is more impulsive and spontaneous, and the victim is often a target of
opportunity. The disorganized killer’s crimes lack the manipulation
and cunning of the organized killer, and typically consist of “blitz
attacks” that are intended to silence the victim quickly through blunt
force trauma, following which, death usually follows quickly. Some
attacks may be characterized by overkill, with multiple stabs and
blows. Postmortem activities with the corpse may include biting, ex-
ploratory dissection, mutilation, insertion of foreign objects, or mastur-
bation onto the body, and there may or may not be actual penile
penetration of the body. As the name implies, the crime scene is sloppy
and disorganized, with minimal effort to conceal the evidence. Trophies
are less frequently taken, but there may be a secondary robbery of
As with most classificatory systems, intermediate types are fre-
quently found, and sometimes a crime scene has elements of both orga-
nized and disorganized categories, in which case it is called mixed
(Geberth, 1990; Geberth & Turco, 1997; Hickey, 1997; Ressler et al.,
1986, 1988). And, as with most psychological and criminological de-
scriptors that deal with the untidy realities of human nature, authorities
are coming to agree that the organized–disorganized system should be
thought of more as a continuum than as a rigid dichotomy, and that this
information should be utilized as one set of data, along with the other
information collected in the course of an investigation (Hicks & Sales,
2006; Palermo & Kocsis, 2005; Schlesinger et al., 2010).
6. Special populations of serial killers
As described earlier, most serial killers, especially perpetrators of
serial sexual homicide, are heterosexual males; however, like any gen-
eralization about human nature, there are exceptions, and this section
will consider some atypical varieties of serial killers and multiple homi-
6.1. Sadist–masochist serial killers
For a subset of serial killers, sadism is suffused with masochism, and
these individuals derive pleasure from both giving and receiving pain
(Hill, Habermann, Berner, & Briken, 2006; Knoll, 2009; Myers et al.,
2006, 2008), often engaging in acts of self-mutilation, genital self-
torture, or autoerotic asphyxiation (choking oneself almost to the point
of unconsciousness during masturbation) (Everitt, 1999; Newton,
1990). Theories to explain the origin of these sadist–masochist serial
offenders include: (1) identification with an earlier parental figure
who has been both an aggressor and a victim (Macgregor, 1991; Stein,
2004); (2) being raised by a sexually provocative and punitive mother
(Fox & Levin, 1994; Meloy, 2000); (3) becoming a “substitute victim”
to vicariously experience the victims’ pain, so as to heighten the
offender’s enjoyment of inflicting further pain (“Wow — if this is what
it feels like, she must really be suffering…”) (Knoll, 2009); and (4) the
grandiose sadism theory, in which the serial offender assumes the very
identity of the victim by such actions as wearing her clothes, using her
scalp as a wig, or even donning her skin as a jacket or shawl in order
to extend his control over the victim beyond her death (Knoll, 2009;
Warren, Hazelwood, & Dietz, 1996).
6.2. Female serial killers
As with violent crimes generally, male serial killers far outnumber
female serial killers; however, over the past two centuries, about 15 per-
cent of multiple homicide offenders have been women (Hickey, 1997;
Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998; Malmquist, 1996; Perri & Lictenwald,
2010). There are several features of female serial killers that distinguish
them from their male counterparts (Arrigo & Shipley, 2001; Flowers,
2001, 2002, 2006; Flowers & Flowers, 2001; Gurian, 2011; Kelleher &
Kelleher, 1998; Palermo & Kocsis, 2005; Seagrave, 1992; Vronsky,
Unlike most male offenders, who kill out of compulsive rage and/or
predatory lust, the motives behind serial homicides committed by
women tend more toward monetary gain or histrionic attention-
seeking. One exception may have been Eileen Wournos, who appears
to have targeted male victims for motives of revenge and control. Fe-
male serial killers tend to start somewhat later than males, usually
around age 30. With regard to methodology, males use more brute
force, and are more likely to shoot, strangle, suffocate, stab, or bludgeon
their victims, who are usually strangers. Female serial killers are more
likely to use poison as a lethal tool and to kill people they know,
including family members, spouses (“black widow” cases), or depen-
dent persons under their care (“angel of death” cases). Female serial ho-
micides rarely require the kind of behavioral profiling applied to more
traditional male cases.
Holmes and Holmes (1994) have elaborated a typology of female
serial killers that parallels their typology for men:
Visionary serial killers: women who murder in response to delusional
beliefs and/or hallucinated voices or visions. These women often
suffer from a severe psychotic illness or mood disorder.
Comfort-oriented serial killers: women who murder for financial or
material gain. These are the “black widows” who may be highly mo-
bile and skilled at changing their identities to lure unsuspecting vic-
tims in diverse locations over time, thereby racking up a string of
wealthy (and soon to be deceased) husbands, before being
Power-seeking serial killers: females who kill for the thrill and power
gained through having full control over life and death of the victim.
These include the “angel of death” cases that occur in health care
facilities, although the killer may also target disabled family mem-
bers, in which case the motive may be intertwined with material
Hedonistic serial killers: women who kill for sexual gratification. Un-
like for men, this is typically rare as a primary motive in female serial
killers. However, many of these women may derive gratification
through their association with a male serial killer (see below).
Disciple serial killers: women who kill under the command of a
charismatic leader. Also rare, this may occur in a religious cult,
more commonly out of personal allegiance to a charismatic male.
The women who participated in the Tate-LaBianca murders in
1969 were under the thrall of Charles Manson, who remains in
prison for the crimes. One of his disciples, Leslie Van Houton, was
recently denied parole for the 13th time (Yahoo Voices, 2013).
6.3. Couple serial killers
Isn’t it romantic when two homicidal lovers find each other? Cine-
matically dramatized in the 1994 film, Natural Born Killers, these couple
killers, partner killers, team killers, or tandem killers, as they are variously
called, commit their murders as a duo, one member typically baiting,
befriending, or seducing the victim into a position of submission, with
the other member then perpetrating or joining in the killing. The
motives may range from pure robbery–murder for profit to prolonged
torture–murder for sexual gratification, with various gradations in
between (Flowers, 2002; Flowers & Flowers, 2001; Owen, 2004).
8 L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
Jenkins (1990) has described four types of partner or group serial
Dominant–submissive pairs. In this group, one member, usually the
male, is the dominant partner. The woman participates in the
murders mostly to please the man and often to act as the bait to
lure victims. She may or may not participate in the actual torture
and murder of the victim, but may observe it. These women may
later describe themselves as reluctantly willing participants, but
more commonly claim that they were “brainwashed” by the man,
especially when facing serious legal charges.
Equally dominant teams. Here, both members of the couple derive
satisfaction from the killings, and both members are willing partici-
pants in the crime. The woman may participate in the capture and
binding of the victim, more rarely in the torture and murder itself.
She may enjoy witnessing the crime. The couple may subsequently
use their recollections of the crime, aided by photographs, videos,
and even objects or body part trophies, to enhance their sexual
Extended family or group. These may range from actual biological fam-
ilies who collaborate in serial murders to cult-families, such as the
original Charles Manson group in the 1960s, in which unrelated peo-
ple come together to form a small commune or tribal group that par-
ticipates in homicide, typically for reasons ranging from robbery, to
sexual gratification, to loosely-articulated philosophical/ideological
reasons, sometimes with all of these motives combined.
Organized or ceremonial social groups. Here, the ideological or politi-
cal aspect has become more crystallized and systematic. These are
often quasi-religious cults who commit mass murder, as in the
1995 Aum Shinrykio sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway; however,
in some cases, individual victims may be targeted as well. Sexual
motives are far less common in these groups.
Mention should also be made of couples in which the woman may
not actually participate in the crimes, but may herself be subjected to
physical and sexual torture by her mate, as part of a consensual sadomas-
ochistic relationship (Knoll, 2009; Warren & Hazelwood, 2002). In some
of these cases, the man has also been a violent sexual offender outside of
the relationship, including committing serial sexual homicide. The
woman may or may not have known about her mate’s crimes, reminis-
cences of which are sometimes overtly or surreptitiously used to
enhance the sexual pleasure of the man or both partners during their
own sexual activities.
6.4. Solo versus couple-based female serial killers
The research of Gurian (2011) has led to a classification of female se-
rial homicide offenders into two groups, based upon whether their
crimes occur predominantly solo or in collaboration with a male
6.4.1. Solo, purpose-oriented serial homicide offenders
These women act alone and typically have some utilitarian motive
for their murders, even though they may be driven by psychopatholog-
ical forces. These may include: (1) medical murderers (custodial killers,
“angels of death”); profit murderers (“black widows” who kill husbands
or other family members for money); and infanticides (multiple mur-
ders of babies or young children; this may overlap with the custodial
6.4.2. Partnered, pleasure-oriented serial homicide offenders
These women operate as part of a male–female serial murder team,
and their motives are typically more for personal gratification or to
accommodate their partner’s pleasure, including: (1) sexual sadists
(the woman directly obtains pleasure from sexually torturing and mur-
dering the victim); spree murderers (these usually occur in connection
with other crimes, such as robbery, e.g. Bonnie and Clyde in the
1930s); profit murderers (similar to solo profit murderers, but here
with the help of a male collaborator); cult or religious murderers (the
killings are evoked by a charismatic male figure, e.g. the Tate-Labianca
murders by the Charles Manson cult in 1969); male serial murderer–
female accomplice (the woman serves primarily to aid and abet the
male partner’s depredations, such as luring victims or disposing of
6.5. Homosexual serial killers
Another minority group in the serial killer universe consists of men
who kill men. To date, there have been two main typologies developed
to characterize this subgroup.
Geberth (1996) has offered a six-fold typology of homosexual serial
Interpersonal violence-oriented disputes. These are essentially “lover’s
quarrels” between homosexual partners or ex-partners that escalate
to violence and murder. Unless they occur in a repeated pattern, it is
unlikely that these acts meet the definition of serial homicides,
Forced sodomy. Here the gratification occurs through the act of sexu-
al domination; death in these cases is usually accidental from exces-
sive force used to brutalize or restrain the victim, most often either
blunt force trauma or asphyxiation. Again, unless repeated, whether
this meets the definition of serial homicide is questionable.
Lust murder. This homosexual serial killing pattern probably comes
closest to its heterosexual correlate described more commonly in
the literature. In these crimes, the act is carefully premeditated and
reinforced by sadistic fantasies. A certain type of victim may be
stalked and seduced or overpowered into submission. Death is
sadistically prolonged by torture and genital mutilation, trophies
may be taken, and there may be concealment or crime scene staging
of the body.
Power murder. This is similar to the above category (and the two may
well overlap), except that here, the sexual motivation is thought to
be secondary to the thrill of power and domination. The victims
are likely to be chosen for their physical vulnerability or social mar-
ginality, such as children, teens, homeless men, drug addicts, or
prostitutes. Although torture may be a feature of these killings,
mutilation and dismemberment are just as likely to occur postmor-
tem to create “shock value” for whoever discovers the body. Anger,
more than lust, appears to drive this kind of homosexual serial
Robbery–homicide. Here, the offender cruises the gay scene, often
posing as a prostitute, looking for vulnerable victims to rob. Either
deliberately as part of the plan, or inadvertently, some of these
robberies end in murder.
Homophobic murder. Episodes of gay-bashing may escalate to mur-
der, again, either deliberately or accidently. The offenders may be
self-repudiating homosexuals or homophobic heterosexual males.
More recently, Beauregard and Proulx (2007) have presented a ty-
pology of homosexual serial homicide consisting of three categories.
Avenger. These individuals can be found among the ranks of homo-
sexual, heterosexual, or bisexual prostitutes, whose lifestyles often re-
volve around drug and alcohol consumption. Many have criminal
records, including property crimes and violence. Psychological, physical,
and/or sexual abuse during childhood appear to form the core dynamic
of this pattern. The victim is often an older man (parental figure?).
When a particular sex act is requested by this partner, pickup, or prosti-
tution patron, it purportedly triggers a traumatic memory and violence
erupts, which may eventuate in murder. Psychodynamically the offend-
er is violently avenging himself on the hapless sex partner for past griev-
ances and abuses he’s suffered at the hands of others. The murder scene
is characterized by signs of intense rage, and death usually occurs by
9L. Miller / Aggression and Violent Behavior 19 (2014) 1–11
strangulation or by use of a weapon of opportunity (sharp utensil, heavy
object, belt or cord).
Sexual predator. This is the homosexual lust murderer, motivated by
sadistic sexual fantasies, and on the prowl for vulnerable victims, often
children or adolescents, who may be homosexual or not. There is often a
prior criminal history. The killing is premeditated, the victim is stalked
and abducted, and acts of torture, sodomy, and mutilation are typically
performed in the course of the sadistically prolonged murder. This type
most closely resembles the classic heterosexual serial sexual homicide
Nonsexual predator. This type of murderer is not motivated by anger
or by sadistic sexual fantasies, and the homicide is usually accidental or
impulsive, occurring in the course of a robbery which is the primary mo-
tive for the encounter. Often, the offender chooses his victim at a gay
cruising venue, gains access to the victim’s residence under the guise
of a sexual liaison, attempts to rob the place, and when confronted by
the victim, feels compelled to overpower him, killing him in the process.
The attempted robbery may also occur in an alleyway, car, or other se-
cluded locale. Sex may occur prior to the crime to pacify the victim,
but the motive for the encounter is not primarily sexual. The offender
may act alone or with an accomplice, and alcohol or drugs are frequent-
ly involved. The perpetrator usually has a varied criminal history with
an emphasis on property crimes.
6.6. Homosexual serial killer typologies: conceptual commonalities
The commonalities between these typologies appear to involve the
following basic subtypes, which may overlap:
Profit. The motives are primarily to rob the victim, and sex is used as
a lure or for pacification.
Sadistic sexual gratification. Like many heterosexual sadistic sexual
homicide perpetrators, the homosexual serial killer derives intense
pleasure from the torture and murder of another human being.
Power. The sexual component is ancillary to the motive of power and
Homophobia. The killer destroys that which he is most afraid of or
disturbed by in himself or others.
6.7. Professional serial killers
Some people make their living killing other people. Their crimes can
be said to be “serial” in the sense that these assassinations and contract
killings are repeated, in the same way as anyone’s job activities are
carried out on a regular basis; however, these acts may be far removed
psychologically from the type of sexually sadistic serial killer usually
associated with this term. Schlesinger and Miller (2003) have explored
the characteristics and psychological dynamics of what they terms
contract murderers, which are classified into three types:
Amateur. These actually comprise the majority of murderers for hire,
largely because of their low cost and relatively easy availability with-
in the criminal subculture. This subject frequently has a history of
petty crimes and of addiction, psychopathology, and a marginal life-
style. The most common scenario involves a small-time crook who is
hired by either an associate or a stranger to eliminate a no-longer-
wanted spouse, lover, or personal rival for purposes of jealousy,
money, or revenge. Although initially motivated by cash, many of
these minor-league hitmen eventually come to enjoy the thrill and
power associated with taking another person’s life.
Semiprofessional. The semiprofessional contract murderer is more
technically savvy and has had more on-the-job training than the
amateur. His criminal history is more lengthy and has involved
more serious crimes, and he may have served terms in prison. Semi-
professionals are less likely to show major psychopathology, but
frequently display traits of antisocial personality and have histories
of violence in their background. The semiprofessionals plan their
contract murders with a higher level of sophistication and attention
to detail than do amateurs. The typical target of a semiprofessional
contract murderer is the hirer’s business associate or rival criminal,
but in some cases, the semiprofessional is hired to eliminate a
spouse or other family member. Because he is more expensive
than the amateur, the clientele of the semiprofessional tend to be fi-
nancially comfortable individuals with something substantial to
gain from the target’s elimination.
Professional. As the name implies, the professional contract killer
takes his vocation seriously, actually studying and training himself
in the art and science of killing. He often has prior military, law en-
forcement, or security experience and carries his lethal skills over
into his criminal trade. Most of these professional assassins are on
retainer with organized crime cartels, although some freelance
their services to various criminal and political organizations as need-
ed, commanding stiff fees for a professional job which typically in-
cludes the efficient elimination of the target and cleaning up of
evidence that could tie the crime to either the assassin or the hirer.
The target is usually a prominent functionary in a rival criminal orga-
nization or a political figure. The job may also involve multiple tar-
gets, in which case, bombing or arson may be involved, in which
case it may overlap with terrorism (Miller, 2006a, 2006b). In some
cases, certain government agencies may retain the professional’s
services when they want to carry out a military or political assassina-
tion that cannot be traced back to them.
Serious psychopathology is uncommon in these individuals and, in-
deed, the best of them must possess keen intelligence and the ability to
think quickly and flexibly and to restrain impulsive action. While con-
tract killers by definition could be said to harbor antisocial personality
traits, many of these individuals rationalize their actions as being on a
par with paramilitary mercenary soldiers and, as noted above, some of
them may actually have had this experience. However, it is not unrea-
sonable to speculate that some degree of narcissistic power thrill under-
lies these assassins’ motivation for continuing in this line of work.
7. Summary and conclusions
Part I of this two-part article illustrates that serial killers have been
around for as long as people have lived in aggregated societies. Although
the most common type of serial killer discussed by law enforcement and
featured in the popular media is the sadistic serial sexual homicide of-
fender, there is a wide range of serial killer subtypes, each with differing
and overlapping motives. However, there appears to be a general con-
sensus on the following basic categories: (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. Finally, although most serial
killers are single heterosexual males, research has documented the
presence of female, homosexual, couple, and professional serial killers.
Part II will examine the developmental factors, neuropsychodynamics,
and forensic applications of serial killing.
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6. Special populations of serial killers
6.1. Sadist–masochist serial killers
6.2. Female serial killers
6.3. Couple serial killers
6.4. Solo versus couple-based female serial killers
6.4.1. Solo, purpose-oriented serial homicide offenders
6.4.2. Partnered, pleasure-oriented serial homicide offenders
6.5. Homosexual serial killers
6.6. Homosexual serial killer typologies: conceptual commonalities
6.7. Professional serial killers
7. Summary and conclusions
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