What makes a serial killer?
October 15, 2002 10:01 AM   Subscribe

What makes a serial killer? America has 6% of the world's population, but 75% of the serial killers (30-50 in total). And why are most killers male while most victims are female? Would you rather go to a thrill seeker or an angel of death? Can you reform one when you catch one?
posted by twine42 (37 comments total)
 
It's my first MeFi article. Be gentle with me...
posted by twine42 at 10:02 AM on October 15, 2002


Be gentle with me...
posted by matteo at 10:15 AM on October 15, 2002


It implies a cultural reason for serial killing (most are in America) and I would have to disagree and say this is a human trait that can be found uniformly around the world. Indeed it can be found in the animal kingdom there was a documentary about a lion that was killing the other lions. The killer lion was shuned from the pride untill one day they had enough ganged up on the killer lion and killed it. I think there are similair case studies of primate serial killers as well.
posted by stbalbach at 10:20 AM on October 15, 2002


I've always wondered if the number of recognized U.S. serial killers is a function of our large population, relatively skilled law enforcement and aggressive media. Wouldn't it be easier to get away with such crimes in less stable countries? Historically, they seem to have been caught, more often than not, by accident.
posted by rotifer at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2002


From the site:
Serial Murder is an epidemic, there are at least 35 serial killers active in the USA today who claim one third of the annual murder rate.
According to the FBI, there were about 15517 "murders and nonnegligent manslaughters" in the US in 2000. If 35 serial killers were responsible for 1/3 of those, that'd mean that each of them--each of them--killed 148 people that year alone. Doesn't seem credible.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:30 AM on October 15, 2002


The male-female dichotomy comes along with other aggressive male behavior such as rape and harassment (both of which are generally male aggressor and female victim, except in prison, but even there the aggressors are male and the victims are feminized males). I guess that after nature removed our large canines (used in other primates only for display and competition purposes, never in hunting and killing), males had to develop some other way to let out aggression, right?

About the culture vs recognition aspect of world distribution, I agree with rotifer. That's a quite good point, and the site's stats do seem off as the ever-delicious MoonPie points out.
posted by The Michael The at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2002


It implies a cultural reason for serial killing (most are in America) and I would have to disagree and say this is a human trait that can be found uniformly around the world.

A human trait, perhaps, but that doesn't mean it can't be mitigated or exacerbated by environmental and cultural factors as well. You seem to be implying a false dichotomy--the reasons for serial killing are either entirely cultural, or else not at all cultural--which I would take issue with.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2002


I think there are similair case studies of primate serial killers as well.

Jane Goodall observed that two chimps, a female named "Passion" and her adolescent daughter (Pom) killed at least ten infants over the course of four years (and ate them).
posted by ALvard at 10:40 AM on October 15, 2002


Well I also would think it's simply a matter of defining "serial killer."

We allege that Osama bin Laden is behind countless attacks on U.S. military and civilian targets for the last few years... doesn't that make him a serial killer? Do we include various national governments who seek out and terminate dissidents? The Nazis had serial killings over several years. If we define serial killing as "a series of 5 or more murders with a cooling off period between each murder" as this website did, then different people could include the Nazis, Al-Quaeda, the IRA, the PLO, fringe Israeli Settler movements, The KKK, Afrikkaners, the French Resistance, Jack Kevorkian, abortion protestors, abortion providers, Sinn Fein, and so on and so on into this category.

The reason serial killings are dominant in the U.S. is because "serial killer" is a Euro-American term. Serial killers are associated with these events in American and European media and literature (ex. Jack the Ripper.) It's a combination of culture and perspective.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:44 AM on October 15, 2002


I would argue that the reason America has "75%" of the serial killers in the world is: the FBI. You only know about them if you catch them.
posted by McBain at 10:46 AM on October 15, 2002


When I turn to the profile, I am deeply offended by once again bad mouthing beastiality!
As for the Buddhist restorative justice: I am all for doing away with the death penalty but would give life sentence, with no chance for release, to caught serial killer. Then he could do his meditating for a good long time.
As far as age, the knees do get wobbly with age and this makes serial killing a tough job, better left to the young folks.
posted by Postroad at 10:51 AM on October 15, 2002


There was a documentary on a few months back (Discovery? BBC? Channel Four? Not sure) that claimed a link between serial killers and men with exceptionally high levels of testosterone. I can't find a link to it though despite several searches.
posted by kerplunk at 10:59 AM on October 15, 2002


Nazis, Al-Quaeda, the IRA, the PLO, fringe Israeli Settler movements, The KKK, Afrikkaners, the French Resistance
I believe serial killers have always existed. The above groups (one could continue through history) simply provided avenues for these individuals to satisfy their lust.
posted by rotifer at 11:01 AM on October 15, 2002


Oh, come on, XQ. We're not talking about killings in the course of a war (loosely defined), and it makes no sense to talk about groups of people as "serial killers" -- a serial killer by definition is a lone individual. That disposes of all of your examples except Kevorkian; whether you want to call him one is up to you, but he's certainly not what most people mean by it. I strongly suspect rotifer is correct in his analysis; there must be many such loonies in countries where conditions are such they get away with it much longer and are caught only by accident. (Cf. the Russian Andrei Chikatilo.)
posted by languagehat at 11:03 AM on October 15, 2002


XQUZYPHYR: Most of the instances you mentioned are groups of people with a support system and at least some level of centralized control. Maybe only one person in an IRA cell does the killing, but he still comes home to a few others who approve of his actions. Serial killers almost always act alone and aren't exactly big on the group hug.

Following your reasoning a soldier who goes out on patrol one day, kills someone, and then goes on another patrol a week later and kills again would have to be considered a serial killer.

On preview: what languagehat said (faster than me...)
posted by Cyrano at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2002


You seem to be implying a false dichotomy--the reasons for serial killing are either entirely cultural, or else not at all cultural--which I would take issue with.

Heheheheh. DevilsAdvocate is sure earning his name. Made me grin.

People are just insane. It's as simple as that. (-;
posted by foxyfoxinsox at 11:05 AM on October 15, 2002


To clarify my comment a bit .. I think serial killers can sometimes mask their instincts by operating under the auspice of a central authority. Certainly these opportunities were more abundant in the past. Though Languagehat is right, their personalities don't often lend themselves to social situations, they also tend to be intelligent and adaptable - Ted Bundy, for example.
posted by rotifer at 11:33 AM on October 15, 2002


What McBain said: we catch 75 percent of the world's serial killers.
posted by coelecanth at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2002


What I think a lot of people forget, in regards to serial killers, is that there is a very important difference between a serial killer, serial murderer, and a mass murderer.

A serial killer generally has a specific MO, usually a specific type of victim (although there are exceptions, like the Zodiac Killer), often a sexual angle to the killings, and partial cannibalism is common. A compulsion and cooling off period also seem to be hallmarks of a true serial killer. Again, there are always exceptions, though. Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, Albert Fish, Peter Kuerten (Germany) and Andrei Chikatilo (Soviet Union) are considered serial killers.

A serial murderer is someone who has killed a lot of people, but doesn't have a psychological compulsion to do so. People like hit men, who kill for business but take no particular pleasure in killing fit into this category.

Mass murderers are people who kill a lot of people at one sitting, are often heavily armed, and are usually killed by police, commit suicide at the end of their rampage, or are arrested. People like Charles Whitman, that one black guy in the New York subway a few years ago, or that guy who shot up a McDonald's fit here.

Many of the most famous "serial killers" are not, in fact, actually serial killers. Ed Gein only killed five people, and they were all on the same night. He was a very mentally ill person who robbed graves and made clothes and other items out of human skin, but he wasn't a serial killer. Remember, there is a difference between all these types of killers and murderers.

For more information, you can visit your local Serial Killer Gallery.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 11:51 AM on October 15, 2002


''To kill one person is murder; to kill a million is a mere
statistic.'' - Stalin
posted by blogRot at 11:52 AM on October 15, 2002


To clarify my comment a bit .. I think serial killers can sometimes mask their instincts by operating under the auspice of a central authority.

From the book, The Psychopatic Mind by J. Reid Meloy,
Ph.d (pg. 90):

" The more intelligent psychopathic individual, however, may be able to simulate such anger (empathic anger for people who have been abused, violated, degraded), most publicly apparent in expressed allegiance to a particular political or ideological group representing an oppressed segment of society.The psychopath, hidden behind a facade of ideological committment, may therein find intensely gratifying, sensation-seeking experiences. International terrorist groups who target civilian populations will provide certain violent psychopathic characters with outlets for the expression of sadistic impulses if they can tolerate the ideological fervor and ritual.

Psychopathic individals within an extremist political group will disinhibit others through their risk-taking and violence. Their absense of superego constraints, agressiveness, grandosity, paranoia, and capacity to disidentify with any victim provide a powerful characterological template for uncharacteristic modeling behavior by other group members."
posted by echolalia67 at 12:17 PM on October 15, 2002


Why don't Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao count as serial killers?

I'll take a few nurse and hooker stranglers to a genocidal nationalist leader any day of the week.
posted by pjdoland at 12:28 PM on October 15, 2002


The Stalin quote should be "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic."

I woulda mailed that, but blogrot doesn't have an address visible.
posted by NortonDC at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2002


"Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not just food. Sometimes there must be a beverage."

Woody Allen
posted by fluffy1984 at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2002


My bad... cut and pastied from Google.

....couldn't remember Stalin's first name, either....
posted by blogRot at 1:15 PM on October 15, 2002


Quoting Joseph Stalin and Woody Allen in the same thread...something just seems wrong there.
posted by Zulujines at 1:24 PM on October 15, 2002


The best resource available on serial killer news and stats is the Internet Crime Archives. Turn of your speakers, the site is somewhat noisy.
posted by falameufilho at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2002


Let's be realistic here

Why don't people like GWBUSH (serial killer in late 2001 in Afghanistan and Palestine) and H.KISSINGER count as serial killers. Pretty much in history of this country we call USA there wasn't a president who was not a serial killer more or less.....

USA is a great country, but our roots are in killing, I am sorry to say that but we started this country by killing the natives.

We are pretty blood thirsty.

Horror movies where serial killers are "the heroes" are part of our cultural tradition

I believe in law of karma in the society, the only universal truth is that for every action there is a reaction. For everything we do we will suffer or enjoy the consequences.

Isn't military an organization of killers ? But so is a terrorist group

Perhaps the answers to solving the problem of the aggressive world full of hate lies in educating people about the history, listening to people's cry and helping each other to make it a better, less violent world....
posted by bureaustyle at 1:55 PM on October 15, 2002


Homosexual, Black, Hispanic, Jewish and Asian serial killers.

Garh, I'm a seerial killer. I kill people by looking at them.
posted by murmur at 2:16 PM on October 15, 2002


Look, people (I'm especially looking at pjdoland and bureaustyle here), the reason people like Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Kissinger, Josef Mengele, etc. aren't considered serial killers is because they aren't serial killers. There is a very, very big difference between a serial killer and someone who just happens to have killed a lot of people with their own hands, much less a head of state or someone in a government.

Pol Pot and Ted Bundy are so completely different from each other, they can't be directly compared in any way.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 2:23 PM on October 15, 2002


I wonder if serial killers arrive at a point in their lives where they wonder if they're going to grow up and be serial killers..
posted by dopamine at 4:10 PM on October 15, 2002


American Heritage Dictionary defines a serial killer as a person who attacks and kills victims one by one in a series of incidents.

Wordnet defines a serial killer as someone who murders more than three victims one at a time in a relatively short interval.
posted by ZupanGOD at 5:33 PM on October 15, 2002


USA is a great country, but our roots are in killing

Can you name country whose history does not including killing other people? Um, no.
posted by Bag Man at 6:13 PM on October 15, 2002


technically, I think the main difference is between serial killer and mass murderer. Mass murderers go out and slaughter large numbers of people (ie, Bin Laden, although I've no idea how the third party aspect of his involvement would skew things).

Serial killers kill people individually with a cooling off period between murders. No-one seems to know how long that period is though...
posted by twine42 at 1:30 AM on October 16, 2002


America has 6% of the world's population, but 75% of the serial killers

Clearly Americans are more evil than people from other nations. Or

An increasingly greater spatial mobility (since the advent of the automobile) has enabled killers (if they wish) to move rapidly from one place to another, often before a murder has even been discovered.

If you're going to be a serial killer then I think America is one of the best places to do it. Plenty of space and opportunity to get away from the scene of the crime, a mobile population that often doesn't know its neighbours well enough to be interested in their habits, no ID cards and a culture that doesn't see anything strange in living alone.

I sometimes wonder if women's changing status in society has anything to do with it - in the sense that men may resent women who have control over their lives and appear to live in a sexually decadent manner. On balance though, I think if you're a sick, psychopathic woman-hater then it's a woman's essential femininity you despise, regardless of political status. Maybe women are just easier to get at these days, as they tend to be out and about more and travel alone.
posted by Summer at 3:16 AM on October 16, 2002


Can you reform one when you catch one?

Why would you want to? Why waste the energy and resources on someone who has gone so wrong? Why not instead expend that energy on someone who could actually use some help, and benefit from it.
posted by a3matrix at 5:38 AM on October 16, 2002


Better watch out for that serial killer hiding murder material in a cereal box on top of your stereo...

Oh, sorry, wrong thread.
posted by apollo3000 at 12:47 AM on October 17, 2002


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