January 19, 2019

Defining the Serial Killer

At times, the media jumps the gun and pronounces murders to be the work of a serial killer because of the shock value and ratings it produces. While a string of similar murders may, in fact, be the handiwork of a serial killer, it is important to understand what a true serial killer is – and is not – before assigning this label. It may never be possible to understand what differentiates serial killers from normal people, why certain people feel driven to kill in the face of the triggers faced each day by the rest of society, but defining the characteristics of a serial killer makes it easier to determine when a crime falls into this category.

Essentially, serial killers are defined by their methods, motivations and marks.

What is a Serial Killer?

A variety of definitions exist for the term serial killer and clinical experts may disagree with one another on any given part of the defining characteristics. In general, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines a serial killer as:

  • Someone who commits three or more murders, often with a period of inactivity between kills, sometimes called the “cooling off” period
  • Someone who picks victims seemingly at random, as they are not usually associated with the killer. Understanding the commonality between these random victims can lead investigators to apprehend the killer
  • Someone who does not gain financially from the murders. Usually, serial killers have deep-seated psychological motivations for their actions
  • Someone who murders individuals in a ritualistic fashion; however, the ritual of a disorganized serial killer may not share the same level of definition as does the ritual of an organized serial killer.

Furthermore, serial killers usually lack the ability to form strong emotional relationships with others. While a serial killer is capable of maintaining relationships on a superficial level, they lack the capacity for emotions like empathy, compassion, guilt and remorse. To the serial killer, taking a human life is of no more concern than swatting a pesky fly.

Methods of Serial Killers

While most people might define the uncontrollable need to kill as crazy, strictly speaking, not all serial killers are clinically insane. Some do suffer from an antisocial personality disorder and display psychopathic tendencies. It’s important to note, however, that not all people with antisocial personality disorder are serial killers.

Two classifications exist for the methods of serial killers:

  • Organized Serial Killer – Often has a high IQ, perhaps achieving genius level status. Uses charm and wit to stalk and lure victims. Despite the ritualistic nature of the murders, can evade capture by law enforcement through crime scene manipulation.
  • Disorganized Serial Killer – Displays an IQ below average. Crimes may be random in nature as this killer focuses on killing as soon as the opportunity presents itself, not on maintaining the murder rituals. Law enforcement may have difficulty catching this kind of killer because of the randomness in victims and attacks.

Motivation of Serial Killers

The exact reasons remain unique to each serial killer, but it is possible to place most into one of four categories:

  • Visionary Serial Killer – Seeks to rid the world of a specific group of people they view as unworthy or problematic, such as homosexuals, prostitutes, people holding certain religious faiths or those of a certain national origin. When captured, this killer may not understand why they are being punished for performing a service to the world through their actions.
  • Mission-Oriented Serial Killers – Kills individuals based on outside instructions. This killer may believe God or Satan ordered the murders.
  • Hedonistic Serial Killers – Kills for the enjoyment derived from killing or torturing others. Crimes may be sexual in nature, but are not limited to lust killings. Instead, obtaining the thrill of or the comfort from the kill may be the primary motivation.
  • Domination Serial Killers – Seeks to exact the ultimate control over another through taking their life. May be a victim of abuse trying to regain the sense of control lost during childhood.

Marks (Victims) of Serial Killers

Statistically, more women fall prey to serial killers than men. Male serial killers often select victims they do not know. To carry out the kill, it may be necessary for them to stalk a victim for a lengthy period in order to understand their habits.

On the other hand, female serial killers usually target people with whom they already have a close relationship. Friends and family, particularly husbands and children, are the preferred victim.

Information taken from:

What Makes Serial Killers Tick?

Serial Killer

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About Jen Whitten

Jen Whitten is a paranormal researcher and writer, specializing in psychic development, Empaths, modern day vampirism and dealing with entities. She regularly discusses the paranormal realm, as well as the dark inner workings of the mind.


  1. *lynne* says:

    After watching episode after episode of Criminal Minds over the past month, a lot of what you’ve described is all too familiar :)

    • Admin says:

      Okay, that was seriously fast response to the post. :)

      I actually enjoy that show quite a bit…probably more than I should. It’s one of the few that sticks to reality instead of hyping everything up for shock value. Sadly, most serial murders are sensational enough on their own, without media embellishment. :(