A serial killer has been loosely defined as a person who murders three or more people, usually with a significant time break (a week or more) separating each event. Serial killers normally, but not always, operate alone.
Their motivations are varied, and the majority of murders of this type involve a sexual element but many other types have also been identified, including anger, “thrill killings”, sadism and attention seeking. Serial killers often operate in a similar way with each victim, and target similar individuals, involving gender, age or appearance.
The stereotype of the serial killer as a deranged psychopath does fit on some occasions, but is wide of the mark in many others, with several instances of outwardly normal individuals later identified as serial killers. Men are more likely to commit these crimes, with women and juveniles also represented, but far less commonly.
Serial killer profiles often contain a number of similar features and these include:
- Varying degrees of mental illness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Experience of physical and/or emotional abuse as a child
- Association with a dysfunctional family
- A history of petty crimes as children or adolescents
- A fascination with setting fires
- A history of cruelty to animals
- An IQ in the range of average to below
However there are many exceptions to these rules and investigators consider all possibilities when attempting to profile such individuals.
Many serial killers have been recorded throughout history, but notable examples from modern times include:
- Jack the Ripper – Murder and mutilation of at least 5 prostitutes by an unidentified killer in London around 1888.
- John Wayne Gacy – Rape, torture and murder of at least 33 boys and young men around Illinois, USA during the 1970’s.
- Ted Bundy – Kidnapping rape and murder of more than thirty young women and girls across seven US States during the 1970’s. He was also a necrophile.
- David Berkowitz – Random shooter who killed six people on the streets of New York City during 1976 and 1977.
- Jeffrey Dahmer – Rape, murder and dismemberment of seventeen men and boys around Ohio, USA, from 1978 to 1981. Necrophilia and cannibalism were also involved
- Aileen Wournos – Shooter who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990.
- Luis Garavito – rape, torture and murder of 147 young boys in Columbia during the 1990’s.