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Criminal Minds: A Look Into the Mind of Infamous Serial Killers

Serial killers terrify communities, but they also fascinate and intrigue them. Society cannot get enough, and thousands of people avidly study serial killers, their psychological characteristics and the origins of these characteristics. Delving into a serial killer’s criminal mind opens doors to things that most mentally stable people cannot comprehend. Serial killer profiles are far more complicated than most people know. There are so many misconceptions about serial killers and the most prevalent misconception is that all serial killers are psychotics who have lost touch with reality. Most infamous serial killers are actually psychopaths who suffer from some type of chronic mental disorder with abnormal and violent social behaviors.

All serial killer profiles include three main motives: control, power and dominance. They kill to achieve sexual satisfaction and for the thrill, and they lack empathy and conscience. Rarely do serial killers commit their crimes for money. The average serial killer is a white male in his late twenties to early thirties who seeks victims he does not know, near his place of work or home; these victims are often vulnerable people, such as runaways or prostitutes. It is estimated that 85 percent of serial killers are white males approximately 28.5 years of age. Approximately 62 percent of serial killers kill only strangers and 71 percent of all serial killers target victims in a specific location and do not travel to find their victims and commit their crimes. In order for a killer to be classified as a serial killer they must have killed at least three victims. These killings must be spaced out by at least several days, and the serial killer must use a particular method to carry out their murders. For example, infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s trademark method, was to gag his victims with their own undergarments so that his victims were forced to die in their own vomit.

Part of developing a serial killer profile, is learning about their childhood. Many people assume that all serial killers were abused as children. Many of them were abused, but some infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy, had relatively normal and happy homes as children. The infamous serial killers that were abused, experienced profound abuse during their childhood. Those who were abused, often experienced a combination of abuse, such as sexual molestation, physical abuse, psychological abuse and abandonment. Many infamous serial killers, such as David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Joel Rifkin and Aileen Wuornos.

When developing a serial killer profile, criminologists often look into the behaviors possessed during a serial killer’s childhood. In addition to profound abuse, many infamous serial killers also presented many more warning signs as children. Many notorious serial killers were either adopted or raised by a domineering mother and abandoned by their fathers. They often resided in homes in which, other family members had a psychiatric, criminal, and alcoholic history. Most infamous serial killers often tend to hate their parents, biological and adopted. Many serial killer childhoods are spent in institutions due to childhood psychiatric problems. During their childhood, many serial killers are fascinated with fetishism, voyeurism, and sado-masochistic pornography. They often commit arson and, torture and kill small creatures. They tend to attempt suicide multiple times, and over 60 percent of serial killers wet their beds after 12 years of age.

Most infamous serial killers are hard to spot because they blend in so well with society. They are often impeccably dressed, charming and polite. They use manipulation to lure their victims, and observe others, so that they can simulate normal behavior. Many serial killers even had wives, children, and successful careers. Infamous serial killer Gary Ridgeway, was married to his wife Judith Ridgeway, for fourteen years as he murdered 48 women in the State of Washington; Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK killer, was married and the president of his church; Ted Bundy worked at a crisis hotline center; Robert Yates Jr. had five children and was a decorated veteran; John Wayne Gacy was married, had children and ran a successful business while murdering boys and burying them beneath his home.

Serial killer murders are premeditated, planned, and methodical. They carefully plan and execute their killings, and many of them kill dozens of people over many years before being caught. A common serial killer trait is intelligence. Infamous serial killers tend to have IQ’s in the bright normal range and are considered to be quite intelligent. Many of them have college degrees and some even have degrees from Ivy league schools, such as Michael Ross who killed eight women.

Most infamous serial killers begin killing after experiencing a pre-crime stressor. A pre-crime stressor is an event that triggers the killer to begin killing. This stressor sets him off and he kills to release his stress. Pre-crime stressors can include conflict with loved ones, marital problems, becoming a parent, financial stress, losing a custody battle, losing a loved one, legal problems, and physical injury. Serial killers often deal with the anger, frustration, or resentment that these problems cause by killing. Infamous serial killer, Christopher Wilder, began his murderous rampage of torturing, raping, and murdering eight women after his marriage proposal was rejected; Ed Gein began his killing spree after a bad fight with his mother.

Serial killer murders occur in six phases. During the first phase, the serial killer starts to lose his grip on reality, usually because of a stressor. During the second phase, a serial killer seeks out a victim. During the third phase, the serial killer manipulates and lures his victim. During the fourth phase, the serial killer entraps his victim. During the fifth phase, the serial killer tortures and kills his victim. Serial killers who also raped their victims, do so during the fifth phase. The fifth phase is where the serial killer experiences an emotional high. The sixth phase, also referred to as the depression phase, is the final phase, and it occurs after the serial killer kills his victim. Infamous serial killer Ted Bundy stated, that after the sixth phase, he always experienced hopelessness and emptiness, and these feelings motivated him to start the cycle all over again. This six phase cycle most often repeats itself until the serial killer is either caught or dies.

Many infamous serial killers have been caught and punished, but some infamous serial killers such as Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer, have never been caught. It is safe to assume that these two serial killers are dead, but as of right now there are serial killers still on the loose. One of these serial killers is known as the Grim Sleeper. According to Los Angeles police, the Grim Sleeper is still on the loose as of October 9, 2009, and he is thought to have murdered eleven people between 1985 and 2007. The United States has 76 percent of all the serial killers in the world making it the country with the most serial killers, with California being the state with the most serial killers.

Resources
Akers, R., & Sellers, C. (2009). Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation and Application. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press

Levin, J. (2008). Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers: Up Close and Personal. New York: Prometheus Books

Vronsky, P. (2004). Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. New York: Penguin Group

Shackelford, T. (2008). Evolutionary Forensic Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Editors of Time Life Books. (1992). Serial Killers. New York: The Time Life Book Company

Downes, D. & Rock, P. (2007). Understanding Deviance. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press

Sycamnias, E. (2008). Evaluating a Psychological Profile of a Serial Killer. Retrieved on October 8, 2009 from Website: http://www.uplink.com.au/lawlibrary/Documents/Docs/Doc5.html

Finnstrom, K. (2009). Police Hunt Grim Sleeper Serial Killer. Retrieved on October 8, 2009 from Website: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/26/grim.sleeper.california/index.html

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