The Portrait of a Serial Killer

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The Portrait of a Serial Killer

A killer's name derived on the way they kill their victims / Photo by Getty Images


Killing is one unstoppable addiction for serial killers. One after another, they slay specific kinds of victims, according to their preferred target gender, race, age, and profession using their weapon of choice. In some cases, it may also depend on the symbols placed on the victim’s body. PsycholoGenie says that a serial killer’s name is derived from the way they kill their victims also known as their modus operandi. Their reason for killing often stems from their hatred and their fear, which can be due to their damaged childhood.

Origins of the Term

Before FBI agent and profiler Robert Ressler coined the term serial killer in the 1970s, they were also known as mass murderers, Psychology Today states. In 1974, while Ressler was teaching at the British Police Academy, he received reports of crimes that happened in series like murders, burglaries, robberies, arsons, and rape. He said that the description of these crimes made him remember to the movie industry term “serial adventures”. Serial adventures were movies that show episodes every Sunday afternoon in movie theaters in the 1930s and 1940s. Since every episode was left on a cliffhanger, young audiences would come back for more to know what happens next after the “inconclusive” ending.

Ressler further explained that since every episode did not have a satisfying ending, it added to the tension instead of reducing it in the audience. He says that likewise, the conclusion of each murder they commit heightens the tension that the killer feels. This dissatisfaction drives them to commit more murders in the future that think will draw them nearer to their ideal murder. Since never feel satisfied by the outcome of every murder, this causes them to repeat their murders which becomes an unending serial cycle.

Mass Murderer vs. Serial Killer

In the article Serial Killer vs Mass Murderer: What’s the Difference?, Mental Floss points out how a person can tell a mass murderer and serial killer apart. According to them, a serial killer murders in a series of events, while a mass murderer kills in one event and place. For one to be characterized as a serial killer, they must kill at least three victims or more and in have intervals between murders where they take breaks. It is also said that they often get aroused from the murders they commit. On the other hand, mass murderers, even though they also kill three or more people, the multiple murders occur at a single moment.

Types of Serial Killers

The two types of serial killers are:


The organized serial killers use a systematic approach in their murder. They plan which luring devices to utilize, how they will kidnap their target and kill them, and how they will dispose of their body in an isolated location. They may also have an extensive understanding of forensic science which helps prevent them from leaving any traces of their crime. Additionally, they are described as having a higher IQ and being more difficult to catch.


Meanwhile, disorganized serial killers kill impulsively. They are often unemployed, mentally ill or loners. They usually have low IQs and are not concerned about leaving any proof of their murders. They are also prone to making mistakes and are easily caught.


Organized serial killers have a higher IQ thus making them difficult to catch / Photo by Getty Images


Personality and Background

Based on the findings of social scientists, 90% of serial killers are around 25 to 35 years old and are Caucasian males. Female serial killers are rare and usually use poison as their method of murder, Atmostfear Entertainment says.

A majority of serial killers are revealed to be psychopaths or individuals who are antisocial, do not conform to social norms and moral standards. They are described as abusive, violent, superficial, lacking in self-control, charismatic and as people who think like criminals. Even as children, they have already exhibited these characteristics.

Most serial killers have also been known to come from dysfunctional families. They have often been abused either mentally, physically or sexually by their parents. This results in them not having any family values and having a low sense of self-worth. As they grow into adults, they may develop a mental illness. Many serial killers have felt rejected in their childhood. Usually, they possess a high IQ but do not have a moral code.

More common traits that serial killers are stated in the MacDonald Triad, which discusses behaviors related to sociopaths which are animal abuse, bedwetting, and fascination with fires. This was proposed by JM MacDonald, a forensic psychiatrist whose study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 1963.

They may also suffer from one or more mental disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Psychotic Disorder, Pedophilia, and Childhood Antisocial Disorder among others.


Oftentimes, serial killers are motivated by their quest to gain power both sexually and in life as a whole. Since they were brought in a family that where they were not able to receive affection and made them feel unwanted, they tend to become violent and assertive. Their other motives include seeking pleasure, having financial gain, racism, getting sexual favors, sexual sadism and wanting to feel thrilled and having fun.




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