Typology of Serial Killers and some myths debunked

By Jessika Endsley

A serial killer is an individual who commits two (some sources claim three) or more murders in a time frame of over a month while maintaining a "cooling off period" between murders. These killings are generally committed for a psychological release or satisfaction. Serial killers exist in all races, social classes, backgrounds, and can be male or female. The coining of the term "serial killer" did not happen until the 1970's during the time that law enforcement first became suspicious of a new and very elusive "serial murderer" known as the Green River Killer. Prior to this coining of the term, most serial killers were referred to as "mass murderers." We now know that the two things are entirely different both in behavior and in psychology.

Serial Killer Intelligence

The fascination with serial killers is commonplace; so commonplace that we have widespread misconceptions about the average serial killer. Most serial killers have an average or low-average IQ but are believed by the masses to generally be of above-average intelligence. You would have to be really smart to get away with killing that many people for that long, right? Apparently not. Indications are that only serial killers who use bombs and poisons are of a higher intelligence than the average person, and those are few and far between.

Serial killers do not tend to be reclusive, drifting loners who come off as strange or peculiar at all, as is the common thought. Most actually are seen as very normal, productive citizens and have families, jobs, and attend church. They hide in plain site by fitting in. Psychopaths are very good at this. Many serial killers did come from a dysfunctional background, but in watching others, they have formed a mask of normalcy that fits better than most normal people's real faces do. It may be uncomfortable for many to realize that these are not scary monsters one can identify on site, but it's true. They have to be someone's neighbor.

Another misconception is that serial killers must be white men. Serial murder was around in prehistoric times and ranges to every continent, every race, and the killers can be male or female. Derrick Todd Lee, an African American, murdered at least six women in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A Chinese native named Charles Ng murdered many victims in North Carolina. Egyptian serial killers Raya and Sakina murdered many women and then themselves were the first women to be executed in modern Egypt. While most of the prolific killers who have been caught in America are white men, do not forget there is a whole world out there and has been for an extremely long time.

Serial Killers Are Not Crazy

Ted Bundy in 1975

Ted Bundy in 1975

People prefer to believe that serial killers are insane. In the vast majority of cases, this is very untrue. While there have been cases of delusional killers who had mental illnesses, most are actually Psychopaths who have what is termed "Anti-Social Personality Disorder" and generally have strong features of Narcissism (such as Ted Bundy.) The combination that makes up most of the diagnosis for a serial murderer is what is referred to as Axis 2 Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. These types are not distinguished as insane by the psychiatric field nor the legal system; therefore, they cannot plead insanity or be placed in an asylum for the criminally insane. They go straight to prison, whether for life or they go to Death Row. Psychopaths and Narcissists (and therefore any combination of the two) are fully aware of what they are doing, and they know whether it is legal or not, and they are also aware of the repercussions. They are anything but insane.

People often ask "why" someone would commit a violent act, much less commit a series of violent acts over and over again towards innocent people. Many killers tend to tell of accounts of severe child abuse and neglect while others (such as Jeffrey Dahmer) had extremely normal childhoods. A common theme in abnormal and functional childhoods is that the serial killers that come from them always had extremely vivid fantasy lives based around control for various reasons. Many serial killers will find something to blame their behavior on, whether it is society, pornography, or their parents. Little is known about how accurate these tales are; many go through extremely traumatic abuse from their parental figures and deal with extreme rejection in society and never become murderous. Perhaps what abuse and perceived societal threats really do is shape the particular brand of Psychopath that becomes a serial killer. So while many interviews with the incarcerated display "reasoning" behind how they became killers of the innocent, it is a rare case when a serial killer actually view their victims as "innocent" at all.

Organized vs Disorganized serial killers

There are two forms of operation that serial killers fall under: Organized and Disorganized. Organized killers are the most elusive and are very meticulous, making them harder to catch. They tend to kill the victim after using a ploy to lure them, and then dispose of the body in a different location. They leave little evidence behind and often work in or on the outskirts of law enforcement, admiring their own ability to keep their "work" hidden.

Disorganized killers put little thought into their killings. Their victims tend to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the vicinity of someone who had the urge to murder. These types tend to move towns frequently to avoid capture and will often plead that they do not remember the crimes at all. They tend to be less intelligent than their Organized counterparts and often feel they are victims.

Some killers are both Organized and Disorganized during different parts of their killing career, such as Bundy's descent into Disorganization in the Chi Omega murders.

Serial Killer Typology

Visionary Serial Killers


David Berkowitz

Visionary serial killers tend to be psychotic, making them the only variety that stands a chance while pleading "insanity" in court. They tend to be disorganized, leaving evidence and leaving the body at the scene of the crime, still in-tact. The psychotic breaks they experience can make them believe a spirit, God, or person is giving them orders to kill. They often feel that killing will relieve them of their hallucination. Most Visionary killers do not have a specific victim type unless the voice or visual hallucination mandates a specific victim type. David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, is one of the most well-known Visionary serial killers in America. He claims to have heard his neighbor's dog commanding him to murder, and therefore he did murder six people by stabbing or shooting. Ed Gein murdered women who looked like his mother (eating one victim) so as to preserve his mother's soul who he believed was living inside his body. After being captured, he continued his life in a mental institution.

Missionary Serial Killers

Ted Kaczynski

Ted Kaczynski

Missionary serial killers, also known as Mission-Oriented serial killers, kill under the motive of ridding the world of an unwanted or "dirty" type of person. This unwanted type can be anything - prostitutes, homosexuals, a disliked religion or race. They believe they are actually doing the world a favor by committing these murders. They are not psychotic and they are, more often than not, in the Organized category. They believe themselves to be ridding society of a certain disease and perceive there to be nothing morally wrong with what they do; they believe quite the opposite. They make an active decision to kill and they consciously choose their victims, unlike the Visionary. They murders are premeditated and, in their own minds, purposeful. Infamous and still elusive Jack the Ripper is considered a Missionary serial killer. The still unidentified killer had a particular distaste for women, or more specifically, prostitutes. The Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski) is another Missionary killer who killed by means of explosives. He targeted people and institutes that promoted the progress of modern technology.

Hedonistic Lust Serial Killers

Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer

Hedonistic Lust serial killers derive sexual pleasure from the murders they commit. This type is the most commonly thought of and is they type the general public has the most knowledge of. Lust killers can be either highly Organized or they can be Disorganized but their common theme is still based around intense, violent sexual fantasy. Lust killers are often expert stalkers and will use charm and ploys to lure their victims into a trap where they can be bound or otherwise made powerless. A Lust killer is likely to tell their victims what they will do to them or will torture them to increase fear, a main component in Lust killer fantasies. As a Lust serial killer's career continues, the cooling down period decreases as their urges become more and more insatiable. Ted Bundy is one of the most well-known Hedonist Lust serial killers, stalking, raping, killing, and participating in necrophilia with over thirty confirmed victims with similar appearance. Jeffrey Dahmer also killed for lust purposes, although he verified that death was simply a "side effect" of his attempts to make sexual zombies of his victims.

Hedonistic Thrill Serial Killers

One of Henry Lee Lucas' 100 female victims

One of Henry Lee Lucas' 100 female victims

Hedonistic Thrill serial killers derive pleasure from the very act of killing others, which comes from the psychological component of blood lust. They are also known to taunt law enforcement by leaving notes, as they become addicted to the adrenaline they experience from evading the law. Unlike the Lust killer, there is no sexual component to their crime and their victims do not fit any distinct profile. The victims may or may not be stalked for a period of time but they will consistently be strangers to the Thrill serial killer. Unlike many other serial killer types, a Thrill killer generally has the ability to go long periods without committing new murders but are also more inclined to go on "sprees," although the spree-behavior is more common in less intelligent serial killers and often lead to their arrest. Henry Lee Lucas was a notorious Hedonistic Thrill serial killer, traveling the United States to kill and then confessing to hundreds of homicides although he was only officially convicted of eleven. The Zodiac Killer, who is still of an unknown identity, was well known for sending letters to the police, some of which were cryptograms.

Hedonistic Profit Serial Killers

H.H. Holmes

H.H. Holmes

Hedonistic Profit serial killers, also known as "comfort killers," kill with the specific motive of material gain. Most incarcerated female serial killers fall into this category and are referred to as "Black Widows." Unlike many other types of serial killer, a Profit killer generally knows their victim very well. The murders are very well planned and the killer can easily wait long periods of time between kills so as to avoid the suspicion of law enforcement or family. The method of murder is generally poisoning with a chemical that is either unlikely to be found in the system or is hard to find for the general public. In this category there are killers who kill spouses for insurance money or inheritance, women who kill their children to cut on living expenses, and those who have "Munchausen by proxy," a rare type of personality in which one intentionally harms another person to gain sympathy for the loved ones illness or death. One of America's first known serial killers was a Profit killer named Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes. He killed many people in his "World's Fair" hotel which was a building specifically designed for murder. Another Hedonistic Profit serial killer was Diana Lumbrera, who murdered her own six children in order to collect insurance money.

Why do serial killers kill?

Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway

Many serial killers are hybrids of different "main" categories of serial killer typology, such as a Lust killer with Missionary tendencies, as is the case with Gary Ridgway (Green River Killer.) "Angel of Mercy" serial killers, another common type of female killer, can fit into any of the categories; they can gain sexual pleasure from their murders, profit, or may actually believe they are doing their patients a favor by ending their lives. Just as typing a killer is rarely black and white, trying to explain why one becomes a serial killer is never black and white. While serial killer Ted Bundy eventually blamed society and pornography for his criminal pattern despite his clear Psychopathy and Narcissism, Jeffrey Dahmer did the opposite. He specifically stated that his parents did not contribute, nor did pornography, to his murders and that only he was to blame. Most serial killers are Psychopaths, and Psychopaths lie; any explanation offered as to how their fantasies grew to the point they did is usually in order to gain sympathy. If they had not been caught, they would continue to do what they liked to do - kill. This is the concept that the general public does not want to grasp about the vast majority of the killers. Serial killers kill because they want to.

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