Criminal Justice: Serial Killers

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Serial killers are mostly people who may have had a hard childhood or people who have been over looked or unappreciated as adults. Some acts that serial killers may portray have no motive and are done out of spite, others are because you may look like someone who they may hold a grudge against. This document will give you an insight on serial killers and an insight on how people may think their minds work versus reality. Granted no two people are the same but with a lot of research serial killers they all have similar characteristics. When dealing with serial killers there are four main types of killings that describes each scenario which are thrill seekers, mission oriented, visionary and power and control. Once you have read this document in its entirety it will give you a better understanding on serial killers and their different classifications.

Many people, when asked what is their favorite genre of movie or book their reply is going to be either horror or scary. People love a good suspense most of the time it doesn’t have to be fictional. When people are on trial for different crimes people love to follow those stories just to see if the outcome is what they have judged in their heads. A lot of time when people are on a trial for murder its normally just for killing one person. Every now and then you will hear the media discussing murders that are connected and they speak about serial killers. When googling the definition of serial killers, it states that it is: a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable behavior pattern. The key elements of a serial killer are number, time and motivation. Most murders have only one victim; serial killers by definition, have multiple victims that range between 3 to 10 over a time of a month, with a process known as a “cooling off period” between the different murders (Crosgrove-Mather, 2004).

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Often, a sexual element is involved in the killings, but the FBI states that motives for serial murders includes “anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking.” Sometimes the murder may have been pursued in the same manner that he portrays on his victims and the victims may also have something in common. Serial killers normally have a type that they go for, rather it consists of an occupation, race, appearance, sex or age group. Even though those are the things they look for they are not the same as mass murderers or spree killers who constantly kill with no breaks or cooling off period. When speaking of different types of serial killer there are between 3-8 different types and some all fall in the same category. The four-main type of serial killers is based off of the type of crime they commit which are: thrill seekers, mission-oriented, visionary killers and power/control seekers.

Thrill Seekers are killers who get enjoyment or pleasure out of outsmarting law enforcement. They enjoy media outlet attention and pursuing the police. Thrill seekers send messages to others and they keep detailed records of their killings, because of this they can be categorized as organized killers but they do not plan everything out in advance. Thrill seekers normally use weapons and/or rape their victims before killing them. After killing their victim, they tend to hide the corpse and move on to their next victim unless they are caught by law enforcement. (Sullivan, 2015)

Mission-oriented killers feel as if they are doing society a favor by elimination it of certain people; that can include young women, prostitutes, drug dealers, or homosexuals, basically people they feel the world would be better without. These killers are stated to normally not be psychotic and they see themselves as people who are improving society. They always have a controlled crime scene, and they target a specific crowd this categorizes them as organized killers and this makes them easier to track because law enforcement sees their patterns and know what they are after. (Sullivan, 2015)

Visionary serial killer are people that occasionally suffer from psychotic breaks from society. They sometimes believe they are another person, or they are compelled to murder by higher entities such as God or the devil. There are two common subcategories for visionary serial killers which are demon-mandated and God-mandated. David Berkowitz is a famous visionary serial killer who claimed that a demon transmitted orders to him through his neighbor’s dog who told him to kill. Visionary killers are unorganized which mean sometimes they leave big clues of who they are behind which depending on the training of law enforcement can be easy or can be hard to solve. (Sullivan, 2015)

Power and Control serial killers enjoy terrorizing their victims, they are ones who like to see them suffer and hear them scream. Normally these killers where abused at a young age which left them feeling powerless and insufficient as adults. Many of these killers also sexually abuse their victims, but they are not motivated by feelings of lust. To them, rape is simply another form of dominating the victim. (Sullivan, 2015)

There are many subcategories that these killers can fall into, because not one serial killer is the same. they may have many things in common, but all of them have something that they do differently. Most of them may have a signature weather it is visible at the scene or something they do to all their victims. Serial killers can also keep mementos of their victims once they are dead. Robert Keppel a retired American detective and law enforcement officer, placed these collections in to two categories: souvenirs and trophies. Souvenirs are personal items which can allow the killer to enjoy their memories of a crime they committed. These can be things like jewelry, body parts, and other items pertaining to the victim. Trophies are objects that serial killers make into a shrine, forming a collection of particular items from their past crimes. (Sullivan, 2015)

When looking into demographics of a serial killer men are responsible for a vast majority of crimes committed worldwide. The ratio of male to female criminals, including those who commit single-incident homicides, is 9 to 1; the ratio of males to females who commit serial murder is 19 to 1 (Solano, 2004). Even though it is rare female serial killers do exist and are more likely to work in pairs than male serial killers. Young adults are the most common targets of serial murder, but victims could be anywhere from their early childhood to late adulthood. Some serial killers prefer male victims, others prefer female victims, and still others have no gender preference. Whereas the victims of single-incident murders are often family members, friends, and acquaintance victims of serial murder are nearly always strangers.

There are many serial killers that have been made famous by the many people and styles they have used during killing. The media gives a great outlook on things that should be on the front line of the media because in the end this is what the person want to constantly see, that they are being looked for by police officials. Jeffery Dahmer who was a hedonistic killer and also a thrill seeker was known for murdering 17 males between the years of 1978-1991. He murdered these men in a very horrific fashion like rape, dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannibalism were all part of his tactics of killing. Dahmer was a troubled kid and drank a lot and also got into a lot of trouble growing up. His parent tried to help him by sending him into the army and also to stay with his grandmother where he was charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old boy. He served a five-year probation sentencing, one-year work release camp, and was required to register as a sex offender.

Dahmer began killing around one person a week by the summer of 1991. On July 22, 1991 Dahmer lured Tracy Edwards into his home with the promise of cash in exchange for his company. Dahmer forced Edwards into his bedroom with a butcher knife. Edwards was able to get himself freed, flag down a police man, and inform them of the incident that took place. When the police arrived in Dahmer’s apartment the officers found pictures of dead bodies and dismembered limbs that allowed them to finally place Dahmer under arrest. When a further investigation was ordered they found a severed head in the refrigerator, three more severed heads throughout the apartment, multiple photographs of the victims, and more human remains in his refrigerator. A total of seven skulls were found in his apartment as well as a human heart in his freezer. Dahmer constructed an alter with candles and human skulls that was kept in his closet. An indictment was set against Dahmer with 15 murder charges and that trial began on January 30, 1992 Dahmer pled insanity as his defense, the court declared him sane and guilty of 15 murders. He was sentenced to 15 life terms, a total of 957 years in prison. (Carter, 2006)

Another know serial killer and native of Mobile, Al is Joseph Franklin also known as “The Racist Killer”. Franklin was known to have a killing record of about 15+ men and women most of them being Jews or interracial couples. For much of his life he was own as a drifter, roaming up and down the East Coast looking for chances to “cleanse the world” of people he considered inferior. Growing up Franklin was abused by his father who was an alcoholic and who abandon his family for months at a time, which left him with an injury that exempted him from the military. Franklin married in 1968 and implemented the traits of his father. His wife noticed these changes in him and they soon divorced. He moved to Atlanta and joined the neo-fascist National States Rights, Party, simultaneously holding membership in the local KKK. Franklin legally changed his name, shedding the last links to his “normal” life.

Franklin struct in several cities and states including twice in Indianapolis, killing black men with a long-distance rifle fire in two separate attacks. He was indicted for that crime but never tried, since he already faced stiffer penalties in other states, more convictions followed. Overall investigators believe Franklin was responsible for at least 18 murders and five non-fatal shootings in 11 states, plus two bombings and 16 bank robberies. Judge Ralph Winkler sentenced serial killer and alleged white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin to two consecutive life sentences for the 1980 Cincinnati murder of two teenagers. Franklin appealed that sentence within 30days after it was set. Franklin served as co-counsel and presented no case. While no family members spoke at the hearing, written victim impact statements were submitted by family of the fatal. Franklin was found guilty on October 21, 1999 and received two life sentences. (Blanco, 2006)

Men aren’t the only people who can become serial killers and it has also been known for killers to have people who will kill for them and take all the charges. Sometimes it can be a situation to where you love your significant other so much you guys kill together. A very known couple that were considered serial killers are James and Suzan Carson also known as the “Witch Killers” in the San Francisco, California area. Like any other serial killers these two led normal lives while and before they were married. After James and Suzan met they traveled in Europe for a while and settled in California. The area where they resided was known as the Haight-Ashbury district which was also known as the birth place of the hippie culture: drugs, art, mysticism, and all manner of counterculture activities. The Carson where heavily involved in all activities especially the drug use. During their time in Haight-Ashbury they converted their beliefs to “vegetarian Muslim warriors”, who believed that anyone who participated in witchcraft, homosexuality, and abortion needed to be killed. The Carson’s felt as if it was their duty to kill these people for their protection and the future of their country.

Collectively the couple killed three people and felt they had done no wrong. The first murder was their roommate who was an aspiring actress who Suzan stated was a witch. Suzan said her higher power instructed her to kill and every time she said her name thunder roared which gave her confirmation that it was her time to kill. On a nice spring day of March 1981 “Bear” a name that the couple came up with for themselves killed 22-year-old Keryn Barnes. They fractured her skull with a frying pan and stabbed her 13 times and hid her body in a basement. After killing Ms. Barnes of course, they fled and stayed in Oregon until that next spring. When they came back to California they settled in Humboldt County and worked on a marijuana farm. James, who recently changed his name to Michael wasn’t getting along with one of the workers by the name of Clark Stephens. After an ongoing dispute Michael fatally shot Stephens and the couple took him in a nearby wooded area and set his body afire. Two weeks later, Stephens' remains and ID were found and the Bears were at the top of the suspect list, but once again, they were long gone.

Two years later the couple was picked by Jon Hellyar for a ride and shortly after Suzan was convinced he was a witch. They had an altercation in the car, which led to all parties exiting the vehicle and ended with Suzan stabbing the driver and James shooting him in broad daylight. Jon died and others witness this slaying of an innocent man. James and Suzan where convicted of all three murders over two trials, and were sentenced to serve upwards of 50 years to life behind bars. The Carson’s are believed to have kept a kill list and are thought to be linked to other murders in Europe but have not been convicted of those crimes. (Barbaro, 2018)

With so many serial killers amongst our population many study always say that the information gathered starts with the upbringing of those individuals. According to Ingrid Solano who has written a biology report on “Can Biology make us Murders?”, states that some reports in science have found a discrete area in the brain that uses an intricate system that serves as the human moral compass (Rutigliano, 2008). Many studies have been done on people who has had head trauma that has totally changed them as a person. I have seen this to personally be true, I have a co-worker who had an accident on ATV and it totally changed his entire life, a person who was once soft spoken and shy is now a person who curses and drinks a lot leading a life he has never led before. This individual also does not remember anything about is life other than stories told by family and friends. Not that his new life will lead him into a life of serial killing but he is in a high percentage of doing so according to studies on head injury done by Solano.

When finding places in the brain where behavioral traits lie we can understand that they may exist in people with neuropathological disorders who may show a lack in behavior when it comes to emotions that guide normal human behavior. Other studies show that serial killers have a very difficult time with processing, and understanding and using their general emotions. When going in and doing studies on the brain so many people come up with so many different result to where in the end no one really knows. Keep in mind there are plenty of serial killers who have suffered no type of head injury just emotional issues dealing with their upbringing in their homes. From a personal stand point I think it is a lack of attention that they may have needed growing up, with majority of serial killers being males a lot of the time parent can be hard on young boys. I have heard it a lot “stop hugging on him you’re going makes him soft,” when at that very moment that child may have needed that love. I have grown to know that kids forget absolutely nothing, and that very moment could have been the time in his life that molded the outcome of his future.

Even though I am not a parent, I have always felt like a parental figure to younger cousins, and other kids who grew up in my neighborhood so the advice I am able to give comes with little experience. The love you give a child can affect the way they love the world, growing up I received a lot of love, my parents divorced when I was young but I always had a two-parent home and a stern but loving environment from family. I also have friends who had the exact opposite of what I received and have grown up with an amazing life style. So, when it comes to serial killers I don’t think you can really judge what and how people are going to be when they grow up.

By writing this paper and attending many different classes, I have gained a lot of unknown information during this journey to obtain my Bachelors Degree. Most of all I have learned always watch your surroundings and that you can never be too careful when dealing with people you know nothing about. Also, science can’t always be the answer, some descriptions of a serial killer can fly below the radar, and one can be totally normal in a day time life and be a totally opposite in the blink of an eye. When having to write an extensive document and also having to do research it makes you want to dig deeper, and see what else you can find. When you have a certain passion for things it never seems as if you are doing work, it’s like your adding information to your personal library to use in your future while on your journey to a successful career.

Works Cited

  1. Barbaro, M. (2018, May 4). Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Hunt for the Golden State Killer. Retrieved August, 2018, from Murders&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection
  2. Blanco, J. I. (2006, Fall). Joseph Paul Franklin. Retrieved August 2, 2018, from
  3. Carter, R. (2006). Jeffrey Dahmer. Retrieved July/August, 2018, from
  4. Cosgrove-Mather, B. (2004, May 10). Inside a killer’s mind. Retrieved July 2018, from
  5. Rutigliano, A. (2008, January 3). Predestined Serial Killers. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from
  6. Solano, I. (2002, Autumn). Serial Killers: Just trying to feel normal, it’s not my fault. Retrieved July 2018, from
  7. Sullivan, A. (2015, Summer). What are the different types of serial killers? -Psychology of Psychopaths 4a. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from
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Criminal Justice: Serial Killers. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from
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