A serial killer is a person who “kills on at least three occasions, with what can be called an emotional cooling-off period between the incidents” (Alvarez & Bachman, 2017, p129). I have always been interested in criminal justice as a whole from both points of view: the criminal and the system. There are a few specific topics that I am particularly intrigued by and serial killers is one of them. The mind of a serial killer, the motive, the way a serial killer chooses to kill and whatever else comes with a serial killer interests me. As we all know, serial killers kill people, but according to the textbook, it is extremely hard to estimate how many people serial killers in one year due to the fact that serial killers often kill in different geographical locations and it is difficult to connect. The text talks about how, in order to identify a murder as part of a serial case, the murderer would have to leave identifiers such as “signatures”. Signatures could include folding the victim’s clothes or leaving an item at the scene (Alvarez & Bachman, 2017, p130). Another reason it is hard to catch a serial killer is because it is very expensive to conduct long term investigations, especially considering the killings are sometimes in different locations. Some well-known male serial killers we know of are Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer, Gary Ridgway, and more. Some well-known female serial killers include Aileen Wuornos, Nannie Doss, Kristen Gilbert, and more. These serial killers had their own ways of killing, and also their own ways of staying out of trouble for as long as they did for the murders. In my research, I will be talking about the different types of serial killers, characteristics of both male and female serial killers and also, the different types of serial killers broken down using many different sources to support.
Serial Killer Typologies
The textbook, “Violence: The Enduring Problem” by Alex Alvarez & Ronet Bachman (2017), talks about serial killers in chapter four and gives the six different typologies of a serial killer based on Holmes’ and Holmes’ classifications. The first typology is the Hedonistic Lust Killer. These killers are “distinguished by their effort to obtain sexual pleasure from killing” (Alvarez & Bachman, 2017, p132) meaning these types of serial killers kill because it satisfies them sexually. Either the killing in itself is enough to satisfy or to actually engage in intercourse with the corpse and cutting off sex organs. The next typology is the thrill killer. This killer kills because it’s fun, in a nutshell. This could include sexual satisfaction, but the victim needs to be alive because this killer wants to torture, humiliate, dominate, and terrorize the victim. Comfort killers are the third typology and they kill because it brings comfort, “such as financial gain” (Alvarez & Bachman, 2017, p132). Power/Control killers murder to dominate and have control over their victims. Sex is also sometimes involved here, but it comes from having complete control. Mission killers make it a mission to eliminate a group of people they feel are unworthy. An example of this type of killer is a killer who hates women and simply feels like they should not have to share the same earth as them. The last type of killer is the visionary killer and this person kills because they suffer from some type of psychosis, however this is a rare type. These killers “perceive noises that command them to kill” (Alvarez & Bachman, 2017, p133). After going over all of those, we can see serial killers kill based off of their own wants and needs most of the time, not because they have a mental problem which would cause them to plead insanity.
Characteristics of Female Serial Killers
I was able to find a peer-reviewed article called “The Personality Characteristics of Female Serial Murderers” by Meagen M. Hildebrand and Scott E. Culhane. In the article, they chose to issue surveys to twenty incarcerated females and four of them declined. By the end of it all, they only ended up with four female serial murderers to answer the questions they asked on the survey. In the survey, they used measures related to demographics, psychopathology, psychopathy, and personality features. The results for inmate A were that she lived a very regular life. She married three times and had children. Her third husband worked the night shift at a hospital, and she got a job there as an LVN with her LVN certificate she got while attending community college. This is when her killing spree began. She started killing at age 34 and killed 20 of the patients under her care from the ages of 15 to 101 years old (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, 37). The way she killed these patients was to use an “intravenous drug used to paralyze the respiratory system in patients” (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p37), but was able to go undetectable by hospital staff because of her great work history. She was caught after trying to kill an elderly man who ended up living and was able to identify her as the nurse who put something in his IV. Her highest scores when it came to personality were in paranoia at 113, schizoid at 83, avoidant at 90, self-defeating at 79, anxiety at 87, and delusional disorder at 83. The 46-year old’s total PPI-R score was 265. Inmate B was 53-years old and caucasian who was serving two 50-year prison sentences. This inmate confessed to killing two elderly patients with potassium overdoses through injection (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p40). At first neither of them were suspected as a homicide because of their age, but this inmate couldn’t keep quiet about what she had done and ended up telling her husband who kept quiet about it for five months then ended up telling their pastor and marriage counselor which caused her arrest (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p40). Inmate B showed elevation for depression at 72 and elevation for social discomfort at 76, repression at 78, overcontrolled hostility at 66. A three-point code of 170 was established based on her elevations (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p40). Inmate C is serving life for killing her husband. This inmate was abandoned by her father soon after birth and her mother committed suicide while she was a baby which caused her to live with her grandmother. From age six on, her uncle sexually abused her and forced her to drink alcohol which caused her to develop alcoholism and was then gang-raped at 14. She dropped out of high school at 15 and began working the streets protituting and stripping to make ends meet (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p41). She had elevated scores on depression at 72, anger at 76, type-a behavior at 77, low self-esteem at 73, social discomfort at 80, family problems at 83, and negative treatment indicators at 79. One of her highest scores was on marital distress scale at 93 which could explain her killing her husband considering he was also someone who was abusive to her. Her highest score overall was avoidant at 99
(Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p41). Lastly, inmate D was a 39-years old, caucasion woman who is serving two consecutive life sentences. She began murdering at 17 with her on and off boyfriend. Her and her boyfriend tempted a store assistant manager to meet them on a road outside of town where her boyfriend ended up shooting him in the back of his head and robbed him of all of the money he had on him (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p42). After this incident, the two decided to rob again and decided to leave the victims alive. They stole two silver dollars from the house and left. The victims reported this and inmate D and her husband were caught quickly after paying for gas with the silver dollars. Her boyfriend confessed to everything and she was sentenced (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p42). She showed elevations on hypochondriasis at 80, psychopathic deviate at 71, paranoia at 70, and schizophrenia at 66. Her highest scores were hypochondriasis and compulsive at 88 (Hildebrand & Culhane, 2015, p42). After looking at all of the inmate facts, I notice that all of the inmates they surveyed were close to the middle of their life during the time of the crime and I also notice all of the women they surveyed were white women. I noticed that the scores that came up the most were for repression, anger, and paranoia.
Characteristics of Male Serial Killers
The article I found on this topic was called “Critical Characteristics of Male Serial Killers” by William B. Arndt, Tammy Hietpas, and Juhu Kim. The purpose of this article was to unfold a male serial killer. Some of the studies they found were that the process begins with “predispositional factors which may be biological” (Arndt et al, 2004, p120). They talk about how in the years before the killings, the killer is traumatized by factorssuch as “physical and sexual abuse, negative parenting, divorce, or the death of a parent… the consequences of these traumas are mistrust of others, feelings of being rejected, worthlessness, and inability to cope with stress.” (Arndt et al, 2004, p120). The article talks about various facilitators such as violent pornography and excessive use of drugs and alcohol which further the deviant process and expedite the urge to kill. The text says that 84% admitted to assaults on adults during adolescence, 62% on destruction of property, and 52% to fire setting. 28% had a history of being treated for mental health problems and 21% were treated for alcohol and drug abuse. They mentioned that the age of onset was from the late 20s to the mid 30s and the median age of the first murder is age 27. Most male serial killers, as stated in the textbook and this article, are white, but African Americans ranked between 13% and 20%, while Hispanics and Asians are very seldom instances (Arndt et al, 2004, p121).
Gender Differences in Serial Murderers
The article I found on the gender differences is called “Gender Differences in Serial Murderers: A Preliminary Analysis” by Belea T. Keeney and Kathleen M. Heide. Their studies found that the female murder rate had increased from “5.1% in 1965 to 9.8% in 1991.” (Kenney et al, 1994, p384). They said that the number of women arrested for homicide in 1991 was 36% greater than the number arrested in 1965. Their studies show that female killers are more likely to kill their family than males are, and they also have a tendency to be older than the males who kill and they usually kill their victims in their own homes (Kenney et al, 1994, p384). Studies show that male serial murderers tend to inflict a lot of victim damage along with causing death and engage in the torture of their victims. Male serial killers have also been known to stalk their victims and commit organized or disorganized murders (Kenney et al, 1994, p386). Males even attend their victims funerals as a way to relive the murder they committed. Males have been proven to be the first-born in their family and also have been victims of childhood abuse or neglect including parents who were alcoholics or drug addicts (Kenney et al, 1994, p386). Female serial killers have been known to have endured much sexual abuse, broken homes, chemical abuse history, and psychiatric diagnosis as children (Kenney et al, 1994, p391). The average age that women committed their murderers was 32.9 years-old. Unlike males, the female serial killers did not show any stalking of their victims and they also left the crime scene. Another thing about the female killers was the fact that most of them had a reason for murdering their victims such as insurance money (Kenney et al, 1994, p390). As we can see, female murderers and male murderers have many differences such as their motives for killing, if they know the victim, and what they do after they killed the victim.
The different types of serial killers were a very interesting topic. Most people expect serial killing to be a male hobby, but specific females do it, too. We have looked at the different characteristics of both male and female serial killers and also, some of the gender differences between the two and found things that were very surprising. The differences of male and female serial killers were significant which is probably due to the fact that women have more emotion than men do at times and that could explain why women usually know their victims while men usually do not, but just simply kill to kill. The results from the test with the women surprised me knowing that many different things can affect one’s mindset and also change the way they think. As we saw, inmate D had no reason to kill her victim, but because her boyfriend was with her while inmate C killed her husband because of how abusive he was to her while they were married, along with the abuse of all kinds that she endured as a child. Inmates A and B killed elderly patients with no real intent which almost confuses me on how women usually have a reason for killing, according to Heide Kenney in 1994, but this could be because this research was done before the research for female serial killers that I included. Studying this was very interesting because I am very interested in the study of serial killers and why they do what they do and this research helped to put it in perspective, especially after seeing statistics.
- Alvarez, A. and Bachman, R. (2017). Violence: The Enduring Problem. (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks: SAGE PUBLICATIONS INC.
- Arndt, W. B., Hietpas, T., & Kim, J. (2004). Critical characteristics of male serial murderers. American Journal of Criminal Justice : AJCJ, 29(1), 117-IV. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.uccs.edu/10.1007/BF02885707
- Hildebrand, M. M., & Culhane, S. E. (2015). Personality characteristics of the female serial murderer. Journal of Criminal Psychology, 5(1), 34-50. Retrieved from https://libproxy.uccs.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.uccs.edu/docview/1648514193?accountid=25388