The Main Identity Traits That Serial Killers Acquire

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Table of contents

  1. Identity
  2. Anti-Social Personality Disorder
  3. The Psychopath
  4. Sexually Motivated Killers
  5. What makes a Serial Killer?
  6. Works Cited


What is a serial killer? A serial killer by definition is a person who has consecutively murdered 3 or more people within the time period of 30 days or more. Serial killing is one of the most bewildering crimes that occur in the United States and all over the world. Many serial murderers take a major cooling-off session. The cooling off session could either be weeks, months or sometimes even years long. In this essay, I will be researching serial killers and the traits they acquire to determine if the majority of them obtain some of the same qualities of identity as one another, what are the specific identity traits that they have in common and what other parts of their identity do they have in common A psychologist is someone who majors in the study of normal and abnormal mental states, perceptual, cerebral, emotional, and social processes and behavior by experimenting with, and perceiving, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments Psychologists have studied serial killers, and many others, for decades and if anyone knows about their mentality and identity traits, it would be them.

For years, serial killers and serial killings have been an ongoing issue. For example, I found that the very first serial killer in the world dates all the way back to during the early first century AD where Locusta of Galt was hired by Agrippina the Younger, Roman emperor Nero’s mother, to poison many members of the imperial family. The exact numerical value of ho many people she managed to poison and murder is unknown, however, it is known to be very, very many. Another serial killer dated back to 100 plus years ago is Herman Webster Mudgett, or better know as H.H. Holmes, he is one of the very first serial killers recorded in American history. H.H Holmes confessed to murdering 27 different people, although only 9 of his personal confessions were confirmed to be true. It is believed that Herman murdered 200 or more people, some people are skeptic about these claims due to the fact that it can’t necessarily be tracked or confirmed. There were many accusations about how and where he murdered all of these people and evidence shows that the location where all of these murders took place was never truly open for business, which would create suspicion about whether or not he actually did murder as many as 200 people.

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Some identity traits that many serial killers acquire are the search of sensation, lack of compassion or empathy, impulsiveness, need for control and sociopathic behavior. These qualities and habits are consistent with the condition of psychopathic personality. Most serial killers are psychopaths and struggle with a various amount of mental issues that are deep rooted. Some serial killers show signs of their mental illnesses early in their childhood through some questionable actions that they portray.

Researchers have proposed various psychological, biological and sociological theories that offer a partial understanding of the nature of serial murder. Some propose that the basis for criminal behavior is a predisposition to violence as well as a mix between environment, personality traits and biological factors. Serial killers are predominantly male. Only 3 percent of serial murders are committed by women (U.S. News and World Report, 1994) Knight (2006) describes some different personality types of serial killers: the psychopathic personality type, narcissistic, paranoid or anti-social, or as having temporal lobe epilepsy, schizoid personality and dissociative disorder. Psychotic serial killers are extremely rare. Most serial killers know right from wrong and are not considered insane. Even Jeffery Dahmer who dismembered his victims and ate their flesh was deemed sane by Dr. Park Elliot Dietz. (Frank, 2000) (Dr. Dietz also deemed Andrea Yates as sane.) People who murder for money or to escape detection such as gang-bangers or the mafias are not considered serial killers. I’m going to focus this paper on the majority (2/3) of serial killers who have been clinically in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as suffering from Personality Disorder Cluster Type B which is classified as anti-social (psycho/sociopathic), histrionic or narcissistic behavior. The remaining 30 percent of serial killers has one or more other psychosis such as schizophrenia. It’s extremely rare andcontroversial for a serial killer to be suffering from any multiple personality disorder. (Warf, 2002)

People who have been diagnosed with this cluster are sexually inappropriate, prone to a grandiose view of their own uniqueness and abilities, emotionally unstable, self-centered, lacking and sense of guilt, shame or empathy and are often superficially charming, manipulative and exploitative. Most serial killers exhibit a well known triad of behaviors in childhood: a fascination with fire, cruelty to animals and prolonged bed-wetting. Many become almost uncontrollably interested in pornography as teenagers and anti-social when they reach adulthood. Most were physically and/or sexually abused. However, they appear normal in surface appearance and behavior. Typically with this illness, comes overpowering waves of compulsion to kill that wax and wane over time but normally get worse with age.

Serial killers are described by law enforcement as organized or unorganized. Organized killers often appear normal in their appearance and socially. They typically plan their killing, have a mode of transportation and bring some sort of murder “kit”, containing the tools they will need. Most serial killers don’t use guns. The victims usually fit into a certain profile (e.g. gender, race, hair color etc.) and they will hunt down their victims. The organized killer is more likely to have a crime scene picked out, take or discard the weapon, and move or transport the body to a hiding place. In contrast to the organized killer the disorganized killers in which their mental state becomes progressively unstable lack impulse control, they do not plan their kills or hunt victims down and they use whatever weapons are handy (rocks, pipes etc.). Disorganized killers are likely to have no transportation because they cannot hold down a job. While and organized killer will travel far and wide hunting down every victim, the unorganized killer most likely stays in an area close to home and isn’t choosy as to who he kills or what he kills with. His crime scenes are random and evidence is most likely scattered throughout the crime scene. (Warf, 2002)

Anti-Social Personality Disorder

Sociopaths fall under that Anti-Social Personality disorder category. According the American Psychiatric Association’s Manual, a diagnosis of antisocial personality requires at least three of the following: a lack of regret or remorse, a consistent disregard for the safety of oneself or others, a consistent disregard for work and family, failure to conform to social norms, impulsiveness and failure to plan ahead, consistent deceitfulness, and irritability and aggressiveness. A person who has these three or more of these characteristics is a model sociopath. He is most likely a male; the disorder is three times more likely to affect males than women and is much more severe for men. He manipulates other’s using deception and intimidation because he feels he has the right to do whatever he wants and take what he can. He thinks very highly of himself and avoids responsibility to anyone else. He is constantly looking to exploit weaknesses in others. He feels contempt or indifferent towards his victims and usually feels like “they had it coming”. This person is incapable of loyalty shame and guilt He rarely feels a sustained hatred and almost never can have a withstanding relationship. They have a lack of empathy; they can lie, steal, cheat, and kill without feeling one ounce of regret or remorse.

They don’t actually feel particularly deep about anything. They do not hold down any particular job or have a family. If they do have children they are irresponsible parents. He practices deceit constantly in a number of different forms: outright lying, evasiveness, pretending to forget and distortion. He lies for strategic purposes: to boast, or flatter, blame others, even to excuse himself. He lies so regularly and freely, he doesn’t even bother to cover his tracks. When someone calls him out he’ll make up excuses, give fake apologies, and continue on lying. He doesn’t care how people regard his behavior and has little sense of the suffering he’s caused people. Most sociopaths are constantly in trouble with the law because of their poor judgment and impulsive actions. Most sociopaths are also suffering from other mental ailments as well, such as depression or bi-polar disorder. Many are also drug users. Sociopathic tendencies may be the cause or consequence of addiction. Except for strategic purposes this model sociopath doesn’t care what people think. He is more likely an unorganized killer. Note that not all sociopaths commit violent crimes but almost all of them do commit some sort of crime whether it be theft, pimping, rape etc. (Anti-Social Personality, 2000)

The Psychopath

Although they share many similar aspects the psychopath is also very different. He is more than likely the organized killer. He still has a lack of shame, guilt and empathy. Unlike the sociopath, the psychopath puts a great effort into ‘hiding” that he is filled with mental deficiencies by engaging charm, so it takes a while for you to realize what you are dealing with.

Psychopaths do not suffer from hallucinations and delusions. They are not confused, anxious, or driven by overwhelming compulsions. They are often highly-intelligent and they are not likely to be socially awkward. Psychopaths emotions are shallow almost childlike. When they do not get their way they are likely to become irritated and will turn to risky behaviors for the littlest of reasons. Between fifteen to thirty-five percent of the prisoners in the U.S. are psychopaths. Psychopaths offend earlier, more frequently and more violently than others. They are also four to eight times more likely to commit new crimes once released. Psychopaths lack access to their own feelings and those of others. Some studies show that psychopaths are more likely to commit new crimes after receiving group therapy in prison. (Buckholtz, Keihl, 2010)

Sexually Motivated Killers

Sexually motivated serial murder is defined by Knight (2006) as the killing of three or more victims over a period of more than thirty days, with a significant cooling off period. The sexual nature of the crime, which may or may not be explicit, is perverse and sadistic and reflects aggression that is particularly destructive , pathological and rooted in violent fantasies that are acted out on the victim. The sexually motivated serial killer is are very aggressive and have an insatiable preoccupation with death, violence and blood. Their relationships are shallow and again they cannot feel empathy, guilt or shame. Sexually motivated killers are most likely organized and are split into two categories: lust and thrill killers. Often but not always stalking and kidnapping their victims, they make detailed plans for the kill and pick the weapon that will inflict the most pain. For the lust killer sex plays a huge part in the murder itself, with necrophilia being common. The ultimate goal: sexual gratification. The sexually motivated killer will kill until he is caught and if released he will resume killing. There are many ways that sex can be a part of the crime without there being any immediate or explicit sign of sex. There is normally penile and or object penetration of the victim. Postmortem mutilation and dismemberment are fairly common as well. The level of violence escalates with each killing and they often take body parts for trophies. On the other side of the sexually motivated killer you have the thrill seeker.

The get the sexual gratification they are looking by taking time to control and dominate their victims. Sadistic torture and object penetration of the orifices of the victim are common. Thrill seekers enjoy the process of the killing. Unlike lust killer’s who continue to enjoy the kill and gain sexual pleasure even after the victim is dead. Once the thrill seekers victim is dead the interest is lost. Necrophilia, dismemberment and mutilation are very unlikely to occur. The thrill seeker gets his sexual excitement from the cries or pain and the humiliation of the victim who must remain conscious during the attack. There are even cases where the person has passed out and been woken up by the killer. The thrill seeker gets extremely enraged if the victim were to die to early. The thrill seeker draws out the experience so that the pleasure is more intense. (Knight, 2006)

What makes a Serial Killer?

The family background of course plays a huge role in the making of a serial killer. Many serial killer producing homes have a history of psychological and behavioral problems. Alcoholism, drug abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and physical abuse all occurred in many known serial killers lives. A poor relationship with family member’s especially ones mother has a great impact on a child and has the power to mold and shape that person. (Dalal, 2009) A disconnect as early as age five has been noted with adult serial killers. (Buckholtz, Keihl, 2010) The foundation for a serial killer is usually laid down in early life experiences and with harsh childhood discipline and punishment. (Dalal, 2009)

The mind of a serial killer is a mysterious monster. Most serial killer’s fall into the categories of psychopath, sociopath and sexually motivated killer, although not all psycho/sociopaths commit violent crime. With two types of killer organized and unorganized we can see some general differences in serial killer’s style’s and mind sets. There are some general consensuses about them: they lack the ability to feel guilt, shame and empathy, they care little about the people around, they are unable to have any meaningful relationships, most to put on a “mask” of normalcy, although some are truly crazy, most serial killer’s do know right from wrong and just don’t care. Serial killers are a mixture of environmental factors, genetics and socio economic situations. Although it is almost impossible to cure a serial killer (once an addict always and addict), prevention is something that is a more reasonable plan of action. Children are born to parents who haven’t been taught how to be parents. If we could implement some sort of parenting classes to all new parents to be than I do believe the amount of psychological disorder’s in general would see a sharp decrease.

Works Cited

  1. Henson, JayneR, and LoreenN Olson “The Monster Within: How Male Serial Killers Discursively Manage Their Stigmatized Identities” Communication Quarterly, vol 58, no 3, July 2010, pp 341–364 EBSCOhost, doi:101080/014633732010503176
  2. James, Veronyka, and Jennifer Gossett “Of Monsters and Men: Exploring Serial Murderers’ Discourses of Neutralization” Deviant Behavior, vol 39, no 9, Sept 2018, pp 1120–1139 EBSCOhost, doi:101080/0163962520171409980
  3. Knight, Andrew, and Katherine D Watson “Was Jack the Ripper a Slaughterman? Human- Animal Violence and the World’s Most Infamous Serial Killer” Animals (2076-2615), vol 7, no 4, Apr 2017, p 30 EBSCOhost, doi:103390/ani7040030
  4. Dodd, Johnny “My Dad, THE ZODIAC KILLER” People, vol 81, no 22, June 2014, pp 124–126 EBSCOhost, searchebscohostcom/loginaspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=96160244&site=ehost-live
  5. Holmes, Stephen T, et al “Fractured Identity Syndrome: A New Theory of Serial Murder” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol 15, no 3, Aug 1999, p 262 EBSCOhost, doi:101177/1043986299015003004. .
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