What Makes A Serial Killer?

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Some hear the term serial killer and it immediately sends chills down their spine, thinking of the worst people who have committed several murders over a span of time. “The serial murderer kills a number of people over a period of time, many times months and years” [Holmes, 1988, pg. 1]. In just the last two generations, with the rise of serial killers, comes the rise of the fascination towards them, curious as to what causes one to become a serial murderer? How do they go about selecting their victims? What about the victims that go unaccounted for?

“Virtually, all estimates neglect the type of killers and victims that are always partially discounted” [Quinet, 2007 pg. 2], there has been information over time that lacks clear evidence to give a precise number for data reports. It’s a sad reality that a huge majority of victims aren’t accounted for when it comes to researching serial murderers and how many victims they actually killed. A huge reasoning behind the lack of an accurate count from serial murderers, both male and female, it becomes unclear because “continued definitional issues primarily relating to number of victims, sex of the offender, relationship between the victim and motive” [Gurian, 2017, pg. 545]. In popular cases such as Ted Bundy’s, it was unsure on how many innocent lives he actually took due to his constant storytelling, where every story would have a different number. At the time of his confession when he was on Death Row, he admitted to over 30, but there could be anywhere from 30 to 100 victims.

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It is unclear to point out a specific cause or motive when looking into why someone becomes a serial killer/ causes someone to kill. Mainly, psychologists like to look into their past experiences, genetic history, and so on. When one thinks of a serial killer, their mind automatically goes to the word psychopath, a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behavior. A serial killer could kill simply “because he has deliberately and consciously taken it upon himself to fulfill a mission. The locus of his motives lies within himself” [Holmes, 1988, pg 4]. A lot do it because they simply love the thrill of being dominant over someone, or because they get that sense of gratification and gain out of taking someone else’s life. The more numbers they add to their count, the more gain they feel they’re getting. “It is a hypothesis that this serial killer’s homicidal behavior is expressive of the interlocking motives and propensities which predominate in his mind and personality” [Holmes, 1988, pg 5].

In ‘common’ trends with well known serial killers, it seems that one of their main motives is to seek revenge against their family as they either grew up in an abusive household, parents were divorced, any family incident at home that tampered with their developmental period and stayed engraved in their brains as they got older. Which then helps them narrow down their victims; Usually ones that resemble someone or something from their past that triggers them, or something they could never receive or obtain as they got older. For example, Jeffrey Dahmer only targeted younger homosexual males in Milwaukee he would meet at popular gay clubs. They were more vulnerable and easier to lure back to his place, as he would ‘promise’ them something by the end of the night. But, the only thing he was promising them was a death sentence.

In wrapping things up, examining a serial killer and their motives behind their heinous crimes is absolutely fascinating. Although it might never be totally understood from person to person, at least if things are figured out early on before things turn to chaos, at least they’re able to understand their thinking and their dynamics behind why they do what they do.


  1. Holmes, R. M., Deburger, J., & Holmes, S. T. (1988). Inside the Mind of the Serial Murderer. Contemporary Perspectives on Serial Murder, 113–122. doi: 10.4135/9781452220642.n8
  2. Gurian, E. A. (2016). Reframing Serial Murder Within Empirical Research. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(5), 544–560. doi: 10.1177/0306624x15598572
  3. Quinet, K. (2007). The Missing Missing. Homicide Studies, 11(4), 319–339. doi: 10.1177/1088767907307467
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What Makes A Serial Killer? (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-makes-a-serial-killer/
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What Makes A Serial Killer? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/what-makes-a-serial-killer/

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