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A Serial Killer is a person who murders multiple people, usually with a "cooling off" period in between. The FBI estimates that at any given time, there are from 35 to 50 active serial killers in the U.S.


The term "serial killer" was coined by FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler who, along with colleague John Douglas, was one of the founders of the BAU.[1] In the past, serial killers were known as Varedwulfs (literally, werewolves), as their crimes were brutal enough in the eyes of locals to perpetuate the belief that they were committed by supernatural creatures[2]


  1. Visionary - They suffer psychotic breaks from reality and sometimes believe they are another person or are compelled to murder by deities such as God or the Devil. The two most common subgroups are "God-mandated" or "Devil-mandated".
  2. Mission-oriented - They typically justify their actions as "ridding the world" of certain types of people, such as homosexuals, prostitutes, or people of a different race or religion, but are normally not psychotic.
  3. Hedonistic - They seek thrills and derive pleasure from killing, seeing their victims as expendable means to achieve this goal. So far, there have been three sub-types of the hedonistic killer:
    1. Lust - They are primarily motivated by sex, whether the victims are alive or dead, and their fantasies play a large role in their killings.
    2. Thrill - They are primarily motivated to induce pain or a sense of terror in their victims, which gives the killer more stimulation and excitement.
    3. Comfort/Profit - They are primarily motivated by material gain and a comfortable lifestyle, and achieve this through killing.
  4. Power/Control - They try to exert and gain power over their victims. They are sometimes abused as children, which gives them a sense of powerlessness and inadequacy as adults.


In order to qualify as a serial killer, an Unsub must exhibit the following criteria:

  1. Quantity: There must be at least three victims
  2. Place: The killings must occur at different locations
  3. Time: There must be a cooling off period

There are, of course, exceptions to these criteria: disorganized killers such as Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer often commit their ghastly deeds at home. Sometimes, the term "serial killer" is somewhat loosely applied to killers responsible for less than three murders. Examples are Gein, who killed two, and Gary Heidnik, who also killed two but held four more captives.



Organized serial killers, as profiled by John Douglas, former FBI Profiler, normally share the following common characteristics[3]:

  • White male, aged 25 to 45
  • Above average intelligence (100+)
  • Strong personal and social skills
  • Able to maintain normal family life
  • Usually employed in a menial position, often below their abilities
  • May make an effort to cover up their crimes, often dumping the body in a hidden location and cleaning up the crime scene; some have a working knowledge of forensics



Disorganized serial killers may share these characteristics:

  • White male, any age range; but females are common as well
  • Below average intelligence (Edmund Kemper, however, had an IQ of 145)
  • The habit of leaving the body at the scene, not bothering to cover up the crime
  • May be difficult to catch due to constant relocation
  • May have a domineering family member (most notably a parent)
  • Uses "blitz" attacks to subdue, as opposed to seduction or sympathy
  • Has very few close relationships and is often referred to as the "quiet type"



Mixed offenders display traits of both an organized and a disorganized killer. For example, they might have a plan and bring murder weapons, gloves and other things used for the killing, but the crime scene becomes a mess when the plan fails.


Angel of Death[]

See full article here.

Bluebeard/Black Widow[]

A Bluebeard or Black Widow is a man or woman (respectively) that murders their spouses, one after another, by various means.


Secondary Pathology[]

One thing that most types have in common is the taking of trophies from the victim. This could be an earring, an article of clothing, and sometimes even a body part.

Female Serial Killers[]

Though most serial killers are male, history has seen its share of females. There are two types for female serial killers:

  1. The "Sante Kimes Model" are cold and calculating. They prey on men for money. She takes her time building relationships.
  2. The "Aileen Wuornos Archetype" are motivated by paranoia and fear. They lure their victims with sex.

Traveling Serial Killers[]

While most serial killers have one kill zone, some move to different cities and/or states during their murders. There are three reasons behind this type of serial killer:

  1. They are itinerant individuals who move from place to place.
  2. They are homeless transients.
  3. They have an occupation that causes them to travel, i.e. truck drivers or those in military service.

Historical Significance[]

Serial slaughter has existed since the beginning of human history. Bloodthirsty psychopaths have occupied almost every significant era in our past; Roman Gladiators, medieval executioners, Hessian mercenaries, and even the so called Buffalo Soldiers of early American history. Even today, uniformed sadists are employed in the armies of every country in the world, enlisting alongside their patriotic brothers simply to have the chance to legally perform their psychotic fantasies.

On Criminal Minds[]

Some notable serial killers in Criminal Minds (will be expanded gradually)

See Also[]


  • The earliest known serial killer in recorded history is Liu Pengli, a Chinese prince during the Han Dynasty during the 2nd century B.C. He would go out on expeditions with dozens of slaves and runaways, during which he murdered random people and seized their belongings as sport. The son of one of his victims accused him of being the serial killer to Emperor Jing of Han, Pengli's uncle. Pengli was scheduled to be executed, but the Emperor, unable to bear having his nephew killed, instead made him a commoner and banished him to a faraway county, where he died of unknown causes. The ancient text Records of the Grand Historian later confirmed this story.
  • The youngest known serial killer in recorded history is Amarjeet/Amardeep[4] Sada, an eight-year-old boy in India who killed three infant girls from 2006 to 2007. All of the victims (his sister, his cousin from a maternal uncle, and a neighbor's daughter) were less than one year old and were killed after Sada took them to a nearby field and either strangled them or bludgeoned them with a stone or brick. He was arrested on May 30, 2007, and institutionalized. Psychiatric experts have said that cases like Sada are not rare, but that Sada's mindset was an example of a "dangerous" symptom that could be hereditary.


Further Reading[]


  1. The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schecter. Random House ISBN 978-0-345-46566-5 (0-345-46566-0)
  2. The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter p. 129-130
  3. [1]
  4. Sources conflict over the two different versions