What Characterizes a Serial Killers and what Drives them to Kill

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Serial murder is one of the rarest forms of murder, yet it captivates and baffles many criminologists due to the ambiguous information available on the crime. A serial killer is an individual that commits more than three murders consecutively with a cooling off period. This paper will analyze and elaborate on what drives them to kill and what type of characteristics these murders possess. It will utilize scholarly articles to gather demographic information and analyze how serial killers are treated under the law. Finally, the information gathered will be compared to the Tv show Criminal Minds to show how serial killers are portrayed in the media. The information gathered in the paper may be useful to propose potential solutions to prevent or decrease serial murder. What Characterizes a Serial Killers and What Drives Them to Kill Introduction Throughout history, there have been several misconceptions about serial killers in society due to how they are portrayed in cinematic movies or TV shows. Even though the act of serial killing can be traced back all the way to ancient times, the definition of what makes an induvial a serial killer is still vague in modern day times. There have been many infamous and horrific serial killers that have mutilated dead bodies and killed numerous people and traumatized American history with their brutal acts.

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A serial killer under the laws is described as an individual that has committed more than three consecutive murders. Serial killing is very rare and is considered the rarest form of murder. Hollywood often depicts the persona of serial killers as deranged and socially awkward beings. Statistically speaking, data from the FBI has proven that people who mass kill are very similar to everyday people. Majority of serial killers tend to blend into in their communities because they are successfully employed and have families. These misconceptions make it hard for the authorities to identify and catch serial killers. It is very crucial to understand what actually drives or motivates certain individuals to kill multiple people in order to stop this abnormal and harmful conduct from taking place. The intent of my research paper is to take an in-depth look at this unnatural phenomenon in human behavior and analyze the main factors that push humans to kill multiple people. My research paper will examine scholarly literature in order to explain the characteristics of serial killers and how they are dealt with under the U.S criminal justice system. This will also provide background information on serial killers in general. For my methods sections, I have selected the tv show Criminal Minds to evaluate so I can compare the cinematic information to scholarly information from the literature review. After dissecting the information, I will be able to provide my results and critical findings of serial killers in the conclusion of my paper.

Literature Review Background

Serial killers can be traced back for centuries and even though it is the rarest form of killing, serial killers leave heinous marks on society. Serial killing has historically changed over time with the improvement of modern technology and forensics. As a result, previous eras it was not able to easily identify a serial killer (Haggerty, 2009). The act of killing multiple people in ghastly ways breaks modern-day societal norms, thus it creates a sense of fascination amongst criminologist and authorities. Serial murder occurs when an individual has killed three or more people, with a ‘cooling off’ period amongst every murder (Haggerty, 2009). This recognized classification produces numerous problems due to the narrowing of analysis in such crimes. This definition fails to include countless common characteristics of serial killing (Haggerty, 2009). Infamous serial killers like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, and the mysterious unknown serial killer named Jack the Ripper, have committed gruesome and heinous chain murders. Serial killers share a common theme of mutilating bodies, having sex after with the dead victim’s body, and preying on children or women (Aken, 2010). Serial killers, like all humans, are molded by their childhood experiences and their upbringing (Aken, 2010). Criminologist attempt to pinpoint the crucial differences that separate serial killers from the rest of society in a process complex practice called Causality. Causality tries to explain the reasoning behind human behavior and is built on social, biological, and environmental aspects (Aken, 2010).

However, it is not possible to classify all of the factors that guide normal human behavior, let alone explain abnormal behavior, especially in serial killers. General Profiling and Characteristics Serial killers are often regarded as having dysfunctional upbringings and lack social bonds with family or friends (Miller, 2014). Most serial killers come from broken homes where they have been abused and propositioned to violence in their adolescent upbringing. Small deviant acts in adolescence like arson, vandalism, mutilation of animals, and constant outburst are common patterns found (Haggerty, 2009). During the Maturation stage from adolescence into adulthood, serial killers’ crimes intensify with the seriousness. As they reach adulthood most serial killers are recognized as middle-aged white men, however many do not fit the stereotypical profile (Pakhomou, 2004). There is no general template for a serial killer since there are minority serial killers and also female serial killers. Serial killers are often shown in media as estranged killers suffering from severe mental health problems, yet recent studies have shown that most do not suffer from incapacitating mental illnesses (Pakhomou, 2004).

The infamous BTK killer, Dennis Rader, who mocked authorities for thirty years, had a family consisting of two children. He was also a boy scout leader in his youth, and a leader at his residential church during the periods of his murders (Haggerty, 2009). Lastly, another main misconception about serial murders is that they are nomadic killers. Modern day data proves thirty-four percent of serial killers travel lengthy distances to earmark in deviant crimes which shows that serial killers have motivations or drives to kill (Pakhomou, 2004). Motivation Many media channels depict serial killers as senseless killers that possess no true motive. Nevertheless, criminal profilers and authorities should oppose the media’s depiction serial killers. FBI profilers suppose serial killers are driven to commit crimes by unique motives known and comprehended by only themselves rather than the lack of motivation at all (Simpson, 2018). Therefore, deciphering the motives of serial killers is difficult and virtually impossible due to all the diverse factors (Jamet, 2012). The FBI distinguishes approximately seven broad classifications of drive: rage, criminal enterprise, religious ideology, monetary gain, psychosis, dominance and pleasure, or sexually centered impulses (Simpson, 2018). Although the FBI acknowledges the previously stated motivations, there still remains insufficient empirical data to advocate that these are the only satisfactory causes for serial killers to commit horrendous murders.

Treatment Under the Law The Criminal Justice system in the U.S deals with serial killers by commonly sentencing them to life without parole or giving them the death penalty. The administering of the death receives depends on factors like mentally stability and severity of the crime (Simpson, 2018). Since the majority of serial killers don’t feel remorse for their actions it is rare for them to be rehabilitated. Certain states such as Texas, Ohio, and Oregon have higher death penalty rates (Simpson, 2018). Improved Typography Profiling Policy After conduction research, there is no proven way to prevent a serial killer from committing murder since they are already abnormal and rare behaviors. However, there are potential ways to help identify a serial killer and categorizes them more efficiently. The FBI should produce a universal definition for all law enforcement to use throughout an investigation (Aken, 2010). This universal list should include the known typographies used by researchers, as well as those used by law enforcement agencies: visionary, mission-oriented, hedonistic or sexual, control, predator, paraphilic, sadistic, hate-oriented, attention seeking, cult-oriented, and family targeted (Aken, 2010). By collecting various typographies, it would allow law enforcement to incorporate female and male serial killers and accurately identify all serial killers without limiting the acknowledged types of serial killers with preconceived misconceptions or stereotypical ideology. For instance, a serial killer can be considered an attention seeker, sexual sadist, cult follower, or a combination of several typographies. This would offer enhanced comprehension of serial killers for authorities, psychologists, and criminologist, and potentially increase the probability of apprehending serial killers.


In a content analysis, I was able to compare and connect the research gathered in my literature review with the portrayal of serial killers in a TV series called Criminal Minds. I analyzed the common themes and typographic information into a chart for fluidity. After analyzing each episode, I summarized the offender’s upbringing, their demographics, motives or drive, specific crime or offense, and their emotional reaction for remorse for their crime in a chart.

Findings Adolescent Upbringing

Throughout the criminal minds tv series, the emphasis of the serial killer’s background and adolescent upbringing had a crucial role in explaining how they were molded into a serial killer. The constant patterns of child abuse, neglect, and learned behaviors of violence would be used in the show to explain their barbaric behaviors. Behaviors like starting fires and mutilating animals was also prevalent as a pattern in the episodes.

Finally, the lack of social bonds was a pattern in the shows because often times it showed the serial killer being bullied or not having any friends or parental guidance. Gender Race and Sex When analyzing the tv series show Criminal Minds, all of the offenders were white males. This information is not completely accurate when compared to the research data in the literature review. The media definitely has over-dramatized the demographics and ignored that serial killers can be females or minorities. Remorse All of the serial killers portrayed in the show had no feelings of remorse. In each episode, the serial killers were aware of the consequences and some even had clear motives but found satisfaction in killing. Remorse is the reflection upon one’s actions and feelings a sense of guilt and shame. These characters also all demonstrated either narcissistic tendency’s or had mental illnesses. As previously stated in the literature review, research proves that not all serial killers are mentally ill and socially isolated beings. Criminal minds had many over dramatizations for entertainment purposes.


The main points that have been concluded after gathering research in the content analysis and literature reviews are that serial killers have varying motives and cannot be generalized under one category. Serial killers are abnormal, but also have several misconceptions that are over dramatized in the media. What should be taken away from my paper is that serial killers often have traumatized past and are predisposition to violence. My research proposes that by making subcategories and by rewriting the stereotypical profiling typographies should help identify serial killers and pinpoint early signs of serial killer tendencies. One issue I came across in my research is that some individuals have troubled pasts and do not become serial killers. I feel that there is not sufficient data and understanding yet on serial killers to effectively stop them from killing.

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What Characterizes a Serial Killers and What Drives Them to Kill. (2019, Jul 24). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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