The quote “I didn’t want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them” by David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam, exemplifies the unique thinking of serial killers. This paper discusses the distinctive characteristics, motives, different phases, and the relationship between behavior and aggression in serial killers. Serial killers possess specific qualities that distinguish them from others. To be officially considered a serial killer, one must commit at least three to four murders with a cooling off period between each killing. These murders typically involve one-on-one interactions and occur repeatedly, varying in frequency over time (“Characteristics of Serial Murder”).
Serial killers typically lack any connection with their victims and rarely have a rational motive. They tend to follow a consistent pattern of murdering individuals, often displaying an excessive level of brutality that distinguishes them from other serial killers. Moreover, these murderers have diverse motivations behind their actions. Notably, some commit these heinous acts to assert power over others (Forwood).
In general, these individuals with a sense of power tend to target the most vulnerable members of society, including the homeless, impaired, and young individuals of both genders (Forwood). When they murder the homeless and impaired, their actions are typically driven by a mission-like motive wherein they believe it is their duty to eliminate society’s unwanted residents. Moreover, there exist visionary killers who are typically compelled to commit killings by the voices they hear in their mind, often associated with schizophrenia.
The Hedonist is the final type of motive among serial killers. They engage in killing because it provides them with pleasure. Within this group, there are three sub-categories: lust killers, thrill killers, and gain killers. Lust killers murder for sexual pleasure, often driven by sexual underdevelopment and a need for gratification. Thrill killers target individuals to experience an adrenaline rush, often committing multiple killings due to their addiction to this sensation. Gain killers murder for some form of benefit, usually monetary, but it can also involve opportunities like a job. Additionally, serial killers possess a constantly active mind that goes through seven phases.
The Aura Phase is the initial stage where the killer fantasizes about death and destruction, eventually feeling the urge to act upon these demented thoughts. This then transitions into the Trolling Phase, when the serial killer actively seeks out the perfect victim to fulfill their needs.
Serial killers typically target various locations such as school yards, lovers lanes, and red light districts in their search for victims. This pursuit can last for extended periods of time, ranging from hours to days, or even months, until they identify the perfect target. Once found, the killer adopts a charming and charismatic persona during the Wooing Phase in order to gain the victim’s trust. Subsequently, the Capture Stage ensues, during which the killer discloses their true intentions. For instance, they may lure you into their car, which lacks a door handle for escape. Such disturbingly enjoyable tactics are part of their sadistic game. Finally, the Murder Stage arrives. While some killers may choose to simply kill you outright, others opt for torturing you to death or reviving you from the brink of death only to inflict further torment before your demise (Scott).
The sixth stage of the serial murder cycle is the Totem Stage, during which the killer collects a keepsake from their victim, such as jewelry, clothing, or a body fragment. Following this is the seventh and final stage known as Depression. The killer experiences a significant emotional decline, and there is a possibility of them contemplating suicide. Eventually, they will begin daydreaming more frequently, causing the entire cycle to repeat until the killer is apprehended or meets their demise (“Characteristics of Serial Murder”).
Serial killers often exhibit aggressive behavior, which suggests a connection between their actions and childhood challenges. Many serial killers have endured the “Terrible Triad” in their early years – bedwetting, sadistic animal abuse, and pyromania. During their formative years, it is typical for serial killers to harm and mistreat animals, with cats being the primary victims of such cruelty. These acts frequently involve throwing cats out of windows or cutting them open to observe how long they can survive. Tragically, cats have also been subjected to being set ablaze.
Young serial killers often exhibit pyromania as a characteristic trait. They frequently engage in this activity until they become bored and then move on to more extreme pursuits. Bedwetting, commonly referred to as the last of the “Terrible Triad,” is prevalent among sixty percent of all serial killers who continue to wet the bed past the age of twelve. This particular behavior causes significant emotional distress, as experienced by Alton Coleman, who was one such bed wetter. He remembers being taunted as “Pissy” by his neighborhood friends. Subsequently, Coleman embarked on a killing spree, claiming the lives of eight individuals while striving to commit acts of violence daily. It is important to note that inadequate parenting often contributes to many of the mental issues observed in serial killers.
Child abuse, including sexual and physical abuse, as well as neglect, often affected the killers during their childhood. Henry Lee Lucas, for example, was frequently beaten and starved (Forwood). Additionally, he endured the trauma of being forced to wear his mother’s dresses and witness her interactions with her customers. Serial killers often exhibit other psychological problems as well. Neglected children typically seek attention, which is evident in the case of serial killers who commit murder to gain recognition. They see themselves featured on television, newspapers, and magazines, leading them to believe that someone out there acknowledges their existence. Such thoughts provide the impetus for their actions.
Sometimes, serial killers discover that they are the result of an undesired pregnancy, which leads to a decrease in their self-esteem and an increased desire for power. In order to regain a sense of power and worth, serial killers inflict harm on the community through torture and murder. Overall, various factors influence the thought processes of serial killers, who are often mentally disturbed but have valid reasons for their actions. It has been suggested that serial killers do not undergo the individuation stage during childhood. (“Characteristics of Serial Murder”)
It is imperative to acknowledge that serial killers pose a substantial danger to society and should not be taken lightly. Their actions result in harm inflicted upon living, breathing, and conscious individuals. It is crucial to bear in mind that what sets them apart from random acts of violence is the meticulous planning that goes into their crimes.
- “Characteristics of Serial Murder” n.pag. Online. Internet. 22 April. 1999. Available” http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~bakerkm/killers.htm
- Forwood, Bill. “Repeatedly Killing… Why?!”n.pag. Online. Internet. 22 April. 1999. Available: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/1682/Physio.htm Scott, Shirley.
- “What Makes Serial Killers Tick?” n.pag. Online. Internet. 22 April. 1999. Available: http://www.crimelibrary.com /serials/what/whatmain.htm