The Many Types of Killers
Defining Serial Murder
From Eric W. Hickey's "Serial Murderers and Their Victims"
Gary Ronald York and James Douglas Latham
spree killers who travelled from Florida to Utah
Differences Between Mass Murderers and Serial Killers
In both mass and serial murder cases, victims die as the offender momentarily gains control of his or her life by controlling others. But the differences between these two types of offenders far outweigh the similarities. First, mass murderers are generally apprehended or killed by police, commit suicide, or turn themselves in to authorities. Serial killers, by contrast, usually make special efforts to elude detection. Indeed, they may continue to kill for weeks, months, and often years before they are found and stopped-if they are found at all. In the case of the California Zodiac killer, the homicides appeared to have stopped, but an offender was never apprehended for those crimes. Perhaps the offender was incarcerated for only one murder and never linked to the others, or perhaps he or she was imprisoned for other crimes. Or the Zodiac killer may have just decided to stop killing or to move to a new location and kill under a new modus operandi, or method of committing the crime. The killer may even have become immobilized because of an accident or an illness or have died without his or her story ever being told. Speculation currently exists that the Zodiac killer is stalking victims in the New York City area. The Zodiac case is only one example of unsolved serial murders, many of which will never be solved.
Second, although both types of killers evoke fear and anxiety in the community, the reaction to a mass murder will be much more focused and locally limited than that to serial killing. People generally perceive the mass killer as one suffering from mental illnesses. This immediately creates a "they"/"us" dichotomy in which "they" are different from "us" because of mental problems. We can somehow accept the fact that a few people go "crazy" sometimes and start shooting others. However, it is more disconcerting to learn that some of the "nicest" people one meets lead a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde life: a student by day, a killer of coeds by night; a caring, attentive nurse who secretly murders sick children, the handicapped, or the elderly; a building contractor and politician who enjoys sexually torturing and killing young men and burying them under his home. When we discover that people exist who are not considered to be insane or crazy but who enjoy killing others for "recreation," this indeed gives new meaning to the word "stranger." Although the mass murderer is viewed as a deranged soul, a product of a stressful environment who is just going to "explode" now and then (but of course somewhere else), the serial murder is seen as much more sinister and is more capable of producing fear.
Third, the mass murderer kills groups of people at once, whereas the serial killer individualizes his or her murders. The serial killer continues to hurt and murder victims, whereas the mass murderer makes his or her "final statement" in or about life through the medium of abrupt and final violence. We rarely if ever hear of a mass murderer who has the opportunity to enact a second mass murder or to become a serial killer. Similarly, we rarely if ever hear of a serial killer who also enacts a mass murder.
The mass murderer and the serial killer are quantitatively and qualitatively different, and disagreement continues about their characteristics just as it does about the types of mass and serial offenders that appear to have emerged in recent years. Perhaps the single most critical stumbling block that today stands in the way of understanding serial murder is the disagreement among researchers and law enforcement about how to define the phenomenon.
The Co-Ed Killer
Defining Serial Murder
In February, 1989, the Associated Press released a story about a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes in the same area of Los Angeles that harbored the Southside Slayer. He was believed to have killed at least 12 women, all with a small handgun. The news story referred to the victims as "strawberries"-young women who sold sex for drugs. Farther north, the Green River Task Force in Seattle, Washington, continues to investigate a series of murders of at least 45 young women over the past eight years. When the corpses of boys and young men began appearing along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Georgia, during the early 1980s, police became convinced a serial killer was at work in the area. The preceding cases are typical of homicides one might envision when characterizing victims of serial killers. The media quickly and eagerly focus attention on serial killings because they appear to be so bizarre and extraordinary. They engender the kind of headline that sell newspapers: "The Atlanta Child Killer," "The Stocking Strangler," "The Hillside Strangler," "The Sunday Morning Slasher," "The Boston Strangler," ad infinitum. The media focus not only on how many victims were killed but on how they died. Thus they feed morbid curiosity and at the same time create a stereotype of the typical serial killer: Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper, Albert Desalvo, and a host of other young white males attacking unsuspecting women powerless to defend themselves from the savage sexual attacks and degradations by these monsters.
But what is the reality? For those in law enforcement, serial killing generally means the sexual attack and murder of young women, men, and children by a male who follows a pattern, physical or psychological. However, this definition fails to include many offenders and victims. For example, in 1988 in Sacramento, California, several bodies of older or handicapped adults were exhumed from the backyard of a house where they were supposed to have been living. Investigators discovered the victims had been killed for their Social Security checks. It was apparent the killer had premeditated the murders, had selected the victims, and had killed at least six over a period of several months. Most law enforcement agencies would naturally classify this case as a serial killing-except for the fact that the killer was female. Because of rather narrow definitions of serial killing females are generally not classified as serial killers even though they meet the requirements for such a label. One explanation may simply be that we rarely if ever hear of a female "Jack the Ripper." Women who kill serially generally use poisons to dispose of their victims and are not associated with the sexual attacks, tortures, and violence of their male counterparts.
Although many offenders actually fall into the serial killer classification, they are excluded because they fail to meet law enforcement definitions or media-generated stereotypes of brutal, blood-thirsty monsters. The "angels of death" who work in hospitals and kill patients, or nursing home staff who kill the elderly, or the "black widows" who kill their family and relatives also meet the general criteria for serial killing except for the stereotypic element of violence. These men and women do not slash and torture their victims nor do they sexually attack them; they are the quiet killers. They are also the kinds of people who could be married, hold steady jobs, or simply be the nice man or woman who lives next door. They are rare among serial killers, just as serial murders are rare compared with other types of homicide.
To include all types of serial killers, the definition of serial murder must clearly be as broad as possible. For instance, Hickey (1986), by simply including all offenders who through premeditation killed three or more victims over a period of days, weeks, months, or years, was able to identify several women as serial killers. However, there exists such confusion in defining serial killing that findings can also easily be distorted. In addition, current research presents some narrow operational definitions of serial murder without any documented assurances that the focus does not exclude pertinent data. To suggest, for example, that all victims of serial murder are strangers, that the killers operate primarily in pairs, or that they do not kill for financial gain is derived more from speculation than verifiable evidence, given the current state of serial murder research.
a highly organized "score-card killer" kept detailed records of his murders
Typologies of Murder
In essence serial murderers should include any offenders, male or female, who kill over time. Most researchers agree that serial killers have a minimum of 3-4 victims. Usually there is a pattern in their killing that may be associated with the types of victims selected or the method or motives for the killing. This includes murderers who, on a repeated basis, kill within the confines of their own home, such as a woman who poisons several husbands, children, or elderly people in order to collect insurance. In addition, serial murderers include those men and women who operate within the confines of a city or a state or even travel through several states as they seek out victims. Consequently, some victims have a personal relationship with their killers and others do not, and some victims are killed for pleasure and some merely for gain. Of greatest importance from a research perspective is the linkage of common factors among the victims-for example, as Egger (1985) observed, "victims' place or status within their immediate surroundings (such as vagrants, prostitutes, migrant workers, homosexuals, missing children, and single and often elderly women)" (p. 3). Commonality among those murdered may include several factors, any of which can prove heuristic in better understanding victimization.
Much of our information and misinformation about criminal offenders is based on taxonomies, or classification systems. Megargee and Bohn (1979) noted that researchers usually created typologies based on the criminal offense. This invariably became problematic because often the offense comprised one or more subgroups. Researchers then examined repetitive crime patterns, which in turn created new complexities and problems. Megargee and Bohn further noted that, depending on the authority one chooses to read, one will find between two and eleven different types of murderers (pp. 29-32). Although serial murder is believed to represent a relatively small portion of all homicides in the United States, already researchers have begun the difficult task of classifying serial killers. Consequently, various typologies of serial killers and patterns of homicides have emerged. Not surprisingly, some of these typologies and patterns conflict with one another. Some are descriptions of causation, whereas others are diagnostic in nature. In addition, some researchers focus primarily on individual case studies of serial killers, whereas others create group taxonomies that accommodate several kinds of murderers.
Wille (1974) identified ten different types of murderers covering a broad range of bio-socio-psychological categories:
afflicted with organic brain disorder
juvenile (the child was the killer)
Lee (1988) also created a variety of labels to differentiate killers according to motive, including:
Even before American society became aware, in the early 1980s, of serial murder as anything more than an anomaly, researchers had begun to classify multiple killers and assign particular characteristics and labels to them. Guttmacher (1973) described the sadistic serial murderer as one who derives sexual gratification from killing and who often establishes a pattern, such as the manner in which they kill or the types of victims they select, such as prostitutes, children, or the elderly. Motivated by fantasies, the offender appears to derive pleasure from dehumanizing his or her victims. Lunde (1976) recognized and noted distinctions between the mass killer and the serial killer, notably that the mass killer appears to suffer from psychosis and should be considered insane. By contrast he found little evidence of mental illness among serial killers. Danto (1982) noted that most serial murderers may be described as obsessive-compulsive because they normally kill according to a particular style and pattern.
Researchers have been attempting to create profiles of the "typical" serial killer from the rapidly accumulating statistics on offenders and victims in the United States. The most stereotypical of all serial murderers are those who in some way are involved sexually with their victims. It is this type of killer who generates such public interest and alarm. Stories of young women being abducted, raped, tortured, and strangled appear more and more frequently in the newspapers.
A serial killer is a typical white male, 20-30, and most of them are usually in the USA. Their main motives are sex (even though the act of sex may or may not take place), power, manipulation, domination and control. The sex motive is usually rape for an organized killer and sadism for a disorganized killer. They act in a series of 5 or more murders with a cooling off period between each murder. Serial killers can go on for months and years before they are usually caught. The victim is usually the same for every killer - prostitute, hitch-hiker etc. Their victims may also have the same or similar attributes in gender, age, race, general look, residence etc. Serial killers also stick by their modus operandi very closely and may change it with experience. Most murders occur by strangulation, suffocation, stabbing etc. Serial killers act by a sex-murder fantasy based with their control, they usually live in this dream world in their teens until they act it out for real when they get into the adult stage. As each murder occurs a serial killer may be disappointed by his murder fantasy and may act it out again to achieve it to their own satisfaction.
A mass killer is a a very angry and frustrated white male, 25-40, who may be suffering from some sort of mental problem. They are wholly disorganized and show a similar lifestyle to that of a disorganized serial killer. Their lifestyle usually includes such things as - they have a large array of weapons at home, are heavily into violence (on TV or videogames etc), live by themselves or with a parent, have no partner and may have been rejected by the opposite sex too much, would have tried to get into the army, plus many other common factors. They usually attack restaurants, schools, or other public places (they may at some time have been affiliated with this place because they could of been stressed, fired there, or rejected by the opposite sex there) wearing army camouflage gear and armed to the teeth. They have a blitz style attack involving machine guns or sometimes explosives. Although mass killers usually have guns there have been a few cases like Richard Speck - where all victims (considered to be over 3 for a mass kill) may be killed by stabbing or strangulation. The blitz attack has them with an automatic weapon with many spare rounds firing at any person in their path. The victims may or may not be related (some mass killers kill their entire families), but usually they just kill anyone. In many cases the killer has killed more females than males, this goes with the rejection factor. As they become suddenly stressed and act out this large murder in a short time of usually minutes to hours, they may commit suicide or get shot by police. No mass killer ever intends or knows he is going to escape the carnage.
A spree killer is like a serial killer at warp speed (without the sex motive) or a mass killer at a snails pace. There haven't been too many spree killers and people haven't usually heard of them. A spree killer is usually a white male 20-30 who acts like a mass killer, killing a lot of people by shooting, and this murdering usually happens over a period of time from a week/s to a month, with the killer fleeing the police and public fear at the same time. Spree killers usually flee with someone else and are like the typical mass killer but who intends to go uncaptured. Some cases of spree killers are Charles Starkweather or Andrew Cunanan. They are alike to mass killers in ways of victims and methods but lifestyles may have the spree killer with a criminal record and a partner.
Simple Comparison Chart
|Attributes||Serial Killers||Mass Killers||Spree Killers|
|Victim Rate||Months - Years||Hour/s - Day||Days - Week/s - Months|
|Kills At Victim Rate||1-2 At One Time||Many At One Time||1-2 At A Time|
|Common Victim||Females(Trait)||Females(Mostly) & Males||Females & Males|
|Killing Attitude||To Go Uncaptured||Uncaring/Suicidal||To Go Uncaptured|