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The basics about serial killers, their pathology, profiling, the theories and facts.



           Profiling is a way for police and scientists to gain an idea of what the killer is like, based upon how he kills.  People have unconcious traits that they express in everything they do. These traits have been instilled by a certain upbringing, career, lifesytle, or by genetic chemistry.

          Examining the crime scene, and picking up on the killer's habits and needs, the killer can be classified, and further information can be placed into the profile. Once the police know what they're looking for, it's easier to find who they're looking for.

          Many killers share common traits.  In addtion to being grouped by the killing styles that follow, you may want to look at the Patterns of Episodic Agressive Behavior



         There are three basic types of killers: thrill killers, gain killers, and lust killers.

            Thrill killers kill mainly for the rush, or for the experience.  Elements of torture or mutilation are often present.  They revel in the knowledge that the police are after them, and that the city where they have committed their crime is frightened or panicked.  Thrill killers are considered sexually maladjusted. 

            Gain killers have a personal, often financial, motivation for their crimes.  Unlike thrill and lust killers, they do not kill for the sake of killing.  Their murders are usually a means to an end.  Elements of family, friend, and acquaintance murder are often present.  As an example, someone who kills their spouse for insurance money is a gain killer.

            The last, and most common type of murderer, is the lust killer.  Lust killers kill for sexual gratification and feelings of power and control.  Elements of sadism are common.  Many lust killers have complex personalities.  They also tend to hunt in cycles.  Because many of the most notorious killers have been lust killers, that is the persona you will see most frequently.  Like thrill killers, lust killers are also considered sexually maladjusted. (Dolan, 1997 p47)

             Within the above mentioned types of killer are subcategorizes: organized, and disorganized. 

            Organized killers plan.  They bring their weapon and restraints with them, and take them when they leave.  Prints are wiped off.  Bodies are often moved, even dismembered, with parts left in various places to hinder location and identification of the victim.  Organized killers, if they claim any souvenir from their victim, will usually select a piece of jewelry, a wallet, or some such personal item.  They do not take it for monetary value, but because it helps them relive their fantasy and the crime. Organized killers tend to use their wits to maneuver victims into a trap.  They learn from each killing, adapting to get better at what they do with each one.  Rape and torture are often present.  In addition, organized killers are more likely to have a victim type,or a favored victim who has a certain job, appearance, personality, etc. 

            Disorganized killers act more in the moment.  They kill the victim quickly, often in an effort to depersonalize the victim.  Any sexual contact is usually after the victim is dead, or incapacitated, and most mutilation is post-mortem.  Weapons are often found at the scene of the crime.  A disorganized killer is more than an organized killer to, as an example, break into a house, use a kitchen knife that he finds to commit his murder, then leave the knife, fingerprints and all, sticking into the body.  Victims are usually chosen at random, with no preference shown.  Unlike the organized killer, disorganized murderers often do not select victims based on vulnerability.  They will commit a murder that is difficult to get away with (i.e. committed in a wealthy, or secure, neighborhood, or kill someone that will be missed quickly).  They differ from their organized counterparts again with their choice of souvenirs.  Disorganized killers are more likely to take a piece of bloody clothing, or even a body part. 

            Any type of killer (gain, thrill, lust) can be an organized or disorganized killer.  They can even be a mixture of both.  Murder scenes often appear to reflect some traits of an organized and disorganized individual.  Some are clearly to one extreme. 

Many killers appear friendly, charming, and occasionally witty to family and friends.  But as the character Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs once said, no matter how they may appear, their "pathology is a thousand times more savage, and more terrifying...."



As society's interest and curiosity grow, so do the sciences that put more and more killers behind bars.

            In as early as the 700s fingerprinting was used in China as a way to establish identity.  There was no formal system, but the acknowledgment of the significance was there.

            In 1248, a Chinese book called His Duan Yu was published that contained a description of how to tell strangulation from drowning when examining a corpse.  This is the first know instance of medical knowledge being applied to crime solving.

            In 1823, in Czechoslovakia, John Evangelist Purkinji published a paper that suggested that fingerprints could be used for positive identification, and offered a classification of nine different types of print.

            In 1864, photography was first used at crime scenes, and to record criminals.

            In 1892, the first book on fingerprinting was published.

            In 1900 Karl Landsteiner discovered human blood groups.  One year later, Scotland Yard officially adopted fingerprinting. 

            The first prison adopted fingerprinting in 1903.

            In 1905, the United States sees new measures taken against crime, when President Roosevelt establishes the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

            Five years later, France became the first country to have a police crime lab.  The FBI crime lab would not come about until 1932.

            In 1977, the FBI introduced the Automated Fingerprint Identification System for computer-scanned fingerprints.

            In 1986, DNA evidence is used to solve a crime for the first time.

            In 1996, the FBI introduced computer searches of the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, allowing police to run prints through the computer for matches.  The old system required matches to be done by hand.  (Court TV Online, 2001)

            Police have gotten help from some relatively unlikely sources as well.  In 1949, a reporter asked authorities for a list of their top ten most wanted criminals, to use in an article.  By the next year, the list was official, and ever since, the FBI has had a Ten Most Wanted list, that has helped apprehend more than one hundred criminals.  Of them, the television show America's Most Wanted has helped to catch nine.  Only seven women have been on the list.

            In 1973, Kodak introduced Krazy Glue.  Advertised as a super-strong adhesive, the glue has been found to have other uses.  Krazy Glue is often used to lift prints from surfaces that cannot be dusted, such as car windows, plastic bags, or human bodies.  Dusting would smear prints on such surfaces.  A chemical in the glue called cyanaoaciylate is attracted to proteins and amino acids in the fingerprints, and forms a mold.  To print something like a trash bag, the object would be placed into a tightly sealed tank with a metal cup of Krazy Glue.  The glue would be heated, and vapors from the glue would cling to the bag, and harden to form a plastic mold over the print.  The molds can then be dyed so that the print can be seen more easily. (Lomasney, 2001 for Discovery.com)

            Lie detector tests have often been used to clear suspects, as was done in the Green River Killer investigation.  Straps around the abdomen and chest record breathing rate, a cuff around the bicep measures blood pressure, and electrodes at fingertips measure perspiration.  Questions begin with basic information (age, sex, etc.) to act as a control.  When questions about the case come up, the administrators of the test watch carefully for stressful answers, which indicate a lie.  Being strapped to the chair alone can cause stress.  The speed and order of questions can also cause anxiety. (Martin, 2001 for Discovery.com)

            Experienced liars can beat the test, whereas a very emotionally sensitive person can tell the truth and be so nervous about the environment that they fail.

            New tests on the horizon include a voice analyzer that picks up tremors in speech present when someone lies, as well as a brain wave monitor that recognizes when a subject has seen or heard things before.  This would allow authorities to show a subject pictures of the victim, or of the crime scene, and be able to tell whether the subject is at all familiar with it.  

            The chemical substance luminol has also been helpful to investigators.  Luminol glows greenish blue when it comes in contact with blood, even when the blood is several years old.  The chemical reads hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells.

Luminol also picks up some metals, cleaning products, and plant matter, but blood produces a glow that is very distinct to a trained eye.  Identifying blood patterns can be vital in recreating the crime scene. (Lomasney, 2001 for Discovery.com)

            Handwriting analysis has been another tool that has aided in investigations, this time in psychological profiling.  While forensic document examiners are used to compare known samples to unknown samples, as would be necessary when a suspect is already in custody, graphologists can use handwriting to determine personality traits through writing habits. (Martin, 2001 for Discovery.com)

            Even when criminals try to disguise their handwriting, in a long note, they tend to slip back into their regular handwriting.  Some people, like Berkowitz, never appear to have made an effort to disguise their writing at all.

            Style comes from the brain, not from the hand, and forgers can usually only mimic patterns, not style.  The style of someones writing is determined by loops, slants, and pressure.  Graphologists use style to identify personality traits.  Some examples are: large capital letters often indicate someone who will crave to be the center of attention; tall narrow capital letters can indicate a strong, repressed personality; small capital letters can indicate someone with an inferiority complex; and letters that have a tendency to loop may represent someone with a deep, unexposed personal life. 

   All of these techniques have been racing behind bloody hands in an attempt to stop violent criminals that care only for their own selfish desires.  In the ever up-hill battle, the police will always prevail.


                           Punishment and Other History

After a criminal is convicted, his punishment may become controversial. 

            What many anti-death penalty advocates probably don't know is that only about 1% of murderers are condemned to death.  Out of those, only about 2% are ever executed. 

            Also, despite popular belief, most death row inmates are white.  In fact, 48% of them are Caucasian, 42% are African-American, 8% are Latino, and 2% are of other races. 

            Excessive cost  is often used as an argument against the death penalty.  There are currently 3, 598 inmates on death row.  Their trials averaged about two million dollars each (about four times more than it costs to try a case where the death penalty is not being presented), with each one of their appeals costing about seven hundred thousand dollars.  The actual execution has been quoted at 1.2 million dollars.

            In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state executions were unconstitutional, violating the 8th Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment.  Public pressure caused the ban to be lifted just four years later. 

            Eighty-five killers were executed in 2000, and together, they killed over one hundred and fifty victims. 

            Serial murder, is of course, nothing new.  In 1440, Gilles de Rais, friend of Joan of Arc, was put to death for killing more than a hundred children.  In 1611, Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (the "Blood Countess") was convicted of killing more than six hundred and fifty people, most young women, believing that bathing in their blood would keep her young forever. (Dolan, 1997 p16)

            The term serial murder was coined in the early 70s.  In the 60s, the term was "chain killer" or "stranger killer". 

            Though we are a relatively young country, America has already evolved into one of the most violent nations.  We hold 79% of the worlds serial murderers.  Europe comes in second, with a mere 17%.  (Dolan, 1997, p19)

            Serious studies began in the 70s, when the FBI conducted the Criminal Personality Research Project, which found 70% of interviewed murders to have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, 40% to have been abused as children, and one half  have had mental illness in the immediate family.  70% had witnessed or experienced negative sexual events, such as rape or molestation.

            Despite the rate of abused children turning into abusers (approximately one third), when the U.S. Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence did a poll in the late 60s, it showed that 86% of the public polled thought that young people need strong discipline.  70% believed that boys need to get into a few fights growing up.

            From 1960-1975 crime increased 232%, and the murder rate increased from 4.7 to 10.2 per one hundred thousand people.

            Obviously, violent crime is not going away.  For as long as there are people on this earth, there will most likely be serial killers. 



Want a few theories to bounce around in your head? Take a look at a couple of things that have inched their way into criminology at one time or another...XYY Syndrome and Shell Shock