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Serial Killer Myths

Fact from Fiction

What is the truth about serial killers? Most of what we think we know is false. Hollywood has infiltrated our thinking on this subject, placing  several myths in our minds as "knowledge." 
  • Serial killers are detached loners. Many have in truth, been family men or women with successful jobs. They blend into your neighborhood. They are masters at mixing with their peer groups. Herb Baumeister is a perfect example. He fooled everyone, right up until one of his kids came out of the woods with a skull.
  • All serial killers are Caucasian. The reason this comes up so often in movies and TV is that most people in this country are white, so most serial killers are as well. They reflect the racial makeup. Wayne Williams, the Atlanta Child Killer, is African American, the second largest racial group in the annals of serial killers. Charles Ng was Chinese, Rory Conde was Colombian-American. Serial killers do tend to stick to their own race when selecting victims,  but this is far from carved in stone.
  • Serial killers are sexually motivated. This was, at one time, something that even appeared in textbooks on crime. It is no longer part of the equation. The motives in serial killings are numerous and complex, and so murky that investigations have been hampered by concentrating on motive rather than the offender. Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, had no sexual contact with his victims.

A Statement by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1888

  • Serial killers travel long distances to commit their crimes. Most serial offenders operate in comfort zones. Places where they live, work or vacation. While there have been long distance truckers and offenders who travel for work, they will still kill where they have knowledge of the area. 
  • Serial killers do not stop killing. This is quite a fallacy. Some have been distracted from murder by family issues. Some find a substitute that keeps their urges at bay. Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, is an example. He killed from 1974 until 1991 and used auto-erotic activities to stifle his need to kill.
  • Hannibal Lector's IQ is not applicable to serial offenders. Most of them had trouble getting through high school. There are a few exceptions like Ted Bundy, but for the most part, they are very average.
  • They want to get caught. Nothing could be further from the truth. Serial killing takes practice and follows a learning curve. It's tricky when you start, so planning has to be perfect. As a killer progresses, he improves. Then he gets full of himself and thinks he can't be caught. This is when mistakes are made.
  • All serial offenders are psychopaths. While they do show traits of psychopathy, many are not full out. However, several traits some have in common are sensation-seeking, a lack of remorse, impulsivity, the need for control, and predatory behavior.

A Comparison of Brains

Violent serial offenders also can be manipulative, narcissistic, and self-serving, but all serial offenders are not psychopaths and all psychopaths are certainly not serial killers. When interviewing those who are psychopathic, interrogators appeal to their egos, praising them for their cleverness and ability to escape capture.

  • All violent offenders use "overkill" in enacting their crimes. Many victims are killed by gunshot, a single stab wound, poison and numerous other ways that are not examples of overkill
  • Serial killers are "driven" to kill. A serial killer decides to offend by killing. For most, there is not a compulsion that sweeps over them and forces them to kill right then and there. They decide, they plan, and they execute.
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