Archive for the ‘Characteristics’ Category

Today, I will be exploring the motives of serial killers. On a general level, the motives of a serial killers are broken into four categories, Power or Control, Mission-oriented, Visionary and Hedonistic, with Hedonistic being divided into three subcategories. Though serial killers can have just one motive for killing, it is not uncommon for more than one of the above listed categories to overlap.
Let’s first look at the Visionary category of serial killers. This group of sociopath tend to have a break from reality, believing they are either another person or they are compelled to murder by an entity such as God or the Devil. These subgroups could be categorized as demon-mandated or God-mandated. Herbert Mullin, for example believed the American casualties in the Vietnam War were preventing California from experiencing a major earthquake. As the war in Vietnam died down, Mullin claimed his father contacted him via telepathy to raise the amount of “human sacrifices to nature” to delay a disastrous earthquake from plunging California into the Pacific Ocean. Mullin, in a time period of four months racked up thirteen murders in the early 1970s. On the other side of the spectrum are demon-mandated visionary. A prime example would be the Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz. Berkowitz claimed a demon was sending his instructions to kill through his neighbor’s dog. Berkowitz terrorized New York City from July 1976 to August 1977, with his crime spree ending with six murders and seven wounded victims.
Looking into the next category, Mission-oriented serial killers tend to justify their actions as “ridding the world” of a certain group of “undesirable” person, such as homosexuals, prostitutes, ethnic groups or religious groups. Serial killers in this group tend to not be psychotic. Some of these serial killers see themselves as changing the world, and curing a societal ills. One example of this type of killer, though not consider a serial killer; is The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski . From 1978 til 1995, Ted Kaczynski set of sixteen bomb, killing three people and injuring another twenty-three people.
The Hedonistic category suggest that these types of killers seek thrills and derives pleasure from murdering, and see their victims as an expendable means to satisfy their goals. Three subtypes of the hedonistic killer have been discovered by forensic psychologists: “lust”, “thrill”, and “comfort”. Lust killers have a primary motive of sex, whether their victims are dead or not. Also fantasy play a large role in their killings. A lust killer’s sexual gratification largely depends on the amount of torture and mutilation they inflict on their victims, and they generally use weapons that require close contact. And as lust killers continue with their murders, the time between crimes tends to shorten or the level of required stimulation increases, sometimes both occur. Two prime examples of the lust type killer are Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Bianchi murder women of different ages, races and appearances because his sexual urges required different types and levels of stimulation and each with increasing intensity. Dahmer searched for his idea of the perfect lover, someone beautiful, submissive and eternal. As Dahmer’s desires increased he experimented with drugs, alcohol and exotic sex. His increasing need for stimulation was shown in the dismemberment of his victims, whose head and genitals he preserved. Dahmer also experimented with cannibalism because he felt his victims would them always be a part of him.
For the Thrill killer, the primary motive is to induce pain or create terror in their victims; this provides a stimulation and excitement for the killer. The thrill killer seeks the adrenaline rush provided by hunting and killing their victim. They only murder for “the kill”, and their attacks are not usually prolonged and generally no sexual contact is involved. The victims of a thrill killer tend to be strangers, though a thrill killer may stalk their victims for a period of time. Unlike the lust killer, a thrill killer can refrain from killing for long periods of time and actually become more successful as they refine their method of murder. Many thrill killers attempt the perfect murder believing they will not be caught. Robert Hansen would release his victims in a secluded area, where he would then hunt and kill them. The DC Sniper, Lee Malvo and John Muhammed would kill random victims, often at gas stations and leave the scene unnoticed. In one of his letters to a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper, the Zodiac Killer stated that killing gave the most thrilling experience and that it was better than having sex with a woman.
The primary motive for a Comfort killer would be materialistic gains and/or comfortable lifestyles. The victims of a comfort killer tend to be family members and/or acquaintances. Comfort killers tend to have a cooling off period to allows any suspicions of family and authorities to subside. Comfort killers usually murder their victims by using poisons, notably arsenic. Female serial killers often tend to be comfort killer, though not all comfort killers are female. Dorothea Puentes would kill her tenants for their Social Security checks and bury them in the backyard of her home. Herman Mudgett aka Dr. H.H. Holmes opened a hotel in Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair, which he built himself and where many of the murders took place.
Lastly, we come to the Power/Control killers, whose main objective for killing is to gain power or exert control over their victims. Such as killers were often abused as children and were left with a feeling of powerlessness and inadequacy as adults. Many power or control killers tend to also sexual abuse their victims, but the differ from hedonistic killers because rape is not lust driven, but just seen as another means to dominate their victim. For example, Ted Bundy traveled the United States seeking women to control. Active between 1973 and 1978, Bundy would eventually confess to over thirty murders, although the actual total number of victims still remain unknown estimates are anywhere from twenty-six to well over one-hundred victims. Ted Bundy would typically bludgeon his victims and then strangle them, often engaging in rape and necrophilia.


The MacDonald Triad (aka The Triad of Sociopathy) is a set of three behavioral character traits associated with sociopathic behavior. The MacDonald Triad was first introduced by J.M. MacDonald in 1963 paper titled “The Threat To Kill”, which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The three characteristics link extreme animal cruelty, obsession with fire setting and persistent enuresis (aka bed wetting) past the age of five with homicidal behavior. Although in more recent studies statistically significant links between the MacDonald Triad and violent criminals have not been found, numerous serial killers and sociopaths have exhibited these behavioral character traits in their childhoods. It has also been suggested that these behavioral characteristics are the result of parental neglect, cruelty, or trauma in a person’s childhood could lead to this “homicidal proneness”. Individually, fire setting is seen as the less severe or first step to releasing aggression. In numerous serial killers, extensive periods of humiliation have been present in their childhoods. And fire setting was a way for those serial killers to regain something they lost during those initial periods of humiliation. Next, looking at the characteristic of extreme animal cruelty; it’s one of the most highly researched topics when trying to delve deep into the psyche of a serial killer, and like fire setting, animal cruelty . It is also believed that the killing of animals is a precursor to killing human beings, not only the act of killing but also the means of carrying out the murder on a human. The act of killing an animal is in essence regaining what they lost through humiliation by their peers, they are dominating something weaker than themselves. It’s been theorized at that as children, future serial killers (a) used animals to vent frustrations because the person causing their humiliation was too powerful for them to handle. (b) These future serial killers felt that they regained some power or control over their lives by torturing and killing animals. (c)They’ve gained the power and control they needed to cause pain to their future victims. And lastly, enuresis (aka bed wetting) can be used as a predictor of either fire setting or animal cruelty. Persistent enuresis past the age of five can be humiliating, especially if belittled by a parental figure or adult about it. This can then cause the child to use fire setting or cruelty to animals as an outlet for their frustration. Also, rather obviously, it can be the outcome of persistent neglect from parents, causing emotional trauma and instability.