Let’s dive deep into the terrifying world of serial killers. Unlike my post, The Serial Killer, that concentrates on what the serial killer experiences emotionally, this post deals with the classifications and types of multiple murderers.
Classified by Motive
VISIONARIES: This type of killer hears voices that tell them to kill, and they’re usually schizophrenic and psychotic.
MISSIONARIES: This killer feels it’s his duty to rid society of scum, those he deems unworthy of living. They usually kill groups or societal classes. Such as prostitutes, homosexuals, or minorities.
HEDONISTS OR THRILL-SEEKERS: They kill because they enjoy it. We further break down the Hedonist or Thrill-Seeker into three different sub-categories. Though there may be some cross-over:
- LUST KILLERS: A killer who receives sexual gratification from murder. Their murders are generally sadistic. There are four phases of the Lust Killer.
Four Phases of Lust Killers
- Fantasy: The desire to kill often manifests itself during puberty with the use of pornographic material. The fantasy replays over and over in his mind until the urge to act out this fantasy is too strong to control. It could take months, years, or decades before they act out their fantasy in real life.
- The Hunt: The serial killer has a type in mind, and he scouts the streets searching for the woman who fits his fantasy. He may even have special locations picked out in advance, like wooded areas or certain parts of town. The hunt could last days, months, or even years, and could potentially cover hundreds of miles before he finds “the one”. Once he finds his perfect victim, he’ll often stalk them to memorize their routine.
- The Kill: The Lust Killer’s only motivation is a personal one. He’s taken careful consideration to lure his victim to a safe place. Now, he can act out his fantasy. Overkill is often seen in Lust Killers. Also, torture, mutilation, dismemberment, necrophilia, drinking blood, and cannibalism. This is the Lust Killer’s moment of ecstasy. He’ll make sure he enjoys every minute of it. He may also go to extreme lengths to preserve his victim as much as he can.
- The Post-Kill Phase: For many serial killers the post-kill phase involves depression. During this phase the Lust killer might write to the media, confessing to his crimes. Or taunt the police. Unless he’s caught, even he knows he’ll kill again. That euphoria is gone, and he’ll do anything to get it back.
- GAIN KILLERS: Whether it be for an inheritance or insurance money, this type of murderer kills for personal gain. They will also rob their victim during the crime.
- POWER SEEKERS: Basically, they’re control freaks who kill to dominate their victims and/or law enforcement. They get off on controlling others.
Classified by Mobility
THE STABLE KILLER:
- Hunts and kills for an extended period of time in his community where he lives and/or works.
- Dumps bodies in the same or similar area so he can return to visit the crime scene, unmarked grave, or dumpsite.
- Seldom travels, but when he does it’s mainly for business, family, or vacation.
THE TRANSIENT KILLER:
- Doesn’t often stay in one place for long. Often times, transient killers are the hardest to catch for this reason. The Zodiac killer was transient.
- Dumps bodies at random locations out of convenience rather than for a symbolic or personal reason.
- Travels constantly, either for pleasure, business, or to confuse the police. He may also just like new, exciting hunting grounds.
Two Types of Serial Killers
An Organized Killer is methodical, cunning, quite amiable, and usually carries out his crime far from where he lives. The crime scene he leaves behind often indicates planning and premeditation. He can be charismatic, so his victims often trust him. The Organized Killer selects his victims by a type — blonde hair, blue eyes, that sort of thing. A perfect example of an Organized Killer is Ted Bundy, who selected young, attractive co-eds and women that were similar in appearance. Because he was able to strike in highly visible areas, he obviously put time and effort into planning his abductions in advance.
A Disorganized Killer lacks cunning, has an aversion to society, and experiences difficulty maintaining relationships. As you can imagine, he’ll leave a crime scene in total chaos. Even if he rehearsed his kill in advance, the excitement over actually acting out his fantasy shoots his plan to hell.
According to the FBI, Characteristics of Organized vs. Disorganized Killers.
Average to above-average intelligence
High birth-order status
Inconsistent childhood discipline
Controlled mood during the crime
Use of alcohol during the crime
Precipitating situational stress
Living with a partner
Mobility (owns a vehicle in good condition)
Follows crime in the newspaper and media
May change job or leave town
Low birth-order status
Father’s work was unstable
Harsh discipline, or abuse, as a child
Anxious during the crime
Minimal use of alcohol
Minimal situational stress
Lives or works near the crime scene (his comfort zone)
Minimal interest in news media
Significant behavior change
Serial Killers Classified by MO (modus operandi)
These serial killers can cross into more than one category.
Cannibal: Cannibalism is a way to possess someone. Rather than choosing a victim by merely type, the Cannibal picks someone he wants to eat. Although sometimes these can be the same thing. Cannibals desperately yearn for companionship. In some, the killer believes he will live the life of his victim by consuming their body parts.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Robert Louis Stevenson authored the classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the dual persona of man and monster who, by all outward appearance, seemed like an everyday man while a secret evil consumed his mind. Many serial killers could be classified as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde killers as they tend to appear civilized but hide another more sinister side.
For example, Edmund Kemper acted like a “gentle giant” which aided him in luring female hitchhikers into his car. Here again, Ted Bundy could also be classified a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And so could John Wayne Gacy, who posed as Pogo the Clown to entertain sick children in the hospital. The same rope he used in his routine was the murder weapon used to kill teenage boys and young men.
Wolfman: Lycanthropes — taken from the Greek words “wolf” and “man” — are sexual predators who terrorized villages in the 16th century. Back in the day, Gilles de Rais and the Peter Stumpp — aka The Werewolf of Bedberg — were both classified as Wolfmen because they tore children apart, then cannibalized their remains. In today’s world, Albert Fish and Ed Gein are examples of Wolfmen.
Frankenstein: These serial killers are obsessed with building a person from body parts. Jeffrey Dahmer tried to create a zombie-lover by operating on his victims’ brains. Dennis Nilsen obsessed over trying to create a companion. Ed Gein crosses into a Frankenstein killer classification because he stole body parts from the cemetery to reconstruct his mother.
Vampire: Just like it sounds, these serial killers drink the blood of their victims to fulfill their sexual fantasies. In their twisted mind the blood helps to sustain life, hopefully making them immortal. Vampires always strike under the cover of darkness and by all outward appearances, they seem as normal as you and me. Many have been dubbed “The Vampire of…” Such as, The Vampire of Dusseldorf — birth name: Peter Kurten; The Vampire of Sacramento — birth name: Richard Chase; The Vampire of Hanover — birth name: Friedrich Heinrich Karl Haarmon, known as “Fritz”.
Transvestite: These killers deny their inner femininity and instead wear a masculine façade. For them, being a man is a charade, a mask to lure women over. But once they trap their prey, the murder is viciously brutal. In their minds they’re killing their own feminine side. The same holds true for homosexual killers who deny their sexual impulses. This killer will slaughter other homosexuals in a way to justify that they’re not gay. A perfect example, although a literary one, is Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Thomas Harris often bases his murderers on real serial killers.
How can we use this information in our crime fiction? It may not be necessary to have an FBI agent specifically name the classification or type of serial killer, but by knowing how these killers do what they do our antagonists come to life on the page. Because if you noticed, all of these killers have psychological reasons for the way they kill. And it’s a major personality flaw. They’re scarred and wounded, which makes them even more chilling.
When serial killers strike for a reason, a purpose they feel is justified, nothing stops their wave of destruction, except police…if we’re lucky.