The Terrifying World of Serial Killers

Serial killers: Ted Bundy quoteLet’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.

Serial killer Israel Keyes quoteClassified by Mobility


  • 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.


  • 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.

Serial killers: Ted Bundy quoteOrganized Killer

Average to above-average intelligence

Socially competent

Skilled worker

High birth-order status

Sexually competent

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

Disorganized KillerSerial killers: Ed Kemper quote

Below-average intelligence

Socially inadequate

Unskilled work

Low birth-order status

Father’s work was unstable

Sexually incompetent

Harsh discipline, or abuse, as a child

Anxious during the crime

Minimal use of alcohol

Minimal situational stress

Lives alone

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.

Serial Killer Peter Kurten quote


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.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. Jesus. Creepy as hell. However, very informative and well-researched (as always)!

    Save for the fetishes, I wonder how many of them would be given a medal at wartime, or described as patriots. I often wondered that while reading about the snipers in Yugoslavia…
    Nicholas C. Rossis recently posted…How People Fit Social Media into their Lives: the Surprising TruthMy Profile

  2. This is helpful information and so well explained. By knowing the differences between the types of serial killers, we’re better able to develop the character. I will admit, it was terrifying to read the descriptions. Just as your title states, this is a terrifying world. It’s too bad that these types of killers are real and not just in fiction. Thanks for another great post.

    • Thank you, Jet. I agree. It’s terrifying to think about serial killers roaming the streets. Worse yet, most look no different than you and me. I’m so glad you found the post helpful. Happy writing!

  3. I’m late in chiming in (it’s been chaotic for several days). I never realized there were so many different “types” out there. Some of the profiling I’ve read in crime fiction. I remember thinking at the time how “dark” that kind of job must be, but so necessary to track down brutal killers.

    This is riveting stuff, Sue. Informative and scary at the same time!
    Mae Clair recently posted…Guest Blogger C. S. Boyack on Writing and Inspiration #RRBC AuthorMy Profile

    • It must be in the air; I feel so crazy busy, too.

      Yes, to dive into the minds of these killers must be chilling, but thank God they do it, or we might not see what’s coming.

  4. As always, a very informative and important post. Unfortunately, there are many who walk among us that are not just characters in a book. So, it is a great help not only for our fiction but to be aware of who and what is out there. Thanks again, Sue. I really look forward to your posts in my email.
    Gippy Adams Henry recently posted…Exploring Your Dashboard: Four of Our Favorite ToolsMy Profile

    • You know, I had that same thought while writing this, especially while digging around for quotes. They’re a scary bunch, and one I’d never want to run into.

      I’m thrilled you’re enjoying the blog, Gippy. Thank you. You made my day. 🙂

  5. Fascinating, Sue! Thank you for all of that great information. Sets my imagination swirling. 🙂
    Amy Valentini recently posted…The Singular ‘Their’ corrected by the Comma QueenMy Profile

  6. All I can think is that if I was a serial killer, I’d be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

    Sue, which would you be?

    I must know so I can be on the look out and protect the fam…
    David Villalva recently posted…We need to talk about your tribeMy Profile

  7. As always, Colleta bring the Best of the Best Research. Always, so well documented, explaned & without morbous.

    Real Deal Facts.

    Thanks, I learn so much in your blog, it helps me a lot.

    • Aww, Eve. Such a nice thing to say. Thank you. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      Every time I spend hours on a post I say to myself, if this helps even one person then it’s worth it. So, your comment really means a lot to me. Thank you. 🙂

  8. Another helpful post. The Night Stalker was disorganized and a fairly easy character to write as a copy cat in behavior, but writing the other characters and their motivations in a way that they, too, would be believable suspects is a greater challenge. I’ll be back here.

    • I agree, Susan. When I wrote Wings of Mayhem I used an organized killer for a POV character, and I was constantly reviewing my notes, especially my previous post, The Serial Killer, where I talked about the seven phases the killer experiences. It’s funny how some of the more minor details become the biggest jobs, in writing.

  9. I think Margo has the best idea. Characters usually reveal themselves on the page to me. This kind of character has to be crafted out in advance to a larger degree.
    Craig recently posted…Marred by Sue Coletta #RBRTMy Profile

    • I agree completely. To truly write a fantastic serial killer, especially if you’re using him as a POV character, it takes planning to do it right. I did this in Wings of Mayhem, and it took a lot of back and forth and meticulous notes to incorporate the seven phases of a serial killer without actually mentioning what phase he was in at the time. I’m so curious if others will pick up on it once it’s released.

  10. I’m a stable killer. Not that I kill horses, but I will bury the bodies in the stable behind my home after each kill. What’s that you say? I must be delusional because there’s no stable behind my home? It’s where the doghouse still resides, although all the dogs mysteriously died. It’s where, when I was a child, I went to hide after acting wild. I still hide there today.
    pauldaleanderson recently posted…BLOODSHOT BOOKS – OPEN CALL FOR ORIGINAL HORROR NOVELSMy Profile

  11. Good stuff, Sue. Hey- what’s your take on the “Triad” theory which postulates that regardless of the classification of serial killer virtually all had three things in common once reaching puberty – cruelty to animals, pyromania, and chronic bed-wetters?

    • If they don’t possess all three elements, I would think they at least posses one or two. But then you get someone like Ted Bundy who had a normal, loving home and a good childhood. Hmm…maybe I should see what the FBI has to say about the Triad. And what specific psychological trauma perpetuates the creation of a serial killer.

      I almost used another of Bundy’s quote: “Well-meaning, decent people will condemn the behavior of a Ted Bundy, while they’re walking past a magazine rack full of the very kinds of things that send young kids down the road to be Ted Bundys.”

  12. This is really interesting, Sue. What strikes me as I read your post is that each of these sorts of serial killers has a slightly different approach. And, of course, each has a different psychology. For the crime writer who chooses to write about a serial killer, it also means, I think, that it’s important to craft the killer carefully. It’s important to make the different aspects of the killer’s personality consistent with the kind of killer he or she is.

Comments are closed

  • Follow me on Amazon (click image of books)

    Books by Sue Coletta