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Serial killers are one of the most fascinating and morbid groups of people to study. A

serial killer as defined by Brian and Wilfred Gregg in The Encyclopedia of Serial

Killers is someone who kills 3 or more people with sufficient time intervals between each

known as a cooling off period. The style and motivation of the killings can vary greatly.

I choose serial killers for this project because the idea of someone killing another human

being on numerous occasions seemed so out there, so fringe, it just had to be studied.

Listen to this letter from one of this centuries most infamous serial killers David

Berkowitz (1976-1977) AKA “Son of Sam.”

“I am deeply hurt by your calling me a weman-hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am

the “son of Sam”. I am a little brat. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats

our family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in

the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. “Go out and kills” commands father Sam. Behind

our house some rest. Mostly young – raped and slaughtered – their blood drained – just

bones now. Pap Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can’t get out but I look out the

attick window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different

wavelength then everybody else – programmed to kill…… Mr. Borelli, sir, I don’t want to

kill any more. No sur, no more but I must, “honour thy father”. I want to make love to the

world. I love people. I don’t belong on earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of

Queens, I love you. And I want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in

this life and in the next. And for now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police: Let me haunt

you with these words: I’ll be back. I’ll be back. To be interrpreted as – bang, bang, bang,

bang – ugh. Yours in murder, Mr. Monster.”

This letter was found at the scene of one of his crimes. He went on to kill 5 more people,

mostly in cars parked in lover’s lanes.

To view serial killers as a fringe group, you must first understand them as a group. To do

this I will present some common traits of serial killers, followed by the classifications of

male and female serial killers and specific examples of each. Once I have sufficiently

grouped serial killers as a whole and then as smaller groups in that whole, I will explain

what is being done to predict serial killers, who becomes a serial killer and why?

There is no way to tell exactly how many serial killers there are active at any one time.

Do to modern technology, particularly transportation, it is often hard to connect two

seemingly separate murders. Most experts agree with Holmes and DeBurger’s estimate

of victims of serial murders at 3,500 to 5,000 per year. From this the estimated number of

serial killers active today is 350, or 7 per state. This estimate is based on research that

shows most serial killers murder between ten and twelve individuals, over several years.

However, Peter Wortington, author of “The Journalist and the Killer,” states the

infamous serial killer Ted Bundy could be responsible for as many as 100 murders.

Who are they?

Common Traits

*Holmes and DeBurger, the author of Serial Murder, state that serial killers in general

fit the description of a psychopath very well. The title, psychopath has been recently

replaced by the phrase ASPD, anti-social personality disorder.

*The inability to love, which is often considered to be the core of ASPD is especially

evident in the serial killer.

*The serial killer is unable to develop deep meaningful relationships and thus their care

for people in general is greatly decreased. In short, the serial killer is lacking those traits

which help us to get along with others.

*Highly impulsive and aggressive behavior is another part of the serial killers psyche, and

studies show that they require more thrills than normal people

*Just like young children, they must constantly be in search of new entertainment.

Comparing a serial killer to a young child, however, is not fair to the child. Young child

may pull the legs off of a grasshopper for entertainment, but serial killer enjoys doing or

fantasizing about doing such things to fellow humans.

*The classic feature of the serial killer, is an absolute lack of guilt. Participation in

activities which could result in social disapproval will generate guilt and remorse in a

normal, healthy individual, but the serial killer does not experience either of these

feelings to any sufficient degree.

Robert Ressler author of Sexual Homicide, gives us three traits that make the serial

killer very dangerous.

1) Their lack of conscience, as we have discusses, is a result of ASPD is the first.

2)Second is a lack of external motivation. Some of the killers motivation consists of

uncontrolled drives, their inability to control impulsive behavior or change their actions

in consideration of others. There is not external motive in a serial murder. The victim is

killed for psychological gain on the part of the murderer.

3)The third trait is the planning and ability to hide their criminality make them virtually

invisible. As Ressler explains, serial killers always plan their kills, whether consciencly

or not, and this level of planning is always evident at the crime scene. Serial killers also

have amazing ability to hide their crimes. As Holmes and DeBurger state, many times

people in the same house as the killer do not know of the killers activities.


The information in this section comes from the Internet site of Dr. Tom O’Connor a

noted criminology specialist from North Carolina’s Wesleyan College. For the

male classification Dr. O’Connor uses one of the FBI typologies called the

Holmes typology. There are other’s the FBI uses, but I felt this one was the most


Thesis: The classification of serial killers is different for males and females. The

major difference is style of killing and the precision and care of that killing. In

addition, females are much more likely to kill victims they have some relation


The classification of serial killers is essential in understanding the psychological

mainframe of the killer. I also feel it is important to stress common traits among

groups so we may better understand them as a whole.

MALE SERIAL KILLERS- 4 groups, usually between 20 and 30. Kill in their own

social class and race.

Visionaries – act in response to voices and are instructed by these voices to perform

the act of murder. These are used to justify and legitimize the act.

Herbert Mullin (1972-73): Paranoid schizophrenic, heard voices about an

upcoming earthquake that told him to kill to prevent it. He drove up

mountain roads and pretended to have car trouble, killed 2 with a baseball

bat. Then got a gun and killed 5 people in one day at one park, 4 campers

at another park 3 months later, 2 others in various locations.

Missionaries – they think it is their responsibility rid society of unwanted elements.

Prostitutes, drug addicts, homosexuals, racial minorities, and pornographers

(Like John Doe in the movie in Seven.)

Joseph Franklin (1977-81): Neo-Nazi, believed interracial couples were a

sin against God. suspected in the shooting of Larry Flynt because Hustler

magazine featured interracial couples. Franklin killed 15 people in

interracial relationships from rooftops.

Hedonists – kill because murder causes them pleasure / sense of power

Lust Killers – kill for sexual gratification and the acts are usually sadistic.

Often involves overkill, necrophilia or cannibalism.

Jerry Brudos (1968-69): electronic tech., shoe fetish.

aroused by the sight of women in black high heeled shoes. Killed

6 and kept the left foot of each in a freezer.

Thrill Killers – kill because of a desire of a “thrill” or “experience.” Often

involves mutilation or cannibalism but rarely overkill or necrophilia

Norman Collins (1967-69): killed 7 students, each sexually

mutilated. He came to the funeral parlor of one victim and asked if

her could take a picture.

Gain Killers – kill for personal gain. Profitable business venture,

advancement of career, or contract for services.

Joseph Briggen (1894-1902): Hog farmer whose pigs always won

blue ribbons. He said “ its all in the feeding.” He also complained

of the inability to keep ranch hands. He had killed at least 12

hands saying pigs need a steady diet of human flesh.

Power Seekers – kill for the desire to have control over the life and death or others.

Often involves behaviors such as ransom demands or desire for publicity.

Robert Hansen (1977-81): killed 17 women after sexually abusing

them. He gave them a head start and track them down like animals with a

high-powered rifle.

Other types of Serial killers such as Vampires and Cannibals cannot be placed in any

one group and must then be considered mixed groups.

The information on female serial killers also came from Dr. O’Connor’s web page. The

typology used for females is called the Kelleher Typology, developed by Kelleher and

Kelleher a couple who wrote the book, Murder Most Rare: The Female Serial Killer.

FEMALE SERIAL KILLERS-more methodical, careful, precise and quiet. Also

much more successful; the average duration of a female serial killer is 8 years,

double that of a male serial killer. Female serial killers account for only 8% of all

American serial killers but American female serial killers account for 76% of all

female serial killers worldwide.

Female Serial Killers Acting Alone: Mature, careful, deliberate, socially adept, and

highly organized. They usually attack victims in their home of place of work.

They tend to favor specific weapons like poison, lethal injection or suffocations

Black Widow: systemically kills multiple spouses, partners, or other family


Diana Lumbrera (1977-1990): suffocated 6 of her own children.

Angle of Death: systemically kills people who are in her care for some form of

medical attention

Genene Jones (1978-1982): injected terminally ill children with heart

medication. She enjoyed the recognition she received as she tried to revive

the children.

Sexual Predator: systematically kills others in clear acts of sexual homicide

Aileen Wournos (1989-90): prostitute, shot men in normal proposition for

sex claiming self defense.

Revenge: systematically kills out of hate or jealousy

Martha Ann Johnson (1977-82): 22 year old, 250 lbs woman with 4

children, who after a fight with her husband would roll her weight onto

one of them as they slept and suffocate them.

Profit or Crime: systematically kills for profit or while committing another crime.

Madame Papova (1879-1909): murder for hire service in Russia.

Specialized in liberating married women from cruel husbands. Murdered over

300 victims.

Acting in Partnership: Killers tend to be younger, aggressive, vicious in their attacks,

sometimes disorganized, and usually unable to carefully plan. They usually attack

victims in diverse locations. They tend to use guns, knives, or torture.

Team Killer: Kills or participates in the killing of others in conjunction with at

least one other. Represent about 1/3 of all female serial killers with male female

teams being the most common.

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (1930-34): formed gang and killed 16

victims, 13 of which were police officers. Bonnie is reported to have

enjoyed putting extra bullets in the cops.

Participation Part

1)Wolfgang Abel & Mario Furlan (1977-1986) were 27-year old sons of rich parents in

Milan, Italy. Upon graduation from the university where they had been roommates, they

embarked upon an odyssey of killing homosexuals across Italy and the Central Alps

Region of West Central Europe. Along the way, they killed whomever they thought was

“subhuman” and although they were not Nazis, they left notes at crime scenes for police

to think a group of Nazis led by a “Ludwig” were responsible. Their 13 victims included

gypsies, drug addicts, prostitutes, and of course, homosexuals. Toward the end, they

specialized in arson and bombing, burning down pornographic movie theaters and gay

discotheques, timing the fires for when the places were most crowded. Hundreds of

people were injured or scarred for life by their actions. They were finally caught by

patrons of a crowded disco when seen dancing around in costume while secretly releasing

accelerant from inside their pantlegs. In 1987, an Italian court found them partially insane

and sentenced them to 30 years of “open custody” (the equivalent of “house arrest”) in the

Alpine castles of their parents——Missionary/Team

2)Harvey Glatman (1951-1958) was a 25-year old Hollywood photographer for girls

interested in becoming models. Once the most beautiful girls came into his “studio”, they

were raped, tied up, and then brutally murdered. He would often take photos of him

raping the girls, as they died, and their grave sites out in the desert. He killed 4 victims

before the last one got away by resisting. His “studio” turned out to have a room with

walls covered with portraits of death. He was executed in the gas chamber in 1959, and

his last words were “I knew this is the way it would be”.—–Lust

3)Frederick Mors (1914-1916) was an immigrant from Vienna to the U.S. who worked in

nursing homes for the elderly. He liked to dress up in a white uniform with a stethoscope

around his neck and have the patients call him “Herr Doktor”. He was responsible for

killing 8 patients by chloroform suffocation. He was eventually caught in the act, and

certified criminally insane, but he escaped from the mental institution and was never

heard from again.——Power Seeker

4)Martha Wise (1924-1925) AKA “the Borgia of America” was a 39-year old widow

from Ohio who fell deeply in love with a younger man whom her family was opposed to.

She devised a plan to poison (arsenic) her family members one-by-one, killing 3 of them

before the rest got suspicious and reported her to authorities. When questioned, she

confessed to the murders, several other attempts, and even burning down a church that

expressed a reluctance to carry out the marriage ceremony. Her defense at trial was “the

Devil made me do it”. She was sentenced to life imprisonment.—–Revenge/Visionary

Why are they?

“It was an urge. . . . . A strong urge, and the longer I let it go the stronger it got, to where I

was taking risks to go out and kill people–risks that normally, according to my little rules

of operation, I wouldn’t take because they could lead to arrest.” — Edmund Kemper

Where does this urge come from? In this project I aim to address 3 areas which is said to

have impact on these people leading them to a life of serial murder.

Childhood family life

Most of the information in this assertion comes from the FBI behavioral science

department and FBI profiler Robert Ressler.

*Serial killers are never really able to bond with their families.

*This then leads to a struggle to bond with friends so there are very few or no

relationships of any value to these people.

*A positive view of the father is rare among serial killers, while 72% report a lack of

attachment to, and no positive image of, their fathers. The serial killer feels more

aggression than the average child, and a good portion of this is vented toward the father. *

*Ron Langevin writes in “The Serial Killer,” that indeed, the serial killer holds more

anger and substantially less affection toward the father than do even other murderers. She

goes on to say that episodes of bedwetting and firesetting, coexist with a tendency for

cruelty to animals, and have been called the ‘triad’ of childhood characteristics

representative of future serial killers.

*Ressler also points out that 82% of serial killers report daydreaming so much that it

became a problem for them in childhood,

*and 71% report chronic lying.

*80% of them had run away at some point in their childhood, and

*83% reported sever temper tantrums.

According to the FBI, and Ressler,

*Nearly all serial killers report punishment as a child as being unfair, hostile, abusive and

very inconsistent.

*The primary caretakers of the future killer, be they parents, grandparents or legal

guardians, are simply “bad” at their job.

*Not only are they nonproductive, unhelpful and aloof, but they typically hold adult

expectations for even the youngest of children.

Holmes and De Burger continue to say that this inconsistency is a common point

between serial killers and sexual addicts.

*Serial killers learn behavior that encourages violence, and that will one day lead to

multiple murder.

Ressler and the FBI report that, there is a high degree of instability in the family life

just like the sexual addict’s family.

*Their families typically moved around a great deal, or parents frequently changed


*Psychological and behavioral problems, such as alcoholism and drug use are not

uncommon in their families, either. Ressler reports that 69% of interviewed serial

killers had a family history of alcoholism. Better than half of the serial killers

reported psychiatric problems in their families, and 70% of the families had a

history of alcoholism.

Sexual Abuse

Over 50% were suspected of sexual abuse. Peter Worthington, author of “The Journalist

and the Killer,” reports that Clifford Olson, for example, who reported being sodomized

by his uncle as a young child, later went on to murder eight girls and three boys in a

nine-month spree. His murder methods included strangulation, bludgeoning and stabbing.

Steven Dubner, who wrote “Portrait of a Serial Killer,” states that Alex Henriquez,

suspected by police of being sexually abused during his childhood and through his teens,

strangled two girls and one woman to death.

Ressler points out that this abuse is a critical phase in the creation of the serial killer.

*The sexual abuse result in intense physiological arousal, and the abused child quickly

associates the two.

Jim Orford wrote “Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addictions,” and is

quoted as saying “The male emphasis on sex, along with greater prominence of male

sexual organs, greater degree of initiative expected of males, and more obvious signs of

physiological arousal lead young males to label physiological arousal as sexual.”

Fantasy- Childhood fantasies of domination may also lead to future violent behavior as

Ressler points out.

*The play of the child is oriented around aggression and violence, and this only increases

over the years.

*Children feeling abused may be very egocentric, seeing others as only an extension of

their personal world.

*In essence the future killer is using fantasy as a way of escaping an otherwise poor

family life. The abuse they are suffering may push these fantasies toward violence

and aggression.

*In fantasy the child is in control and can do the abusing instead of being abused.

Ressler gives a good example in the situation in which a child may want to feel power of

the family dog. One day the child goes so far as to kick the dog. Feeling the power, the

child may continue to beat and later even kill the dog.

*As the child grows these fantasies become an addiction.

*It becomes the child’s only source of emotional arousal and soon included sex as well as


*As a result of this need for fantasy the now young adult may develop negative traits

including; preference for autoerotic activity, aggression, chronic lying,

rebelliousness, and a preference for fetish behavior.

Ressler continues to point out that soon the killer is trapped in a chronic cycle of self

stimulation through fantasy, increasing social isolation followed by increased anger do to

more isolation and increases the reliance on fantasy.

This sexual fantasy as pointed out by Albert Drukteinis in his work entitled

“Contemporary Psychiatry: Serial Murder–The Heart of Darkness,” is the focal point of

most serial killers desire for power. Drukteinis gives us a quote from Ed Kemper, a

serial killer from California. He described the roles of dominance, power and sex in his

own sexual fantasies:

“I have fantasies about mass murder…[I] make made passionate love to their dead

corpses. Taking life away from them,…and then having possession of everything that used

to be theirs. All that would be mine. Everything.”

Conclusion-Is there a way to predict?

The FBI, over the past decade has collected huge amounts of information on the killers

themselves, their motivations and their methods. Unfortunately, to date there is no sure

way to identify serial killers before they strike. Most of the time the killer is stumbled

upon accidentally by local police or the FBI, according to Ressler. The Behavioral

Science Unit of the FBI has devoted much of their department to studying and attempting

to understand these fascinating people. They have turned crime scene profiling, the

development of a serial killer’s description and characteristics from evidence at the scene

of the crime, into a science. Despite these advancements there is still much to be learned

about serial killers. It is my opinion, through my research, that it is impossible to develop

a fool-proof way to predict that a certain person will become a serial killer. As Holmes

and DeBurgers point out, many people who share identical experiences as serial killers do

in their childhood and young adulthood do not become serial killers. Fortunately, the

information that the FBI has gathered has led to many quick arrests of serial killers and

has probably saved many lives. I am sure there will be many more advancements made in

years to come and we will see a decrease in the number of active serial killers and in

relation the number of victims. I hope you have enjoyed this presentation and have

enjoyed a short glimpse into the world of the serial killer.




Gregg, Brian and Wilfred. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. 1988.

Holmes, Ronald M. & De Burger, James. Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage. 1988.

Ressler, Robert. Sexual Homicide. Lexington: DC Heath & Company. 1988.

Worthington, Peter. “The Journalist and the Killer.” 1993.

Who Are They?

Common Traits


Holmes, Ronald M. & De Burger, James. Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage. 1988.

Ressler, Robert. Sexual Homicide. Lexington: DC Heath & Company. 1988.




FBI . “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Violent Crime Issue.” 1985.

Holmes, Ronald M. & De Burger, James. Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage. 1988.

O’Connor, Dr. Thomas R. Dept. of Justices Studies. “Male Serial Killers” and “Female

Serial Killers.” 4 October, 1999. .



Kelleher, M. & C. Murder Most Rare: The Female Serial Killer. NY:Dell. 1998.

O’Connor, Dr. Thomas R. Dept. of Justices Studies. “Male Serial Killers” and “Female

Serial Killers.” 4 October, 1999. .



O’Connor, Dr. Thomas R. Dept. of Justices Studies. “Male Serial Killers” and “Female

Serial Killers.” 4 October, 1999. .

Why Are They?



FBI . “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Violent Crime Issue.” 1985.

Holmes, Ronald M. & De Burger, James. Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage. 1988.

Langevin, Ron. “The Serial Killer.” In Ann Wolber Burgess (Ed.), Rape and Sexual

Assault III: A Research Handbook, New York: Garland. 1991.

Ressler, Robert. Sexual Homicide. Lexington: DC Heath & Company. 1988.

Sexual Abuse


Dubner, Steven J. “Portrait of a Serial Killer.” New York. 1992.

Orford, Jim. Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addictions. New York: John

Wiley & Sons. 1985.

Ressler, Robert. Sexual Homicide. Lexington: DC Heath & Company. 1988.

Worthington, Peter. “The Journalist and the Killer.” 1993.



Drukteinis, Albert M. “Contemporary Psychiatry: Serial Murder–The Heart of

Darkness.” 1992.

Ressler, Robert. Sexual Homicide. Lexington: DC Heath & Company. 1988.



Holmes, Ronald M. & De Burger, James. Serial Murder. Newbury Park: Sage. 1988.


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