A Serial Killer is a person who murders multiple people, usually with a "cooling off" period in between. The FBI estimates that at any given time, there are from 35 to 50 active serial killers in the U.S.


The term "serial killer" was coined by FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler who, along with colleague John Douglas, was one of the founders of the BAU.[1] In the past, serial killers were known as Varedwulfs (literally, werewolves), as their crimes were brutal enough in the eyes of locals to perpetuate the belief that they were committed by supernatural creatures[2]


In order to qualify as a serial killer, an Unsub must exhibit the following criteria:

  1. Quantity: There must be at least three victims
  2. Place: The killings must occur at different locations
  3. Time: There must be a cooling off period

There are, of course, exceptions to these criteria; disorganized killers such as Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer often commit their ghastly deeds at home.



Organized serial killers, as profiled by John Douglas, former FBI Profiler, normally share the following common characteristics[3]:

  • White male, aged 25 to 45
  • Above average intelligence (100+)
  • Strong personal and social skills
  • Able to maintain normal family life
  • Usually employed in a menial position, often below their abilities
  • May make an effort to cover up their crimes, often dumping the body in a hidden location and cleaning up the crime scene; some have a working knowledge of forensics


  • Ted Bundy - Certified Psychologist
  • David Berkowitz - Postal Worker
  • John Wayne Gacy - Political activist, artist, chef, Freelance entertainer (clown). Gacy also had special clearance by the US Secret Service


Disorganized serial killers may share these characteristics:

  • White male, any age range; but females are common as well
  • Below average intelligence (Edmund Kemper, however, had an IQ of 136)[4]
  • The habit of leaving the body at the scene, not bothering to cover up the crime
  • May be difficult to catch due to constant relocation
  • May have a domineering family member (most notably a parent)
  • Uses "blitz" attacks to subdue, as opposed to seduction or sympathy
  • Has very few close relationships and is often referred to as the "quiet type"


Angel of Death/MercyEdit

Angel of Death serial killers may share the following characteristics:

  • Usually in the medical profession
  • Most often female; but males are fairly common
  • Motive is highly variable (revenge, financial gain, mercy, etc.)
  • Most often use passive means (poison, etc.)


Bluebeard/Black WidowEdit

A Bluebeard or Black Widow is a man or woman (respectively) that murders their spouses, one after another, by various means.


Secondary PathologyEdit

One thing that most types have in common is the taking of trophies from the victim. This could be an earring, an article of clothing, and sometimes even a body part.

Historical SignificanceEdit

Serial slaughter has existed since the beginning of human history. Bloodthirsty psychopaths have occupied almost every significant era in our past; Roman Gladiators, medieval executioners, Hessian mercenaries, and even the so called Buffalo Soldiers of early American history. Even today, uniformed sadists are employed in the armies of every country in the world, enlisting alongside their patriotic brothers simply to have the chance to legally perform their psychotic fantasies.

Suspect BehaviorEdit

Serial killers in Suspect Behavior

See AlsoEdit

Further ReadingEdit


  1. The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schecter. Random House ISBN 978-0-345-46566-5 (0-345-46566-0)
  2. The Serial Killer Files by Harold Schechter p. 129-130
  3. [1]
  4. Wikipedia article on Edmund Kemper
  5. Ironically, Dahmer was killed in prison with the same object with which he killed his first victim; a barbell.