This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Serial Killers And Spree Killers

A friend's daughter - a student of psychology who wants to specialise in criminal psychology - is interested in the phenomenon of mentally disturbed killers (the "psycho" of popular culture and fiction); psychopathic, sociopathic, or whatever.

In order to try and help her understand the differences between serial killers and spree killers, I've written the following points. Since I'm a complete amateur in this field, I'd appreciate any help or modification of the points before I give them to her:

1.    Serial killers kill over a period of time (months to years to decades) with intervals of various lengths between killings, during which they resume a normal life.

Spree/Binge killers kill over a very brief period of time (minutes to days) with no or very brief intervals during killings, and during these intervals they continue to plan and seek victims.

2.    Serial killers typically continue their killings till killed or arrested or rendered unable to kill further by reason of age or incapacity. If released or successful in escaping from custody, they usually resume killing. Seldom or never do they commit suicide.

Spree killers seldom survive their killing binges, frequently committing suicide at the end. However, if they do survive and escape arrest, they rarely or never repeat their killing spree.

3.    Serial killers typically display no clues to friends and neighbours of their activities, and individual killings aren’t preceded by warnings.

Spree killers often will announce their intention of massacring people, frequently on the internet, days in advance.

4.    In the case of serial killers, there isn’t usually any factor that can be pointed out as precipitating the murders.

Spree killers often go killing after some traumatic episode in their personal lives, such as a relationship break-up.

5.    Serial killers are usually loners and secretive; most often they live alone and have difficulty making friends or close personal relationships.

Spree killers can be of any type, and often have friends and steady partners.

6.    Serial killers almost always (there are very few exceptions, such as Myra Hindley and Ian Brady) operate alone.

Spree killers not infrequently have partners, such as the Columbine School killers and the “Beltway Sniper.”

7.    Serial killers often, but not always, taunt the police or media with messages in between killings.

Spree killers usually do all their killings within a brief span of time and so do not have the opportunity to taunt anyone; but the “Beltway Sniper” (American John Allen Muhammad) whose killing spree stretched over several weeks, did taunt the police.

8.    Serial killers do not depend on the availability of lethal weaponry to do their killings. They can strangle or starve or bludgeon their victims to death if a gun or knife isn’t available; however, they tend to use the same or similar technique for all their killings. For example, an Indian serial killer (still uncaught), the Stoneman, murders homeless people by smashing their heads with a rock while they sleep.

Spree killers need weaponry for their murders, almost always firearms. This is why spree killings are almost unknown in societies with strict firearm control.

9.    Serial killers usually come from broken homes and/or have a history of childhood sexual or non-sexual abuse. They also very often begin by torturing or killing small animals in childhood and may bully smaller children.

Spree killers have no such history. Many spree killers are from relatively affluent backgrounds.

10.    For a serial killer, the killing is part of the working out of a private fantasy and is one part of a more complex ritual, much of which is obscure to the killer himself.

For the spree killer, the killing is usually part of a programme of revenge for a real or imagined grievance, which the killer can go to great lengths to vent in public (like Cho Seung-Hui of Virginia Tech). Therefore the killing is an end in itself. It’s an expression of rage or frustration or whatever else motivates the killer but has no ritualistic significance.

11.    Serial killers normally specialise in a particular type of victim, such as young men with feminine features (Jeffrey Dahmer) or prostitutes (Jack the Ripper).

Spree killers have no such criteria in victim selection. They kill whoever comes into the target area.

12.    Serial killers have a ritualistic approach to their killings, repeating certain actions that come to be “markers” of the individual killer. This may include mutilating and/or cannibalising the victim before or after the killing, removing body parts as trophies, etc. Jack the Ripper, for instance, disembowelled his victims and “decorated” them with their own entrails.

Spree killers never show this behaviour. 

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