What exactly is a serial killer? Is a serial killer the same as a mass murderer? This is one of the issues that will be discussed along with why serial killers kill people, what kind of people usually become serial killers and any other issues that come up. So how do you define the difference between what a serial killer is and mass murderer? The answer is simple we look at two things, the amount of time the person kills over and the reasoning behind why this person is committing murders.
Serial killers are individuals who are known for slaying multiple victims. These victims are not usually known by the serial killer but rather are killed all for the same reason. Serial killers often kill because of something that happens to them in their childhood which is often related to child abuse or molestation. So where does the term serial killer come from? The term "serial killer" was made up by the FBI back in the 1970's.
This term was made so that the FBI and other people could place serial killers in a different category than mass murderers and spree killers. A spree killer is someone who goes on a spree of killings "they kill multiple locations with very little time between the murders." Serial killers usually kill over a long period of time, even years between murders while mass murderers usually just kill in one location to make a statement about something. Serial killers usually have some sort of sexual motive for their killing, whereas mass murderers do not.
There are a few types of serial killers. They include the following;
1. The Visionary Motive Type
This type of serial killer almost always suffers from psychoses. They kill at the command of hallucinated voices.
2. Mission-Oriented Type
This type displays no psychosis to the outside world, while on the inside the killer has a need to rid the outside world of what he considers immoral or unworthy. This type of killer will select a certain group of individuals to kill (prostitutes, young women, gay men, children etc.)
3. Thrill-Oriented Type
This type is in it for the fun. This killer gets a high from killing. He is very sadistic and kills for excitement. This type kills to gain pleasure from raping or having sex with the corpse, mutilating the corpse or drinking blood. Most cannibals fall under this category. Killing is less important than the acts that accompany the murder.
4. Lust Killer
This type is a sexual killer, and kills for the pure turn-on. The amount of pleasure the killer derives depends on how much they torture their victim. The more heinous the torture, the more aroused they become. This type is in touch with reality.
Serial killers usually kill their victims over the course of many years. They usually choose their victims who are not a threat to them and are vulnerable. This makes it easier for them to commit their devious acts and murder, rape, or molest. They normally choose women or children for the simple reason that they are not usually able to defend themselves that well. Serial killers usually choose their victims based on certain characteristics such as the style of their hair, their body build, and if the person is a child or a woman. Serial killers for the most part are usually men but there have been a few cases where the killer was a woman. One serial killer who was a woman was Aileen Wuornos. She was known for killing men mostly truck drivers who she claimed raped her while she was working as a prostitute. She admitted killing seven men and was sentenced to death in 1992. Wuornos was executed in 2002 for her murders.
We can look into the backgrounds of serial killers for answers as to why they decided to kill or perhaps an event that caused them to think a certain way. Serial killers usually come from a dysfunctional family. They are often abused as children whether it is sexually, psychologically or physically. Sometimes there is a close relationship between the crimes that they commit and their childhood. For example the serial killer John Wayne Gacy also known as Pogo the Clown was said to have been beaten as a child by his father. His father would call him a homosexual and refer to him as a sissy. Later in Gacy's life he would dress as a clown and entertain children at birthday parties. He was a well known and respected person in the community, but no one knew of his dark background and other half. Gacy would lure teens and children into his car with drugs and he would then knock them out and torture and rape them once back at his house. He would then kill the boys and bury them underneath his house.
Another serial killer Ed Gein who is known for the acts he did to his murder victims is one of the most notorious serial killers. In 1957 when a store clerk disappeared in Wisconsin police suspected that Gein had something to do with the disappearance. They went to search his home and what they found would be a horrifying sight to their eyes. In his home authorities found several body parts all over the house and certain body parts made into things. They found severed heads lying around along with human skin which was used to make lampshade covers and chair seats. They found human skulls in the house along with clothes made for ritual purposes such as belts made of nipples and a necklace made of lips. Gein is known for his biggest creation of all which is his full body suit which he made from human skin. Gein admitted to murdering one person, but he said he dug up graves of women and then brought them back to his home where he would dismember them and use them for his own needs. There have been quite a few movies based on Ed Gein. Probably the three most famous are The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Silence of the Lambs and Psycho.
In some cases serial killers who are not abused in childhood are sometimes not cared for and have no real parents. This usually creates feelings of not being wanted for the child. Some serial killers deny ever being abused as a child so it is often hard to know the exact cause for the actions that some of these individuals act out. On an average, most serial killers start murdering people when they are in their early-to-mid-twenties.
Some of the psychological factors for why people commit violent crimes are; humiliation and threats to their reputation or status, they have few skills for resolving disputes and classical conditions to react violently by prior experiences in situations that are similar. Their cognitive processes are usually impaired during extreme levels of emotional arousal.
The United States has more serial killers than any other country in the world. Around 85% of the world's serial killers are located here in America. The FBI says that at any given time there are around 20-50 active serial killers. What happens to all these serial killers though? Some change their targets, methods, or are often never identified. Some may commit suicide, die, relocate them, become incarcerated, are submitted to mental institutions, or just stopped killing, and a few turn themselves in believe it or not.
What is a mass murderer? A mass murderer is an individual who kills at least two or more people in one given location and then goes to another location to kill more people within a very short amount of time. There have been large amounts of mass killings through out history. This is known as genocide, which is an extermination of large amounts of people at once. This is usually done for an ethnic reason, for example Hitler killed large amounts of Jews by putting them in death camps. For the most part mass murderers are usually white males. Mass Murderers are usually wanted to be something more than they can achieve. Mass murderers are usually white males ranging in age form 25-45 years of age and also more times than other have some sort of mental condition. They have show similarities to that of serial killers but their reasoning for killing is very different than that of a serial killers. Mass murderers usually have an arsenal of weapons at their residence and generally are turned on and interested in violence. Mass murderers usually use guns in their attacks but others have used homemade explosive bombs, knives for stabbing and also strangulation. Once a plan is devised by the mass murderer they usually carry out their attacks on establishments and public places. They are known for bombing and attacking schools and restaurants. There appears to be three types or groups of mass murderers.
The three types are; family annihilators, the paramilitary enthusiasts, and the disgruntled workers. All three of these groups are usually young, white males and seem to have an easy access to gain control of weapons. Another two qualities that mass murderers seem to have are the organized and the disorganized. The organized ones plan murders, target victims, have self-control; they leave few clues and have violent fantasies. They are also more likely to use restraints, commit sexual acts with live victims, emphasize control (manipulating, threatening), and use a car or truck to get away from the crime scene. The disorganized ones have less planning, their victims are obtained by chance and show dangerous behavior during crime. They are more likely to leave weapons at the crime scene, perform sexual acts with dead bodies, keep the dead bodies, and usually do not use a vehicle.
There is another term called "democide". This term was founded by R. J. Rummel who was a political scientist. This word describes mass murder by killings which are done for political or cultural reasons. You can also think of terrorist attacks as being an act of democide since most terrorist acts are for political reason and usually destroy political symbols or icons and even people. Some examples of democide are;
Killings in Cambodia of the intellectual and cultural elite.
The massacre of Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
The slaughter of the civilian population of Avaricum by the Roman army under Julius Caesar.
Bombings of civilians by the United States in the Vietnam War,
The Nazi Internment and mass-murder of Social Democrats During the Holocaust
In 1966 in Austin, Texas, Charles Whitman climbed the university tower armed with a metal trunk. Before going to the university Whitman killed his wife and his mother. Charles Whitman killed at 12 people before police stormed the tower and shot him. An autopsy was performed on Whitman and it was discovered that he was suffering from a brain tumor.
When comparing mass murderers to serial killers we have found some similarities and some differences. It is known that mass murder was around before serial killers surfaced. It is harder to know why people decide to commit mass murder since they usually end up killing themselves after they commit their acts of murder or is killed by law enforcement. Mass murders are usually very shocking when we see or hear about them but overall serial killers have a more horrifying and lasting image that they leave us with.