Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Mark Allen Smith, Richard Chase, Ted Bundy-the list goes on and on. These five men alone have been responsible for at least ninety deaths, and many suspect that their victims may total twice that number. They are serial killers, the most feared and hated of criminals. What deep, hidden secret makes them lust for blood? What can possibly motivate a person to kill over and over again with no guilt, no remorse, no hint of human compassion? What makes a serial killer?
Serial killings are not a new phenomenon. In 1798, for example, Micajah and Wiley Harpe traveled the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee in a violent, year-long killing spree that left at least twenty-and possibly as many as thirty-eight-men, women, and children dead. Their crimes were especially chilling as they seemed particularly to enjoy grabbing small children by the ankles and smashing their heads against trees (Holmes and DeBurger 28). In modern society, however, serial killings have grown to near epidemic proportions. Ann Rule, a respected author and expert on serial murders, stated in a seminar on serial murder at the University of Louisville that between 3,500 and 5,000 people become victims of serial murder each year in the United States alone (qtd. in Holmes and DeBurger 21). Many others estimate that there are close to 350 serial killers currently at large in our society (Holmes and DeBurger 22).
Fascination with murder and murderers is not new, but researchers in recent years have made great strides in determining the characteristics of criminals. Looking back, we can see how naïve early experts were in their evaluations; in 1911, for example, Italian crimin...
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...words of Ted Bundy, one of the most ruthless serial killers of our time: "Most serial killers are people who kill for the pure pleasure of killing and cannot be rehabilitated. Some of the killers themselves would even say so" (qtd. in Holmes and Deburger 150).
Biondi, Ray, and Walt Hecox. The Dracula Killer. New York: Simon, 1992.
Davis, Ron. The Milwaukee Murders. New York: St. Martin's, 1991.
Holmes, Ronald M., and James DeBurger. Serial Murder. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988.
Lunde, Donald T. Murder and Madness. San Francisco: San Francisco Book, 1976.
Markman, Ronald, and Dominick Bosco. Alone with the Devil. New York: Doubleday, 1989.
Ressler, Robert K., Ann W. Burgess, and John E. Douglas. Sexual Homicide - Patterns and Motives. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1988.
Taylor, Lawrence. Born to Crime. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984.
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