Quite often what we actually know about serial killers is based on how we see their crimes and personalities portrayed in the media. Most of which is sensationalized to keep the public interest at a maximum. There is no denying these killers are anything other than the most twisted and depraved characters of society – but what are the actual facts?
If we only focus on the image we see in the press then we won’t learn more about these individuals and what gives them the compulsion to kill. These following myths about serial killers are all about to be debunked and instead replaced with the truth.
10. All Serial Killers Are Insane
The media portrays serial killers as mentally unstable madmen who could not possibly exist in a civilized society like us normal folk. They are either: manic monster or blood-thirsty psycho. These are simply stereotypes that work as a blanket of comfort to help us believe that the average, normal people we pass on the street could not possibly kill anyone. The majority of serial killers are either antisocial sociopaths or psychopaths, and none of these are considered to be a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), as they are consciously aware of their actions.
Serial killer, cannibal, and necrophile Jeffrey Dahmer. He confessed to killing and dismembering all 15 of his victims and during his trial, he pleaded guilty – but insane. If found guilty by insanity he would have been sent to a mental institution instead of prison where he could have petitioned for release just six months later. The jurors were then asked to consider these following questions: “Did Jeffrey Dahmer suffer from mental illness? And if so, did he have “the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness” of his conduct or “the ability to conform” to law?” Only two of the twelve jurors considered Dahmer insane.
The legal requirements to be classed as insane are so slim that rarely are serial killers are on trial with this as part of their defense. (Despite the efforts of their own legal teams.) Even serial killer David Berkowitz, known notoriously as the Son of Sam, who spoke of satanic rituals and demonic possession, was found to be sane enough to stand trial for the murders he committed during the 1970s. Also Ted Bundy, John Wayne “Clown Killer” Gacy and Dennis “BTK Killer” Rader all understood their crimes were wrong and that murder was illegal – however due to their psychopathic tendencies they just could not control this impulse.
9. There Is No Such Thing As A “Good Psychopath”
In October 2005, neuroscientist James Fallon was researching the inner-workings of a serial killer’s brain by looking at scans. He told smithsonianmag.com, “I was looking at many scans, scans of murderers mixed in with schizophrenics, depressives and other, normal brains. I had brain scans from me and everyone in my family right on my desk.” It was then he decided to compare his own brain scan with that of a serial killer.
Fallon then discovered – that he was a psychopath. His scan had low activity in the frontal and temporal lobes and it is these areas which are linked to empathy, morality, and self-control. He revealed, “I’ve never killed anybody, or raped anyone. So the first thing I thought was that maybe my hypothesis was wrong and that these brain areas are not reflective of psychopathy or murderous behavior.” Fallon is classed as a “pro-social psychopath” – these are individuals who are psychopaths but are able to control their urges so they still remain socially acceptable. Fallon added, “I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games. I’m kind of an asshole, and I do jerky things that piss people off. But while I’m aggressive, but my aggression is sublimated. I’d rather beat someone in an argument than beat them up.”
Author Jon Ronson revealed in his book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, that around 1% of the human population are psychopaths and more shockingly that CEOs are four times more likely to be psychopaths than the average person. This is down to their compulsion to get ahead of others at all costs, which allows them to be more cutthroat than others in succeeding.
8. There Are Many Serial Killers Operating In The U.S
It might feel, especially when the media gets hold of a story, serial killers are everywhere in the U.S. – however, statistics speak otherwise. Serial killers make up no more than 1% of murders that take place in the U.S. according to the FBI. Considering the estimated number of murders in the nation was 14,196 last year – this means 141 victims suffered at the hands of serial killers operating in the U.S. A serial killer by definition a person who murders three or more people, with these murders taking place over more than a month. Therefore out of the 318.9 million who live in the U.S. – less than fifty are serial killers.
7. Female Serial Killers Are Rare
Our article 10 Female Killers Who Will Make Your Blood Run Cold provides enough evidence that there are just as many evil women in the world as there are men. In late 1998, a highly-regarded FBI profiler boldly claimed: “There are no female serial killers.” Quite often, in movies and the media, we are only introduced to the idea that all serial killers are older, white men.
There is no arguing that the number of male serial killers largely outweighs that of females, however, 17% of homicides are committed by women. The motives between the sexes are significantly different. Penn State psychology professor Marissa Harrison revealed to The Washington Post that men kill for domination, control, humiliation and sexual gratification – whereas women kill for money or power. She said of her discovery, “It struck me that women would kill for resources, which was their primary drive in the ancestral environment, and men kill for sex.”
6. Serial Killers Struggle To Show Love
Serial killer Mikhail Popkov received the name ‘The Werewolf’ by the press after he murdered 22 women and ate the heart of one victim after carving it from her chest. The Russian-born ex-police officer has since been jailed for life after pleading guilty, claiming his late-night killing campaign was to help cleanse the city of Angarsk, Siberia, of prostitutes. His wife, Elena Popkov, stood by him throughout the trial claiming he was a loving, attentive husband who she felt “safe” with and if he was to be released she would start living with him again.
Judith Mawson, pictured above with her husband “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgeway, has always refused to believe he killed 70 people. She was happily married to him for 13 years, and she claimed that “he made me smile every day” and he had been the “perfect husband.”
5. Serial Killers Have No Social Skills
We are lead to believe that serial killers are recluses and social misfits living alone, hidden away from society in dark rooms plotting their next attack. Real-life serial killers are nothing like this and they are often larger than life characters in their own community. This is why they are able to avoid capture for their crimes.
John Wayne Gacy, who later became known as the “Clown Killer”, hosted annual summer parties in his hometown. He was also an active member of the Democratic Party and eventually rewarded for his service to the local community by being appointed to serve as part of the Norwood Park Township street lighting committee, where he eventually became captain. He even met and was photographed with First Lady Rosalynn Carter (Above: Gacy is directly beside her) which was later a huge embarrassment, as he was pictured wearing an “S” pin, which is given to those who are granted special clearance by the Secret Service.
4. Serial Killers Are Highly Intelligent
The actual truth about serial killers and intelligence is that, just like everybody else, there is no set IQ. Those who are considered “organized serial killers” who kill methodically, like John Wayne Gacy, Dennis Rader or Ted Bundy, have an average I.Q. of 113. Those who are less organized, such as serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez, who would kill at random, possessed a low IQ of just 81 – 95.
Edmund Kemper (pictured above) is one of the few serial killers who have an IQ which is considered to be at genius level. Standing at 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) tall, weighing over 300 lbs (140 kg) and having an IQ in the 140 range allowed him to overpower his victims both mentally and physically leaving doctors to title him: a natural born killer.
3. Serial Killers Never Attack In Their Own Hometowns
Many believe that serial killers operate from home so they don’t arouse suspicion – serial killers are often considered to be individuals who have to travel a lot for work. Ted Bundy was one of the few who traveled interstate to feed his compulsion to kill. He committed at least thirty homicides, that we know of, throughout Washington, Utah, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, and California.
Unlike Bundy, serial killers are more particular and calculated about where they kill, they actually prefer to kill in their own hometowns as this is within their comfort zone. They are able to destroy evidence, find the quickest route home and are familiar with desolate areas.
One classic example is that of Jack the Ripper who stalked and killed exclusively in the small Whitechapel district of London in the fall of 1888. John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer would also lure victims back to their own home before sexually assaulting and murdering them, despite the risk of a victim escaping and remembering their exact home address.
Quite often serial killers trip themselves up as they return to where they committed murders. Evil British killers Myra Hindley (pictured above) and Ian Brady would walk their beloved dog in Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester, where they had previously dug graves for their victim’s bodies.
2. Serial Killers Have A Troubled Childhood
Serial killer Larry Bright (above), who pleaded guilty to killing eight women and burning the bodies in his garden, had a happy childhood. He was considered to be incredibly popular with girls and was the head of the football team. Then he began to discover drugs and pornography, he became fascinated with African-American women. During 2003-2004, he targeted black women in Peoria, Illinois. He strangled seven of his victims and gave one enough cocaine to kill her. Nobody could understand how such a bright boy could turn into the evil man who is now serving life in prison.
Jeffrey Dahmer also came from a loving family. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he never had to want for much. But at the age of six-years-old, he underwent minor surgery to correct a double hernia and this apparently affected all his self-confidence as he slowly became disengaged and tense. Dahmer was killed by a fellow inmate in 1994.
Another case was that of Ted Bundy who was raised by his grandparents who he loved dearly and would often speak warmly of them both during interviews. His friend and biographer, Ann Rule said that he “respected”, and “clung to” his grandfather. Later a prosecutor during his trial went on to claim Bundy, “He killed for the sheer thrill of the act and the challenge of escaping his pursuers. He probably could have done anything in life he set his mind to do, but something happened to him and we still don’t know what it was.” Bundy was executed in 1989.
1. Serial Killers Are Unable To Show Kindness or Empathy
Could Ted Bundy have saved more lives than he actually ended? During the 1970s, he worked as an operator for a suicide hotline in Seattle. His co-worker, Ann Rule, wrote the book The Stranger Beside Me about her time working with Bundy. She revealed that Bundy was a skilled volunteer, who would ease the troubles of callers and saved lives by offering reassurance. In the years before he went on a killing rampage, he also risked his own life to save a young boy from drowning.
Other serial killers who saved lives were Dan White who was once hailed as a hero for saving a mother and her baby from a burning building and was even due to win an award for his bravery. Arthur Shawcross, known as the Genesee River killer, saved a life when a riot saw a prison guard about to be clubbed to death by a gang of inmates before Shawcross intervened and saved him – for his bravery he was later given an early release. Even Dr. Harold Shipman, who killed 15 people, saved a fellow inmate who tried to hang himself in the night, Shipman stopped the attempt and counseled the man afterward.