Serial Murder in the Netherlands: A Look at Motivation, Behavior, and Characteristics

By Brantley, Alan C.; Kosky, Robert H., Jr. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Serial Murder in the Netherlands: A Look at Motivation, Behavior, and Characteristics


Brantley, Alan C., Kosky, Robert H., Jr., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


Something unusual was happening at a children's hospital in The Hague, Netherlands. The hospital administrator did not want to prejudge the situation, but another patient of Lucy's had died. Although her patients were extremely sick and sometimes terminally ill, the hospital staff did not expect them to die so suddenly. This, however, had happened more than once--actually, more than twice. Lucy's supervisor and several of her colleagues had alerted the administrator about the number of patients that had died immediately after she left their rooms. Therefore, the administrator decided to suspend Lucy, pending a review.

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The review determined that within a 3-year period, eight of Lucy's patients had died while under her care. The hospital referred this information to The Hague Police Department on September 4, 2001. Investigators quickly discovered that Lucy had worked at another hospital where 19 elderly patients had died while under her care. Additionally, at least one patient had died at home after Lucy visited the person's residence. Indicted for the murder of 13 patients, Lucy was arrested on December 13, 2001.

The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service had only once before charged anyone with multiple counts of murder. Many members of The Hague District Attorney's Office, a component of the Prosecution Service, as well as the general public and the media simply could not understand how one person could be motivated to kill so many people. In fact, many believed that serial murder was an American problem; the Netherlands simply did not have serial killers.

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The District Attorney's Office, in conjunction with The Hague Police Department, oversaw the investigation and prosecution of this case. In May 2002, the District Attorney's Office presented this case to the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), an entity within the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). Subsequently, BAU personnel conducted an on-site review of the case in the Netherlands, which led to a request for and the eventual expert testimony by a BAU member regarding the motivation, behavior, and psychological characteristics of serial murderers. (1) Although this case illustrates the relatively rare phenomenon of a female serial murderer, the traits and characteristics of female serial murderers are more similar than unique when compared with the broader population of male serial murderers.

Definition Difficulties

Like many other behavioral classifications that attempt to label complicated and complex sets of variables, efforts to standardize a definition of serial murder have failed to achieve a consensus. People often use serial murder, serial homicide, serial killing, multiple murder, mass murder, and sexual homicide interchangeably. The lack of a standard definition of serial murder, at times, may confuse those who investigate this sub-population of lethal criminals, and it also negatively impacts attempts by the courts, the criminal justice system, and the public to understand the problem. In general, previous efforts to define serial murder have included criteria relative to the number of victims, time elapsed between crimes, motivation, geographical mobility, and victim selection. The major shortcoming of any behavioral typology or classification is that reducing something complicated to a concise label does not necessarily adequately explain the phenomenon.

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The FBI derived its current definition for serial killing from legislation that describes serial killing "as a series of three or more killings, having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same offender or offenders." (2) Stated in this manner primarily for jurisdictional/investigative reasons, the definition also includes the requirement that at least one of the killings occur within the United States. …

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