Hunting Serial Killers

By Baker, Thomas E. | Law & Order, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Hunting Serial Killers

Baker, Thomas E., Law & Order

Understanding and Apprehending America's Most Dangerous Criminals

Predatory serial killers are not a recent cultural trend; cases of serial killings are documented throughout history. Predator killing has undoubtedly been with us since the beginning of human history.

Crime analysis, mapping software, scientific evidence and signature clues carefully combined with a criminal profile may assist in the timely identification of possible suspects. A significant obstacle to recreational homicide investigation remains police cross-jurisdictional coordination. There is the tendency for investigators to define these crimes as isolated events and not recognize possibly related serial homicides.

The criminal mind of the recreational killer is no longer a mystique. Modern psychology can portray his motivation and incentive to kill. Previous labels included psychopath and sociopath; more recently, the term antisocial personality describes the serial killer's remorseless personality. This perverse criminal mind operates without a conscience and seeks immediate gratification. Anyone who frustrates the psychopath is subject to his charm first but if that fails, murder is always a possible solution.

In addition to anti-social personality disorder, serial killers have a sadistic personality disorder, which escalates terror along with the violence. This synergistic combination adds one more trigger to the serial killer's poor impulse control and pursuit of sadistic behaviors. The combination of being an antisocial personality, sadist and obsessive-compulsive personality is a recipe for repeated perverse fantasies and violent behavior.

The overlapping nature and complexity of human behavior makes absolute classification of human behaviors complicated. The common denominator is the antisocial and sadistic personality disorders. For a detailed discussion on these disorders, consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV). Defining the recreational killer's personality establishes the foundation for a criminal profile.


Recreational, hedonistic or lust serial killers can be grouped because of similar attributes. All of these traits have been used to describe one who hunts and kills human prey for personal enjoyment. They kill for the pleasure of seeing the victim suffer and die. According to Holmes and Holmes, in Criminal Profiling, a recreational serial killer who is "processoriented" engages in sexual or extreme physical trauma, torture, evisceration, dismemberment, lust mutilation, necrophilia or cannibalism. This kind of murderer feels that his gratification is of highest importance: he is selfcentered and his victims exist merely to satisfy perverted needs.

A recreational killer participates in lead-up activities that include the killing or torturing of animals and sadistic rape. The ultimate form of pleasure is to kill; sexual acts with power and sexual control themes are performed before or after the victim's death. Mental and physical torture is an essential component of a repetitive ritual for those who are "process oriented." While this all seems abnormal to well-adjusted individuals, recreational killers find killing the ultimate ecstasy and emotional release from built-up tension.

In his book, Sexual Homicide, Ressler contends that most serial murderers engage in core behaviors that they must participate in to fulfill their fantasies including compulsive physical and sexual rituals. For this reason, they seek their identity and sense of fulfillment in sadistic fantasies by killing. The repeated signature and related trademark behaviors identify the psychological profile and connect the serial offenders' killings.

According to Ressler, the term "serial" means something beyond a string of killings, more like an incomplete motion picture serial. Searching for the perfect dramatic ending, the recreational killer is not able to achieve the perfect fantasy and serial film ending. …

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