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Forensic Psychology: Serial Murders Essay

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Updated: Apr 23rd, 2021

A killer is considered to be a serial murderer if he or she kills at least two people in events that are not related. The killer must also have a break of a few hours to several years between the murders (Santilla, et al., 2009). It is not exactly known why individuals become serial killers but it is believed that it could be contributed by a difficult childhood characterized by abuse, neglect, and psychological disorders. Lack of bonding between the child and the guardian may create an aloof and cold child who grows to become a serial killer (Liebert, 1985: Gresswell & Hollin, 1994). Some of them are then able to move on to derive pleasure from those same acts (Knoll, 2006). Most serial killers target the weak in society and the majority of their victims are young women (Santilla, et al., 2009). This paper will present the different classifications of murder in addition to categories of different serial murders. To do so, the paper shall examine offender typologies compiled by theorists. It will also give the reasons why Jason, committed serial murder. Other reasons commonly known for committing serial murder will also be discussed.

Offender typologies are compiled based on the nature and motivation of the crime. The two assumptions made in classification are that characteristics that are specific to a type of murder occur concurrently with such a high frequency that it separates that particular type from the next. The characteristics of one type do not occur concurrently with the specified characteristics of any other type of murder (Dryer-Beers, 2012). According to Gresswell and Hollin (1994), multiple murders are classified as mass, spree, and serial murder. There are six characteristics used to define murderers as serial killers. First, there have to be at least two killings. Secondly, the perpetrator and victim do not have any relationship. Third, murders are carried out at different times and are not directly connected with previous or following murders. Also, the locations where they are committed often vary. Finally, murders are not committed with the aim of gaining financially and victims have something in common (Gresswell & Hollin, 1994). In serial killings, six dimensions are normally considered. They include the motive, type of victim, the relationship with the victim, sex-specific, period, and the psychological state of the killer (Keeney & Heide, 1995).

The killer may be classified as being either stable or unstable (Holmes 1985; Gresswell & Hollin, 1994). According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), two classes can be adopted in classifying serial murders namely, disorganized serial murders and organized serial murders. This classification is the basis for determining the offenders’ personality traits (Canter & Wentink, n. d.). Organized murderers take time to plan all the details of their kill and the subsequent disposal of the body. On the other hand, organized murderers plan very little and tend to be more violent while killing and will often mutilate and dismember the bodies (Dalal et al., 2009). This classification has been criticized as being too general but on closer examination of most serial murderers, it is evident that they fall into either organized or disorganized. The vignette, for example, falls into the organized killer category.

There are the four most commonly known categories of killers. The visionary killer kills as a result of delusions occurring from psychotic breaks. Hedonistic killers are psychopathic sadists who will torture and kill their victims purely for pleasure. Control oriented serial killers do it to feel powerful and will normally extend the process of murdering their victims. The last category is mission-oriented where the killer aims to accomplish a certain goal. They kill particular types of people to make society a better place (Dalal et al., 2009). The offender, Jason fits into this serial murderer category. He kills to ensure that society is free of crack addicts.

Most serial killers spend time thinking about their next kill and killing it satisfies an intrinsic internal need (Egger as cited in Ferguson, et al., 2003). Jason claims that he killed because he wanted to rid the world of crack addicts. He was acting out of a sense of justified hatred and such crimes bring pleasure to the perpetrator (Ferguson, et al. 2003). Jason’s motive for committing the seven murders that followed his girlfriend’s killing may not be what he claims (Ferguson, et al. 2003).

Even though it is argued that serial killers have psychologically sound but evil minds, Jason’s motive could have been as a result of psychological disorders. He may also have felt this hatred and committed the crimes as a result of drug-induced schizophrenia. Another reason may have been the major depressive disorder he had at the age of 27. There is an association between homicidal behavior and depression (Dalal, et al. 2009). Jason exhibited three of the seven behaviors necessary to fit this diagnostic criterion according to the DSM-IV-TR. Before his 15th birthday, Jason exhibited conduct disorder as evidenced by his act of torturing animals, stealing, setting fire on other people’s property (APA, 2000).

Although there is no indication that Jason forced the victims to have sex with him, the idea of sex before murder could have been a motivator for him. Sexual sadism is one of the most common factors among serial killers (Myers, Gooch & Meloy, 2005). He may not have revealed this as a motive in his statement as most sex offenders do not admit to this offense as they face severe harassment in prison (Knoll, 2006).

The motive for most serial killings is peculiar and difficult to understand (Bartol, 1999, as cited in Santilla, et al., 2009). One of the most common reasons is sex. Pleasure is a motive that drives a serial killer to continue committing murder (Knoll, 2006). Sexual aggression is believed to result from exposure to violent sexual arousal early in life. There is no evidence of this in the vignette but there is evidence of abandonment. Part of the reason why children grow up to become serial killers is due to a lack of a normal upbringing. In Jason’s case, his mother went to prison when he was still a child. Other reasons for sexual sadism are the power and control involved in the violent act (Johnson & Becker, 1997).

Schizophrenia and other psychosis affect certain acts of serial murderers directly (Dalal, et al., 2009). A psychopathy personality disorder is a condition whereby the mind bears a disability that causes irresponsible behavior that is not related to psychosis or any other disease. The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex have been studied to find out if they influence psychotic behavior (Labrode, 2007). Individuals suffering from psychopathy have been found to have impairment in these processes. Impairment of the prefrontal cortex observed in lesions also causes sociopathic behavior in previously normal people (Blair, 2003 as cited in Laborde, 2007). In these cases, perpetrators act in an antisocial manner and are not remorseful about it (Singh, 1979 as cited in Dalal, et al, 2009). Neurotic disorders such as depression are also common among serial murders and are believed to contribute to homicidal tendencies. Other reasons include substance abuse with 50% of serial murderers abusing drugs (Dalal, et al. 2009).

Another reason why serial murderers kill is to feel powerful. These types obtain pleasure from exercising power over other individuals. They choose people who they consider less than human (Ferguson, et al. 2003). Such killers have a desire to have control over life and death (Millet, 2012). They desire to feel like God in deciding who lives and who dies. Other serial killers satisfy the addiction psychological model (Gresswell & Holin, 1994). In this case, the desire to achieve a high is overwhelming and they end up acting upon it.

Although many theories have been formulated, the etiology of serial murder remains unknown (Dietz, et al., 1990: Knoll, 2006). This is largely due to conflicting data from studies carried out. An FBI study of 36 serial murderers found that the majority of them had suffered abuse or neglect in their lives (Knoll, 2006). (Knoll believes that these differences in the results are caused by the differences in the populations under study (2006).

Serial murderers have increased in recent times due to the forces of modernization (Haggerty, 2009). There is a lot of speculation as regards the cause of serial murder. Due to the rare occurrence of this crime and the fact that most killers are never caught, there is not enough existing data on serial murder etiology (Rossmo, 1999).


In conclusion, serial murder and the reason why such a heinous act is committed remains a mystery. This paper has given a detailed classification of murder and especially serial murder. In addition, the paper has also endeavored to examine the typology that characterizes this particular class of murder. Moreover, it has attempted to explore the two classifications of serial killers by the FBI namely, disorganized and organized serial killers. The vignette has been classified under the mission-oriented type as he felt compelled to kill all crack addicts and as an organized killer as he planned his kills. Other serial murderers kill for power (control-oriented), for pleasure such as sex (hedonistic), and as a result of psychological problems (visionary). This paper has examined the behavior of the vignette and determined that he likely suffered from an antisocial personality disorder. The behavior of the vignette as a child was marked with misconduct and is characteristic of most serial killers’ childhood. Most serial killers experience abuse and neglect while growing up, they may torture animals and set fire to other peoples’ items. This paper has explored the etiology of serial murders and found that no definite cause exists. This has been attributed to a lack of enough data due to the rare occurrence of these events.

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