1. Serial Killers are Bed Wetters, Fire Setters and Animal Torturers
The Macdonald Triad, aka the Triad of Sociopathy, was a theory put forth by forensic psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald about people who exhibit violent tendencies later in life, or threaten violence. In his 1963 paper Threat to Kill, Macdonald said that in his most violent, aggressive and sadistic mental patients he found a history of consistent bed wetting after age 5, obsession with fire setting and the torture of animals. Over time some criminologists with the FBI began to attribute these traits to serial killers, but no research has ever been able to confirm Macdonald’s findings either in the serial killer population, or in any other offender population.
2. Serial Killers are Loners, Strangers, Who Don’t Act or Look Like Normal People
The majority of serial killers have families, are married, have kids, a job and function like a normal members of their respective communities. They are neither strangers, nor do they look like freaks. In fact, if they didn’t blend so well, they would be pretty easy to spot and catch. Ted Bundy, who confessed to over 30 murders, but is believed to have committed many more, was an honor student at University of Washington. A psychology major, he worked at Seattle’s Suicide Hotline crisis center, and was later accepted to law school, not so much for his grades, but for the strength of his recommendations. Spokane Serial Killer Robert Lee Yates, who is believed to have killed 17 prostitutes, was a middle class husband and father of five, and a decorated U.S. Army National Guard helicopter pilot. John Wayne Gacy Jr., convicted of killing 33 boys and young men, was married twice, had stepchildren, was the successful owner of a construction company, an avid volunteer, a good neighbor and a booster of the Democratic Party. He was even photographed with First Lady Rosalind Carter in 1978.
3. Serial Killers Are Insane
Possibly, but so far most serial killers caught were not crazy enough from a legal standpoint to get out of facing the death penalty. Ed Gein, the inspiration for Leather Face and Buffalo Bill, has the distinction of being the only U.S. serial killer to win an insanity plea. He spent the remainder of his life in a mental institution, but did not face the death penalty. Jeffrey Dahmer tried an insanity plea, but he was unable to convince the jury he did not know right from wrong during each of the 17 murders, a spree that spanned 13 years, while holding down a job and paying all his bills.
4. Serial Killers are All Hyper-Intelligent
Just like any other portion of the population, some serial killers are smarter than others. Rodney Alcala, convicted of 7 murders, has an IQ of 160, which makes his intelligence exceptional, but Derrick Todd Lee, the Baton Rouge Serial Killer, who killed at least seven people had an IQ of 65, which is considered extremely low.
5. Serial Killers are all White Men
The truth is that the ethnic makeup of the serial killer population mirrors the makeup of the general population; it’s an equal opportunity pastime. Charles Ng, who tortured and killed anywhere from 11-25 women with accomplice Leonard Lake, is a Chinese American; Railroad Killer Angel Resendiz, who may have killed as many as 15 people, was born in Mexico; and Yuppie Murderer of Bellevue George Russell, who idolized Ted Bundy, is described as a black man in his thirties, in an upper-echelon yuppie community, who brought a good-looking face, a smile, verbosity and a great personality with him to the singles bar scene.
6. Serial Killers are Sexually Motivated
While it is true that many serial killers are sexually motivated, many more are motivated by hate, like Bundy, who seems to have snapped when his girlfriend dumped him and then killed her over and over again through his many victims. Other motivations include thrill seeking, like California’s Speed Freak Killers Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, who killed anywhere from 3 to 19 people. They enjoyed doing drugs together and killing for the rush. Some kill to gain attention, and others, like Herman Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, who seems to have killed for financial gain. The bodies, bones and internal organs of many of his victims were sold to the medical community. Holmes even cleaned his victims’ bones in acid and sold their fully re-assembled skeletons to university medical schools.
7. All Serial Killers Cross State Lines
Because the FBI is involved in many serial-killer investigations, many assume that the reason must be that serial killers tend to cross state lines. In reality they tend to hunt in their comfort zones, which usually center around their lives and their communities. One notable exception to this rule would be people whose jobs take them all over the country, like long distance truckers, or homeless hoboes, like Angel Resendiz.
Most recently serial killer Israel Keyes, believed to have killed as many as eight or more people, told FBI agents that he purposely left his home and his life to go on road trips, killing people all over the country, in an effort to elude police. Keyes was an exception to the rule.
8. Serial Killers Prey on Anyone who Crosses Their Path, Spending no Time at all Selecting Their Victims
Serial killers are not impulsive killers, but put thought into who and when they kill. In fact part of the FBI’s definition of a serial killer includes a cooling off period of days, weeks, months, or even years between victims. This is one reason that they are able to get away with murder more than once. During that time the killer may engage in activities that enable reliving the murder until the desire to kill again leads the killer to plan the next kill.
9. Serial Killers Can’t Stop Killing
Widespread is the belief that serial killers are addicted to murder — that they can never stop killing. In jailhouse interviews Jeffrey Dahmer confirmed that if released he had no doubt that he would kill again. BTK killer Dennis Rader, convicted of ten murders, terrorized Wichita, Kansas, from 1974 to 1977, then again from 1985-1999, finally resurfacing in 2004 only to be caught. He told investigators that he was able to stop killing by engaging auto erotic activities, some of which he photographed. The case of LA’s Grim Sleeper involved murders of prostitutes that started in the 1980s, stopped and started again in 2007.
10. A Serial Killer’s Victims all Look Alike
Like Ted Bundy, many of whose victims resembled his ex-fiancée; some serial killers have a type, but just as many do not. Dahmer killed an Asian boy, as well as white and black men; Henry Lee Lucas killed women and girls as well as men; and Stewart Wilken killed women and young boys.
11. Serial Killers Want to get Caught
Once serial killers get good at killing and disposing of their victims without getting caught, they may begin to feel invincible. That’s when they can become careless and make a mistake that will get them caught. After ten years of murders Israel Keyes decided to kill Samantha Koenig, a barista in Anchorage, Alaska, the town where he lived and worked; that murder got him caught. He later told police about some of the other murders saying that over time he got “stupid.” Some would call it careless, others cocky, but he never wanted to get caught.
12. Most Serial Killers are Caught by DNA Matching
Despite the DNA revolution the vast majority of serial killers are caught using the time-honored investigative techniques of dumb luck and tips from the public. While it’s true that DNA matching is currently being used to help police identify linked murders, the databases are of little help in catching killers whose DNA is not included. In the case of the Grim Sleeper, DNA databases confirmed that at least 12 unsolved murders from the 1980s were committed by the same person: A hidden serial killer. Police only focused on suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr. after familial DNA testing revealed a close match.
13. Serial Killers are Signature Killers, or Have a Modus Operandi
The presence of a signature, some finishing touch that identifies a serial killer’s work, is rare and should not be confused with a similarity between murders. If more serial killers left signatures, catching them would be easier. When Night Stalker Richard Ramirez was operating in San Francisco, Mayor Diane Feinstein released details about the killer’s perceived m.o., so he changed his m.o., gleefully defying any attempt to categorize his crimes.