Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Patrick W. Kearney: The Trash Bag Murderers

The Psychology

Some experts claim that serial killing is an addiction. Once they begin killing (and sometimes they kill the first time by accident), serial killers find themselves addicted to murder in an intense cycle that begins with homicidal sexual fantasies that in turn spark a desperate search for crimes, leading to a brutal killing, followed by a period of cooling off and a return to normal daily routine with all its unbearable stresses, disappointments, and hurts, which lead back to the reemerging need to start fantasizing about killing again. Once a killing cycle is triggered, it is rarely broken, according to Peter Vronsky in "Serial Killers, the Method and Madness of Monsters." With time, trapped in this addiction cycle, serial killers become more frenzied, and the frequency and violence of their murders escalate exponentially until they are either caught or "burn out" the killer reaches a point where killing no longer satisfies them and they stop on their own accord if nothing else interrupts their killing career. Some commit suicide, move on to commit other crimes, or turn themselves in to the police.

Serial Killers, the Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky
Serial Killers, the Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky

A study of 326 U.S. male serial killers between 1800 and 1995 concluded that 87 percent had killed at least one stranger, and 70 percent killed only strangers.

The most prolific serial killers also tend to be the most organized. They methodically stalk their victims for the best opportunity to strike so as not to be seen, and they smartly dump the bodies far away so as not to leave any clues. Although anyone can be targeted, say James Allen Fox and Jack Levin in "The Will to Kill," victims of serial killers tend to be the most vulnerable in society: children, prostitutes and the elderly.

The Will to Kill by James Allen Fox and Jack Levin
The Will to Kill by James Allen Fox and Jack Levin

But the most striking and intriguing aspect of serial murderers is the nature of their motivation: To satisfy an intense appetite for power and sadism. The serial murderer tends to kill not for love, money or revenge, but just for the fun of it because it makes him feel good.


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