Friday 10 November 2017

Deadly Women Volume 2

18 classic true crime cases of women who kill, including;

Laurie Bembeneck: Gorgeous ex-cop and playboy bunny who was convicted for the murder of her husband’s former wife and became America’s most infamous fugitive.

Christine & Lea Papin: The Pain sisters were considered the perfect domestic help, until the day they went feral and turned on their employers.

Sylvia Seegrist: Everyone thought Sylvia Seegrist was a harmless kook – until the day she showed up at the mall brandishing an assault rifle.

 Mary Wilson: A black widow with a twist, the elderly Wilson did
not kill for money but rather to facilitate her quest for true love.

 Joanna Dennehy: Mother-of-two Dennehy embarked on a campaign of apparently motiveless murders, stabbing and slashing three men to death.

Andrea Yates: A troubled young woman finds the burden of caring for her five children too much to bear. Her solution to the problem will shock you to the core.

Theresa Cross: How far will a mother go to maintain control over her children? As far as torture? As far as murder?

Dorothea Puente: Notorious American serial killer who turned her Sacramento boarding house into a lucrative murder-for-profit enterprise.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Deadly Women Volume 2

Thursday 12 October 2017

Murder Most Vile Volume 18

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Flesh and Blood: How far would someone go to maintain their standard of living? As far as murdering their children to relieve themselves of the financial burden?

Death Metal: The band’s lyrics were peppered with references to Satanic sacrifice. For one of its members, that would prove to be a revelation of his own bloody end.

Kill Him by Christmas: The would-be hitmen had been given strict instructions by the boy’s stepmother. “Kill him by Christmas so I don’t have to buy a present.”

Music and Murder: The little girl was a prodigy on the accordion and her teacher promised that she could make her a star. But should anyone really have to die for their art?

Murder, Miami Style: After living the high life in Florida, Joyce wasn’t about to walk away from her marriage a broke divorcee. Wealthy widow was more her style.

Warning! May Cause Death: Would you swallow a vitamin pill that you received anonymously in the mail? John Kmetz did. To him detriment.

Bus Ride to Hell: When passengers aboard a Greyhound bus are awakened by the screams of one of their fellow travelers, they have no idea of the horror that is about to unfold.

Death Follows: Meet Robert Durst, millionaire property developer, cross-dresser, shoplifter, serial killer.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume 18

Friday 15 September 2017

Deadly Women Volume 1

18 classic true crime cases of women who kill, including;

Omaima Aree Nelson: The harrowing tale of a beautiful Egyptian model who killed, cooked and ate her American husband.

Susan Smith: According to the distraught mother, her children had been abducted during a carjacking. The truth was far more sinister.

Tillie Klimek: She claimed to be a psychic who could predict the date and hour of her husbands’ deaths. And she was never wrong.

Elizabeth Duncan: Mother-in-law from Hell Duncan murdered a young woman out of jealousy over her son’s affections.

Marilyn Plantz: Drugs, sex and money combine in this sordid tale of a man burned alive and a woman sent to death row.

Gertrude Baniszewski: Perpetrator of one on America’s most horrific crimes, the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens.

Louise Vermilyea: Those who checked into Mrs. Vermilyea’s Chicago boarding house usually checked out feet first.

Pamela Smart: Sexy temptress Pam started an affair with a 15-year-old boy, then convinced him and his friends to murder her husband.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Deadly Women Volume 1

Sunday 13 August 2017

Murder Most Vile Volume 17

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Midnight Shift: The advertisement sounded too good to be true. And it was. Those who responded found themselves lured into the grasp of a serial killer.

A Doctorate in Death: Professor Amy Bishop was known around campus for her notoriously short fuse. Still, no one would have suspected that she’d pull a gun during a faculty meeting.

Secrets and Lies: A duplicitous redhead, a hapless, love-struck rancher and a handsome cowboy come together in this sordid tale of sex, deceit and murder.

The Girl in the Yellow Pajamas: How do you catch a killer when you can’t even put a name to the victim? A classic murder mystery from Australia.

Life After Death: The horrific tale of a woman who was prepared to go to any lengths to have a baby – including bloody murder.

Game, Set, and Murder: He was a Wimbledon finalist and the greatest Irish tennis player of his generation. So how did he end up embroiled in a bloody mutilation murder?

Eat Me: The advertisement called for a man who was prepared to be killed and then eaten. Amazingly, there were four applicants.

A Man Walks into a Bank…: The barely believable tale of a bank heist gone horribly wrong and the robber who, literally, lost his head.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume 17

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Unhinged: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein

The unknown killer had been dubbed Buffalo Bill because, as one rookie FBI agent indelicately put it, “he skins his hides.” Like most serial killers, Bill had a preferred victim type. He targeted big-boned, slightly obese, young women. Already three had died, their bodies bearing bizarre mutilations. Large strips of skin had been carefully sliced from each of the corpses and apparently carried away by the killer.

No one knew for certain why Bill had cut his victims in this way. That horrific realization would come only later when the police finally tracked him down. It appeared that he’d been using the skin to make for himself a suit of clothing, a female body suit which he had spent hours lovingly stitching together and which he’d wear whenever the mood took him.

The story described above is, of course, fictional. It is the main subplot in the Thomas Harris thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, and its subsequent movie adaptation. Buffalo Bill, however, is not entirely a construct of the author’s imagination. He is based on a real person, a shy, slight and apparently harmless Wisconsin farmer named Ed Gein.

To the citizens of Plainfield, the tiny hamlet that will forever be associated with Gein’s horrific deeds, Ed was a figure who inspired both disdain and pity. The unkempt and slightly addled-brained bachelor had grown up in the area but had always kept himself apart from the other residents. As a child, that isolation had been enforced by his dominant, Bible-punching mother. But Ed had remained on the periphery, even after his mother’s passing. His only interaction with the other townsfolk was when he hired himself out as a handyman or served as a babysitter for their children.

For the most part, Gein remained ensconced at his ramshackle farmhouse, a building that had acquired a reputation among the local kids as haunted. The adults chuckled when they heard stories about Ed’s shrunken head collection or about the corpse-like figure that had been spotted dancing naked in the moonlight on his property. Ed, they knew, was obsessed with the macabre and had probably bought the artifacts at some Halloween store in Lacrosse.

It was only later that the dreadful truth was revealed, only later that they learned about the dark deeds that had been committed on the Gein farm. The children of Plainfield had been right all along. A monster had been living in their midst.   

Continue reading Unhinged: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein?


Sunday 30 July 2017

Serial Killers: Lyda Ambrose

Born: 1891

Number of victims: 5

Date of murders: 1917 - 1920

Method of murder: Poisoning  

Location: Missouri / Idaho

Lyda Catherine Ambrose was born in 1891. Little is known about her childhood and upbringing. She first appears on our radar in 1917 when her fiancee died suddenly and in great pain and Lyda came into a $2,000 insurance policy, courtesy of his insurance policy.  

Hardly observing a decent period of grieving, Lyda next turned her attention to her fiancee's brother and married him within few days of his brother's death. Within three months he was dead, making his widow $2,500 richer.

Lyda moved next to Twin Falls, Idaho, where a restaurant owner fell for her charms. They married on June 10, 1918. Shortly after, the unfortunate man dropped dead dead from "stomach ulcers." Unfortunately for Lyda, she’d been negligent this time around. Her husband’s life policy had lapsed and she got nothing. 

She made no such mistake with victim number four. Just three months after the nuptials, the man dropped dead and Lyda collected $10,000 dollars on his policy. Her next victim was dispatched even faster. He survived just a month of being married to Lyda before he died in November 1920. A $12,00 policy had been taken out on his life just a month earlier.

But Lyda had pushed her luck to far this time. Once the police were made aware of her terrible luck with husbands, an investigation was launched. When a search of her home turned up large amount of arsenic-laced flypaper, exhumations were ordered and autopsies carried out on the victims. They were found to have died of arsenic poisoning.

Tried and found guilty of first degree murder, Lyda Ambrose was sentenced to life in prison. She escaped in 1931 but was recaptured a year later and eventually died behind bars.

Read the full, horrific story of Lyda Ambrose, plus 49 more serial killer cases in


Saturday 15 July 2017

Bundy: Portrait of a Serial Killer

It is a question I am asked often, one that seemingly occupies the mind of just about every true crime reader I meet. Usually it is phrased something like this. “What makes a serial killer? What compels them to kill?” 

I have spent many years, decades even, puzzling over that same question. As far as I can tell it is a combination of genetics, environment and experiences, mashed together in countless different ways to produce its monstrous outcome. (I wrote an article on the subject which you can read here, if you’re interested: What Makes a Serial Killer?).

But even these findings, intended to distill my thoughts into a definitive answer, left me unfulfilled. There had to be something more, something I was missing. Gradually, I came to realize what it was. Only a psychopath can truly understand the thoughts and motives of another psychopath. These days, when people ask me “What makes a serial killer?” I tell them to study Ted Bundy.  

Theodore Robert Bundy was America’s ultimate bogeyman, the quintessential sex slayer, a demon in the guise of an ordinary man. But this was no hunched gargoyle, wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth to warn us of his bad intentions. This was a handsome, talented and articulate young man, an honors graduate for whom a bright future was predicted. This was a rising star in the Republican Party who might well have achieved his ambition of high political office. (President Bundy has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)

Except Ted Bundy chose a different path, a path that would lead him into the darkest reaches of the human soul, a place where angels genuinely would fear to tread. He would not make that journey alone, at least 36 young women would make it with him, albeit unwillingly.

What is fascinating about the Bundy story is that there is a clear descent. The road to hell in this case has well-defined markers. Bundy went from being a habitual thief to being a chronic masturbator obsessed with porn. He then started making clumsy attempts at disabling women’s cars. From there it wasn’t a huge leap to stalking Co-Eds through the darkened streets around the University of Washington campus, to peeking into windows, to admitting to himself that his enjoyment at seeing their naked flesh was more than sexual, that his arousal relied on the idea of causing them harm.

That realization frightened him, terrified him so much that he swore off his nocturnal rambles and stayed off the streets for a full three months. But all the while, the tension was building. Like any addiction, this wasn’t one that could be overcome simply by wishing it away.

And so Bundy returned to wandering the alleyways and thoroughfares of his neighborhood, now numbing his senses with alcohol to ward off any prickling of conscience that he might encounter. Then came the night when he picked up a chunk of wood with the express intention of causing harm to the woman he was stalking. And then came the night when he followed through on that intent.

All of these steps happened by small degrees and if Bundy is to be believed, then the “normal Ted” fought the “entity” (as he dubbed his murderous alter-ego) every step of the way. I am not so sure. In fact, I reject categorically Bundy’s assertion that he tried to keep the “entity” in check. Such attempts would have been futile, in any case. Bundy was on a path that had only one destination. Eventually, he was going to cause harm to some unfortunate woman. Serious harm. On January 5, 1974, Bundy entered a student’s apartment and beat her senseless. Less than a month later, he spirited Lynda Ann Healy away into the night.

At first, murder was a matter of expedience, to eliminate the possibility of being caught, as Bundy put it. But Bundy quickly developed a taste for killing. He became obsessed with death. He invented ingenious ways of luring his victims and delighted in the thrill of the hunt. Possession was his aim, and what better way of possessing someone than by taking that person’s life. But Bundy didn’t stop there. He now entered a phase of accelerating depravity.

We know what Bundy did once he had a rapidly cooling corpse at his feet and we know what he did to the decomposing remains in the weeks that followed. We know because Bundy liked to talk. Many of those harrowing details were shared with authors Michaud and Aynesworth, with Dr. Robert Keppel, with FBI Special Agent William Hagmaier. Some are so extreme that the gentlemen in question refuse to divulge them, even to this day.

And so to the question I asked earlier, “What makes a serial killer?” and to the answer I suggested, “study Ted Bundy.” That Bundy was a psychopath is undoubted. That he was possessed of extremely aberrant sexual drives is also true. And yet, if there is any deviant who might have found a way out of the maze, it is he. The tools were all there – an above average intellect, a solid education, powerful contacts, good looks, the love of a beautiful, cultured and wealthy woman. Even these could not assuage the murderous compulsion fermenting in Bundy’s brain. They couldn’t because Bundy didn’t want them to.

In truth, Ted Bundy never stood a chance. His cravings were far too powerful, far too addictive. His was an alien brain, an insect brain. His thought patterns cannot be understood by comparison with those of a normal human being. Although the idea was once derided, many psychiatrists now believe that there are those among us who are born evil. Ted Bundy fits that mold. There is no possibility that he could have become anything other than the monster he became.

Continue reading Bundy: Portrait of a Serial Killer?

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Murder Most Vile Volume 16

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Angry Betty: Divorce can be an ugly business, especially when one of those involved is a raging lunatic with serious anger management issues.

The Craigslist Killer: A brilliant medical student with a gambling addiction hits on a killer idea to clear his debts. Log in, pick a victim, execute.

The Town that Killed Ken McElroy: He was a bully, a pedophile, a cattle rustler, a petty thief and a womanizer. But, as Ken McElroy was to learn, you can only push people so far before they start pushing back.

Numbers: A schoolboy with an unusual hobby brings down a killer in this harrowing tale of child rape and murder.

The Most Hated Mom in America: What kind of a mother goes out partying while her two-year-old daughter is missing, presumed dead?

Nightmare in Suburbia: When is teenager’s mutilated corpse is found dumped on a suburban street the race is on to find her killer, a drug addict with suspected snuff movie links.

Going Postal: An angry and disgruntled postal worker, one customer complaint too many, a workplace massacre that shocked America.

A Starring Role in Murder: One of television’s most iconic fictional detectives finds himself on the other side of the law, charged with a brutal homicide.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume16

Thursday 11 May 2017

British Monsters Volume 4

The Shocking True Stories of 20 British Serial Killers, including;

Stephen Port: Gay serial killer who used the dating app Grindr to trawl for victims, who were then drugged, raped and dumped in a local churchyard.

Steven Grieveson: Known as the ‘Sunderland Strangler’ Grieveson murdered four teenaged boys in order to keep his homosexuality a secret.
Catherine Flannagan & Margaret Higgins: Malevolent Irish-born sisters who turned murder into a cottage industry in 1880’s Liverpool.
Colin Pitchfork: When two young girls are murdered in a tiny English village, the police turn to newly discovered DNA technology for an answer. But will they catch the killer before he strikes again?

Robert George Clements: A murderous Bluebeard with a taste for the high life, Dr. Clements sent four wives to their graves before he was exposed as a heartless killer.
Neville Heath: An inveterate liar and conman, Heath was also a sadistic reprobate who sent at least two young women to a horrific death.
Mary Wilson: A black widow with a twist, the elderly Wilson did not kill for money but rather to facilitate her quest to find true love.
Robert Maudsley: Known as Hannibal the Cannibal, Maudsley slaughtered four men – and ate the brains of one of his victims!

Colin Norris: Narcissistic gay nurse who murdered four of his elderly patients simply because they annoyed him.

John Scripps: A globe-trotting British serial killer who left a trail of mutilated bodies from Singapore to Mexico to Thailand.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

British Monsters

Thursday 27 April 2017

Asian Monsters

The Shocking True Crime Stories of 28 Asian Serial Killers, including;

Tsutomu Miyazaki: Deeply disturbed Japanese serial killer who practiced cannibalism and necrophilia on his young victims.

Duan Guocheng: China’s lethal “Red Dress Killer” went on a murderous rampage and appeared to have a preference for women dressed in red.

Mohan Kumar: Indian Schoolteacher turned serial killer, Kumar preyed on young women, luring them with promises of marriage and then dispatching them with cyanide.
Yang Xinhai: One of China’s most vicious and prolific killers. Yang hacked 67 victims to death, using hammers, meat cleavers, axes and shovels.

Charles Sobhraj: A globetrotting serial killer with a flair for pulling off elaborate cons, he was also the brutal slayer of at least 12 people.

Saeed Hanaei: A rare Iranian serial killer who strangled 16 prostitutes and became a cult hero to fundamentalists in his country.

Javed Iqbal: Revenge-inspired Pakistani monster who vowed to murder 100 boys and gave himself up after he’d achieved his goal.

Futoshi Matsunaga: Horrendously cruel Japanese psychopath who, along with a female accomplice, tortured and murdered at least 7 people.

Verry Henyansyah: Wannabe Indonesian pop singer whose fiery temper and obsessive jealousy led him to murder and dismember 10 people.

Surender Koli & Moninder Singh Pandher: An Indian millionaire and his faithful manservant who preyed on the children of New Delhi.

Zhang Yongming: Chinese cannibal whose home was found to contain bags of human bones, chunks of pickled human flesh and a collection of eyeballs!

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Asian Monsters

Sunday 9 April 2017

Murder Most Vile Volume 15

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Scream: Two horror-obsessed teens set out to recreate a scene from their favorite movie. Their target? An innocent girl who thinks they’re her friends. 

Moon Madness: A little girl missing from a hospital ward, a frantic search by moonlight, a killer lurking in the shadows.

666: Deep in the Russian woods, a group of teenage Satanists are preparing for a ceremony, one that will come as a nasty shock to their newest recruits.

The Killer Online: The murky waters of Internet dating are said to hold plenty of fish. Unfortunately, there are sharks too.

Killing Mary: The victims had the same name and were murdered in the same city, within days of each other. Coincidence? Or something more sinister?

A Twist in the Plot: A budding author challenges his friends to come up with a plot for the perfect murder. He has no idea that one of them will take the task literally.

For My Sister: The police said it was a missing person case but Teresa was convinced that her twin sister had been murdered. Now all she had to do was prove it.

Death of a Fat Man: A brilliant detective is faced with a unique challenge - solving the murder of a man who everyone hated.

Lesbian Vampire Killers: Four young women cruising the darkened streets of Brisbane, Australia - looking for blood. 

Thirteen Steps: A disgruntled employee hatches a plan to get back at his former boss, with catastrophic results for an innocent little girl.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume15

Wednesday 15 March 2017

American Monsters Volume 12

12 Shocking True Crime Stories of America’s Worst Serial Killers;

Roger Kibbe: Serial strangler who preyed on stranded female motorists along California’s I-5 freeway. 

The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run: A still unidentified monster who carried out a series of mutilation murders in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Jane Toppan: A deeply disturbed nurse with a terrifying ambition - to kill more people than anyone else ever had.

Joseph Naso: When 69-year-old Joseph Naso was arrested for shoplifting, the police had no inkling of what they’d discover about his deadly past. 

Glennon Engleman: Dentist by day, hitman and murder-for-profit killer by night, Engleman was responsible for at least seven deaths.

Dana Sue Gray: The barely believable story of a female psychopath who killed so that she could treat herself to shopping sprees on her victims’ credit cards.   

John Muhammad & Lee Malvo: The Beltway snipers conducted a cross-country killing spree, ending with a deadly siege of the nation’s capital.

Ronald Dominique: Known as the Bayou Strangler, Dominique raped and murdered as many as 23 men in Houma, Louisiana. 

Joseph Paul Franklin: A racially motivated serial killer, Franklin targeted mixed race couples, ruthlessly gunning them down in a cross-country rampage.

Gerald Patrick Lewis: Obsessed by the girlfriend who had deserted him, Lewis took his revenge on women who resembled his lost love.

Lydia Sherman: A prolific poisoner who cold-bloodedly murdered husbands and children, claiming at least ten victims. 

Gary Alan Walker: Traveling serial killer who rampaged across Oklahoma in a spree of rape and murder that left five victims brutally slain.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

American Monsters Volume12

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Murder Most Vile Volume 14

 18 classic true crime cases from around the world, including;

Death in Small Doses: A good marriage gone bad, a wife’s slowly failing health. Is she being poisoned, and if so by who? The answer is far from straightforward.

The Wedding Crasher: A joyous day is turned into a night of pure terror when a killer comes calling.

The Case of the Flying Corpse: When body parts start washing up on the English coast, the police are left with a baffling puzzle to solve. The solution will leave them dumbfounded.

Terror at the Mall: Everyone thought Sylvia Seegrist was a harmless kook – until the day she showed up at the mall brandishing an assault rifle.

Killer Behind a Badge: Antoinette Frank should never have been accepted into the police force. Now she’s out on the streets, using her badge in a robbing and killing spree with her drug dealer boyfriend.

Hollywood Whodunnit: A beautiful model is found strangled to death in her home. But who killed her? The jilted boyfriend, the millionaire lover, or the 6-foot-tall female “enforcer?”

Murder in the Peace Corps: They called her the most beautiful girl in the Peace Corps. But beautiful women often attract unwanted admirers – and this one’s a killer.

Death by Corned Beef: When a marriage devolves into outright warfare, even a favorite meal can be used as a weapon.

Butcher Boys: Two roommates, working independently of each other, commit three of the bloodiest murders in Australian history.

The Mystery of the Murdered Wife: Only one man could have committed the murder, but he was miles away at the time. One of history’s most enduring murder mysteries.

Click the "Read More" link below to read the first chapter of

Murder Most Vile Volume14

Wednesday 25 January 2017

What Makes A Serial Killer?


  “I don’t march to the same drummer you do.” – 

Convicted killer Douglas Clark a.k.a. The Sunset Strip Slayer  

What makes a serial killer? Is there something unique in their genetic make-up, their physiology, thought patterns, or upbringing? Do they lack morality or social programming? Are they unable to control their rage and sexual urges? Are they mad or bad? What sets them apart?

These questions have vexed criminologists, profilers, psychologists, and forensic psychiatrists for decades. They’ve been the subject of countless studies and dissertations. They’ve formed the basis of thousands of man-hours worth of interviews and investigation. And yet, definitive answers remain elusive.

Serial killers themselves have offered some suggestions. Henry Lee Lucas blamed his upbringing; Jeffrey Dahmer said that he was born with a part of him missing; Ted Bundy blamed pornography; Herbert Mullin, said it was voices in his head ordering him to kill; Kenneth Bianchi blamed an alter-ego, while Bobby Joe Long said a motorcycle accident turned him into a serial sex killer. Some, like John Wayne Gacy, even had the temerity to blame their victims.   

As for the rest of us, we console ourselves that they must be insane. After all, what sane person could slaughter another for pleasure? What normal person could perpetuate the atrocities that serial killers do, and repeat them again and again?

Yet the most terrifying thing about serial killers is that they are not shambling, jabbering ogres, but rational and calculating, impossible to tell from the general populace until it’s too late. 

So what exactly is a serial killer?

The National Institutes of Justice define serial murder as;

“A series of two or more murders committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone. The crimes may occur over a period of time, ranging from hours to years. Quite often the motive is psychological, and the offender’s behavior and the physical evidence observed at the crime scene will reflect sadistic sexual overtones.”    

And the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit provides us with some traits common in serial killers.

§  They are typically white males in their twenties and thirties.
§  They are usually quite smart, with an IQ designated, “bright normal.”
§  Despite their intelligence, they are underachievers, often doing poorly at school, and ending up in unskilled employment.
§  They often come from broken homes with an absent father and domineering mother. Some are adopted. Often, there is a history of psychiatric problems, criminality, and substance abuse in their families.
§  Many were physically, psychological, and/or sexually abused in childhood. Some have suffered head trauma due to abuse or accident.
§  In adolescence, many of them wet the bed, started fires, and tortured animals.
§  They have problems with male authority figures and strong hostility towards women.
§  They manifest psychological problems at an early age. Many have spent time in institutions as children.
§  They have a general hatred towards humanity, including themselves. Some report suicidal thoughts as teenagers.
§  They display an interest in sex at an unnaturally young age. As they mature this interest becomes obsessive and turns towards fetishism, voyeurism, and violent pornography.       

A Fa├žade of Normality

The traits listed above might incline you to believe that you’d be able to spot a serial killer a mile off, but the frightening truth is that they are masters at camouflage, deceit, and deception. They know exactly how to blend in, how to avert your suspicions, how to put you at ease. They are the charming stranger who strikes up a conversation with you on the bus, the lost driver who courteously asks for directions, the man hobbling on a cane who politely asks for your help.     

Like all skilled predators, they can sniff out the slightest hint of an opportunity, they know who to target and how to stalk. Being psychologically vacant they are adept at assuming whatever role they need, and that role will be the one required to snare their victim. To quote serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas, “it’s like being a movie star... you're just playing the part.”

Is serial murder a recent phenomenon?

Since we’re trying to understand what makes a serial killer, this is a valid question, and the answer depends who you’re listening to, because there are two distinct schools of thought. One believes that societal influences since just before the turn of the 20th century (and especially since WWII) have created the perfect conditions for the emergence of serial killers. They point to serial killers as a symptom of crowded rat syndrome, a product of class struggle and a manifestation of our attitudes towards sex.

The only problem with this argument is that it suggests that serial killers are purely a product of their environment. I consider that unlikely and am more inclined towards the second hypothesis, which holds that serial killers have always lived among us.

Adherents to this belief point to acts of human barbarism throughout history, from the terrible legends that appear in folklore, to the crimes of Gilles de Rais and Elizabeth Bathory, to the vicious outlaws and desperados of the Old West. They regard tales of werewolves, vampires, and man-eating trolls, as attempts by our less sophisticated ancestors to make sense of the hideous crimes committed by historical serial killers. A number of these legendary monsters, like the German “werewolf” Peter Stubbe and his French counterpart, Gilles Garnier, were in fact captured and put to death. They proved to be, not lycanthropes, but all too human monsters, serial killers, in fact.    

What makes a serial killer?

No single cause will ever provide an answer as to why serial killers are driven to commit murder again and again. Rather a combination of factors, physiological, psychological, and environmental, must be in play. Nonetheless, we can look at the known commonalities in captured serial killers and draw some conclusions. Is this a comprehensive list? Hardly. We simply don’t have the knowledge to solve the enigma of the serial killer.


All serial killers, except perhaps for the small minority that are genuinely psychotic, are psychopaths. They would not be able to commit their horrendous crimes otherwise. Psychopaths are characterized by their irrationally antisocial behavior, their lack of conscience, their emotional emptiness, and their appetite for risk, all of which could easily be applied to serial killers.

Lacking in empathy, they have no problem in turning their victims into objects, there to be exploited and manipulated. Being devoid of emotions (in the way that you and I would understand them) they are like a blank screen, onto which can be projected whatever suits their needs in the moment. This is what makes them so good at play acting and manipulation.

Being compulsive thrill seekers, they are literally fearless, sometimes abducting victims in broad daylight, or with clear risk of discovery. This thrill seeking behavior also means that they are less easily stimulated than normal people. They require higher levels of excitement to get their rocks off, even if it means murder and mayhem.   

Does this mean that all psychopaths become serial killers? Absolutely not. Most psychopaths aren’t even criminals. In fact, many excel in fields like business and political leadership. Not all psychopaths are serial killers, but all serial killers, most certainly, are psychopaths.

Sexual Deviance

A second factor that must be present in all serial killers is sexual deviance. Serial murders are by their nature, sex crimes. A sexual motive is a requisite in both the Institutes of Justice and FBI definitions and an examination of any serial murder (even those that appear to have a different motive) will undoubtedly prove that the killer achieved some form of sexual release in the commission of the crime.

According to Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas in Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, there are two types of sexual homicide: “the rape or displaced anger murder” and the “sadistic, or lust murder.”

For some murderers, the rape is the primary objective for the crime, the murder committed to cover it up. For others, the act of murder and the ritual acts associated with it, provide the sexual release. The annals of serial murder abound with such cases, Bundy, Kearney, Kemper, Nilsen and others were necrophiles; Rader, Kraft, Berdella et al. achieved sexual release through torture; others like Kroll and Fish, through cannibalism. Still others are aroused by stabbing or by the “intimate” act of strangulation.  

And with serial killers this deviance usually manifests in childhood. Fledgling serial killers are often flashers, peeping toms, molesters of younger children, chronic masturbators, even, as in the case of Harvey Glatman, juvenile sadomasochists. And even if they’re not committing sex crimes at a young age, they’re thinking about them.   

Other Common Factors

But even a psychopath with unusual sexual appetites won’t necessarily become a serial killer. He might find a partner (or more likely, partners) to cater for his tastes, or he might visit prostitutes who will do the same for a price. He may turn his talents towards becoming a ‘love ‘em and leave ‘em’ pick-up artist.

No, something else needs to happen to push our young psychopath over the threshold. An additional X-factor, or factors, needs to be in place. Thanks to the work done by the FBI in interviews with captured serial murderers, we know what some of those factors are. 

Born Bad

The idea that someone might be inherently evil would have been scoffed at not too long ago. However, as we begin to understand more about the unique reality that murderers inhabit, it becomes clear that their warped view of the world takes root at an early age.

“Trash Bag Killer” Patrick Kearney said that he knew from age 8 that he would kill people; Ed Kemper had a crush on his second grade teacher, but told a friend, “if I kiss her I would have to kill her first”; Ted Bundy was leaving butcher’s knives in his aunt’s bed at the age of just 3; John Joubert was slashing girls with a razor blade before he reached his teens; Harvey Glatman was practicing sadomasochism when he was only 4 years old.

Child Abuse

Not every abused child becomes a serial killer, but a disproportionately high number of serial killers suffered abuse as children. “Boston Strangler,” Albert De Salvo’s father was a particularly brutal man who regularly beat his wife and children with metal pipes, brought prostitutes home and even sold his children into slavery. Joseph Kallinger's mother forced him to hold his hand over a flame, and beat him if he cried. Henry Lee Lucas’ mother beat him so hard she fractured his skull. She also forced the young boy to watch her having sex with men.

And yet, others serial killers grew up in seemingly normal homes - Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, or Joel Rifkin, or Patrick Kearney. Some, like “Pied Piper of Tucson,” Charles Schmid, were even pampered and indulged, their every desire catered to.  

Domineering Mothers

Many serial killers seem to come from a home with an absent or passive father figure, and a dominating mother. This was certainly the case with both Henry Lee Lucas and Ed Kemper, both of whom eventually murdered their mothers.

Joseph Kallinger’s mother was a sadist; Ed Gein’s a religious nut who constantly warned him of the dangers of sex. Bobby Joe Long’s mother made him sleep in her bed until he was thirteen. Ed Kemper’s mom locked him in the cellar because she said his large size frightened his sisters. Charles Manson’s mother reportedly traded him for a pitcher of beer. And at the other end of the scale was “Hillside Strangler” Kenneth Bianchi’s cloyingly overprotective mom.

Either way, dysfunctional mother/son relationships seem to be present in the upbringing of an alarmingly high number of serial killers.


Millions of children are adopted every year and grow up to live normal, productive lives. But there are an unusually high percentage of serial killers who were given up by their birth mothers for adoption. David Berkowitz, Charles Schmid, Joel Rifkin, Kenneth Bianchi, and Joseph Kallinger (to name a few) all fall into this category.

Finding out that one was adopted can be devastating for any child, creating a sense of disconnect, an uncertainty over one’s identity. And, in a child already suffering with other issues (such as some of those mentioned above), it can be particularly devastating, unleashing feelings of rejection and simmering anger.

Exposure To Violence

Some serial killers blame juvenile exposure to violence for their misdeeds.  Ed Gein, for example, claimed that seeing farm animals slaughtered gave him perverted ideas, while both Albert Fish and Andrei Chikatilo blamed their brutal murders on frightening stories they were told as children. As a child, John George Haigh saw a man decapitated by a bomb during the London blitz in WWII. Richard Ramirez was only thirteen when his cousin committed a murder right in front of him (those who knew him at the time said he showed no emotion and continued to idolize his cousin). 

Rejection by Peers

Many serial killers are outsiders and loners in childhood. The nerdy Joel Rifkin was picked on and bullied throughout his school years. Likewise, the diminutive and sickly Patrick Kearney. Henry Lee Lucas was ridiculed and ostracized because of his glass eye, Kenneth Bianchi because of his incontinence. Jeffrey Dahmer was deliberately antisocial as a kid, a teenaged alcoholic who laughed when he saw a classmate injured. Harvey Glatman preferred spending time alone in his room indulging in autoerotic strangulation.

Separated from their peers, these troubled youngsters begin to rely on fantasy to bridge the gap. Often these begin as “revenge fantasies” against those who have wronged them, like abusive parents or schoolyard bullies. The relief that these fantasies bring, leads to ever more violent daydreams, which may begin to manifest through two of the three “triad” behaviors, fire-starting and animal cruelty.


The role of fantasy in the metamorphosis of a killer has been extensively studied. All of us fantasize at some time, perhaps about asking a pretty girl out, or meeting our favorite celebrity or turning out for our favorite sports teams. The fantasies of a fledgling serial killer, though, are a deep and disturbing mix of murder, mutilation, and aberrant sex.

Serial killers will dwell on these fantasies (sometimes for years), deepening them and adding layers of detail. Eventually though, the fantasy will no longer be enough and they’ll feel compelled to act, the pressure building until it is impossible to resist.

How long before fantasy manifests in reality? Peter Kurten, Jesse Pomeroy, and Mary Bell committed multiple murders as children, Yosemite killer, Cary Stayner, said that he’d fantasized about killing a woman for 30 years before he eventually followed through.             

Brain Damage

Brain damage, especially to the hypothalamus, limbic region, and temporal lobe can cause severe behavioral changes, specifically as regards emotion, empathy, and aggression responses.

Many serial killers - Leonard Lake, David Berkowitz, Kenneth Bianchi, John Wayne Gacy, Carl Panzram, Henry Lee Lucas, Bobby Joe Long, among them - have suffered head injuries, either in accidents or in childhood beatings.

Others, Ted Bundy for example, have been subjected to extensive X-rays and brain scans, which revealed no evidence of brain damage or trauma. Neither does everyone who suffers head trauma become a killer. So while brain damage or dysfunction is undoubtedly a factor in the behavior of some serial killers, it is far from being a universal “kill switch.”

Societal Influences

Psychopaths find it difficult to accept responsibility for their actions, so it is unsurprising that many serial killers blame society for their acts. The poster boy for this theory is Ted Bundy. Bundy has spoken at length about the influence of violent pornography on the killer that he became.

Is there any validity to his claims?

We do seem to be a society that glorifies violence, from live footage of bombs falling on Baghdad, to movies in which the hero is every bit as violent as the bad guy he’s trying to defeat. Porn, too, is easily available, both online and in movies and magazines. But neither of these provides a rationale for serial murder. If everyone who watched a Rambo movie or downloaded porn was to become a serial killer we’d have an epidemic on our hands. 


At the beginning of the article, I asked, “What makes a serial killer?” The reasons may be more complex than we think, perhaps beyond our comprehension. A better question to ask may be, “Is anyone capable of serial murder?” And the answer to that is an emphatic “No!”

The creation of a serial killer requires a perfect (or more appropriately, an imperfect) storm, whereby some of the factors mention above, and perhaps some others that are not, are blended together into a toxic brew with psychopathy and sexual deviance.

A combination of aberrant psychology, childhood abuse, and peer rejection leading to the development of fantasies that involve death and sex and then manifest in fire-starting and animal cruelty can hardly fail to produce someone who, given the opportunity, will kill and kill again.