Common Serial Killer Myths

  1. MO is a constant:  The mode in which a serial killer kills often evolves.  If they find one way that works really well for them, they will stick with it for a while, until it no longer excites them.  Think of them as thrill seeking junkies – Rollercoaster X gets their heart racing for a while, until they know every curve, at which point they move on to Rollercoaster Y.  One of the few real details Ted Bundy actually gave us is that he liked to experiment with how he killed.  He also liked to play around with how he got victims.  For many serial killers, this is why we have estimated body counts.  It isn’t that we didn’t find the bodies, it’s that we couldn’t conclusively prove they belonged to Serial Killer Z because sometimes he strangled his victims and sometimes he cut their throats.
  2. Signature is always there:  Signature refers to a certain something that every serial killer supposedly does to his victims.  Again, this changes over time and because of many factors.  The most consistent signature we know of was the Boston Strangler, but even it changed from victim to victim and is part of the reason we aren’t 100% sure that DeSalvo did all the killings.
  3. There are signs:  In most cases, there aren’t.  Someone commented that Jeffrey Dahmer seemed a little weird and antisocial, but he was a homosexual who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s… For that matter, most writers are a little weird and antisocial, this doesn’t make us serial killers.  If your neighbor likes to kill cats and hang them on your co-owned fence, be a little concerned… they might be a serial killer or they might just be an asshole who thinks the fence solely belongs to him or he might have a grudge against you.  It doesn’t always mean he’s out killing teen girls with machetes in his spare time.
  4. The Trifecta: Bedwetting at a late age, killing small animals, and pyromania are considered the serial killing trifecta.  If you’ve done all three, you are probably a serial killer, except, you probably aren’t.  Bedwetting at a late age is usually a sign of childhood trauma – which can create the circumstances for a serial killer, but doesn’t guarantee them.  I think all kids go through some sort of pyromania phase.  I don’t know how I didn’t burn down my house growing up – hairspray and a lighter, so that’s just kind of a late childhood/early teens thing.  Now, killing small animals is something to be concerned about because it shows a lack of ability to empathize and empathy is a big reason people don’t kill other people.  However, just because a kid killed a mouse or a cat or a hamster, doesn’t mean they are for sure going to grow up to be a serial killer.  As a matter of fact, experiencing pain and death is how we develop empathy… essentially all children and teens have sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies and they have to learn how to be a person by growing up.  Also, a lot of modern serial killers have admitted to never going through a stage where they tortured or killed small animals.  Those that have admitted it seem to have other mental health issues, like Richard Ramirez.
  5. Rock music, Satanism, and other occult-related things create serial killers: None of these things create serial killers.  However, in an ironic twist, the Church of Satan formally denounced murder as a sin in their religion because of killers like Ramirez.  In an even stranger twist, music was blamed for the actions of the Columbine Shooters (I am aware they are mass murderers, but the same principles actually apply)… When the names of the bands were given, I realized I listened to the exact same bands.  I mean the exact same bands and I suffer from mental illness – so if KMFDM and Marilyn Manson didn’t turn me into a killer, they didn’t turn those kids either, there was something else going on.  Bullying is more likely to create a serial killer than rock music, Satanism, or ouija boards.
  6. The majority of serial killers have below average intelligence: In fact, the majority of serial killers fall into the average intelligence range with a few falling below and a few hitting above.  Also, intelligence doesn’t seem to factor into how fast they get caught either.  Rader falls a little above the average scale and while it took two decades to catch him, he was eventually caught because technology had advanced beyond his understanding… and that is the downfall of most serial killers.  Killers like the Grim Sleeper didn’t worry about DNA evidence because it didn’t exist in the 1980s when he started killing, but by the 2000s, we could amplify DNA meaning smaller samples were needed and we could solve a few cold serial killer cases.
  7. Serial killers are mentally ill:  Most serial killers are not mentally ill to the point they can’t function in society.  A few have suffered from mental illnesses, but most are just average people.


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