Serial killers can be put into four main types; mission oriented, visionary, hedonistic, and power control. Hedonistic also gets broken down into four subtypes. However, the majority of serial killers actually have features more than one. In this post, I’ll explain the types and give some examples.
Mission Oriented: Mission oriented serial killers feel they are doing their “duty” by purging some group of people they don’t think should be allowed to live. A mission oriented killer may kill gay men, because gay men are an abomination before god and are destroying the “family values” of a society. Gary Ridgway aka the Green River Killer was a Mission Oriented serial killer. He killed prostitutes because they were “unclean.” However, like most serial killers, he wasn’t entirely mission oriented. He raped the prostitutes before killing them, which isn’t uncommon with mission oriented serial killers. But Ridgway was a mission oriented power control serial killer. He wasn’t sexually aroused by the prostitutes themselves, he was aroused by the power he wielded over them as he killed them.
Visionary: Visionary serial killers often report hearing voices that tell them to kill, but don’t seem to have a mental illness that would be associated with hearing voices. David Berkowitz aka The Son of Sam aka the .44 Caliber Killer, proclaimed to hear demonic voices that told him to kill. Furthermore, he claimed that his neighbor’s dog was a hell hound who delivered the messages to him. Berkowitz, might be unique, in that, he did not display signs that he was also a power control serial killer or really any other type of serial killer. However, if we were going to give him a secondary category, like we will most of those on this list, it would be Hedonistic -> Thrill Killer.
Power Control: Power control serial killers are what would have been called lust killers in earlier years. They derive sexual pleasure from the control they exert over their victims. This type is the most likely to rape their victims while killing them, as well as the most likely to come back and have sex with their corpses, because the act of rape, even after the victim is dead, proves they have absolute control and domination of their victims. Dennis Rader aka BTK is a power control serial killer. And the majority of male serial killers exhibit these traits. Female serial killer Aileen Wuornos is one of the few female power control and hedonistic on my list of known serial killer types. Female power control serial killers are in fact incredibly rare. And normally, work with a male partner. Rose West, Myra Hindley, and Cynthia Coffman.
Hedonistic: This is the only type broken into smaller groups. Lust killers, thrill killers, and comfort killers. I have issues with putting lust killers in this category. For starters, the definition for a lust killer is pretty much word for word the same definition as a power control killer. Hedonistic lust killers get sexual gratification by controlling their victim and even if they do not rape their victims, they often orgasm. Which is exactly what happens when a power control killer kills. For this reason, I’ve included it here, because it’s FBI approved, but will mostly ignore it for the rest of my posts involving serial killers. If I mention someone is a hedonistic serial killer, rest assured that I mean either a thrill killer or a comfort killer. Black widows and family annihilators are both hedonistic comfort killers. They kill for their own personal gain, usually financial gain. However, angels of mercy might also fit into this, despite the deaths rarely providing them financial gain. People like Michael Swango and Gwendolyn Graham, both enjoyed killing people who annoyed them. Their gain wasn’t financial, but it was a gain. Thrill killers are harder to identify and possibly the hardest to catch. I would put Zodiac and the Axeman of New Orleans (both unsolved) as thrill killers. I would also put Berkowitz in this category. Thrill killers kill because it gives them an adrenaline rush like skydiving. Furthermore, they tend to taunt police, because it increases the thrill.
Here’s some of the most infamous serial killers ever, put into categories.
Ted Bundy – Power control hedonistic lust killer. Bundy’s entire life was about the rape and murder of women.
Albert Fish – Fish is definitely a power control killer and he taunted the parents of his young victims by sending them letters, making me believe he was also a thrill killer.
Charles Manson – Manson isn’t a serial killer. I know he gets touted as one, but by the definition, Manson doesn’t qualify. Furthermore, the psychology of Manson more closely resembles Jim Jones than any known serial killers. He is also not the only cult leader in the existence of the world to convince his followers to kill for him. The most recent of these being Aum Shinrikyo lead by Chizuo Matsumoto. Like the Manson family murders, the murders belonging to Aum Shinrikyo would also qualify as mass murder and mass murderers.
Ricardo “Richard” Ramirez aka The Nightstalker. Ramirez is a visionary, power control, thrill killer. And while I never would have advocated for his release, I’m fairly sure he was severely mentally ill beyond being a psychopath.
Sam Little is a power control lust killer. Like Bundy all of his murders are specifically related to sex. On a further side note, these same categories can be applied to mass murderers.
Jeffrey Dahmer – the Milwaukee cannibal was absolutely a power control killer.
Herb Baumeister was a mission driven power control serial killer that targeted gay men in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Indiana.
Richard Speck is not a serial killer, contrary to popular opinion. Speck raped and killed 8 nursing students in Chicago in the 1960s (the first season of AHS) was based on his crimes. However, while he killed 8, he did it all in one night, making him a power control lust mass murderer, which is fairly rare.
Charles Starkweather is often considered a serial killer, but like Speck and Manson, he isn’t. Starkweather is by definition a spree killer. While his crimes took place over the course of several days, there was no “cooling off” period. He went from one crime to the next, stopping only long enough to flee or sleep. As such, his crimes are considered a single event, not individual ones. However, since he did move locations and there was time between each killing, he doesn’t qualify as a mass murderer either. Spree killers are the rarest of the three types of “stranger multiple murderers.”
Interestingly, mass murderers also fit into these same categories. With lots of mission driven killers. Although there are fewer mission oriented serial killers.