During the 1980s, psychologist Joel Norris interviewed hundreds of serial killers in the correctional system.
Following his interviews, Norris came to the conclusion that killers go through seven psychological phases.
The seven phases are the Aura phase, the Trolling phase, the Wooing phase, the Capturing phase, the Murdering phase, the Totem phase and the Depression phase.
The Aura Phase.
During the aura phase, the killer will retreat from the world and begin to fantasize about sexual violence or revenge.
His relationship with his friends and family will become distant.
He will stop visiting, texting and calling.
During this period, his personality will change. For example, he might come across as cool, aloof and uninterested in social interactions.
He may also start to abuse drugs and alcohol.
His presence on social media will become much quieter than before.
Real world commitments are now less important to him. For example, he may stop turning up at work or he may start to skip classes. If he is a member of any clubs or organizations, then it is likely that he will stop attending those as well.
All past ambitions and goals are now on hold.
Essentially, he has withdrawn from the world and his fantasies are in the driving seat. As a result, he will spend more and more time daydreaming about committing violent acts.
These thoughts have probably been with him for a long time. At least in some shape or form.
However, they are now becoming more and more intense.
This aura phase can go on for weeks or months.
Then, one day, he will decide that he wants to act on his fantasy.
The Trolling Phase.
During the trolling phase, the offender will begin to plan his crime and hunt for a suitable victim.
It is at this point that he decides to turn his fantasy into a reality.
For example, the killer could drive around for hours at a time. Or he might hang around local parks, bars and shopping malls.
He might even use dating apps or social media websites.
Essentially, he is searching for a desirable target that is both vulnerable and easy-to-reach.
More often than not, a serial killer will scope out areas that are inside his comfort zone, but not too close to home.
During the trolling stage, the serial killer will also select the locations that he will use to commit his crimes.
For instance, he might stake out an abandoned building or visit a nearby forest. He might drive to a nearby mountain and look for areas that are concealed and off the beaten track.
Depending on his plans and whether or not he is organized, it is possible that the killer will select multiple locations.
- The abduction location.
- An area that he plans on bringing the victim to. This is where he will carry out his violent acts. For example, it could be his house, an abandoned building or a secluded woodland area.
- He may also choose a third and separate site to hide the body.
In this phase, the killer may stalk a potential target and figure out their routine. He might scope out his victim’s home in order to identify any risks and opportunities.
Once he has found a target that is desirable, vulnerable and accessible, he will then move onto the next phase.
The Wooing Phase.
If the killer has adequate social skills, then it is possible that he will go through the wooing phase. This phase is also known as the flirting phase.
In the wooing phase, the offender will attempt to charm his victim and gain their trust.
For example, he may approach women and pretend to be an authority figure. Or he might feign an injury and ask the victim for help.
Jeffrey Dahmer lured young men to his apartment by promising them alcohol. Sometimes, he offered them money in exchange for nude photographs.
Ted Bundy, on the other hand, liked to feign an injury or pretend to be a police detective.
The goal here is to get the victim into a vulnerable position. In other words, they want to lure the victim to an area where there are no witnesses around.
Disorganized killers lack the social skills to try and trick their victims. As a result, they will avoid the wooing phase and stick to using ambush attacks instead.
Organized killers can also skip this stage if they deem it to be unnecessary. For example, if the offender is breaking into people’s homes and attacking them while they sleep, then the wooing phase will be of no use to him.
As the name suggests, the capturing phase is when the killer will make his first move. This is the point when he finally crosses the line.
During the capturing phase, he will suddenly drop his nice and reassuring act.
It is at this stage that the victim will realize they are in trouble.
During the capturing phase, the offender will attack and attempt to immobilize his target. He might use a rope, handcuffs or tape. It is also possible that he will hold them at gunpoint.
For example, serial killer Ted Bundy would lure women to his car during the wooing phase. Then, once they were in a vulnerable position, he would strike them over the head with a crowbar and handcuff them.
John Wayne Gacy tricked his victims into putting on handcuffs by telling them that he wanted to demonstrate a magic trick.
The Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo, held his victims at gunpoint and then bound them with restraints such as shoelaces.
The main goal of the capturing phase is to incapacitate the victim. Once the killer has achieved this goal, he may drive to a secluded location that he scoped out during the trolling phase.
The murdering phase is when the serial killer gets to act out his fantasy.
In other words, it all depends on what his fantasies and goals are.
For example, if he is a “Power/control” killer, then he will get a kick out of dominating his victim and controlling them. He might beat his victim, rape them and prolong the act for as long as possible before finally murdering them.
On the other hand, if he is a disorganized killer, then the kill will probably be swift and brutal. However, he might take the time to mutilate the victim’s body afterwards.
For many serial killers, the act of murdering someone is merely a tool to help them cover up their crimes. They do it in order to prevent the victim from identifying them at a later stage.
In the past, there have been numerous cases where serial killers sexually assaulted their victims and then let them go.
Many of these killers are motivated by fantasies of rape, torture and mutilation. The actual murder itself might not mean that much to them. It is simply a way of ensuring that the victim cannot identify them or contact the police.
Once the victim is dead, the killer may enter what is known as the totem phase.
Following the murder, the offender begins to realize that the fantasy is over. As a result, his excitement levels will drop and he will begin to feel disappointed.
In an effort to try and stave off these negative feelings, he may develop a ritual to help himself relive the attack.
More often than not, this ritual will involve taking a “souvenir” or “trophy” from the victim.
Typically, this trophy will be small and easy-to-hide. For example, he might take his victim’s earrings or other pieces of jewelry. He may also keep other items such as their ID, shoes, driving licence or underwear.
For example, when police searched the home of Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, they discovered jewelry belonging to some of his victims. They also found a map that Hansen had used to record the locations of their bodies.
It is also possible that the offender will record video footage and take photographs.
In the case of the BTK killer, Dennis Rader, he liked to recreate his murders by dressing up as his victims and taking Polaroid pictures of himself.
These trophies help the serial killer to remember all of the feelings of excitement and power that they felt during the crime.
It is called the totem phase because a totem is an item of significance that represents something. In this case, the totem represents his victim.
The Depression Phase.
In the days and weeks that follow the crime, the serial killer can sink into the depression phase.
This is the seventh and final psychological phase that he will go through before the cycle starts all over again.
During the depression phase, he realizes that the reality did not live up to his fantasy. In his eyes, it was a let down. It did not give him the level of satisfaction that he had hoped it would.
At this point, he will begin to question himself. “I should have taken my time.” “Why didn’t I stick to the original plan?” “I knew that I should have brought her to the other place.”
All of this can lead to intense feelings of hopelessness, disappointment and failure.
He will begin to believe that he will never be able to fully satisfy his urges.
As a result, the offender may attempt to take his own life.
If he does not commit suicide, then it is likely that the depression phase will wear off at some point.
Once it does, he will begin to drift back into the aura phase again. His feelings of failure and hopelessness will fade away, only to be replaced by the belief that he can satisfy his urges if he does X and Y differently.
In other words, he will spend his time thinking about ways to improve his next crime.
At this stage, the cycle will begin to repeat itself.