The question “Why do serial killers kill?” is a very interesting one because the answer outlines what makes a serial killer different from a normal person.
In the vast majority of cases, serial killers do not wake up one day and decide to start murdering people. This is not some random urge that appears out of the blue. This is something that they have been thinking about for a very long time.
In other words, the thought of carrying out this act has been bubbling inside of them.
While the serial killer’s peers were growing up and fantasizing about things such as becoming successful, finding a partner or starting their own family, he was fantasizing about revenge, having power over others and carrying out violent acts.
Note that there are different types of serial killers, all of which have different motivations. For the sake of this guide, we will be focusing on the most common types of serial killer: The Lust and Power/control types.
Why do serial killers kill?
Generally speaking, a serial murderer rapes and kills people because it gives him sexual gratification. During his development, the concepts of violence and sex became intertwined with one another.
In other words, the thought of gaining control over someone and committing violent acts towards them an intense high.
For years, he has been thinking about all of this. It is a violent sexual fantasy that has been with him for as long as he can remember. In fact, he probably won’t even be able to pinpoint when it started. Nor is he likely to understand why it formed in the first place.
Feelings such as anger, hatred and inferiority might also play a major role. For example, he may begin to resent women. Or he may start fantasizing about “getting back” at society in general.
Developing sociopathy as a child.
His inner rage and his violent fantasies did not emerge out of the blue. Instead, they have been snowballing inside his head throughout his teenage years and early adult life. The seed that set him off down this path may have even been planted in childhood, long before he hit puberty.
During childhood, certain environmental factors such as abuse, loneliness or neglect may have forced him to escape into his own false reality. A reality in which he had control over his circumstances. A reality in which he was powerful and people couldn’t mistreat him.
Over the years, his social and emotional development occurred inside this fantasy world. The problem with this kind of “development” is that people’s fantasies are self-centered. We create these fantasies in order to satisfy ourselves.
Typically speaking, we do not think about the feelings of other people who exist in our daydreams. This is because they are not real. Furthermore, there are no consequences if something bad happens to a character in our fantasy word.
Consequently, a child whose emotional and social development primarily occurs in a fictional world might not learn how to emphasize with other people. There is no “right” or “wrong” in this false reality of his. The only thing that matters in this world is what pleases him.
As a result of all of this, the child begins to grow into a sociopath who is unable to feel remorse or empathize with others.
“Other people” are just players in his game. How they feel or what they think isn’t important to him. These concepts do not become a topic of conversation inside his head unless he needs to manipulate those feelings for his own personal gain.
Serial killers do not kill just because they are sociopaths.
Although being a sociopath who doesn’t feel guilt can make it easier for someone to become a serial killer, that alone is not enough. A lack of remorse is just one ingredient in this cocktail of violence.
Realistically speaking, there are probably thousands of sociopaths living among us who have no fantasies about harming other people. They might lack empathy and remorse. They might be manipulative, deceitful and superficial. However, the underlying rage and sexual fantasies that drive a serial killer to kill just aren’t there.
In other words, causing physical harm to others is not important to them. It does not turn them on.
At some point in his early life, it is likely that the serial killer developed a sexual perversion towards something such as an object, a fantasy or a specific situation that he experienced. This is known as a paraphilia.
A paraphilia is a condition where the person’s sexual arousal is highly dependent on something that most of us would find strange or abnormal. Or in some cases, downright sick and immoral.
For example, many serial killers are actually just serial rapists who use murder to cover up their crimes. It is the thought of raping and dominating someone that sexually excites them. This is their paraphilia. Many of them view the actual murder as a “tool” that prevents their victims from identifying them or speaking out.
A paraphilia isn’t just a weird kink or fetish. It is far more extreme than that. People who have paraphilias experience intense sexual feelings when they are acting out their fantasies.
There are dozens of different types of paraphilias, most of which do not involve causing harm to others. For example, there are people who are sexually aroused by trees. Others feel intense sexual emotions when they suffer humiliation or see urine.
Although these are strange, they do not pose a danger to others.
However, what if a sociopath with no remorse or empathy develops a paraphilia that involves harming people? What if his fantasy involves rape or torture?
Voyeurism is a type of paraphilia that involves watching unsuspecting people who are naked. For example, Ted Bundy started to engage in voyeurism at the age of 17. In other words, he started to seek out windows to “peep” through.
Many rapists start off as voyeurs in their teen and early adult years. The act of watching unsuspecting women undress gives them sexual pleasure. It also allows them to maintain a relatively safe distance from their victim.
This is the perfect crime for a young predator who lacks the confidence and maturity to physically target someone.
However, as he grows older and more confident, he may decide that watching his victims from afar just isn’t as exciting as it once was.
At that stage, he may decide to break into his victims’ houses. Or he may even attempt to sexually assault them.
American serial killer Jerry Brudos was a necrophile who had a fetish for women’s shoes. This paraphilia seems to have started after he found a pair of stiletto heeled shoes as a child. When his mother discovered Brudos wearing these stilettos, she beat him and proceeded to set them on fire. An act on her part that may have transformed women’s shoes into “forbidden fruit”.
Later on, Brudos progressed to stealing underwear from neighbors’ homes. He also began to stalk women and assault them so that he could steal their shoes.
At this point, it seems as though Brudos’ fetish for women’s shoes and underwear began to mesh with violence.
When he was 17, he abducted and beat a woman. He also threatened to stab her if she didn’t give into his sexual demands. Afterwards, he was arrested for the incident and sent to a psychiatric ward for nine months. It was here that doctors felt Brudos’ sexual fantasies were driven by a hatred of women.
In particular, the hatred that he had for his own mother.
Perhaps Brudos hated his mother because she prevented him from pursuing his fetishes. Maybe he felt as though she had rejected him and his sexuality, forcing him to repress a very important part of himself.
A serial killer can also be driven by feelings of hatred and fantasies about revenge.
Intense hatred and fantasies about revenge also seem to form a key part of the thought process that drives a serial killer to kill. In some cases, this is a self-hatred that they project onto people who remind them of themselves. In other cases, it is a hatred or resentment towards a parental figure such as their mother.
For example, serial killer Ed Kemper had an extremely strained relationship with his mother. According to Kemper, she was an abusive alcoholic and a domineering woman who would constantly belittle him.
She refused to hug him or show any affection towards him because she felt as though it might “turn him gay”. She also locked him in the basement at night and told him that no woman would ever love him.
Later on in his life, Kemper turned into a serial killer who murdered six female college students. His crimes only came to an end after he murdered both his mother and her best friend before turning himself in.
When he called the police to admit his crimes, they didn’t take him seriously at first and told him to call back another time.
In other words, Kemper could have continued to kill. The authorities had no clue that he was “the Co-ed Killer”.
His mother was the real target.
During interviews with psychiatrists, Kemper postulated that his mother was always the real target of his “rage”. The other women he murdered were merely representations of her. They were “surrogates”.
However, it took years before he finally realized this and picked up the courage to direct his violence towards the real source of his anger.
Interestingly, Kemper also spoke to interviewers about the concept of a “feeling” raging inside:
“There’s somebody out there that is watching this and hasn’t done that – hasn’t killed people, and wants to, and rages inside and struggles with that feeling, or is so sure they have it under control. They need to talk to somebody about it. Trust somebody enough to sit down and talk about something that isn’t a crime; thinking that way isn’t a crime. Doing it isn’t just a crime, it’s a horrible thing. It doesn’t know when to quit and it can’t be stopped easily once it starts.”
– Edmund Kemper. 1984.
BTK also spoke about this “feeling”.
During court proceedings, BTK killer Dennis Rader confessed that pre-selecting his victims was a part of his sexual fantasy. He also admitted he had “some ideas” about what he was going to do to his first victims.
Rader referred to this part of himself as “Factor X”. A “monster” inside of him that urged him to kill.
However, there was no real “monster” inside Rader. In reality, he was a sadist who harbored violent sexual fantasies from a young age. Over the years, these fantasies continued to snowball inside of his head until he eventually picked up the confidence to act on them.
Pushing social boundaries.
It is likely that as the serial killer grew older, he began to engage in lesser crimes. Like many serial killers, he may have started off as a Peeping Tom and then progressed to breaking and entry.
As the years passed by, he continued to push the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. This may have included activities such as stealing women’s clothes and performing sex acts in other people’s homes.
Every time that he pushed these boundaries and got away with it, his confidence grew.
Canadian murderer Russell Williams started off by breaking into people’s homes and stealing lingerie. He also cataloged these items and took thousands of photographs of himself wearing women’s underwear.
Soon after that, he progressed to sexual assaults. After that, he moved on to rape and murder.
Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy started out by roaming through his neighborhood and searching through people’s thrash for discarded porn magazines.
He also admitted that he was drawn to detective magazines because they had stories about sexual crimes and photographs of dead bodies. Not before long, Bundy was getting drunk and prowling the neighborhood for open windows that he could peer through.
Growing into adulthood.
As the serial killer grows up into an adult, this fantasy grows alongside him. He continues to add stuff to it and mold it. By the time he reaches adulthood, this fantasy of his has taken a more coherent shape.
However, despite having this fantasy, he can still go years without picking up the courage or the confidence to act on it. Instead, he may bottle his thoughts up. He might even hope that they will suddenly go away.
Although many serial killers lack feelings of guilt and empathy, they still fear the possibility of being caught. They are well aware of the difference between right and wrong.
They also know that they could potentially spend the rest of their lives behind bars if they decide to act on this fantasy of theirs.
The first kill.
The first kill will usually only occur if the correct conditions have been met.
In a lot of cases, serial killers reported that their first murder came after a “stressor” event.
For example, the break-up of a relationship or the birth of a newborn child. They could have been fired or they could have lost a great deal of money. As the name suggests, this “stressor” can be anything that causes stress, change or turmoil in a person’s life.
However, the “stressor” is not the only piece of the puzzle. They also need to find the right victim at the right time. According to a 2005 report by the FBI, serial killers tend to select victims that are available, vulnerable and desirable.
- Available: “Can I get to her easily?” “Is she a sex worker that I can pick up off the street?”
- Vulnerable: “Is she by herself at the moment?” “Is anyone else around?” “Does the store she works in have CCTV?”
- Desirable: “Is she my type?”
In other words, someone who has these violent fantasies is not going to pick a random victim off a busy street in broad daylight. Instead, their first victim is usually someone who comes into their sights at the wrong time.
In many cases, the offender had also been drinking alcohol prior to their first kill. This lowered their inhibitions and made them more likely to act on their urges.
After the first kill.
After the first kill, the seal has been broken, so to speak.
Weeks have passed and no police officers have knocked on his door. He now believes that he can commit crimes like this and get away with it.
As a result, the fantasy intensifies and he begins to think of things that he could have done “better”. His confidence begins to grow. He relives the crime in his head, and in some cases, he even returns to the scene.
Soon enough, he begins to think about doing it again. However, this time, he tells himself that he will do X, Y and Z. In other words, he is now starting to think about ways to improve his next kill and get more enjoyment out of it.
As the weeks go by, he continues to obsess over it until finally, he either goes out “hunting” for a victim or a potential victim happens to cross his path.
He has now become a serial killer.
In conclusion: Why do serial killers kill?
There is no single reason why serial killers kill. Instead, the perfect storm has to take place. It is something that begins in childhood and escalates throughout the teen years.
Although many serial killers are sociopaths, not all sociopaths are serial killers. Although many serial killers had horrible childhoods, plenty of other people did too, and they never resorted to murder.
All in all, there is no simple answer to this question. Instead, it seems as though the right conditions and the right set of circumstances have to cross paths with one another.
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