Serial killers are individuals who have a history of multiple slayings of individuals usually unknown to them beforehand. A phenomenon which seemed to gain some prominence in the second half of the twentieth century, record of the practice can be found at least as far back as London's Jack the Ripper (1888) or Hanover's Fritz Haarmann (1924).

Although the terms "serial killer" and "mass murderer" are often used synonymously, criminologists distinguish the two. The following distinctions are commonly made:

  • A serial killer is one who commits a number of murders over a long period of time, with the killings separated by often long periods of apparent normalcy.
  • A mass murderer, on the other hand, is an individual who kills several people in a single event.
  • A spree killer kills in a series of closely connected events.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines a serial killing as: "[involving] the killing of several victims in three or more separate events." This definition is especially close to that of a spree killer, and perhaps the primary difference between the two is that a serial killer tends to "lure" victims to their death; whereas, a spree killer tends to go "hunting".

Serial killers are often acting on extreme sadistic urges and are often classified as sociopathic, lacking any ability to empathize with the suffering of others. In many cases, a serial killer will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This defense is almost universally unsuccessful.

The public's fascination with serial killers led to some successful crime novels and films about fictional serial killers, including Helen Zahavi's novel Dirty Weekend, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, and the Academy Award-winning movie Silence of the Lambs.

Table of contents
1 List of Serial Killers
2 Currently On Trial
3 Unidentified serial killers
4 See also
5 Bibliography

List of Serial Killers

Currently On Trial

Unidentified serial killers

For the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, see List of terrorist incidents.

See also


  • John Douglas and Mark Olshaker; Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit; Pocket Books; ISBN 0671013750; 1997
  • John Douglas and Mark Olshaker; Journey into Darkness, Pocket Books; ISBN 0671003941; 1997
  • Robert K. Ressler and Thomas Schachtman; Whoever Fights Monsters; St Martins Mass Market Paper; ISBN 0312950446; 1994
  • Harold Schechter: Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer