Since the 1970s media accounts of savage and lurid serial killings and their perpetrators have generated exaggerated and distorted accounts of the extent of the threat posed by serial killers and the etiology of their crimes. Serial killers have diverse backgrounds and personal histories; however, most of them are extremely maladjusted to society and are the product of severe psychological trauma dating back to their troubled childhoods, which largely account for their bizarre conduct. This research paper presents a sociological and psychological view of serial killers.
Definition. Jenkins (1994) defined serial killings as "multiple acts of criminal homicide committed over a period of time" (p. 23). This would exclude killings committed purely for profit or for military or political reasons, such as acts of terrorism.
Popular Myths about Serial Killings. Serial killings have occurred during many eras and in many areas of the world. In early 15th century France, Gille de Rais, a young follower of Joan of Arc, murdered over time as many as 40 children whom he first sexually assaulted and ritualistically tortured. In 1888 Jack the Ripper, who was never identified or caught, terrified the population of London by cutting the throats and otherwise mutilating five female prostitutes over a period of a few months. As the homicide rate increased in the United States during the last quarter of the 20th century, a number of particularly cruel, lurid and grotesque serial killings were reported in the media.
Celebrated cases included: Ted Bundy, who was a lawyer and politician, strangled over 25 young women in the West between 1974-1978 whom he sexually violated while they were dying or dead; John Gacy, who sexually assaulted and killed 33 young men and boys in the 1970s; Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono (the "Hillside Stranglers") who abducted, tortured and strangled 10 young girls in the Los Angeles area in 1977-1978; Jeffrey Dahmer ...