The Psychology of the Serial Killer

I’m so pleased to host Nelda Copas today as she guest blogs about the psychology of the serial killer. I found this information fascinating.

Welcome to Redwood’s Medical Edge, Nelda!

Serial Killers are a fairly recent phenomenon. The public is fascinated by their crimes. The prevalence of serial murder in this county is yet unknown. There have been estimates that there are 20-50 working in this country at any given time. The terms most often used to describe the serial killer are “psychopath” or “sociopath.”


The FBI Crime Classification Manual put serial killers in three categories.

1. Organized/nonsocial offenders:

     These offenders usually have above average intelligence. They often plan quite methodically, usually abducting victims, killing in one place and disposing of the body in another. They often lure victims with ploys. Ted Bundy for example would put his arm in a fake cast and ask women to help him carry something to his car.  Others specifically target prostitutes, who are likely to go willingly.  They maintain high degree of control over the crime scene and have a solid knowledge of forensics that helps them escape detection.  They follow their crimes in the news.  The organized killer is usually socially adequate, has friends and lovers, sometimes a spouse and children.  When captured they are usually described as kind and unable to harm anyone.

Examples of Organized Serial Killers: John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.

2.  Disorganized/asocial offenders:

     These offenders are often of low intelligence and commit crimes impulsively.  The disorganized killer will murder someone when the opportunity arises, rarely disposing of the body.  They usually carry out ‘blitz’ attacks and will carry out whatever rituals they feel compelled to carry out i.e.: mutilation, necrophilia, cannibalism, etc. once the victim is dead.  They rarely cover their tracks, but may evade capture due to their need to keep on the move.  Often they are socially inadequate with few friends, may have a history of mental problems and be regarded as ‘creepy’ by associates.  They also tend to be introverted.

3.   Mixed offenders:
      Combination of the both.

Characteristics of a Serial Killer

1.   Majority are single, white males.
2.   Often intelligent, with IQ’s in the “bright normal” range.
3.   Despite their high IQ’s they do poorly in school, trouble holding down jobs, often work menial jobs.
4.   Tend to come from unstable families.
5.   Abandoned by their fathers as children, raised by domineering mothers.
6.   Often family histories of alcoholic, criminal, and psychiatric histories.
7.   Often mistrustful of their parents.
8.   As children it is common to find they were abused-psychologically, physically and/or sexually-by a family member.
9.   Many spend time in institutions as children and records of early psychiatric problems.
10. From an early age, many are intensely interested in voyeurism, fetishism, and sadomasochistic pornography.
11. More than 60 % wet their beds beyond 14. Involved in sadistic activity or torturing small animals.

Clinical studies of Serial Killers found that they have unusual or unnatural relationships with their mothers. Her death is often one of the most fantasized during adolescence. Later on, she may become one of the victims. Many have had intense, smothering relationships with their mothers. These relationships maybe filled with both abuse and sexual attraction.

Nelda Copas graduated with a BS in Psychology/Criminology and a Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling both from Western Kentucky University. She has worked extensively with law enforcement and is frequently a workshop presenter on the topic of Serial Killers. Nelda retired from the United States Army, where she worked as a nurse and combat medic. Twisted Desires was her debut novel, which was followed by it’s sequel Twisted Revenge. She lives with her husband near Fort Knox, Kentucky. Nelda is currently working on the third installment of the Detective Delsey MacKay series, a true crime novel, and a young adult zombie apocalypse novel.

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