Types of Serial Killers

I’m honored to have licensed marriage and family therapist Jeannie Campbell at Redwood’s today as we do a cross-blogging adventure. Jeannie does what I do only with matters of the mind so I hope you’ll check out her blog (and become an enthusiastic follower) The Character Therapist. Jeannie also has a great book for writers called Breaking Character Stereotypes.


I will be at Jeannie’s blog discussing medical conditions that present like psychiatric cases. Think you know what they might be? You’ll have to troll on over there to find out.

Today, Jeannie offers great information into serial killers and their motives which is very important for character development. Very interesting information. 

Welcome back, Jeannie!


I’m happy to be back with part two in my series on psychopaths. (To read the first post, click here.) Today I wanted to talk about the two basic types of serial killers, since serial killers are definitely psychopaths.

Based on the serial killer’s motives, professionals have narrowed down two basic types of killers:


Act-FocusedThese killers generally don’t kill for the psychological gratification of the kill, making the act itself their primary emphasis. They usually kill quickly, with little pomp and circumstance. They come in two subtypes:

Visionaries – These killers usually receive a vision or hear a voice telling them to kill. Sometimes the vision or voice comes from God or the devil, both of which legitimate their violence.

Missionaries – These killers are on “missions” to eradicate a specific group of people, such as prostitutes, white-collared bankers, etc.

Process-FocusedThe majority of serial killers are process-focused. They get off (yes, in thatway) on the method of their kill. They kill for the enjoyment of it, and usually get a perverse sexual thrill out of it, so therefore they take their time and go very slowly. Hedonism at it’s worse. These killers fall into 4 subtypes, based on their motives as well:

Gain – Murdering someone for profit or personal gain. Most females usually fall into this category, like Lavinia Fisher, who would murder her hotel guests and keep whatever belongings and cash they had.

Thrill– Killing someone gives these people a rush or high. They especially like to watch the lights go out in their victim’s eyes. It’s the ultimate adrenaline rush…makes them feel alive and euphoric. They typically don’t engage in sex either before or after.

Power – The pleasure comes from manipulating and dominating, although the argument could be made for this category to fall in with any of the above. Usually sex is involved, but it’s not as important to this killer than to the Lust killer. That’s confusing, I know. Some research I found led me to think that this is considered the “sociopath,” but I think you and I both know that every person talked about on this post would be one of those.

Lust
– Murder is associated with sexual pleasure in the minds of these killers. These sick folk actually will have sex while in the process of killing or engage in necrophilia after they have killed. Either/or….twisted. It seems that Lust Killers are the most prevalent in the media and certain fiction genres, so I’d like to dissect them a little further.

Infamous “Lust Killer” Ted Bundy

Lust Killers basically have sexual gratification as their main motivation. They almost always exhibit sadism (inflicting pain on others for their pleasure). They usually are not opportunistic killers, but rather highly organized, with vast amounts of planning and forethought put into their kills.
They tend to go through four phases:

Fantasy – they act out the crime over and over in their mind, maybe with use of pornographic material. The desire to kill is manifested, and this time period may last years before they progress to phase two.

The Hunt – the killer might focus primarily on the “right” type of victim, or he may focus on the “right” type of location. Once he finds the victim, he may stalk them (hunting) for a long time, memorizing their schedule down to the minute. It could take many more years to go through this phase, and cover 100s of miles.

The Kill – the victim is lured into the trap and then the killer makes real on his fantasy. Depending on how elaborate the kill ritual is, this could take a while…several days or longer, even. There will almost definitely be “overkill,” in that there could be extreme torture, mutilation, or dismemberment. The killer might have sex with the corpse, drink their blood, eat body parts…whatever they can do to preserve their moment of ecstasy however they can. The killer might take a token of their kill or leave a calling card, but not always.

Post-Kill – the killer will likely feel empty or depressed, because their inner torment was only relieved short-term. More lives will have to be taken in order to have temporary relief. It would be during this stage that a killer would write a confession to the police or media. Unless caught, it is inevitable that he will kill again, starting the cycle back over.

I know that’s not the happiest ending to a post, but hopefully this information will help your readers with their serial killer development.
Thanks for hosting me, Jordyn! 

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Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and has worked with families, teens, parents & kids for over 10 years. She loves her day job so much that she crossed over to diagnosing make-believe people. She’s the owner/operator of The Character TherapistTM, an online therapy service for fictional characters…and their authors. You can connect with her at http://charactertherapist.com.

Traits Most Psychopaths Have in Common

I’m so excited to have licensed marriage and family therapist Jeannie Campbell at Redwood’s today as we do a cross-blogging adventure. Jeannie does what I do only with matters of the mind so I hope you’ll check out her blog (and become an enthusiastic follower) The Character Therapist. Jeannie also has a great book for writers called Breaking Character Stereotypes.

I will be at Jeannie’s blog discussing medical conditions that present like psychiatric cases. Think you know what they might be? You’ll have to troll on over there to find out. You can find Part I of my series here.

Welcome, Jeannie!


I’m honored to be a guest on your blog, Jordyn. I find it fascinating that you do with medical facts what I do with psychological facts over at The Character Therapist.
Many medical thrillers include a psychopath villain, simply by virtue of the genre. Perhaps that’s why I am so enamored with your books!
I’m happy to present a two-part series on psychopaths, detailing significant traits most committers of violent crimes have in common, the types of serial killers that are out there, and then expounding on one type in particular commonly found in novels.
Psychosis truly does have its roots in childhood. I want to introduce you to the concept of the Macdonald Triad, which is also known as the Triad of Psychopathy (pronounced sigh-KOP-athy). It’s named for J.M. Macdonald, a forensic psychiatrist who wrote “The Threat to Kill” in 1963, a paper which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

In this paper, he detailed a set of three behavioral characteristics that, if found present together in a person, he claimed were to be associated with later violent tendencies. It should be noted that Macdonald focused on hospitalized patients who had a history of making threats to kill, not patients who had actually killed. Some studies have found statistical significance to the Triad, and some studies have not.

The traits, in no particular order, are:

1) Bedwetting

If a child wets the bed past the age of 5, Macdonald found this to be significant. Two psychiatrists (Hellman and Blackman), claimed that enuresis—the act of voiding urine while asleep—was a form of sadism or hostility, because the act of voiding in fantasy was equated with “damaging and destroying.”

More up-to-date research has subsequently discounted associating bedwetting with violent tendencies, but doesmake the point that bedwetting past the age of five can be humiliating for the child, depending on how the child is treated by parental figures for doing so. If belittled or treated cruelly, the child might then be more inclined to engage in the other aspects of the triad as an outlet for their frustration.

2) Animal Cruelty

Torturing animals can be seen as a precursor or rehearsal for killing humans. Torturing any animal is bad, but messing with dogs and cats is particularly so, because they are seen as more humanlike due to being pets. Toads, turtles, worms and the like don’t seem to violate that human-pet connection as much.

Some psychopaths engage in animal cruelty as a way to vent frustrations, since in childhood, they could not retaliate toward those who humiliated them. So they select vulnerable animals, seeing them as weaker. It’s future victim selection at a young age. Studies have been done that prove that those killers who engage in animal cruelty often used the same method on their victims.

3) Firesetting

Since extensive humiliation is often found in the backgrounds of many serial killers, it’s been theorized that setting fire and venting frustration and anger by doing so helps return the child to a normal state of self-worth.

It doesn’t have to be huge fires to be an outlet for aggression. Trash cans, small flame throwers, homemade “bombs”—they all serve their purpose, just as setting fire to a building or car does.

Join me on Wednesday as I continue this series on psychopaths. Thanks for having me, Jordyn!
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Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and has worked with families, teens, parents & kids for over 10 years. She loves her day job so much that she crossed over to diagnosing make-believe people. She’s the owner/operator of The Character TherapistTM, an online therapy service for fictional characters…and their authors. You can connect with her at http://charactertherapist.com.