Lately, there’s been a surge in the interest of serial killers among young adults. This obsession is probably just as popular as astrology among millennial and Gen Z girls (it’s not real astronomy, but, like, “reading your star chart and analyzing people based on their zodiac signs” astronomy). For some, this serial killer obsession may be due to the psychological fascination behind their motives, how they get (or don’t get) caught, and for others, it may be how charming they appear to be. Before we dive into this weird-yet-thrilling-obsession we all have, we need to first understand the difference between murderers and serial killers because, yes, there is a difference. A murderer is anyone who has killed someone, and is not defined by the number of victims they have killed. A serial killer is an individual who has killed two or more people with a distinct time period in between the occurances.
Often these individuals have a motive: they seek satisfaction, thrill, or power when killing each victim. Many people believe that those accused of murder “would never do such a thing”. Some people don’t seem like the type to carry out these inhumane acts, while others appear to fit the mold perfectly. Some culprits may not seem suspicious on the surface, but what goes on behind closed doors and in the depths of their minds are what separates good from evil. Clearly, there is something wrong with them, because no right mind would gain satisfaction from such sadistic behavior, but what goes on in their minds that drives them to carry out such horrific acts?
A common misconception is that serial killers are mentally incapable of understanding right from wrong, but the terrifying reality is exactly the opposite (Santoro, 2017). Despite the clear psychological disorders among many infamous killers, serial killers are among the most intelligent individuals within society and walk among us every day like the Average Joe. The average IQ of serial killers is 94.5, among those who strangled, raped, and dismantled their victims (Radford University, 2016).
After some research on a handful of history’s most brutal serial killers, I found that these moral defying monsters share a lot of traits that don’t necessarily scream “I’m a murderer!” at first glance. The most common traits among serial killers include “sensation seeking, a lack of remorse or guilt, impulsivity, the need for control, and predatory behavior” (FBI, 2010). So, if you are empathetic, dependent, and you struggle making decisions on your own, you’re probably not a murderer (unless…? Haha, just kidding. But maybe…?).
Overall, these five most common traits are the key ingredients needed to make a narcissist. Narcissistic people don’t seem like narcissists at first. They embody many traits that pose as unlikely-to-totally-murder-you-and-your-entire-family. Narcissists are charming. They can easily swoon you, and dub as calm and collected (Psychology Today). However, they also seek and thrive off of power and control; they are predatorial, and apathetic. Ted Bundy was a textbook narcissist. Being the first televised homicide trial in the US, it was universally publicized that Bundy sought control, dominance, and violence; yet to many, he seemed charming, and handsome. These surface traits not only convinced some people that he did not do the crime he was convicted of, but they gave him a fanbase. During his confession in his final interview, the day before his execution, Ted Bundy shared that these criminal masterminds can strike anyone at anytime: “We are your sons and we are your husbands and we grew up in regular families” (LA Times). Chilling.
We’ve made murder mysteries and serial killers’ narratives a large part of pop culture. Take the OJ Simpson trial for example (not a serial killer, but a prime example of the entertainment aspect). There’s an entire docuseries dedicated to the mystery and thrill behind this story, and honestly, I’ve rewatched it three times. Not to mention My Friend Dahmer, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Forensic Files, ID Discovery, the list goes on!
This is all fascinating, but why is there a psychological thrill within us over these monsters among men? Essentially, serial killers to adults are what scary movies are to kids: entertainment that is scary and fun. “The total disregard for life and the suffering of others exhibited by serial killers shocks our sense of humanity and makes us question our safety and security” (Psychology Today). In other words, we find it mind-blowing, and this sensation follows us just like a serial killer’s motive to attack (but, way less extreme). The entertainment we find within serial killers has become an entire industry. It goes beyond fictional storytelling, it’s a real life thrill and mystery that walks among the world with us every day.