Most of us are familiar with so-called “famous” serial killers, like Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer, the Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer. Some are so famous they have their own nicknames. But, not all criminals are popularized, and it’s important to be aware of what and who is around us.
By definition, a serial killer is someone who has murdered multiple people, often in a patterned approach and with vengeance. There are many ways to spot a serial killer, but do you know one? Chances are, you might.
Their Criminal Background
As the name suggests, serial killers have experience breaking the law, and some of them might also have previously had a run in with the law, too. In some cases, these criminals have had previous arrests, have spent time in jail or have even caused harm and chaos in their communities. Although a person’s criminal background doesn’t tell everything about them, in certain cases, it can say a lot, especially if the person is a repeat offender.
Manipulation is a form of psychological abuse, and it’s yet another common trait of criminals. Criminals use manipulation to lure their victims and to talk their way out of criminal charges with the law. Manipulation can also serve as a power play, which is a tactic people use to exert power over people, and in this case, victims. It’s also a trait common in various personality disorders.
Lack of Empathy
Not all unempathetic people are serial killers, but a lack of empathy is another common characteristic of these criminals. These criminals often display little to no concern about harming other people or hurting their feelings. This, in turn, is also often a sign of a severe personality disorder, like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). This means they can carry out serious crimes and still not see any problem with what they do. This also makes it easier, in a sense, for them to commit crimes over and over again.
Obsession with Power
Think about it: people who commit crimes are trying to convey and show that they hold the power. And, an obsession with power is usually a telltale sign someone has exterior motives, criminal or otherwise. An obsession to exert power over someone else usually indicates the criminal is trying to minimize internal feelings of powerlessness. In an unhealthy way, these people find ways to overpower others, usually damaging them.
Most people think “antisocial” simply means someone doesn’t enjoy socializing. In reality, it can mean much more, particularly in the psychology world. Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a severe disorder characterized by lack of care or concern for other people, aggression, anger and frequent lying. People with ASPD often manipulate people to get what they want, and in severe cases, they can violate people emotionally and physically, which can lead to stalking, threatening or even death. From the outside, these people might appear “normal” or “charming,” but in reality, they often have a motive.
A Troubled Past
A history of trauma, especially in childhood, is another common indicator of whether or not someone has the capability to become a serial killer. If, for instance, someone was abused in their childhood, they have a much greater risk of committing crimes later in life. This abuse can involve sexual, physical and/or emotional harm, dysfunctional family dynamics and even neglect. Often times, these occurrences teach victims to suppress their emotions, which in turn creates unhealthy and often dangerous personality traits.
Another common characteristic of serial killers is severe impulsivity, a trait attributed often to psychopathy. High impulsivity can involve committing crimes at the drop of a hat. According to Psychology Today, this is typically a result of a developmental problem in the brain part responsible for making good decisions and controlling impulses, the orbital cortex. Notably, the orbital cortex is also the part of the brain that helps a person develop a conscience or moral code.
If someone brags excessively, it’s usually a sign they have an inflated ego, or in more severe cases, a personality disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Serial killers in particular often brag a lot, mainly to make themselves look good to the general public. They also sometimes truly believe that they are better than anyone else around them. In some cases, these people may look at their crimes as an accomplishment, particularly if they commit the same crime over and over again without getting in trouble.
Zero Guilt or Remorse
A lack of remorse can also be attributed to the dysfunction of the orbital cortex, the area of the brain responsible for developing a person’s ability to make sound, moral decisions. As it turns out, some people do not hold the capacity to apologize for their wrongdoings, nor do they ever feel remorse for harming others. These characteristics make sense to be attributed to serial killers, as people who harm others repeatedly clearly do not have a developed set of ethics.
Obsession with Media Attention
One tactic of serial killers is to make as many appearances in the media as possible, in attempt to make themselves likeable and relatable to the general public. While some criminals thrive off of media attention, (think: Ted Bundy), others use the attention to deter people from finding out who they really are.
Ted Bundy was perhaps the most famous serial murderer who took this approach and tried to make himself seem as “normal” and likeable as possible. By taking almost any interview he was offered, he found ways to manipulate both the press and the general public into thinking he wasn’t a criminal at all.