"Manson was nothing compared to me. People built me into something. I became a monument. I got fan mail, friends...people that would die for me." (Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas)
For most of us, the term "serial killer" brings to mind the movie Silence of the Lambs about a serial killer called Hannibal the Cannibal. It won an academy award for best picture, and it was entertaining. But the real life serial killer is anything but entertaining for his real life victims and their families. Serial killers represent a unknown fear and fascination in society. They are the embodiment of evil, yet it seems that we cannot get enough of them. There are few news items that generate the hype and hysteria that the serial killer does. Everyone knows who Jeffrey Dahmer is, but how many know the names of his victims? The obsession that the public has with serial killers in itself is terrifying.
Serial killers do not have obvious motives for their crimes, nor is there any pattern to who their next victim will be. It may be the woman who has the misfortune to walk past them on the street, or the boy riding his bike down the wrong road. They strike without warning, and they are almost impossible for the police to catch. Where do they come from, and what makes them into such monsters? These are the questions that beg answers.
Defining a serial killer is not as obvious as it may appear to be. First of all, a distinction between a serial killer and a mass murderer must be made. A mass murderer is someone who kills several people all at once or within a relatively short span of time. For example, a person who walks into an office and shoots 5 people is a mass murderer. A serial killer is someone who murders several people over a longer period of time, sometimes over a number of years.
The victims have nothing in common except that their general type or appearance (i.e. little boys, elderly women, college girls, etc.). The victims do not usually know each other, and they do not know the killer. They are connected by the desires of a man they do not even know. The serial killer usually has at least 3 victims. The murders are often very brutal, involving some kind of ritual that has specific meaning only for the offender. Sexual violence is usually a factor, whether it be before or after death. Some killers can only get sexual satisfaction through the pain of their victim.
Other problems arise in developing a definition for serial killers. For example, would a hit man be a serial killer - they often have numerous victims, but they kill for money. Would Bonnie and Clyde be considered serial killers?