There is something fascinating about serial killers and psychopaths, because it is very difficult for most people to understand what makes them tick. If you’re keen on understanding what goes on inside of the mind of a murderer, read on.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.” — Ted Bundy
Psychopaths do not feel guilt for their actions, and they cannot feel empathy towards other people’s feelings. This is similar to a “sociopath,” but a true psychopath is very frightening, and even dangerous. Ted Bundy was quoted saying, “I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.”
49. The Name
The term “serial killer” was coined by FBI Special Agent Robert K. Ressler in 1971. The Netflix series “MINDHUNTER” is based on the true story of the early FBI agents who began to realize the nature of serial killers.
48. Smooth Operator
Psychopaths feel very few real emotions, but they have the to be very charming. The serial killer Ted Bundy was said to be very charismatic. He even tried to run for governor.
47. Can’t Get Enough
While drugs and alcohol do not turn people into serial killers, 70% of them have a history of substance abuse.
46. Tough Nut to Crack
Ted Bundy underwent a psychological evaluation in the Utah State Prison. Since he had taken Psychology classes in college, Bundy knew exactly how to answer all of the questions to manipulate the results to make him seem completely normal. His psychologist, Dr. Carlisle, was so fascinated that he ended up writing two books on the minds of serial killers.
45. A Rare Breed
Thankfully, psychopaths only account for 1% of the population. Then again, that’s not that rare…
44. I Aint Afraid of No Ghost!
The major difference between someone who kills for money or passion and a serial killer is that a true psychopath is never afraid of anything. That includes getting caught by the police, or the possibility of spending life in prison. A study from Georgetown University found that even as young children, psychopaths have never experienced fear, which means they could never be able to imagine what they’re putting their victims through.
43. NOT IT!
Psychopaths don’t take any responsibility for their own actions. They tend to blame other people for their mistakes. In many cases, a killer will blame the victim or someone in their life for “making them do it”
When studying the brains of psychopaths with an MRI, they tend to have a very thin amygdala. That is the part of the brain that is responsible for human emotion, and stored memories of what you need to be afraid of. In a laboratory study, when the amygdala is removed from a rat’s brain, they will never run away. They’ll even climb on top of a cat.
41. Doped Up
Anyone who has been in love knows how addictive that uplifting, happy feeling can be. Well, the chemical in your brain that causes love is called “dopamine.” This chemical also causes those passionate feelings of lust, the urge to gamble, and motivation for success. It just so happens that serial killers and psychopaths have an overactive amount of dopamine going on in their brains. So they’re pretty much addicted to feeling that excited dopamine rush all the time. If life is just “OK”, and they’re they’re not feeling some kind of satisfaction from “winning” something, they find other ways to satisfy their addiction–like manipulating people into get what they want.
40. I Don’t Talk About That.
When you ask a psychopath about a traumatic event from their past, they tend not to want to talk about it. Even if a specific event triggered their behavior as a child, they tend to block it out, which makes it nearly impossible to talk through the problems in therapy.
39. The Off Switch.
In 2012, there was a scientific study on emotions of psychopaths. First, researchers showed video clips of various emotional interactions, and they felt nothing. They even slapped them on the back of their hands with a plastic ruler, which is very painful, and yet their brain didn’t register the pain. Then, they asked the test subjects to try to empathize with the emotions in some video clips. They showed scenes of someone being beaten and abused. Finally, the section of the psychopath’s brain with memories of pain lit up on the MRI. These scientists have theorize that maybe psychopaths have an “on and off switch” for their emotions, and they have been through so much abuse during their childhoods, that they simply choose to keep the lights off.
38. Better Off Dead
The vast majority of doctors believe that there is no possible way to rehabilitate a serial killer. Many of them receive life in prison, or the death penalty.
37. Dream World
Serial killers tend to fantasize about a lot of things. They find comfort living in this imaginary place in their mind, and they don’t know how to control the desire for their strange sexual fantasies. Combined with their lack of empathy, this is why many serial killers rape and force women to do really, really weird stuff.
36. The World’s Greatest
Psychopaths tend to believe that they are the “best” at something, and feel overly confident in themselves. For example, a psychopath who is mildly good at sports may claim that they are equally as talented as someone in the Olympics.
35. Throw Away The Key
While some criminals plead insanity in an attempt to go to a mental hospital instead of prison, records show that anyone who is labeled a “psychopath” by a psychologist actually gets harsher punishments. One study showed that judges sentence them to twice the normal amount of jail time, because they consider them to be a serious threat to society.
Psychopaths are very selfish people. They cannot feel love, and only use people for what they want. They tend to live a “parasitic lifestyle” where they expect other people to pay for their needs.
33. Innocence Lost
Most serial killers were sexually abused when they were children.
32. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
Psychopaths almost never plan for the future. They may claim to have goals, but they are usually totally unrealistic.
31. The World’s Fair
The first known American serial killer was Dr. H. H. Holmes, who targeted people visiting the Chicago World’s Fair in 1890. He killed at least 27 people, and claimed to not be able to help himself.
30. Dark Fairy Tale
While Holmes was the first one who was actually caught, there were serial killers way before the 1890’s. Historians say that legends of werewolves and vampires began because they could not explain the random and brutal deaths of people in their towns and villages.
29. Somebody Call PETA
One major sign that a child is a serial killer is when they kill animals. Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents knew that he enjoyed dissecting animals, and yet didn’t seem to think it was weird.
28. The Trifecta
Aside from animal torture, a paper published by John Macdonald encouraged parents to watch out for bed-wetting past the age of 12, and pyromania, or the love of setting things on fire. Those three indicators–cruelty to animals, pyromania, and late bed-wetting–became known as the Macdonald Triad. Later research has found that bed-wetting is not statistically linked to the likelihood of becoming a serial killer.
27. So Over It
Psychopaths and Sociopaths tend to get bored very easily.
26. I Can’t Even
Psychopaths are very impatient. They will have a violent outburst at even the smallest annoyances.
25. The Company Man
The #1 career category that include psychopaths are CEO’s. Since they’re great at manipulation, they can move up the ladder as a chipper “yes man”, and their confidence can help them go far. Some of the other careers filled with psychopaths are lawyers, police officers, and surgeons.
24. Mr. Manager
A man named Paul Babiak was interviewing business executives. Out of curiosity, he made all of them take the test for psychopathy. Shockingly, 1 out of every 25 candidates came back with extremely high levels of psychopathy, which is way above the national average. Some of the others who took the test were somewhere on the borderline. If you’re wondering, an example of some of these questions were: “Answer Yes or No. ‘I think most people are idiots,’ or ‘I think I am better than most people,’ or ‘I never feel guilt, it’s always someone else’s fault.’ ” Sadly, while many sociopaths seek fields in management, they are actually terrible managers.
23. Come At Me, Bro!
Psychopaths all have a trait that’s called “Fearless Dominance.” They are aggressive in situations where most people may back down in face of conflict or danger.
22. Home of the Brave
Since psychopaths and sociopaths seem to be common in positions of power, the Psychology Department of Emory University decided to figure out if any US President has ever been a sociopath. They did this study in 2012, and they found that while no single president falls into every category on the checklist, they all at least have two traits in common with serial killers; charm and fearless dominance.
21. “Smartest” Person in the Room
We’ve already established that psychopaths are pathological liars, and they’re really confident, too. This makes them believe that they are such brilliant liars that everyone around them believes their malarkey, and that they can outsmart just about anyone on the planet. Ironically, the lies murders come up with are usually pretty stupid and transparent. In fact, the vast majority of serial killers have a below-average IQ.
20. In Check
Psychopaths have terrible impulse control. They can’t stop themselves from getting the things they want immediately.
19. No Time for Breakfast
Psychopaths tend to not connect emotion to sex. They’re great at one-night stands.
18. Til Death Do Us Part
Serial Killers and Psychopaths usually jump into marriage very quickly, but they can’t commit to long-term relationships. This is why you’ll hear stories of serial killers being married multiple times–even as much as once a year.
17. Setting the Bar Low
Psychopaths tend not to understand the concept of standards when it comes to dating. Ted Bundy told his therapist that he never understood what attributes people found attractive in one another. If a woman has low self-esteem, this makes it easy for a charming serial killer to sweep her off her feet, if she isn’t traditionally beautiful. This also may be why serial killers cling on to particular attributes that they decide are “attractive,” like what Bundy found attractive: women with long brown hair parted down the middle.
16. Don’t Read the Comments
On YouTube and nearly every other website that has a comment section, there will almost always be trolls. What you may not know is that trolls are very commonly sociopaths or psychopaths. Their personality traits are called the “dark triad,” which also includes sadism and narcissism. For this reason, if you see a blatantly mean comment, it’s best not to take these people seriously, because they devote their lives to trying to make others miserable.
15. It Runs in the Family…
A neuroscientist named James Fallon became interested in a possible serial killer gene, because 7 people in his family were murderers, including the infamous Lizzie Borden. While his family members all checked out as normal, he was shocked to see that his own brain was psychotic. He realized that some people may have a brain that is born to become a psychopath, but it’s just never triggered by child abuse or trauma. Even though he hasn’t killed anyone, Fallon admits that he lacks empathy for other people– even his own children.
14. How Did it Happen?
Not all serial killers were raised by abusive parents. Even when raised under perfect conditions, people with psychotic brains can snap over almost anything. Jeffrey Dahmer’s father wrote an autobiography about his experience as the parent of a serial killer, and he can’t figure out where it all went wrong.
13. What Smells?
Researchers in Sydney, Australia realized that the sections of the brain that recognize and remember smells may be damaged in psychopaths. They conducted a study with sticks covered in smells that should be easy for most people to identify, like “orange,” “leather,” and “coffee.” While people with normal brains got them all correct, psychopaths could not figure out what any of the smells were. This has led some psychologists to use the smell test rather than the personality questionnaires, because it’s much harder to fake the answers.
12. Pick a Prize
Serial killers usually take a “souvenir” from the scene of the crime–whether it’s Polaroid pictures of the body, shoes, or locks of hair. This ritual often leaves a trail of evidence, and ends up being their own undoing.
11. They’re Out There
According to the FBI, there are between 35-50 active serial killers who just haven’t been caught yet.
10. What a Pair…
Every once in awhile, a story will come on the news where a woman helped her boyfriend or husband cover up the fact that he was a serial killer for years. There are also women who go out of their way to become a pen-pal and later date guys who are in jail for murder. Any sane person would wonder how this could possibly happen, but there is a small percentage of the population of people that have “Hybristophilia,” which is the strong attraction to murderers. It’s also called “Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.”
9. Corpse Bride
Most serial killers have a very high sex drive. Many of them are also necrophiles.
8. It Was Me
Very few serial killers have enough remorse to turn themselves in. However, Ed Kemper called the police, admitting to his crimes. He waited in the phone booth until the police arrived.
7. You don’t say?
Cornell University created a computer program that would analyze interviews with known serial killers, to see if there was any pattern in the way they all talk. According to the data, killers tend to speak in the past tense. They also say “um” a lot more than the average person, because they want to appear “normal” to cover up the fact that they planned their lies out ahead of time.
6. A Little Birdy Told Me…
That same study by Cornell University also figured out how to detect who is a psychopath on Twitter, based on what they say in their tweets. The most common psycho tweets involve insulting and bashing people on a regular basis, or generally being trolls.
5. Red White and Blue
The United States has the largest number of serial killers in the world. The highest number of killers seem to live in California. ( Maybe all of those self-important psychopaths were convinced they could make it in Hollywood and become the next big star.) Believe it or not, the state of Maine has not had ANY serial killers living there in the 20th Century. Funny enough, Stephen King is from Maine, and a lot of his horror stories take place there.
4. Born This Way
86% of serial killers are heterosexual. There are a few famous homosexual killers, like John Wayne Gacy, but they are a minority. 84% of them are also white.
3. Get it Together
The FBI has 3 categories of serial killers: organized, disorganized, and mixed. This helps them identify what sort of work and social life they may have outside of killing, and helps lead them to catching the killer. Organized serial killers have higher IQs, better social skills, and generally leave less evidence.
At least 70% of serial killers had some sort of head injury when they were a child. There is usually damage to the prefrontal cortex, which involves planning and judgement. Combined with a thin amygdala, it’s very literally deadly.
1. Angel of Death
Charles Edmund Cullen, known as “The Angel of Death,” worked as a nurse in many hospitals. He had to keep switching jobs because he was regularly fired for “suspicious behavior.” Suspicious, you say? He confessed to murdering 40 elderly patients in New Jersey. From the years 1984 to 2003, he killed his victims by poisoning his patients to death with un-prescribed medication. He stated that he wanted to relieve patients from suffering, much like an angel does. Experts who have listened to his post-conviction psychological exams believe he may have had more than 400 victims. Cullen, who may hold the deplorable title of most prolific killer in American history, is currently serving a life sentence.
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