ByKarly Rayner, writer at Creators.co
Editor/Senior staff writer | Movie Pilot's celebrity savant.
Karly Rayner

A lot of us believe myths about serial killers that could ultimately put at at risk due to our poorly informed misconceptions, but the FBI have published a document to set the record straight and keep us all safer.

So, if you want to know why people in your home town are much more dangerous than suspicious outsiders, or why your church leader is just as likely to be a killer as the weird loner who lives with his mom, this is the article for you.

All of the information below has been officially dispensed by the FBI, so ignore it at your peril.

MYTH: Serial Killers Are All Dysfunctional Loners

Serial killer Dennis Rader (left) with his children
Serial killer Dennis Rader (left) with his children

Although there is a common stereotype that serial killers are reclusive misfits who live alone, this is not always the case. It might sound obvious, but many serial killers don't appear strange at all and manage to hide in plain sight by being seemingly functional members of their community.

A lot of serial murderers have families who are totally unaware of the atrocities that they carry out, live in bog standard suburban homes and are employed in respectable jobs.

This ability to blend into the community means that law enforcement officers ofter overlook the perpetrator while focusing on more suspicious looking individuals with previous crimes under their belt.

The Proof: There are multiple serial killers who were well respected within their community or considered family men, a few examples are:

  • Robert Yates murdered seventeen prostitutes around Washington in the 1990s. He was married with five children at the time and was also a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who had actively served his country. His wife, Linda Yates suspected that he was having an affair, but had no inkling that he was up to something way more evil.
  • John Wayne Gacy killed at least 33 teenage boys and young men in sexually motivated murders during the '70s. Before this time, he was married twice and had two children by his first wife. Although he secretly engaged in seedy activities, Gacy was an active member of the Jaycees in Iowa and a popular Democratic candidate in Illinois. He dressed as a clown to entertain local children and even met the first lady, Rosalynn Carter, through his charitable works.
John Wayne Gacy and Rosalynn Carter
John Wayne Gacy and Rosalynn Carter

• Dennis Rader, better known as the BTK killer (initials that stand for bound torture, kill) murdered ten victims in and around Wichita, Kansas. During this time, he sent 16 letters to the news media taunting the police for their failings to outwit him. Rader was also married with two children, a boy scout leader, a government employee and president of his church.

MYTH: Serial killers Are All White Males

Charles Ng
Charles Ng

Although white males make up the majority of serial killers in the U.S.A., there are plenty of exceptions. The racial diversity of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population and it statistics seem to show that men from all ethnicities have an equal chance of becoming a killer

Women however, are statistically a lot less likely to become killers with just 64 out of 416 know offenders between 1800 and 2004 being female.

The Proof: Examples of serial killers who break the white male mould include:

  • Charles NG was a Hong Kong native who emigrated to America in 1978. Alongside Leonard Lake he murdered between 11 and 25 victims including babies whose mothers were kept alive to endure rape and torture before they were killed.
  • Rafael Resendez-Ramirez was an itinerant Mexican-American serial killer who murdered 15 people by bludgeoning them to death with rocks or other blunt objects in their own homes. After his dispatched his victims, he would linger in their homes eating their food and pouring over person effects to learn about their lives
Aileen Wuornos on trial
Aileen Wuornos on trial
  • Aileen Wuornos was a Florida based prostitute who killed seven clients who she claimed had sexually assaulted or threatened her. Despite their being concerns about her mental competency , she became the tenth woman to be executed in the U.S.A. after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976.

MYTH: Serial Killers Are Only Motivated by Sex

David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam Killer
David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam Killer

Not all serial killers are motivated by sex or perversion, in fact, there are five other commonly sited reasons why people kill. These are:

Visionary: These people tend to experience a psychotic break and believe they are compelled to kill people by God, the Devil or some other powerful incantation who has superiority over humans. David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) is an example of a visionary killer, he believed his neighbors dog, was possessed by an ancient demon that issued irresistible commands demanding that he gave it blood.

Mission-Oriented: Killers in this category believe they are ridding the world of undesirable peoples. Common victims include the homeless, homosexuals or people of a different ethnicity. Joseph Paul Franklin was a mission-oriented killer who murdered at least seven black men with white girlfriends because the thought mixed race relationships were immoral.

Joseph Paul Franklin: A white supremacist murderer
Joseph Paul Franklin: A white supremacist murderer

Thrill: Those defined as thrill killers seek to cause pain and terror in their victims for their own stimulation and/or excitement. This group of murderers are in it for the adrenalin of the hunt and the kill and, chillingly, their victims are usually strangers. Coral Watts (also known as The Sunday Morning Slasher) was a thrill killer who admitted to 12 murders, but who police suspect may have killed up to 90 people. One of his victims who survived claimed that while Watts attacked her he was "excited and hyper and clappin' and just making noises like he was excited, that this was gonna be fun."

Comfort/Profit: Comfort killers are will to go to extreme lengths to enjoy a lavish lifestyle with material gains. An example is Dorothea Puente who was a landlady who killer her tenants to pocket their social security checks.

Dorothea Puente: An unlikely killer?
Dorothea Puente: An unlikely killer?

Power/control: Killers in this category's main objective is to exhort power over their victims. Although a lot of power killer's crimes may have a sexual element, these are not related to lust and are engaged as yet another tool in the arsenal to completely control and dehumanise their victims. Power/control killers are most likely to manipulate the bodies of their victims and stage grotesque crime scenes. Ted Bundy is a good example of a power/control killer. Although he sexually assaulted his victims, people who have interviewed Bundy claim "Ted insisted that violence was never an end in itself, sex was almost perfunctory. His gratification lay not in assault but in the possession of the victim."

MYTH: All Serial Murderers Travel and Operate Interstate

Lorenzo Gilyard
Lorenzo Gilyard

Although some serial killers have evaded capture by travelling interstate and claiming victims in varying locations, a lot of them have very defined geographic areas of operation.

Just like everyone else, serial killers feel more comfortable in areas that they know well which means that they are more confident to kill near specific anchor points such as their home or place of work.

The Proof: A few of the serial killers who have exclusively operated in a small geographic area are:

  • John Wayne Gacy killed all of his victims inside his own home in Norwood Park Township, Chicago.
  • The Moors Murderers from Great Britain were a couple who kidnapped five children in a small area Greater Manchester by luring them in with offers of lifts. All of their victims were all sexually assaulted and killed on Saddleworth Moor.
Ian Brady and Myra Hindley: The Moors Murderers
Ian Brady and Myra Hindley: The Moors Murderers
  • Lorenzo Gilyard, who is thought to have raped and murdered 13 women and girls, claimed all of his victims in Kansas City

MYTH: Serial Killers Cannot Stop Killing

Jeffry Gorton
Jeffry Gorton

It's a widely held belief that once serial killers start murdering victims, they are incapable of stopping themselves. There are, however, some serial killers who still killing people altogether before being caught.

In these instances, there are events or circumstances that inhibit the killers from chasing more victims. Examples include increased involvement with their own families, finding sexual substitutes for killing or other diversions.

The Proof: A couple of examples of serial killers who have stopped killing for prolonged periods of time are:

  • Jeffrey Gorton killed his first victim in 1986 and do not claim his next until 199. He never killed anybody else and he was captured for his earlier crimes in 2002. In the breaks between his murderous activity Gorton engaged in cross-dressing and masturbatory activities, as well as consensual sex with his wife.
  • The BTK killer, Dennis Rader, killed his victims between 1974 and 1991. After his long hiatus, he started sending letters taunting the police in 2004 and he was eventually arrested in 2005. During interviews conducted by law enforcement, Rader admitted to engaging in auto-erotic activities as a substitute for his killings.

MYTH: All Serial Killers Are Insane or Are Evil Geniuses

Theodore Kaczynski has a very high IQ, but he's an exception to the rule
Theodore Kaczynski has a very high IQ, but he's an exception to the rule

One of the most prevalent myths about serial killers is that they have either a severe mental disorder, or are incredibly intelligent with sky high IQs.

Although, as a group, serial killers generally suffer from a variety of personality disorders including sociopathy and psychopathy most of them are not adjudicated as insane in the eyes of the law.

Like other populations, serial killers exist in a spectrum of intelligence from borderline retarded to above average levels. Most stories of genius serial killers who can outwit law enforcement come directly from the media and not from facts.

The Proof: Radford university obtained the IQs of 202 serial killers and the study gave their mean IQ as 95.1, a similar result would be expected from the general population.

Of course, their were highs and lows in the study with Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) scoring a staggering 165 and Simon Pirela scoring just 57.

(Source: FBI, Hunteremkay)

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