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Researchers across the globe have conducted extensive studies on the behavior of serial killers. Everything from early childhood behaviors to the method of killing are examined. Here are all of the warning signs to watch for when predicting the behavior of future serial killers.

10. Substance Abuse

It was discovered that a lot of serial killers struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. The dependency on these substances stems from the need for escape from intense emotions and thoughts. Jeffrey Dahmer, the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” was an alcoholic by the time he graduated high school. This resulted in his expulsion from The Ohio State University and discharge from the U.S. Army.

9. Intelligence

No, not all smart people are serial killers. However, it is true that most serial killers have an “above average” or “bright normal” IQ. Methodical serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy had an average IQ of 113. This is considered “high average” according to the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale Fifth Edition. Disorganized serial killers, or those who kill at random, have an IQ of 93, which is considered average. A great example for this research is Ed “Co-ed Killer” Kemper. With an IQ of 136, according to Crime Museum, Kemper abused his near-genius intelligence. When he was 15, Kemper murdered his grandparents. When he was 21, he was released because he convinced his psychiatrists that he was “reformed.” He then went on to kill six college students and his own mother.

8. Fantasy

Don’t worry, imagining the good life in a European country, basking in the sun does not make you a serial killer. However, children who have faced abuse and trauma often resort to fantasies to relieve fear and anxiety. Experts have explained that it plays like a loop, similar to the way serial killers think about murder, according to List Verse. In fact, Ed Kemper confessed to experiencing deep fantasies as a child.

“I knew long before I started killing that I was going to be killing; that it was going to end up like that. The fantasies were too strong. They were going on for too long and were too elaborate,” he said in an interview.

Even Jeffrey Dahmer and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, had similar experiences to Kemper. In addition, most serial killers imagine their first kill in great detail before committing to it.

7. Poor Family Life

Many serial killers come from unstable homes. Their relatives often have criminal, psychiatric and alcoholic histories. Unfortunately, these people also have poor relationships with family members and often choose them as their first victims. For example, Ed Kemper’s mother was an alcoholic.

6. Childhood Abuse

Another commonality among serial killers is a history of child abuse, especially from a close family member. Not only does abuse lead to mental illness, but instills deep feelings of humiliation and helplessness that they desire to instill in others. Aileen Wuornos was abandoned by her mother at the age of 4, and was taken in by her grandfather. He sexually and physically abused her until the age of 15 when she ran away from home. She then went on to murder seven men in Florida. Her story was also made famous by the film “Monster,” in which Aileen was portrayed by Charlize Theron.

5. Antisocial Behavior

Although not a definitive sign, this could explain the the lack of empathy serial killers experience. Important to a child’s development are the lessons they learn from observing others. It allows people to understand others’ point of view, and therefore understand how they feel or think. Experts explain, however, that some antisocial children could just be slow developers. An extreme example of this would be Ed Gein, the inspiration for characters like Norman Bates from “Psycho” and Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs.” According to Crime Museum, Gein’s mother isolated him from his peers and punished him for trying to make friends. Similar to Buffalo Bill, after the death of his mother Gein dug up corpses, trying to create a “woman suit.”

4. Head Trauma

It is alarming just how many serial killers experienced head injuries as children. In fact, according to List Verse the majority of serial killers were hit on the head as children. Trauma to certain parts of the brain can lead to developmental issues, such as lack of empathy later in life. Here is a list of some serial killers who experienced head injuries:

Richard Ramirez: A dresser fell on his head and as a result, he needed 30 stitches. He was 5 years old.

John Wayne Gacy: He was hit on the head with a swing at the age of 11. He went on to experience blackouts.

David Berkowitz: At the age of 8, he was hit on the head by a pipe, causing a 4 inch gash.

Albert Fish: He fell from a tree and experienced head trauma when he was 7 years old.

Dennis Rader: His mother accidentally dropped him on the head as an infant.

3-1: The MacDonald Triad

J.M. MacDonald, a forensic scientist from the mid 20th century, discovered three characteristics among his patients that could contribute to sociopathic traits: Bedwetting, arson and the torturing of small animals.

Enuresis, or bedwetting, is normal for young children. It becomes a problem for kids in their late childhood. It instills feelings of humiliation and frustration. Two serial killers were known bedwetters: Albert Fish and Donald “Pee Wee” Goskins Jr. Fish was a bedwetter until the age of 11, and murdered three children. Similarly, Goskins wet the bed well into his late childhood and murdered nine people. However, the actual number is believed to be over 100.

Arson is known to psychologically attractive for two reasons: power manipulation and control. These feelings are similar to the motivators for serial killers. For example, the Son of Sam was known to be a pyromaniac as a child. According to Crime Museum, he even obtained the nickname “pyro” from other kids. After his arrest, he confessed to numerous New York fires, although the actual number is suspected to be over 1000.

Finally, the torturing of small animals causes similar feelings of power and control in those who commit it. This is known among profilers as the strongest warning sign, as children who inflict pain on animals are highly likely to be sociopaths. Many killers are infamous for the pain they inflicted on their pets, but the two that stood out the most are Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Kemper. Dahmer started by dissecting small animals that were already dead, and then graduated to killing and dismembering his puppy. Similarly, when Kemper was 10 he buried his cat alive. Then, at the age of 13, he killed and mutilated the body of another cat

“Animal torture isn’t a stage, it’s a rehearsal,” Harold Schechter says. Schechter is an American true crime writer.


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