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Have you ever wondered what makes a serial killer? What drives a serial killer? What is the most likely MO? All of this varies depending on gender.


Research concludes that the motive of serial killers differs greatly depending on their gender. Compulsion – whether it be a sexual or psychological one – drives most male killers to kill. Most often, the driving element is psychological. This is sometimes a result of childhood abuse, trauma or neglect. All of which urges a male serial killer to kill. However, research suggests that female serial killers are more likely to be driven by a reason that justifies the murder in their mind. Motivation can vary from money issues to want of revenge. In some rare cases, it is to gain sympathy and attention by murdering their own relative.

Modus Operandi

Better known as MO also deviates significantly between male and female serial killers. Previous studies drawing on data regarding patterns in male serial killers’ states that men are more likely to use brute force and violence whilst murdering, with their MO rarely deviating from shooting, stabbing, strangling, and beating their victim to death. On the other hand, female serial killers are more likely to be low-key in their murdering. Their MOs are significantly less brutal methods such as poisoning, drowning, and suffocating. Many studies have aimed to conclude why these MOs vary so greatly? Practicality is the most likely factor due to the requirement of great levels of strength to undertake more violent murders. However, studies conclude that the psychological differences between male and females drive these differences – a less brutal murder is less likely to be solved because of a lack of evidence.


Marissa Harrison, a psychology professor at Penn State Harrisburg, suggests that historical gender roles is a cause behind such variations. Male killers are six times as likely to kill a stranger, whereas female killers are twice as likely to kill someone they know. Harrison concludes this is because of the historical male role of being a hunter and stalking prey; over 65.4% of male killers stalking their victims before acting. Whereas only 3.6% of female killers stalk their victims with most killing a relative or acquaintance. This is because of the historical female role of being the gatherer and staying close to home.

These gendered differences of serial killers’ qualities can often be helpful in ongoing murder investigations and profiling. But not everyone fits this ‘serial killer’ mould – Rose West’s brutal killings were an exception, with many more female serial killers defying such traits and differing from the stereotypes.

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