Serial Killer: A Brief Study


The distinctive characteristic of the modern era is its mass urbanization but sometimes that has immensely altered the nature of human relationships. The dense modern urban environment represents ideal settings for the routinized impersonal encounters that operate as a hallmark of serial killing. Serial killing is the rarest form of homicide, occurring when an individual has killed three or more people who were previously unknown to him or her, with a ‘cooling-off’ period between each murder.  This definition is accepted by both police and academic experts and therefore provides a useful frame of reference.

Who is a Serial Killer?

A serial killer is a person who has committed a series of murders on different occasions with an interval between the murders. The most troubling points when to consider a person as a serial killer are:

  1. The number of murders a person has to commit qualify as a serial killer.

  2. The length of the interval between the murders.

  3. The modus operandi of the murderer.

  4. The motive of the person to commit the murder.

Serial Killer: A Kind of Murderer

A Serial Killer is a kind of murderer. The best way to understand a Serial Killer is by comparing him to other kinds of murderers and examining how he is different from them. Murderers can be classified into:

  1. Single Murderer: A person who murders one person in an incident.

  2. Double Murderer: A person who murders two people on the same incident at the same place.

  3. Triple Murderer: A person who murders three people on the same incident at the same place.

  4. Mass Murderer: A person who murders more than three on the same incident at the same place.

  5. Spree Murderer: A person who murders several people in the same stretch but at different places.

Is Serial Killing and Mass Murder Same?

Serial killing is different from mass murder. Serial killing is when a person kills more than two persons in a different period where mass murder means killing a bunch of people in the same place and time. They call these murders as serial killing because there is a series of murders involved. Serial killers could be anyone like our father, mother, friend, husband, or other closed people.

One thing which differentiates a Serial Killer from all of these murderers is the ‘cooling-off-period ‘between the murders. Once a Serial Killer commits a murder, he calms down and stays without committing another murder for a while. This persistent and unyielding instinct to commit murder, again and again, after an interval is the necessary characteristic of a Serial Killer.

Classification of Serial Killers:

The serial killers can be classified according to their character and their behavior. Various Criminologists, Law Enforcement Officials, Mental Health Professionals, and Social Scientists have attempted to discover the true motive behind the serial killers. They try to classify serial killers based on typologies, which will gain information to further assist Law Enforcement Officers in profiling and investigating cases related to serial killers. Various researchers have come up with a typology to determine the making of a serial killer. According to the typology the serial killers are classified as:

  • Organized Killer:

These types of offenders lead methodical lives that are also replicated in the way they commit crimes. They are triggered to kill someone by their intimate relationship, finances, or employment problems. These offenders are normal person, who is skilled in employment and they have average to a high level of intelligence and they are also being socially proficient. They always restrain victims and reflect a level of control in the situation. Usually organized offenders communicate or use a verbal approach with their potential victims before the violence. The victims are chosen by the offenders based on certain characteristics such as age, physical appearance, gender, hairstyle, or even based on their hair color.

  • Disorganized Killer:

These offenders are completely different from organized offenders. Disorganized offender’s crime scene and their characteristics suggest chaos and little premeditation before the offence. It may include evidence such as semen, blood, fingerprints, or murder weapon. The offenders are incompetent to carry out or maintain social relationships or interaction and the disarrayed crime scene reflects this. This lack of intimate relationships may increase the chances of potential sexual or sadistic acts as a part of the murder.

  • Mixed Killers:

These killers are the ones who cannot be easily identified as organized or disorganized. Those who are falling under this category are said to have both organized and disorganized characteristics. Mixed killing may involve more than one offender. They always have some sort of planning and there are unforeseen events. The unforeseen events may include a victim resisting or offender escalating into a different pattern of violence. The offender leaves the victim’s body poorly covered. These offenders may be young and/or involved in drugs or alcohol.

What Makes A Serial Killer?

Unlike normal people, serial killers are relatively charming. They appear to be one among us but they aren’t. Not only they have a motive to kill someone but they are manipulative and aggressive too. But what are the reasons behind it? How does a man transform into a serial killer? Now let’s see the causes of serial killers.

  • Pregnancy: Doctors say that a child in a womb could hear everything that the mother hears and experience few emotions that the other’s experience. If a woman is so stressed, depressed or any other emotion then the child also experiences the same. It may reflect in not only the child’s growth in the womb but also it affects its mental growth which may lead to many mental disorders.

  • Infancy: It is the period of every human being to be given more attention and love. The first twelve months in our life is the period in which our basic emotions develop. The child should experience more affection and physical touch or else the child may experience many disorders in the future.

  • Childhood: Most of the serial killers have experienced bullying and loneliness in their childhood. It is said that commonly they had dyslexia which makes them less concentrative in their studies. They have also experienced abnormal weight, height, etc. due to which they bullied and ignored by their peers. Some serial killers had experienced sexual abuse, harassment which leads them to any mental disorders.

  • Parenting: The parents of the serial killers also ignored, bullied, shouted, etc. Their parents tend to be an alcoholic or have habits that negatively affect their children. Some parents are busy working, they are unable to keep a check on their child properly and fails to give attention even if they try to contact. In the worst situation, few parents have harassed their children physically, mentally, and sexually too.

  • Fantasy: Everyone has fantasies however people are aware of reality but serial killers tend to live in their fantasy every second. Their emotions are designed by their fantasies. They are controlled by their imagination. They just follow their imagination and do accordingly.

  • Sadist: Few people are addicted to hearing the pain, sorrow, screaming, etc. Their emotions are mixed up. They would love to see blood. Some serial killers have the habit of having sexual intercourse with a dead body of the person whom they killed. This is an extreme level of sadism.

  • Mission: These serial killers are not psychotic. They would have missions that are mostly immoral and illegal. Their guilt and their pressure to complete the desired task leads them to do aggressive things.

  • Lust: Sexual gratification is the main aim of these killers. Serial killers who kill for lust would like to have total control and dominance over their victims. So, to ensure that they have control over their victim they kill them.

What laws do we have in India?

The concept of serial killers doesn’t have its mark in the Indian Penal Code. The sections to deal with it are Section 299 and Section 300.

Section 299 of The Indian Penal Code:

Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

Section 300 of The Indian Penal Code:

“Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death, or

(Secondly) -If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or

(Thirdly) -If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or

(Fourthly) -If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.”

Culpable homicide and murder have only a thin line of difference. Generally, if a person kills someone, they will have the motive and intention to kill them. Motive leads to intention. A motive is a malicious mind which is the ultimate object. Intention refers to the immediate act caused. In the case of these serial killers, they will have the intention to kill those persons but there is no motive. It is said that mens rea is partially absent in their cases. Some have argued with this partial mens rea and Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code.

Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code:

“ Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.”

In the State of Maharashtra vs Sindhi Alias Raman, S/O Dalwai quoted that the medical insanity that the criminals have might not be the same said in Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code. Though the insanity is the same as quoted, these criminals can identify the consequences of the committed act. Though they do not have a guilty mind they knew that they were committing a wrong or illegal act. Automatically Section 84 of the Code doesn’t apply here.

There were many cases in India regarding serial killers. In the famous Auto Shankar case, Shankar and his associates were found guilty of six murders committed over two years between 1988 and 1989. The victims' remains were either charred or found within 12 homes.

In N.L.Abhyankar and ors v. Union of India, four commercial art students have committed ten murders within January 1976 and March 1977. At times they have also robbed and drank alcohol. These are only two examples. In all the serial killer cases the killers are hanged or given life imprisonment. But in all these cases there was no question regarding psychopathy was raised.


Crime prevention is impossible if the crime itself remains an abstract concept. The behavior and motivation of a serial killer could be diverse from other offenders and treating them in the same way as any other offenders may not be adequate. Every strategy the society conceives about crime prevention, detection and treatment of the offender should be rethought when it comes to the case of serial killers. Any actions on this foray will be impossible without substantial knowledge of these extreme human beings.

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