SPOT THE SERIAL KILLER: Five Key Traits Criminologists Say Most Notorious Murderers Have in Common

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 9.59.12 AMBetter start checking who you hang out with.

The first recorded serial killers date back to the Roman Empire when a group of matrons were said to have poisoned men using a deadly ring.

Today, thanks to modern technology, psychologists and criminologists have defined and identified what makes a person commit such cold-blooded murders again and again .

Working with Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University, Real Crime magazine has highlighted five key characteristics of serial killers…


‘Serial killers typically have a real affinity with power, even when they’ve been caught and know the game is up,’ explained the experts.

‘Intent on exerting some kind of control over the people around them, they often hold back bits of crucial information in a bid to maintain power over the situation, gain attention and assert a warped sense of authority.’

Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer who was convicted of killing five children with accomplice Myra Hindley between 1963 and 1965, withheld the location of victim Keith Bennett’s body from police which many believe was to assert power and control.


‘Apparent vulnerability and the need to please have been used effectively time and time again by serial killers as a way of hiding a sinister personality,’ continued the experts.

‘Some of the world’s best known serial killers have a frightening ability to manipulate those around them, pressing the right buttons in order to present themselves in a false light.’

‘Serial killers are also often able to manipulate a situation in order to pass the blame for their actions, using hot-button issues of the day or medical psychological research to try to explain their actions.’

Doctor Harold Shipman, for example, used his position as a medical expert to manipulate his patients into treatments that ultimately killed them while posing as a caring member of society.


Elsewhere, Real Crime and Dr Yardley said: ‘Egoistical serial killers often can’t help but brag about the atrocities they’ve committed, whether it’s aimed at their accomplices, the next victim, law enforcement, or just themselves.

‘Take Brady and Hindley for example. They revisited the burial sites on Saddleworth Moor often, taking ghoulish trophy shots of the desolate landscape as a memento of their horrendous crimes.

‘Of course, these helped incriminate the pair and lead the police to the three bodies eventually found on the Moor.’

Convicted British serial killer Trevor Hardy, dubbed Beast of Manchester for his murders of teenage girls in the 1970s, bragged about one murder to his younger brother which led to his arrest.


’Serial killers tend to have a very good grasp of other people’s emotions and are quick to pick up on any vulnerability or weakness in order to convince them into doing things they normally wouldn’t,’ added Dr Yardley.

‘They’ll get others on side and take charge of a situation with a mix of compliments and common sense.’

One example of such a ‘superficial charmer’ is Ted Bundy.

Shortly before his execution in 1989, serial killer Bundy confessed to 30 murders in seven states between 1974 and 1978, although it is thought he killed many more.

He raped and kidnapped woman after winning their trust, either by feigning disability using fake slings or casts, or pretending to be a policeman or person of authority.

He was often described as charming, charismatic and handsome.


Meanwhile, Real Crime continued: ‘Possibly the scariest trait of all, many serial killers look like a pillar of the community on first sight.

‘However it’s a way of gaining trust, only to abuse it in the most appalling ways. This tactic has enabled many to get away with a lot of deviant stuff behind closed doors.’

Fred and Rose West, for example, appeared to be part of an everyday family.

Between 1967 and 1987, the pair tortured and raped young women and girls, killing at least 12 including family members, and burying some in their garden.

They lived in a residential street in Gloucester, in the UK.

In the US, Wayne Gacy, nicknamed ‘Killer Clown’ was politically active in his Chicago suburb and worked hard for the local community, even performing at parties and events as a ‘Pogo’ the clown.

In private, he raped and murdered teenage boys, burying their remains on the grounds of his house.

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