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Old 02-15-2007, 12:32 PM
Gary Dee Gary Dee is offline
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Arrow Six common misconceptions about serial killers

Society is rife with misconceptions, or myths, about serial killing and the killers themselves. Everyone has an opinion on the subject, and most of those opinions can be said to stem from popular culture. Serial killing is a very big industry (Egger, 2002). Unfortunately, however, the industry isn’t so much concerned with truth and accuracy as it is with selling the ideas for as much as possible. As a result, most of what we like to believe we know about serial murder is inaccurate.

Steven Egger, in The Killers Among Us (2002), identifies “six major myths about serial killers” that “are ingrained in the public’s understanding of serial murder” (p. 13). Those common myths are:

• All serial killers had terrible childhoods, were beaten by their parents, and were sexually abused.
• Serial killers are “mutants from hell,” who do not resemble the average person in appearance and mannerisms.
• Serial killers prey on anyone who crosses their path and spend no time at all selecting their victims.
• Serial killers have an uncanny ability to elude the police for long periods of time.
• The serial killer fits the profile of a sex-starved man beast, driven to kill because of a horrible childhood, and the way society has treated him. He has had an unusual relationship with his mother. He travels alone across large geographic areas of the country and has an in-depth knowledge of police criminal investigative procedures, which allows him to elude local, state and federal law enforcement. He is an insane and cowardly maniac who preys on the weak and helpless.
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates all serial murderers because most of them cross state lines. (Egger, 2002, p. 13).
As experience has shown, these myths are wrong for many reasons, however, one reason that stands out for me is that the majority of these myths stem from society overlooking one simple fact. Serial killers aren’t a collective, they, like everyone else, are individuals. They have lived their own lives, have had their own experiences, think their own thoughts; they do not fit a mold.

The first myth, that all serial killers had terrible childhoods complete with some form of abuse, is simply not true. It may be true that many serial killers had rough childhoods, but to say that all did is an overgeneralization. There is no indication, for instance, that Theodore “Ted” Bundy had a bad childhood. According to Egger (2002), Ted “had a paper route, was a member of the Boy Scouts and was active” in the church (p. 164). All reports indicate that, despite a strained relationship with his stepfather and a few oddities surrounding his parentage, Bundy had a normal, everyday childhood. Yet he is an infamous serial killer, despite his lack of fitting the first misconception.

The second myth, that “serial killers are ‘mutants from hell and do not resemble the average person n appearance or mannerisms” is, likewise, false (Egger, 2002. p. 13). Serial murder investigation would undoubtedly be a breeze if this were true. But as it is, there simply is no way to ascertain upon appearance and mannerisms who is and who is not a serial murderer. They look like the average person, they get married, have children, hold jobs and friends; by all appearances they are normal. What sets them apart is the atrocities they have committed, the often obscure reasons they have for their actions and a lack of remorse for said acts (Egger, 2002).

Contrary to popular belief, serial killers do not prey on just anyone. They often put a lot of thought and consideration into choosing their victims. While there are more vulnerable victims- single women, the homeless prostitutes, homosexuals, etc- that in no way means they are the only victims or that they are chosen simply because they were “there.” Serial murder erases all status lines as, at some point, someone from nearly every walk of life has become a victim. Serial killers choose victims based on their own criteria, if you will, and not just because someone was unfortunate enough to cross paths with him or her.

The fourth misconception is one we have all seen played out on the big screen time and again. The plotline is simple: serial killer murders and then eludes police force over and over through crafty deception, or some vast intelligence and the police force looks and acts like a group of bumbling idiots. Like every myth, there is a small grain of truth to this myth, but the ability of serial killers to elude police does not, in reality, come from some near superhuman power, but rather by failures in the system and in society. Linkage blindness, a lack of training and a lack of resources are all faults that can be attributed to the system, while interference with investigations, a decentralization of community and an unwillingness to get involved with the business of another can all be attributed to failures in society. Each of these failures play a significant role in the ability of serial killers to elude apprehension for long periods of time, and none of these are things the killer set into motion.

The fifth belief, that serial killers all fit a similar profile, is common. Society feels safer when they don’t have to face the realities. The “profile” makes it easier for us to ignore that which we don’t want to deal with, Serial killers are individuals, and there is no single profile. They can have the best childhoods, the best jobs, a great sex life… or they can have none of these things. Some know investigative procedures, some don’t. The idea of a single profile that all serial killers fit simply make it easier for us to deal with a frightening fact of reality; we don’t know who serial killers are and we don’t know how to stop them.

The final myth of serial killing is an important one. We believe that there is one agency, usually the FBI, which investigates serial murder. The sad fact is there is no single agency. Serial murder investigation is done department to department (Egger, 2002). The FBI may be called in to assist, but they aren’t the ringleaders of investigation into serial murders and, like everyone else, they don’t have all of the answers. Unfortunate? Yes, but true nonetheless.

The sad fact of serial murder is that we know next to nothing. Serial murderers and their victims can be anyone from anywhere. While there are slivers of truth to each of these myths, it would behoove of us to remember that these myths are exactly that… myths. We still have our work cut out for us.
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