Deadly Motives: The Hedonistic Drive of Serial Murder

Deadly Motives: The Hedonistic Drive of Serial Murder

There are several motives that drive serial killing as far as experts are concerned. Some are driven by missions such as ridding the world of what they perceive as a sin, or because they think they’re a higher being. Others are motivated by power or control over their victims while others seek a comfortable life or financial gain.

The media – and general public – tend to be more fascinated by serial killers who are motivated through a sense of ‘need’. Some refer to them as Hedonistic killers. These people are driven by urges that makes the act of killing pleasurable, such as lust, comfort and thrill-seeking. I’ve written about a couple of these myself, and here is what I’ve learned in my research.

What separates lust from thrill-seeking is that lust killings are related to sexual pleasure. There’s a fetish attached to some part of the ritual; deviant behavior that provides sexual stimulation and release through the acts of violence and murder. There are people who kill so that they can engage in necrophilia, those who require the act of killing to achieve orgasm, and those who are turned on by the violence and struggle leading up to death. The weapons used will demand close proximity, like knives or bare hands. This is the serial killer we see most in fiction, probably because of the twisting of behavior many of us associate with love and affection.  Jeffrey Dahmer was a lust killer, as was Ted Bundy. According to Wikipedia, one of the Hillside Stranglers would mix up the race and age of his victims according to the level of stimulation he required. That stimulation can be more and more difficult to replicate, which can often account the killer escalating and decreasing the amount of time between victims.

Thrill-seekers are not in it for sexual gratification, but for the rush they get out of planning and committing their crimes. They don’t drag out the process, nor do they seem to spend a lot picking their victims. Many times the crime is spontaneous, though the killer will sometimes follow potential victims of a period of time. In media we’ve seen this type portrayed as a hunter setting his prey loose in the woods to be tracked and executed like game. The pleasure isn’t sexual, but is connected to the power and control of taking a life. The Zodiac Killer was a thrill-seeker who wrote in one of his letters that the rush of killing was even better than sex.

Comfort killers are often portrayed as female. These are the ‘Black Widows’ of the group, and they are by no means exclusively women. Men also kill for money or to elevate themselves. The thing about this category is that many times they kill people close to them, even family members. Often times these kinds of killers will wait long periods of time between victims so as not to attract attention. They tend to use methods of killing that will be undetected or deemed an accident, such as poison, or allergies. What needs to be remembered is that in order to be classified as a serial killer, the comfort killer must kill more than one person. An exception to this is Felix Vail who, according to a Wikipedia article, is a ‘suspected’ serial killer. Authorities believe he drowned his wife after taking out two insurance policies on her. He is believed to be linked to the disappearances of two other women – a previous girlfriend and his second wife.

It’s easy to see why so many people are fascinated with serial killers just from this small sampling. What goes into taking an ordinary need or desire and twisting it so that it becomes an urge to kill? These killers might share a common classification, but the experience that went into making them what they became is uniquely different for each. But beyond that, what is it about these killers that made them killers? Most of us could experience the same situations, tragedies and stimuli as children and not have it affect us. Why was Thomas Hardy, as a young person, able to witness the hanging of a woman, see her face and body outlined beneath the rain dampened cloth that covered both, and be inspired by this ‘extraordinary’ sight (he wrote about the fine figure she made silhouetted against the sky) to write a masterpiece of English literature, while Anatoly Slivko, a Russian man spent years molesting and killing young men in an attempt to recreate an accidental death he witnessed in his twenties that sexually aroused him?

That’s the sort of question that fascinates me and other thriller writers, and it’s the kind of question that obviously fascinates readers as well, as we keep coming back to books about people driven to kill.


Kate Kessler is a former juvenile delinquent who grew up in a north-east rural town where sorrows and celebrations are shared, and secrets are hard to keep — especially if they belong to someone else.

She began reading Nancy Drew mysteries and graduated to Sidney Sheldon’s intrigue-fueled thrillers by age eleven. She was writing her own books by age 12.

A peculiar addiction to soap operas at a young age, and an overblown sense of curiosity often resulted in landing her in trouble, an affliction that continued into her teens.

These days, however, she prefers to write about trouble rather than jump head first into it. Kate also spends far too much time trying to figure out why people do the things they do, and shopping for shoes.

She lives in New England with her patient and supportive husband and four cats, who provide all the external drama her life needs.
Check out her website for more info!

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