Writing Serial Killer Thrillers (Part III)

Writing Serial Killer Thrillers (Part III)

Part III of this blog series “Writing Serial Killer Thriller’s” will cover some of the global aspects of serial killing.

Rick was a homicide detective and gained a unique perspective when he caught a serial killer in 2000. He retired from law enforcement after 26 years. He earned two Masters Degrees and became a professor of Criminal Justice. He has developed and taught a course titled Serial Killers the Global Perspective. He is the author of the Detective Jack Murphy thriller series.

As I said in Part I of this blog topic, I can’t teach you how to write. I can only tell you what I have learned about serial killers and share my own style(s) of writing serial killer thriller novels.

Global Perspectives of Serial Killing:

A World Atlas article from 2018 claims the U.S. has 67% of all the serial killers in the world. The definition of serial is different from country to country.

United States Serial Killer Definition: A serial killer is any person or persons who

  • Premeditatively murders three or more victims,
  • Victims are unknown to the killer,
  • There is a ‘cooling off’ period between murders.
  • The cooling off period can be hours, days, weeks or years.
  • This differentiates them from mass or spree killers.

Global Definition of Serial Killer:  The definition recognized in the United States is often contradictory to the profiles created by law enforcement in other countries.

  • The number of people killed are not limited. There can be 1 or 600 or more.
  • The ‘cooling off’ period is not required.
  • Mass murders and spree murders may be considered serial killing.
  • There does not need to be a ‘signature’ or methodology in the manner of killing. In other words some may be strangled, others shot or stabbed, some dismembered.
  • The victims can be known or unknown to the killer


Given the history of atrocious murders and genocide worldwide, the term “serial killer” is a relatively new concept. The term was coined by FBI Investigators Robert Ressler and John Douglas in the 1970s. In 1996 the accepted definition of serial killer was adopted by the United States (but not completely by other countries).

Murder has always been among us. The Old Testament in the Bible says Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother, Abel, because he was enraged that God had accepted Abel’s offering in preference to his own.

This doesn’t qualify for serial killing under today’s definition, but in some countries any killings, depending on the horrific details and/or fear instilled in the public will raise the killing to the level of a serial killer.

50 BC Ancient Sri Lanka: There are instances of what we consider serial killing in every nationality.  Serial murder can be traced back to 50 BC the Anula Anuradhapura of the Anuradhapura Kingdom (Ancient Sri Lanka), who poisoned her son and four husbands to become queen. The motive wasn’t sexual but power and greed.

5th Century AD, Himyarite Kingdom (Ancient Yemen), Dhu Shanatir lured royal born boys to his home, sodomized them and threw them out a window to die. Thought to be 100 or more victims.  Sexual motive.

1432 France, Gilles de Rais, a French nobleman tortured, raped and murdered over 140 children. He had accomplices. Estimated as many as 600 murder victims among the group. Motive: Sexual.

1566 Holy Roman Empire (Germany), Peter Niers was a bandit leader who confessed (under torture) to killing 544 people including 24 women and the use of their unborn children for Black Magic. Motive: Power.

Late 1400s, Ayrshire, Scotland, Sawney Beane was a cave-dwelling Scot the married and raised an offspring of inbred cannibals and killers estimated to number in the 40s. These lived entirely in a cave along the coast. He supported his large family by attacking, robbing and kidnapping travelers and bringing the victims home for a family dinner. They were all cannibals. The high protein diet of human flesh helped the clan flourish and produce even more Beane babies. The estimate of murders committed by Sawney and his brood is between 1000 and 1500 victims. Motive cannibalism/vampirism.

16th Century, Germany’s famous werewolf was Peter Stubb, reportedly completed a pact with the devil, donned a wolf skin belt, and was able to change when he wanted to kill. He murdered and cannibalized 13 children, two pregnant women and his own son (that he had fathered with his daughter.)

1983 to 1998, Nottinghamshire, England, Dr. Harold Shipman killed 250 victims of who 80% were elderly and women. He overdosed them after changing their wills. Motive: financial gain.

1988 to 1989, Otaku Japan, Tsutomu Miyazaki dubbed The Little Girl Murdererwas active a short period between 1988 and 1989. He kidnapped, mutilated, sexually molested and drank the blood of four girls aged four to seven years old. He ate parts of the bodies and sexually molested the corpses. He wrote letters to the victim’s family describing what he’d done to their children. Motive: cannibalism, vampirism

Russia: Cannibalism

From 1978 to 1990, Rostov-na-Donu: Andrei Chikatilo, The Russian Ripper, traveled rail stations and bus depots around Rostov-na-Donu in Soviet Russia where he met and kidnapped 14 young girls, 21 boys and 18 women. His older brother had been kidnapped and cannibalized during the Ukraine famine in 1930. He was only arrested once during the time period he committed the crimes. In 1984 he was arrested for theft but was released because he was a member in good standing of the Communist Party and a Party Member could not have committed such an atrocity.

The Russian Ripper stalked his victims around train and bus stations on his way to and from work. He would stab his victims (50 to 70 times), stab their eyes, mutilate the body by disemboweling. He would chew off the female victims nipples and sometimes cut out the uterus to eat. He was a known pedophile but a good party member. His case led to the making of the movie, “Citizen X.” He was executed in 1994 by a bullet to the back of the head.

The idea of evil and monsters can be traced back to early civilization. Explanations for mass murders, horrifying murders, were derived from demonology. The very existence of good and evil means there are gods and devils. Mental illness was viewed as a form of possession where a human was controlled by an evil spirit. The Catholic church has used exorcism to banish demons from humans. We no longer believe in exorcism so we use capital punishment.

Wrap up:

The idea of sexual fetish as evil has existed for ages but even today there are discrete groups that practice hemotolagnia—bloodlust. These people are aroused by the sight, smell and taste of blood. Check out one of their chat rooms on the Internet. Just type in hemotolagnia.

A serial killer in one country may be a cannibal or a mass murderer in another. The definition of the crime, or the label attached to the act, may be different from country to country. The motivation for the murder(s) may be impulse, greed, sexual, demonic possession, insanity, attention seeking, or other reasons. But the killings are what matters. Find the killer and stop the crime.

A question occurs to me, given the current immigration issues in the United States and the influx of immigrants including MS-13, drug cartels, etc. Do we consider murders by these groups of immigrants (legal and illegally in the U.S.) to be serial killing, mass murder, spree murder? Cultural differences? Or is there another category not yet thought of? Religious murders like during the Crusades. Genocide and war are other examples of large numbers of killings that include some of the defined parameters while lacking in others. Suicide bombings. School shootings as a terrorist act. There are others I’m sure. Not all of these murders can be chalked up to derangement or sexually motivated and some are not even premeditated.

As writers, as you research your killer you will have to determine their motivation and mindset before and after the crime. Read what you can of real killers. If you use a killer from another country be sure you research that countries ideas of killing. Read what you can of other writer’s killers. Create your own, after all it is fiction.

Happy killer writing.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.