Serial killers hold the fascination of the public, whether in true crime news accounts of individuals such as Ted Bundy or fictional depictions such as the television shows Dexter and Criminal Minds or popular movies such as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “Silence of the Lambs.” Serial killers seem so purely predatory and unremorseful that our society cannot help but display a macabre interest in them. Although they account for no more than 1% of the approximately 15,000 homicides in the U.S. annually, serial killers receive a disproportionate amount of media attention due to the incomprehensible savagery of their deeds.
Significantly, serial killers differ from mass murderers or spree murderers. A mass murder can be defined as the killing of multiple people at a single location where the victims may be either randomly selected or targeted. A mass murderer is often killed at the scene of the crime; sometimes by his/her own hand. A spree murder is the killing of multiple people at different locations over a short period of time (the maximum duration is usually 7 days). The killer in spree murders often but not always knows his/her victims, and most often targets family members or romantic partners.
I use the following list of behavioral criteria to define serial homicide for the purposes of my research:
1. At least three murdered victims.
2. The murders take place in separate events, at different times.
3. The killer experiences an emotional cooling off period between murders.
The key distinction between serial killers and mass or spree killers is this emotional cooling off period in which the killer blends back into his/her seemingly normal life. The predator reemerges to strike again when the urge to kill becomes overwhelming. The duration of the cooling off period can vary from weeks to months or even years, and varies by killer. Dennis Rader or “Bind, Torture, Kill” (BTK) had 10 known victims over nearly 30 years!
There is some disagreement over the serial killer definition, mostly about the number of killings required. There is also debate as to whether organized crime hit-men should be considered serial killers. Doc Bonn argues that they are not serial killers because their motivation is purely business and their killings fulfill no emotional needs. Serial killers are driven to murder by urges and fantasies that they frequently do not comprehend.
Doc Bonn’s Research
Doc Bonn is currently researching and writing a popular book on the public’s fascination with serial killers titled, “Why We Love Serial Killers,” published by Skyhorse Press for release in 2014. This book examines the social processes through which serial killers often become morbid pop culture celebrities. The book seeks to answer the following:
- What are the roles of the popular media, state officials and the killers themselves in the social construction of serial killers’ public identities?
- Why are so many people fascinated with serial killers?
- What social-psychological needs do serial killers fulfill for the public?
In order to help answer these questions, Doc Bonn is exploring the mysterious, psychopathic criminal minds of infamous serial killers. Ironically, and perhaps shockingly, this book proposes that serial killers may actually serve a function in society by clarifying the meaning of “evil” and setting moral boundaries—that is, by helping to establish the outer limits of what one human being can do to others.
Doc Bonn believes that it is quite natural for people to be fascinated by why serial killers commit their murders and for their grizzly exploits to become media spectacles. Let us know what you think about this topic.
Dr. Scott Bonn PhD
Dr. Scott Bonn (“Doc Bonn”) is Professor of Criminology, media expert and analyst, public speaker and author. He is an expert on criminal behavior and the motivations of criminals. He offers insights into various types of crime, including white-collar, state crime, bullying, domestic violence, sexual assault and serial homicide. His expert commentary frequently appears in the popular news media.
Doc Bonn is the author of “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq,” a critically acclaimed book on war crime and terrorism from Rutgers University Press (2010). His latest book is on the public’s fascination with serial killers in which he offers insights into the minds of infamous predators and explains how and why serial killers are often transformed into ghoulish popular culture celebrities by the media. Titled “Why We Love Serial Killers” the book is published by Skyhorse Press and released in October, 2014.
Professor Bonn is not your average academic. He combines the knowledge and skills of an academic scholar with more than twenty years of senior-level corporate experience in advertising and news and entertainment media. As such, he has unique insights into the public’s attitudes and beliefs, how they are shaped, and the agenda-setting powers of political leaders and the news media.
Doc Bonn has developed a unique, integrated, and interdisciplinary theory called “critical communication” to explain how state officials and the news media actually shape public opinion on complex issues such as homicide, capital punishment, drugs, abortion and terrorism.
Doc Bonn received a doctorate in sociology (criminology) at the University of Miami, FL, and a masters degree in criminal justice administration at San Jose State University. He teaches courses in criminology, sociology of deviance, media and crime, and criminal justice. His primary research interests include white-collar crime, state crime, domestic violence, serial homicide and how the media influence society.
Prior to his academic career, Bonn held high-ranking corporate positions such as Vice President at NBC Television Network, and Executive Vice President at SonicNet, a leading music website, now a part of MTV Networks. He resides in Manhattan, New York.