Date of Award

Spring 4-24-2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis




This paper looks specifically at the true definition of a serial killer, attempting to clarify the misleading depiction that has come from the media influence. Twenty-one people, including infamous murderers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as more obscure killers, such as Carl Panzram, were studied in depth. Data was gathered from a variety of published sources on each convicted serial killer focusing on his/her life prior to the beginning of the killing spree. Unlike previous research on the topic, this investigation looked at a larger sample of serial killers, as well as a more complete set of personal characteristics, to determine whether a sample of serial killers share any characteristics. These common traits lend support for the idea that predispositional factors in serial killers exist and can be identified. While no single trait was found to be present in every serial killer studied, some of the predispositional factors that were found to have predictive value included: being of the male gender, being employed in a blue-collar job, and having some type of abandonment issues. Some other characteristics stereotypically associated with serial killers were not found to be reliable predictors, including: exposure to physical, mental, or sexual abuse as a child; being in his/her late twenties or early thirties; and having abused animals as a child. Future researchers and practitioners might utilize this work in hopes of building better predictive profiles of individuals with tendencies toward serial murder.