Impulse vs. Planned: The Mind of a Serial Killer
The mind of a serial killer is possibly the most fascinating study in the field of psychology; it has been dissected and analyzed by many involved with psychology. Even most prestigious and experienced psychologists have attempted to understand the cogs of such a complicated machine. The mind of these killers is so complex and convoluted that logic fits nowhere in the equation, in fact those who study the mind of one of humanity’s most dangerous creatures have to suspend reality if they wish to even scratch the surface.

Serial killers seem to face an irresistible urge to kill the innocent and prey on the helpless. Where does this urge come from, and why is so powerful? Do we experience the same urges as these complex killers, but chose to exile the thoughts to our sub-conscious or do we never have the ability to put ourselves in the place of a serial killers? If we all experienced this urge, would we be able to resist?

Is it genetic, hormonal, biological, or cultural conditioning? Can the right environment prevent the creation of these vile killers or are serial-killers born to kill. Do serial killers have any control over their desires? We all experience rage and inappropriate sexual instincts, yet we seem to have some sort of barrier that keeps our inner monsters locked up. Call it morality or social programming; these internal blockades have long since been absent in the mind of a serial killer. Not only have they let loose the monster within, they are virtual slaves to its beastly appetites.

What sets them apart? Is it impossible to understand the mind of a serial killer unless we can view the world from their perspective? Do they understand that their actions are immoral, or do they see it all as normal?

They must be insane — what normal person could slaughter another human, for the sheer pleasure of it? These are only some of the questions that surround man’s most intriguing mind, many of them remain – and may forever remain – unanswered. But, we can attempt to explain how these humans function by observing the consistent behavior that exist among them.

There are many proposed factors that lead to the shaping of a serial killer. Many believe that serial killers result from a combination of psychological abnormalities, bad upbringings and violent influences. Psychologists document consistencies among killers, such as a lack of a father-figure, pro-longed wet-bedding, an abnormal longing for violence as a child and brain injuries, but it is most interesting to observe what sets serial killers apart.

There are many factors that shape the actions of a serial killer, whether it is how he kills his victims, who his victims are, when he commits the vicious crimes and the killer’s state of mind during the act, but one of – if not the – most influential aspect of the way a killer conducts himself is something that all human-beings possess – intelligence.

The popular belief is that most – if not all – serial killers are abnormally intelligent, possessing IQs above 125, however there are many documented serial killers that have below-average IQs. The delineation that results from intelligence amongst serial killers is organized versus unorganized.

Characteristics of an Organized Serial Killer:

  • High Intelligence
    • High IQ (110-130)
  • Plan their crimes methodically
  • Abduct victims
  • Dispose of the bodies effieciently and far away from crime-scene
  • Specifically target prostitutes or victims who are likely to comply
  • Maintain a high-degree of control over the crime-scene and all aspects of their killings
  • Have good knowledge of forensic science (enabling them to cover their tracks)
  • Follow their crimes closely in the media
  • Take pride in their actions
  • Socially adequate has multiple friends and lovers (often even a spouse and children)
  • Described as "nice guys that wouldn't hurt a fly"
  • Very adept at manipulating people and gaining their trust
  • Preferred skill work and sexually competent
  • High birth order status, but lacked discipline from parents
  • Control their mood during the crime and alchohol is often involved

Characterisitcs of an Unorganized Serial Killer:
  • Low intelligence
    • Below-average IQ (80-95)
  • Commit their crimes impulsively
  • Murder victims when the opportunity arises without planning
  • Rarely bother to dispose of the body
  • Carry out "blitz" attacks leaping out and attacking victims without warning
  • Carry out rituals on the body after it is dead (necrophilia, mutalism)
  • Rarely bother to cover their tracks
  • Socially inadqeuate
    • Have few friends and are isolated for the most part
  • Sexually incompetent
  • History of mental problems
  • Described as "creepy" and/or "weird"
  • May block out memories of the killings
  • Very anxious while committing the crimes
  • Often commit crimes close to where they live
  • Not interested in the media coverage of their crimes

The Breakdown
Organized serial killers are meticulous about their killings, they plan them out, fantasize about them, take pride in their success, often take their victims prisoner and torture and/or rape them. Organized serial killers obsess over their killings, it almost becomes like a job to them. They also treat it like a game because they take pride in outsmarting the authorities and their victims. Intelligent serial killers are very adept and have an inate ability to convince those around them that they are completely innocent, and are often successful in other aspects of life.

Unorganized serial killers do not put a lot of planning into their killings, they are based almost entirely on impulse and emotional imbalances. These killers do not choose their victims for any particular reason, they tend to just kill because they get an urge. They are usually unsuccessful in other aspects of life and are often socially inept.

One could make argument that unorganized serial killers are more sane than organized killers because they commit their crimes as a result of impulse and don't put much thought into the crimes. These killers have less control over their situation and are often unaware of what they are doing. They are more apt to feel guilt towards their victims and do not try to justify their actions. Organized serial killers are more aware of what they are doing, they are under-control, they plan what they're doing and feel little to no guilt as a result of their actions.

Examples of Organized Serial Killers:

The Zodiac Killer

Ted Bundy

Dennis "The BTK Killer" Rader

Examples of Unorganized Serial Killers:

Ottis Toole

Derrick Todd Lee

Three Men, One Hammer


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Hunter, Chris R. "In the Mind of a Serial Killer" Bryn Mawr College Excerpts (2002): Web. 23 March 2010

Martin, Skye C. "Organized versus Disorganized Killers" Helium Excerpts (2006): Web. 23 March 2010

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