Series of murders
A series of murders in the narrower sense refers to several murders that one person, the serial killer , commits at a time interval that can be months or years. The frequency is very low compared to single murders. In a broader sense, the term series of murders also includes extremely rare phenomena, such as the leopard murders , which are not perpetrated by individual perpetrators but by communities, secret societies, the mafia and others in a targeted sequence or targeted selection with a similar goal and procedure.
Concept, definitions and delimitation
The case analyst Robert Ressler claimed in his 1992 book I hunted Hannibal Lecter to have coined the expression "serial killer", but this and similar terms were used decades earlier. The Berlin detective Ernst Gennat , who led the investigation into the case of the German serial killer Peter Kürten from 1929 to 1930 , used the term “serial murderer” in his 1930 essay Die Düsseldorfer Sexualverbrechen for the then unknown perpetrator. The American criminologist James Reinhardt used the term "chain killer" in his work Sex Perversions and Sex Crimes (1957) and the Irish author John Brophy used the expression "serial murder" in 1966 his book The Meaning of Murder . Ressler is acknowledged, however, to have popularized the term from the mid-1970s.
There are different definitions for the terms “serial murder” and “serial murderer”, but in German-speaking countries there is no legal definition due to a lack of legal quality . The definitions of terms used in teaching and research as well as by law enforcement officers vary with regard to the number of murders required, the length of time between the acts and the motivation of the perpetrator. The US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) uses the following definition from 1988: “A series of two or more murders that are committed as separate events and mostly, but not always, by a lone perpetrator. The crimes can occur over a period of hours to years. The motive is often psychological in nature, and the behavior of the perpetrator and the physical evidence at the crime scene have sadistic, sexual undertones. "
The FBI defines serial murder in its Crime Classification Manual , published in 1992, as "three or more independent events that take place in different locations and are characterized by the perpetrator's emotional cooling between the individual acts." The cooling off period could last days, weeks or months. One of the criticisms of this definition was that it did not include murderers like John Wayne Gacy or Dean Corll - despite the high number of victims and the time lag between the acts - because they had mostly murdered their victims at the same crime scene. A later definition by the FBI allows a smaller number of acts to be sufficient, dispenses with the criterion of different crime scenes and describes the serial murder as "... the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender (s), in separate events." ("... the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same (or the same) offender in separate events.")
In the specialist literature, the serial killer is predominantly defined as a person who murders at least three people at intervals. Stephan Harbort defines him as a fully or partially culpable offender who, on his own or jointly responsible, commits at least three completed willful homicides, each of which is characterized by a new, hostile decision to act.
Before the term serial murder became established, multiple murders were usually referred to as mass murder without differentiation . According to the prevailing opinion today, however, this is characterized by the fact that the perpetrator - z. B. during a rampage - kills several people at the same time in one place or near it. The Spree Killer , also known as the intoxicating killer , can also be distinguished from the serial killer , killing several people in two or more locations without any cooling off periods between the acts.
Serial murder is not a modern phenomenon. The Roman poisoner Lucusta , who is said to have been involved in the murder of Emperor Claudius in the first century AD , is considered to be the first recorded case of a female serial killer. Known serial killers of the Middle Ages included the assassins in the Middle East and the members of the Indian Thuggee . In Europe, Gilles de Rais was hanged in 1440 for the murder of over 100 children.
The Hungarian Countess Elisabeth Báthory , who is estimated to have tortured and murdered up to 650 young women at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries , was also sentenced to death . Jack the Ripper , who killed several prostitutes in the East End of London in the 19th century, was the first serial killer to create a worldwide media hype with his crimes and his interaction with the press. He is considered the most notorious serial killer in the world and has been the subject of numerous researches, conspiracy theories and processing in art due to his identity that has never been clarified.
In the German-speaking world, serial killers like Peter Kürten (“The Vampire of Düsseldorf”) and Fritz Haarmann (“The Butcher of Hanover”) as well as the alleged serial offender Jack Unterweger from Austria made headlines in the 20th century . However, 76 percent of all known serial killers of the 20th century came from the United States, including Ted Bundy , David Berkowitz and Aileen Wuornos .
Crime investigation and fight
When looking for serial killers, the investigating criminal police are often supported by case analysts who reconstruct the course of the crime , evaluate the serial killer's behavior and create perpetrator profiles. According to Stephan Harbort, the first perpetrator profile in the history of Ernst Gennat was developed in the case of Peter Kürten and published on April 8, 1930 in the Deutsches Kriminalpolizeiblatt . In the USA, the New York psychiatrist James A. Brussel , who was involved in the investigation into the case of the "Boston Strangler" Albert Henry DeSalvo in the 1960s , was one of the pioneers of "profiling".
From the 1970s onwards, FBI agents Robert Ressler and John E. Douglas began systematically researching series of murders, interviewing over 50 imprisoned serial killers and felons. The results of these surveys helped to create further perpetrator profiles and led to new search methods such as computer-based recording and comparison of unsolved cases. In the 1980s, the FBI established the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), which includes the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) and the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), and whose profilers support the search for violent criminals who are difficult to identify .
European police authorities made isolated use of the FBI's profiling service as early as the 1980s. In the 1990s, European police officers received further training from the US authorities and eventually adopted their profiling methods themselves. In Austria, the psychologist Thomas Müller set up the criminal psychology service in the Ministry of the Interior, which evaluated sex murders from two decades and showed that the techniques of the FBI are also applicable to European serial offenders. In Germany, the operational case analysis is carried out by the BKA and the state criminal investigation offices. Well-known German profilers are, for example, Axel Petermann and Alexander Horn . In order to be able to identify serial murders, the offices use data analysis systems such as the internationally recognized ViCLAS , in which homicides and sexual offenses are recorded. By comparing the stored case characteristics, case analysts can uncover connections between different criminal acts of violence.
Typology of offenders and motivation
Serial killers kill for different reasons. Holmes & Holmes (2009) differ depending on the subject four serial killer types: the visionary (visionary) , the mission-oriented (mission-oriented) , the hedonistic (hedonistic) and the powerless, control-oriented (power / control) serial killer. The visionary serial killer is usually psychotic and kills because of visions or because voices command him to act. An example of this type of offender is Herbert Mullin , who heard voices telling him that he had to kill to save the people of California from an impending earthquake. The mission-oriented serial killer kills his victims because they meet a certain profile (e.g. working as prostitutes) and believes they are in the role of an enforcer with the personal task of eliminating this group of people that they consider to be “harmful” or “dangerous” . The hedonistic killer kills out of a lust for murder and a thrill. He enjoys watching the agony of his dying victim, and his actions usually have a strong sexual component. The power-oriented serial killer is primarily concerned with keeping control of life and death in his hands. Gainesville ripper Danny Rolling is an example of this type of serial killer .
In the case of sexually motivated homicides, the FBI differentiates between the planning ("organized") and the non-planning ("disorganized") serial killer. Based on certain characteristics of the crime scene and the course of events, the FBI draws conclusions about the personality and lifestyle of the perpetrator.
In contrast to individual homicides, which can often be seen as acts of a relationship (e.g. affecting an argument), serial acts are more difficult to understand because there was usually no predelictic relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. In Germany, according to Stephan Harbort, the serial killer is moderately to average intelligent and usually looks for victims from his living area within a radius of 30 km.
Among other things, neurological brain damage, early childhood psychological injuries as well as familial coldness, violence and alcoholism are seen as possible factors for these acts. In the case of sadistic multiple murderers , the fantasy plays a role as the motive for the crime and for the concrete and detailed design of the crime. During the act, the perpetrator follows the thread of the plot developed in the imagination. The murder can be lived through several times in retrospect, which provides temporary satisfaction. Over time there is an emotional cooling and a new act.
Evolutionary psychology and anthropology take a different approach to explaining serial killings . For example, David Buss or Elliott Leyton explain such acts as a result of a lack of social success and the social status of serial killers; Buss mentions Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Starkweather as examples . According to this declaration, the perpetrators retaliate for their social failure and try to gain a notorious reputation with these acts.
A special motivation is the serial murder of particularly needy or defenseless people in hospitals and old people's homes, which is committed in some cases for reasons such as excessive demands or the desire to exercise power, even if pity plays a role in the decision to act.
The phenomenon of serial murder in Germany was studied by Stephan Harbort for the period 1945 to 1995. According to this study, all serial killers in Germany committed 453 single homicides during this period. 54 men and 7 women were convicted of serial killers; internationally, the proportion of women is estimated at one sixth. Sexually motivated acts were investigated to 56%. 79 murders, assigned to 21 series of murders, remained unresolved. The study showed an increase of about 63% in the number of serial kills between 1986 and 1995 compared to the ten years before. In almost 80% of the cases there was no victim-perpetrator relationship, in 27% of the cases the perpetrator was under the influence of drugs ( alcohol or narcotics ). Sex killers were 95% and otherwise motivated serial killers 61%. 58% of the crime scenes were located in large cities, the radius of the individual acts of a series of murders was less than 30 km in 68% of the cases and less than 10 km in 40% of the cases.
In the further period up to the year 2000, 22 sexually motivated serial killers and 54 serial robberies were caught in Germany. 8.4% of all robbery and sex murders were committed by serial offenders. In their environment they are usually inconspicuous and socially adapted. According to Harbort, serial robberies are caught on average after 3¼ years and 89% of the cases were previously criminalized. Many serial sexual killers live in big cities, are between 16 and 36 years old, single or divorced, childless and are caught on average after 4½ years. Of the sexually motivated serial killers, 82% have abnormal sexual behavior, such as B. fetishism , and have often been previously recorded for sexual offenses.
The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime determined a total of 331 serial killers in the United States from 1977 to April 1992.
The public perception of serial killings and perpetrators is shaped by various media. In addition to reports in newspapers and television, the topic is also dealt with in numerous series (e.g. The Following , Dexter or Mindhunter ) and films such as The Silence of the Lambs or Seven .
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