Would you like to find out more about serial killing? It’s definitely a topic with tons of mind-blowing facts. Rest assured, you’re not alone in your fascination because, somehow, serial killer facts and the subject have become a wildly popular theme over the decades.
The topic has inspired over a dozen movies, series, documentaries, novels, and much more. Even today, you’re still likely to come across some new book, TV show, or podcast based on facts about serial killers’ minds.
You might be wondering:
Is there a pattern that we can draw from the psychological facts about serial killers?
To be sure, many people have tried to figure out what is going on in these people’s minds. And there are some extremely weird facts about serial killers, especially when it comes to the methods they used for their irrational actions.
That’s why at The High Court, we decided to dig deep and find out more about this mesmerizing topic.
Let’s crack on.
Fascinating Serial Killer Statistics (Editor’s Picks)
- Some people are attracted to serial killers.
- The FBI struggled to find a good serial killers definition.
- In 1987, there was a record number of serial killers operating in the US.
- Over the decades, the vast majority of serial killers have been men.
- The US has the highest number of serial killers.
- Ted Bundy’s article on Wikipedia had 29.4 million views in 2019.
- There are more than 2,000 active serial killers in the US.
- 40% of the time, you might get away with murder in the US.
Historically Interesting Facts About Serial Killers
You might be surprised to hear that criminologists, the FBI, and other state agencies and organizations have struggled to define a serial killer. That is because there are many serial killer facts and statistics that should be considered while framing this phenomenon.
In the US, where you’ll find out later that the number of serial killers is quite terrifyingly high, it has been challenging to differentiate and clearly define what makes a serial killer.
Let’s try to establish why.
1. Serial killing is different from mass murder.
Before we get into the topic, which is all about serial killers, let’s come up with a working definition of what serial killing or serial murder is.
Here’s the deal:
Serial killing is the unlawful homicide of at least two people carried out by one or more people, which has occurred at different times and in separate events. It should not be mistaken with mass murder, which includes several victims at the same time and place.
It may sound fairly straightforward, but this definition wasn’t easy to coin. After all, serial killers are quite an exceptional phenomenon. As a matter of fact, there are many books about serial killers’ minds, as they tend to be an inspirational topic for various scientists and authors with different backgrounds.
We’ll get there in a minute. Stay tuned for more creepy psychological facts.
2. The FBI struggled to find a good serial killers definition.
Clearly, the definition we outlined above has been the subject of heated debates among criminologists. The actual term came into everyday use in the 1970s. An FBI investigator by the name Robert Ressler is associated with the definition. According to Ressler, serial murder is a homicide that involves at least four events in different locations.
Nowadays, the number of homicides specified in the definition has gone down. The FBI also reduced the number in 1990. The reason why the FBI definition of serial killer hasn’t been accepted universally as the most adequate one is that it excludes murderers who are arrested before they can commit more murders and also those who commit serial murderers in the same location.
Numerous scholars globally were keener on the definition introduced by the National Institute of Justice, an agency of the US Department of Justice. According to that definition, as mentioned before, serial murder involves at least two different murders that occur “over a period of time ranging from hours to years.”
3. In 1987, there was a record number of serial killers operating in the US.
(Source: Serial Killer Database)
This is certainly one of the most interesting facts about murders – in this case, serial murders.
Check this out:
Following the “two or more murderers definition,” there were 189 serial killers in 1987. According to the “three or more murders definition,” the number stood at 128. That is some scary serial killers trivia.
This is why Radford University, in partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University, published a report from the Serial Killer Database. The information is meant to provide students, researchers, and teachers with exact and error-free information about serial killers and serial killer facts.
To this end, the database is continuously updated, and annual reports are published.
A little disclaimer:
These facts have been informed only by the number of serial killers who have been caught. Which means the actual number is higher and even scarier, as we’ll see shortly.
4. Serial killers have been a subject of popular novels and movies in the 20th century.
The interesting murders carried out by serial killers have been a subject of plenty of novels, a popular subgenre of crime literature by the 1980s.
In the 20th century, films inspired by serial killers also became wildly popular. Some of the most well-known are M (1931), The Devil Strikes at Night (1958), Peeping Tom (1960), Psycho (1960), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Monster (2003).
Audiences have been fascinated by such stories. Some academics and writers see it as a decline of Western, particularly American, society.
On the other hand:
Some psychiatrists argue that such stories help people distinguish between right and wrong.
Either way, there is a misconception about how common are serial killers. Serial killing accounts for less than 2% of all murders, but there is a prevailing opinion that they are much more common.
General Serial Killer Statistics
5. Over the decades, the vast majority of serial killers have been men.
(Source: Serial Killer Database)
Gender-wise, by 2010, the vast majority of serial killers in the US were men (2910), compared to 294 women serial killers. Also, slightly more than half of all serial killers in the studied range were white (51.7%).
6. Most serial killers lack an obvious rational motive.
One thing that always pops up when we discuss serial murders is the question:
Are serial killers psychopaths?
Not necessarily. It’s not like all serial murderers have the same motive. For this particular reason, criminologists have come up with different serial killers profiles.
The two types are the classic and spree serial murder. The first is characterized by stalking and is often sexually-driven. The latter is typically led by thrill-seeking.
Additionally, some serial murders have been connected with economic exchange or, simply put, profit-seeking. Normally, most murder facts show a lack of a logical base for the committed actions.
This is another point that clearly differentiates serial killings from political assassinations and terrorism as well as from professional gangster murders.
7. Most commonly, the motive of serial killers is associated with a feeling of power.
(Source: Serial Killer Database)
Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to the question of why do serial killers kill. Some are motivated by sexual compulsion and, shockingly, recreation.
Usually, the main motives are associated with a feeling of power that the murderer gains over their victims. It doesn’t have to be sexually driven, though. The victims are often women, migrants, prostitutes, children, homosexuals, and homeless people.
But that’s not all:
The main motives are what serial killers have in common. Besides enjoyment (thrill, lust, power), financial gain, and gang activity or criminal enterprise, the most common motives are:
- Avoiding arrest
Sometimes, there are multiple motives.
We’ll cover some more serial killer demographics later. But before we get there, let’s make an overview of the most important serial killer statistics.
8. The most common killing methods of serial killers are strangulation and shooting.
(Source: Serial Killer Database)
One of the crazy serial killer facts is the killing method. In order to understand more about serial killers, this could be very valuable information.
Here’s the thing:
Serial killers use a variety of killing methods, including:
- Strangulation and bludgeoning
- Strangulation and shooting
- Strangulation only
- Stabbing and shoot
- Stabbing only
- Shoot only
- Strangulation and stabbing
- Bludgeoning and shooting
- Bludgeoning and stabbing
- Bludgeoning only
The most common ones are strangulation and shooting.
9. The US has the highest number of serial killers.
(Source: Serial Killer Database, The New Yorker)
One of the most informative facts about serial killers has to do with the number of serial killers by country.
The US has the highest number of serial killers by far. By September 4, 2016, there had been as many as 3,204 of them. These numbers are truly terrifying.
Other countries have a large number of identified serial killers, but the US figure is considerably higher than any other. In the same timeframe, there had been 166 serial killers in England. South Africa and Canada follow with 100+ serial killers.
There’s more to it, though:
As mentioned earlier, these numbers include only serial killers who were caught. But what about the grand total?
Check out the next stat:
10. According to “serial-killer detector” Thomas Hargrove, there are more than 2,000 active serial killers in the US.
(Source: The New Yorker)
Since not all serial killers get caught and identified, it’s impossible to say exactly how many serial killers are unknown. Thomas Hargrove, a homicide archivist who painstakingly collected records on 751,785 murders carried out in the US since 1976, created an algorithm to track unsolved murders.
Based on this algorithm, he argued that there are as many as 2,000 active serial killers. Hargrove was also instrumental in launching the Murder Accountability Project, dedicated to tracking unsolved homicides in the US.
11. 40% of the time you might get away with murder in the US.
(Source: The Atlantic)
This shocking percentage relates to the fact that there are so many unidentified serial killers. Former police detective Michael Arntfield thinks that the number of active serial killers is even higher than that suggested by Hargrove – a mind-boggling 3,000 or 4,000. He argues that the FBI estimates are not so reliable.
He is also the author of 12 books if you’re interested in the mind of a serial killer book and some more interesting serial killer facts.
Fun Facts About Serial Killers
12. Ted Bundy’s article on Wikipedia had 29.4 million views in 2019.
Now, let’s start with the fun serial killers facts:
Fast forward to today, and according to the serial killer statistics for 2019, one of the most popular American serial killers is on the most-read Wikipedia articles of 2019 list, with close to 30 million views. His article is third, after “Avengers: Endgame” and “Deaths in 2019.”
That is one of the Ted Bundy facts that you probably didn’t expect to hear. Ted Bundy is also well-known because he had been denying the murderers for more than a decade. Finally, he confessed to 30 committed homicides. But even today, the actual number of his victims is still unknown.
13. Some people experience attraction to serial killers.
(Source: Wikipedia, Psychology Today)
Actually, there is a term for this type of attraction.
For those who are interested to know what is it called when you’re attracted to serial killers, here comes the answer:
The experience of intense sexual arousal upon being with a partner who has committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities, or crime — such as rape or murder is called hybristophilia. This is also known as the Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.
Moving on from the plain weird to the utterly horrific:
14. John Wayne Gacy, the killer of boys and young men, performed as Pogo the Clown at charitable events and children’s parties.
Some of the most notorious serial killers are the British physician Harold Shipman, who killed at least 215 people from 1975 to 1998, and Andrey Chikatilo, who killed at least 50 people in the Soviet Union from 1978 to 1990. The victims were mostly teenagers.
Also on this list is Javed Iqbal, who murdered 100 boys in Pakistan in two years (1998–99). Muḥammad Adam ʿUmar killed 16 female medical students in Yemen and 11 other women in Sudan.
Others on the creepiest serial killers list include Ted Bundy, who killed more than 25 girls and young women in the US between 1974 and 1978. Additionally, Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 boys and young men, most of them in the late 1980s.
Last but certainly not least:
John Wayne Gacy presents a strange killer exclusive case. He committed murders of boys and young men and performed as Pogo the Clown at charitable events and children’s parties.
15. Jeffrey Dahmer learned how to preserve animal parts from his father, who was a scientist.
One of the Jeffrey Dahmer fun facts is that his father, who was a scientist, taught him how to preserve animal parts. Later, he would use this knowledge to preserve the bodies of his victims in his apartment. Jeffery had an unhappy childhood and committed his first murder at the age of 18.
Key Takeaways from the Serial Killer Facts and Statistics
Serial killer facts are becoming more readily available thanks to the many institutions, organizations, and devoted individuals that are continuously gathering data. Hopefully, this treasure-trove will provide information to help track down infamous serial killers who are still on the loose.
At the same time, it feels like every other TV show is crime-related, from Midsomer Murders, which has been going strong since 1997, to Criminal Minds, which ran steadily for 15 years until finally calling it a day in February 2020.
So, you would often watch plots inspired by some scary-looking criminals. Or you would come across a list of the top 10 serial killers in the US. The topic undeniably fascinates many people, and the serial killer craze is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Q: Who is the most messed up serial killer?
There are many serial killers in the world. Throughout history, though, only several have made lasting impressions with their gruesome ways.
Here’s our list of the top 5 serial killers:
Operating during the 1970s, Ted Bundy is number one on our list. He is easily one of the most terrifying serial killers. He raped his victims and dismembered them while keeping the victims’ heads as souvenirs. He was executed in 1989.
Jeffrey Dahmer is another deranged serial killer convicted of killing 17 young men, whom he raped, dismembered, and sometimes cannibalized. He was sentenced to life in prison but was beaten to death by an inmate.
You have probably heard about Jack the Ripper, another serial killer whose true identity was never known. He appeared in 1888 in London, and he is responsible for killing five prostitutes by slitting their throats.
Harold Shipman is history’s deadliest serial killer, murdering 218 people while working as a physician. He was sentenced to life in prison but eventually committed suicide in his cell.
Known as the “Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez is responsible for killing 13 people. He would break into homes, rape, and brutally murder his victims. He was sentenced to death but died of lymphoma in prison.
Q: How many serial killers are active in the US?
Only 1% of all committed murders in the US are serial killings. The FBI defines a serial killer as a person who committed at least two separate murders. According to FBI statistics, there are around 15,000 annual murders, which means that there are approximately 150 serial murders in the US each year.
These numbers were higher during the 1970s and 1980s when some well-known serial killers like Ted Bundy, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, and John Wayne Gacy were all active.
In three decades, the killings have fallen by over 85%. This is probably due to longer prison sentences and better forensic science, meaning perpetrators are more likely to get caught.
When it comes to serial killers by state, research on which state has the most serial killers suggests Alaska is number one, with 15.6 serial killings per one million. The most notorious serial killer on the Alaska serial killers list is Robert Hansen, also known as the “Butcher Baker.” Nevada has the second-highest rate of serial killings.
Q: Who was the first serial killer?
Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as H.H. Holmes or the “Beast of Chicago,” was America’s first serial killer. He was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, on May 16, 1861.
He was a bigamist and a con man, and his life of crime began way before he became a serial killer. He started with various scams and frauds. As a medical student, he would steal corpses and use them for false insurance claims and sometimes even doing experiments on them.
He tortured and murdered his victims after luring them into his “Murder Castle.” This was a house he built for himself, which was equipped with trapdoors, secret passages, doors that could lock from the outside, gas jets to asphyxiate victims, soundproof rooms, and a kiln where he could cremate the bodies.
He killed somewhere between 20 and 200 people, mainly women. Allegedly, he first seduced the women, typically by getting engaged to them, and then murdered them after he gained and secured control of their life savings.
Q: How many people are killed by serial killers a year?
FBI data shows a rise in serial killings in the late 1960s. The numbers peaked during the 1980s. Since then, though, there has been a decline in the number. This may be due to better forensic technology, which contributes to catching the killers early, and to longer prison sentences. According to FBI statistics and serial killer facts, there are approximately 150 serial murders in the US each year.