serial killers, why we love serial killers

Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos also known as the “Damsel of Death.” 

The Zodiac Killer,

The Green River Killer,

The Night Stalker,


The Boston Strangler,

Son of Sam,

So many serial murderers we recognize by name or nickname,

And all of them American as apple pie,

Two-thirds of all serial killers since 1900 have been American and many of them have made the list of famous serial killers.  Through November 2015, the Radford University Serial Killer DataBase documents a whopping 2,743 US serial killers.  The next highest country, England, boasts a mere 145.  Think of it:  The US out-produced its nearest competitor by nearly 200%.  If this were an economic indicator, we’d be cheering.   

Who are these American serial killers and why have they become so popular?   They are 93% male (no surprise there), 51% White, 40% Black, and 6% Hispanic, with Asians and Native Americans each numbering less than a percent. 

 Despite the stereotype of the white male killer, minorities are making some inroads.  After all, America is the land of opportunity.

We’re not content merely to produce serial killers in the US.  We bring them to the big Hollywood screen as well as documentaries about real-life serial killers.  John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo, Henry Lee Lucas, Aileen Wuornos, and the (still uncaptured) Zodiac Killer have all been movie and documentary subjects.  And despite a plethora of real-life serials to enthrall us, Hollywood adds fictional killers to keep us mesmerized.  American Psycho Patrick Bateman, Ghostface, Jigsaw, Leatherface, Buffalo Bill, Hannibal Lecter, and good old Norman Bates, to name a few, have kept terror alive at the cinema. Both real-life and fictional serial killers have furnished some juicy roles for actors.  Anthony Hopkins and Charlize Theron garnered Oscars for their performances as serials, and even Tony Curtis had his chance to chew up the scenery as DeSalvo.  Serial killer movies and documentaries are Hollywood box office gold.

Why is serial murder such an all-American passion?

Why are people obsessed with watching movies and documentaries about serial killers? 

As I described in an earlier post 5 Things You Need to Know about Serial Killers , serial killers pique our curiosity and send our adrenalin surging. We crave a solution to the puzzle of what drives them. We want to witness the epic battle of good against evil. 

But in a nation with the world’s highest crime rates, is it surprising to find an abundance of serial killers and even more so, the popular American serial killers who make the big screen?  These are murderers who court notoriety.  It takes more to get noticed in America.  We’re used to shootings.  But torture?  Devouring body parts?  Concealing bodies in your crawl space?  Taunting the police with cryptic messages?  Whoa!  American serial killers have done all that and more to win notoriety.  Their success in gaining popular attention can be viewed as the dark side of the American can-do attitude   


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