Crime & Lawsuits

11 Common Traits of Mass Murderers and Serial Killers


Could your neighbor be a mass murderer? Could one of your friends actually be a serial killer? Worse yet, could you be raising a child that’s going to grow up to be the next Jared Lee Loughner?

It’s a horrifying thought, but the truth is these violent criminals come from somewhere. Many of them are living among us now, and we don’t even realize it until it’s too late.

But surely there must be a way we can identify mass murderers and serial killers, right?

As it turns out, mass murderers, serial killers, and other extremely violent individuals do share a range of common traits.

  1. Statistically speaking, the average serial killer is a white male from a lower-to-middle-class upbringing. In fact, over 90 percent of serial killers are men.
  2. Most serial killers are in their 20s or 30s.
  3. Most mass murderers are single or divorced.
  4. As children, soon-to-be serial killers often torture animals.
  5. More than 60 percent of serial killers wet the bed beyond the age of 12.
  6. According to the A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, many serial killers are obsessed with starting fires. Ottis Toole, George Adorno, and Carl Panzram are just a few of the many serial killers with a childhood history of arson.
  7. Many mass murderers and serial killers have an extraordinarily high IQ. For example, the Unabomber is a genius.
  8. A lot of serial killers come from dysfunctional families with an absent father.  Marc Lepine (mass murderer of 14 people) is one of the many examples of fatherless serial killers.
  9. Many serial killers suffered through childhood abuse.   “The Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo was even sold off as a slave by his alcoholic father.
  10. Serial killers often have a history of attempted suicide. Charles Edmund Cullen, the most prolific serial killer in the history of New Jersey, had 20 suicide attempts throughout his life.
  11. Mass murderers are often loners who have very few social connections.

Differences Between Serial Killers and Mass Murderers

It’s important to note that there are some fine distinctions between serial killers and mass murderers. Mass murderers have just a single killing spree (e.g. the recent Arizona shooting, Columbine killings, etc.) before being apprehended by police or committing suicide. On the other hand, serial killers try to remain undetected and they can go on killing for several years.

Also, mass murderers kill a large group of people all at once, whereas serial killers are often much more selective with their targets. A serial killer could spend months trying to find the right individual to kill, and can have cooling off periods between murders. The victims often all share a trait, something that has important symbolic meaning to the murderer.

What are some other common characteristics that you think serial killers and mass murderers possess? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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  1. 1

    There are definate traits for example no feeling

  2. 2

    I have been curious about this, being that it is all too common to hear about yet another case involving murder, on a regular basis. It’s so commonplace these days and is also depicted in TV dramas regularly as “entertainment”, as with video games, that there seems to be a nonchalance about it.

    I’ve always thought the main reason for those becoming killers / rapists, is due to their early beginnings being void of love and care, with dysfunction and abuse being prevalent. It’s sad to think that this occurs at all, let alone as commonly as it does. I have wondered how far too many have increasingly become this way and how it could be lessened or prevented.

    Part of the issue begins with far too many pregnancies and births, due to sexual involvement prior to any knowledge of who another is. Many are born into difficult situations, who never had a chance to know of a proper upbringing, having begun with sex causing forced relationships that should not have been. So, then an unlikely parent or parents, attempt to raise others, despite their own issues. If the parent is damaged themselves, or unaware of needed change within themselves, it is passed on. Heck, “normal”, loving households can be trying, without the addition of mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, verbal or physical abusiveness and poverty.

    I think there is not enough done early on, to prevent children from being the targets from becoming dysfunctional individuals, if others recognize the abuse and stepping in. There should be more done to instruct and inform young people in the way of sex education, birth control and the psychological impulses for involvement, which has been failing, and keeping females from becoming involved with abusers. There is not enough focus on developing properly and forming relationships for the right reasons. Though, I realize this opens more cans of worms, because many believe they are “okay the way they are”, not facing problems or having belief systems that justify the way they live, etc., even if they are doing things that are detrimental to themselves and others.

  3. 3
  4. 4

    I had seen a program in the early 70’s about mass murderers and it said that they came from all social backgrounds, with all degrees of intelligence and all kinds of exterior forces (drugs, bad family, abuse etc.) but one thing that they all had were…..tattoos. I’m wondering is there any truth to this or was it a bunch of crap put on by uninformed journalists?

  5. 5

    One symptom, not a trait, is the use of psycho-active drugs. Our latest miscreant was on xanax & vicodin.

    Rather than looking at the personalities, I wonder that we should be looking at behavior.

    A. The obsession with past spree killings.

    B. Evidence of planning for the event.

    C. Evidence of preparation like scouting venues, gathering guns & ammunition despite no prior interest, building & testing bombs, training for the event using violent videogames.

    D. Evidence of misogynistic rants on-line.

    These events seldom occur on the spur of the moment; the perpetrator spends months and even years preparing. This is why they are so difficult to prevent. Our best hope is educating the public on this profile. We do pretty well intercepting most of our aspiring spree killers. We could do better.

  6. 6

    I have noticed in my research that serial killers have the same traits that is in this list. One that is not listed is most serial killers have brown eyes then any other eye color….

  7. 8

    I was wondering from what victims lived from the Zodiac killer saw his eyes and what color were they? From the movie he was wearing a mask but his eyes have to have been seen and someone came forward as the eyes are the only thing they saw or race from his face. It shows from the photos on the internet that he wore glasses, one photo shows kinda a pointed jaw, white guy with a certain hair line, then when he was younger it shows a fuller face, am I right? He could be anywhere amongst us, or he could be dead and buried under another name. It’s been 40 years maybe he does not want to come forward and get clean and just live out his life, but doing what? You’d think he’d leave a trace and maybe not?

  8. 9

    Some serial killers have high IQs, but many others do not. There are even some like Carl Eugene Watts, and Joachim Kroll who have a very low intelligence level. I’ve actually read another source which said that the median IQ for most serial killers is 93. This is average. This source was considering the killers IQ, and the method in which they murdered their victims. The only group of killers which had a high intelligence level as a group was the bombers which scored 138. So although the idea of the brilliant serial killer is popular in our society, the reality is in general serial killers tend to be of average intelligence.

  9. 10

    I’m also glad the Honey Nut Bee Didn’t Turn Out To Be Mass Cereal Killings, But I Still Hate That Coa Coa Puff Bird! That Need To Find An African Colonization of Whatever Kinda Bird That Is!

  10. 11

    I wonder if they have other hobbies for their adrenaline rush, when they aren’t killing…

  11. 12

    Most were abused as children, because that stuff kills empathy, which is also why they can torture animals, the fatherless thing is also telling, the number of rapist who grew up without fathers is disproportionate to the general population, in fact the number of people in jail that grew up without fathers is disproportionate to the percentage in the general population. Teenage girls are dramatically more likely to get pregnant as teenagers and to end up single parents themselves if their father is not present growing up, and boys are more likely to end up in jail, and more likely to end up dead beat dads when separation occurs, like it or not lady’s most dead beat dads were raised by single women. Motherliness messes people up too but in different ways, Obviously this single parent society thing is going swimmingly so lets just keep it the hell up.

  12. 13

    It seems that a huge number of murderers show white below their eyes. Meaning that below their brown or blue eyes for example shows some of the whites of their eyes.

  13. 15

    Maybe they should check to see if the killer has a high pain tolorance? Maybe they don’t understand what pain feels like?Or maybe they have been hurt so much that pain does not affect them? What is a cereal killer reaction to pain. what are they thinking if it was happing to them? I heard this some where We covet what we love are want? Just a thought? Mabe something to look into.

  14. 17

    serial killers are typically emotionless sociopaths while mass murderers are typically highly emotional and have suppressed anger or depression issues. studying serial killer psyches is my favorite pastime.

  15. 18

    Hmm. I have/had a lot of these traits, most of them, even.

  16. 19

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  17. 20

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  18. 21

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  19. 22

    best serial killer is one that is known and still allowed to kill and people pay to be killed by its calming charming influence, all around the world.
    Smoking Kills more people than the best known serial killer’s combined.

  20. 23

    Many of those regurgitated “facts” are simply myths. Read why, courtesy of the experts:

  21. 25

    Mostly white because when black people kill its considered a gangster murder..

    • 26

      It is because in the nation for which these statistics were compiled (US), whites far outnumber blacks. The statistical likelihood of murder per capita for blacks is still significantly higher.

  22. 27

    Um, crispy has it right. The Zodiac Killer hasn’t been caught. Robert Graysmith is an author, not the Zodiac Killer. Messing up such a material and obvious fact makes me wonder about the credibility of this post. Crispy point this out in March and it still hasn’t been fixed – 3 months later.

  23. 28

    wow!! creepy, i know a few people with these traits.

  24. 29

    As a character fiction author, lists like this are invaluable in creating fictional characters, because they explore what factors might push a villain character to do what he does.

    But that’s fiction. In real life, “surely there must be a way we can identify mass murderers and serial killers, right?” Well, you missed one much more significant factor shared by close to 100% of these murderers: they all drank water at least once during the day preceding each killing. Obviously, we need to outlaw Poland Springs!

    Seriously, though, all 11 of these factors are shared by murderers and normal, everyday, well-adjusted people, even that one about loners. Many well-adjusted people value their time alone and cherish the few social connections they maintain. My guess is that if you looked at a random group of people who shared all 11 of these traits, practically all of them would be normal, everyday, well-adjusted people with families and jobs and joy and problems, just like everyone else. So much for the profile of a murderer.


    • 30

      Actually not that many people drink water per se nowadays. I’d say they all breathe everyday LOL.
      But, yeah, look at Chikatilo or Slivko – both school teachers, one even married with two children. It took so long to catch them, because nobody would ever believe these humble nice people were capable of sadistic murders.

  25. 31

    What about eye color and line patterns in the eyes? I have noticed pale blue eyes with no black lines circling around the color.

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  27. 33

    are suicide bombers as such considered mass murderers?

  28. 34

    1. Serial killers often have a higher than normal IQ. Question. Would people of lower IQ become serial killers, but get caught after one killing?

    2. Another common trait of serial killers. Almost all fantasize about killing. This is also a trait of pedophiles. Almost all fantasize about having sex with minors before offending. This can be an important self-diagnostic tool for those at risk.

  29. 35

    how did “many [serial killers] have a higher then normal IQ” become “Many mass murderers and serial killers have an extraordinarily high IQ.”?

    telephone slayed the internet.

  30. 36

    as a serial killer myself, I’d say everyone has got it all wrong. But keep guessing. It makes you out to be smart or something. But in the end, usually wrong.

  31. 37

    correlation =/= causation

    • 38

      Sounds like the comment of someone with a high IQ and the nitpicking of someone with few social connections.

      Do you enjoy torturing animals?

  32. 39

    1. there are much less female serial killers because they just fail at their first murder attempt ;)

    I passed a couple of the points.. hurray for me (watch your back)

  33. 40

    Um, sorry. But Robert Graysmith was NOT Zodiac. Robert Graysmith wrote the BOOK about Zodiac. We know next to nothing about Zodiac because he was never caught.

    • 41

      And the zodiac killer from new york was caught but a copy cat. Not to b confused with the cali zodiac who hasnt been caught. Also. They should explain the dif between serial and signuter killers. Lotsa pep get confused. Theyway two dif types

  34. 42

    Trait #12: Middle name “Wayne”.

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