serial killing discusion question and serial killing : A case study

Attached you will find the Class 3 Summary document, Readings 1,3. Make sure you read the Class Summary document first, it contains all the instructions you will need and details the postings that you are required to make in the Discussion Forum by 1/7. In the Discussion Forum you should write at least one or two sentences in response to the questions. Class Summary also contains information on what is required for the first assignment Serial Killing: A Case Study due 1/8 Make sure you consult the rubric for key topics in ‘Assignment Instructions’.
I have also attached the Grover and Soothill paper separately in case you have difficulty downloading it.
This a clip on youtube from Nick Broomfield’s documentary on Aileen Wuornos (see Class Summary) – if you have difficulty downloading it, go to youtube there are other clips available


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Rubric  for  Key  Topics  
Key  Topics:    21  points  
There  are  2  key  topics  for  you  to  complete,  these  are  worth  12    points  each.    Full  
details  are  or  will  be  posted  in  the  Course  Materials  and  in  Assignments.      The  topics  
are  on  serial  killing  and  hate  crime.  
For  the  full  12  points  you  need  to  complete  each  of  the  questions  by  the  date  set.    
Your  responses  should  indicate  that  you  have  read  and  reflected  on  the  material  
posted  and  completed  some  of  your  own  research.      Remember  academic  study  is  all  
about  finding  out  about  your  subject.    What  has  been  written  about  it?    What  are  the  
debates?    You  should  also  refer  to  and  list  your  source  material.  
Serial Killing
To Do:
*Read the summary below
* Read the course textbook, Gregg Barak’s Violence and NonViolence pages 232-233, page 48, Box 2.2.
* Read Serial Killing readings 1-3 below
*Go to the Discussion Forum: Answer the Question on Serial Killing
by 1/7
*Complete Assignment 1: Serial Killing – A Case Study (12 points)
by 1/8
Note: if you have problems downloading the readings, please get in
touch immediately
Serial Killing
Key Concepts: Public fascination, definition, levels and patterns,
The Public Fascination for Serial Killing
The popular interest in serial killing is quite astonishing, just look at the number of
‘true crimes’ books on the subject. In the United States it is said that you cannot have
a case of serial killing without hordes of journalists and filmmakers queuing up to
write books or make films about it. Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, Jack the Ripper, the
Zodiac killer have all been immortalized in film. Many serial killers have achieved a
celebrity status as the extract below from Extreme Killing ( 2005)
by J. Fox and J. Levin illustrates. Think about why people are so interested in
this form of homicide, is it simply because it is the stuff of nightmares?
Extract 1
The Serial Killer: As a Celebrity
Reference: Fox, J and Levin, J. (2005) Extreme Killing, Thousand
Oaks: California
Defining Serial Killing
Holmes and Holmes define a serial killer as ‘someone who murders at least three
persons in more than a thirty day period…Mass murder, in contrast, involves the
killing of a number persons in one place at one time’ (1994, p. 93). We need to
consider how clear this definition of serial killing is. It can easily be applied to a
wide range of killers, for e.g. hit men (shouldn’t Tony Soprano be considered a serial
killer?), soldiers who commit atrocities in war. Jane Caputi in The Age of the Sex
Crime (1988) has, for example, by citing case history descriptions, emphasized the
similarity between the murders of women by soldiers in Vietnam and those
committed by Jack the Ripper.
Extract 2: What is the difference between serial killing and some of
the atrocities committed in wartime?
In this extract Jock Young (2012) argues there is little difference between the crimes
of Sergeant Robert Bales the American soldier accused of the massacre of 16
civilians in Afghanistan and a serial killer such as Ted Bundy. The violence is of the
same extreme nature and the victims ‘dehumanized’ by their killer. He also draws
attention to the fact that Bales was to be defended by Bundy’s lawyer. Hence he
‘So irony piles upon irony Ted Bundy’s lawyer John Henry Browne is to
defend Sergeant Robert Bales the American soldier accused of the
massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan. Having defended a notorious
serial killer he now defends a sniper, a legal serial killer. It is about time
that we recognize that to train soldiers to kill, particularly in far away
countries where they regard the inhabitants as alien and uncivilized, will
inevitably result in massacres such as the case in hand.. (It is about) the
dehumanisation of the ‘enemy’..
No doubt Sergeant Bales suffered stress, indeed many people do but they
are not schooled in murder and equipped with the most up to date
weapons, Bales is described by his neighbours as a ‘normal….good fun
guy’. Normal people do not train snipers and, as I recollect, many people
thought that Ted Bundy was a ‘good fun guy’.’
What do you think? Should we view Bales and Bundy differently?
Why did they commit such horrific acts of violence?
For the Serial Killing section of this course you will also need to
consider levels and patterns, explanations and differences
between male and female serial killers.
Reading: Readings 1, 3 are attached
Serial Killing: Reading 1
The most popular explanations for serial killing are those that focus on the
psychology of the offender. It is seen as caused by factors that arise within the
individual and it is these factors that govern and structure the killer’s homicidal
behavior. This type of explanation is referred to as individual positivism in the
criminological literature. In this article on British serial killers, Chris Grover and
Keith Soothill, suggest it can also be understood by analyzing the social structure
and patriarchal social relations.
Serial Killing: Reading 2
In this article from The Independent newspaper popular conceptions of the serial
killer are challenged.
The Independent
Serial killers likely to be
family men, not freaks, says
By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Thursday, 10 July 2008
Forget Hannibal Lecter. Hollywood’s portrayal of serial killers as
deranged loners with unusually high IQs is dangerously wrong
and can hinder investigations, according to the FBI.
The agency warns that efforts to track down serial killers are
often impaired by screenwriter storylines, the proliferation of
“talking head” experts on television who speculate without
knowing the facts and the anecdotal evidence picked up and used
by inexperienced investigators and prosecutors.
A report, by the agency’s behavioural analysis unit, says serial
killers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed and
appear to be normal members of the community.
“On television and the silver screen, serial killers are usually
white males and dysfunctional loners who really want to get
caught,” an FBI spokesman said. “Or, they’re super-intelligent
monsters who frustrate law enforcement at every turn.”
The report, compiled by law enforcement and mental health
experts, found that serial killers were “much different in real life”
and that “the racial diversification of serial killers generally
mirrors the overall US population”.
The authors also challenge the myths that serial killers are only
motivated by sex, and travel in order to kill, or that they are evil,
insane geniuses who cannot stop killing and want to get found
out. “Serial killers do not want to get caught: over time, as they
kill without being discovered, they get careless,” they said.
Challenging the misconception that serial killers are all loners,
the report points to Robert Yates, who killed 17 prostitutes in
Washington during the 1990s. He was married with five children,
lived in a middle-class neighbourhood and was a decorated army
helicopter pilot.
It mentions Dr Michael Swango, a former US Marine, ambulance
worker, physician and health care employee. He was convicted of
four murders in New York and Ohio but is suspected of having
killed up to 50 people.
The FBI report is aimed at dispelling the common myths, which
agents say can limit the public’s potential to observe suspicious
activity or become witnesses.
“The more that we can get that information out there to them,
hopefully we’ll have a higher solution rate in solving these cases
and enhancing the public safety,” the spokesman said.
Serial Killing: Reading 3
In this article, Wendy Hollway puts forward a feminist understanding of serial
killing by focusing on Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.
In the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer by Nick Broomfield
Aileen Wuornos’ life is examined. Most of the clips from this documentary are
available on youtube type in ‘Aileen Life and Death of a Serial Killer’. It is also
available in the John Jay library and from Netflix. You will need to watch this in
order to answer the Discussion Forum question.
Supplementary Research:
Jack the Ripper has been described by Jane Caputi (1988) as the ‘father’ to the age of
sex serial killing. He is known to have brutally murdered several prostitutes in the
White Chapel area of London in the late 1800s. This is not to suggest there were no
incidents of serial of killing before this time – there are many documented accounts
– but this, according to Caputi and other commentators, for e.g. Colin Wilson, was
the first time this crime ‘entered and transformed public consciousness’ (p.7). This
is an enormous amount written on Jack the Ripper, his identity has never been
confirmed – this website offers some good background information into the case:
Discussion Forum: Serial Killing
Go to the discussion forum and answer the following question:
1. Why do you think Aileen Wuornos committed her crimes?
Assignment 1: Serial Killing: A Case Study
Go to ‘Assignments’/ Choose a serial killer to research, the killer does not have
to be from the United States. Summarize his or her crimes and consider the
1. How is/was the serial killer represented? How did the public and the
media respond to the killer (for example, was he or she given a name,
such as Son of Sam? Were they written about in great detail?)
2. Why did they commit their crimes? What explanations were put
forward. Consider those suggested by Soothill and Grover in Serial
Killing: Reading 1.
3. Were there any patterns? (for example, some serial killers have
targeted sex workers). If there are patterns what conclusions might be
drawn from them? (Think about Hollway’s discussion of the Yorkshire
Ripper in Serial Killing: Reading 3).
4. If they were caught, what happened to them?
Complete by . 1/8
The British Criminology Conferences: Selected Proceedings. Volume 2. Papers from the
British Criminology Conference, Queens University, Belfast, 15-19 July 1997. This volume
published March 1999. Editor: Mike Brogden. ISSN 1464-4088. See end of file for copyright
and other information.
Chris Grover and Keith Soothill
Leyton (1986) argues that in order to understand the phenomenon of serial killing factors
beyond the psychological tradition need to be analysed. His structural account using evidence
of American serial killing and focusing on socio-economic factors provides a powerful
contribution to a neglected area. How applicable, though, is Leyton’s thesis of ‘homicidal
protest’ to the British experience of serial killing? In focusing on known British serial killers
since the 1960s, our results suggest that Leyton’s work cannot be wholly applied to the
modern British experience. While finding Leyton’s analysis both limited and limiting, we
support the general approach. However, we argue that the focus should be widened to
include other social relations, such as patriarchy.
Popular, academic and control agency interest in serial killing has mushroomed over the last
decade. Serial killing has become big business, with various state and private interests having
vested reasons for keeping serial killing in the news. Soothill (1993), for example, argues that
serial killing as an industry has important implications for the revenue of business interests as
diverse as film making and publishing through to those corporations involved in the
development of police computer hard and software. Whilst such interests exist, often blurring
the boundaries between fictional (or ‘factional’) representations and the reality of serial killing,
there are real concerns about the detection and capture of serial killers. In the USA, for
example, Caputi (1987: 1-2) quotes FBI statistics to show how serial murders had increased
dramatically over two decades, ‘there were 644 such murders in 1966 and an estimated 4,118
in 1982, comprising nearly eighteen per cent of all murders that year’. In the United Kingdom
the figures highlight a different type of problem. The recent media interest in serial killing is
seriously disproportionate to the scale of the problem. Nevertheless, we should not underrate
the very real concerns that a spate of serial killing sets off in a community. Indeed, our task is
not to deny the importance of the concern, but to challenge the nature of much of the focus. In
brief, some questions are being highlighted while perhaps even more important questions are
being neglected.
A fundamental distinction is between individual and structural approaches. Certainly the
developments in recent years of attempts to ‘combat’ such offences – psychological profiling,
DNA testing and offender databases – are necessarily linked to the offender as individual, with
the primary focus in trying to develop psychological profiles through offender profiling or
biological profiles through DNA testing. In essence, these reflect laudable attempts to improve
The focus of detection is upon the individual. However, a problem emerges when the
discourse of detection subtly shifts to become the discourse of causation with the suggestion
that serial killing is the result of factors located within an individual, whereby a psychological,
psychiatric, or biological predisposition to murder is sought. While seeking an explanation
within such frameworks is perfectly proper, arguments that the genesis of crime might be
more fully explained by considering wider social structures tends to be excluded.
The present ‘crime’ in terms of explanation is not one of commission – everyone is entitled to
proffer an explanation – but one of omission – some explanatory frameworks are rarely
exposed. We argue that the dominant individualistic discourse fails to meet the challenge of
causation satisfactorily and there is a need to consider explanatory frameworks which are
more ambitious in their scope. Certainly the main result of the psychologising and
medicalising of the causes of crime is that the historical and cultural specificity of crime is
ignored. These are ignored at our peril. Without a focus upon wider social factors in causing
offender behaviour, any understanding of crime cannot be complete.
Current limitations of analysis
It is curious that recent sociology which concerns itself with the social origins of crime tends to
ignore more serious, albeit more rare, crimes of violence against the person.[1] Acts which
tend to be portrayed as individual manifestations of evil would not have deterred one of the
founders of sociology, Emile Durkheim, from confronting an analysis. Indeed, his very choice
of focusing on suicide as a demonstration of the importance of social analysis was because
suicide was regarded as a very personal and individualistic act (Durkheim, 1952).
The second concern is that – with the demise of most avowedly Marxist approaches (whether
intellectually justified or not) – the alternative (which now seems a consensus among the main
political parties) provides little scope for fundamental change. It is our contention that the
mere tweaking of the socio-economic system is not enough to overcome all variants of crime.
We need to consider whether it is the very nature of society which ‘creates’ those people we
have come to know as ‘serial killers’.
An exception to the limitations of much recent sociological analysis is the work of Elliot Leyton
who usually describes himself as a social anthropologist. In brief, his work (Leyton, 1986) on
multiple murder provides the opportunity to appreciate that serial killers may be socially
constituted. Leyton’s work on the U.S.A. experience suggests the acts of serial killers are not
simply the result of a deranged or dangerous personality, but, more importantly, may be the
consequence of a socio-economic system which cannot by its rabidly competitive dynamic
reward the efforts of all, and may dangerously marginalise certain people.
Defining serial killing
Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in any study of serial killers is actually defining what it
means. First, there has to be a number of murders, and second there has to be a period of
time between murders. Such factors may seem simplistic, but confusions soon become
Egger (1984) suggests a six point identification of the serial killer: there must be at least two
victims; there is no relationship between perpetrator and victim; the murders are committed at
different times and have no direct connection to previous or following murders; the murders
occur at different locations; the murders are not committed for material gain; subsequent
victims have characteristics in common with earlier victims (quoted in Creswell and Hollin,
1994: 3). Most of the components of this stipulative definition could perhaps be challenged.
So, for example, to assert that ‘there is no relationship between perpetrator and victim’ is a
stringent condition and would certainly exclude some perpetrators, such as Dennis Nilsen and
Frederick and Rosemary West, whom most would regard as serial killers. In fact, what
constitutes a ‘relationship’ is problematic and it seems Egger is too restrictive in his
conceptualisation of ‘relationships’. Indeed, we later suggest that serial killing can usefully be
conceptualised as a relationship in the broadest sense of being grounded in patriarchy and
capitalist relations.
The assertion that murders have to take place in different locations to be classified as serial
killing again is unnecessarily restrictive. It seems curious to disqualify a killer who lures or
forces his/her victims to a specific location to be killed from being labelled as a serial killer.
Frederick and Rosemary West, who killed at least nine young women (non-familial victims),
will retain the label of serial killers despite committing the known offences at the same
address in Gloucester (Sounes, 1995).
Nevertheless, our reservations about the definitional efforts of Egger should not mask the
point that his work does begin to provide some clues as to how one might consider serial
killing as a distinctive sub-set of ‘multiple murder’. No one has (or is) likely to accomplish a
completely satisfactory definition for all purposes (Jenkins, 1988: 2) and we hastily
acknowledge that the operational definition we use later to identify the boundaries of our
cohort of British serial killers owes a debt to Egger!
We have operationalised the following definition of serial killing for the purposes of this paper.
We have followed Colin Wilson’s contention (personal communication, 1997) that there
should be at least three victims. This could, of course, be criticised for not including attempted
murder, and indeed, the infamous case of Graham Young, who killed two people by poisoning
while several other people he poisoned survived, only missed inclusion because of the
survival of his victims rather than any lack of intention on his part. However, that happens to
any potential serial killer who is stopped in his tracks in some way. We have also excluded
those cases where there is a suggestion that the perpetrator killed more than three people,
but they have been charged with less than three murders. So, for example, Hawkes (1970)
implies that Raymond Morris may have committed the murder of four young girls in the
Midlan …
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