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"We all go a little mad sometimes."
Norman Bates, Psycho

Which Cop Show has one not appeared in?

A Serial Killer is defined as someone who commits multiple murders, out of some kind of mental or sexual compulsion, in separate incidents with at least a few days in between killings. This is their "cooling off" period, when they temporarily lose the compulsion to kill, and distinguishes them from Spree Killers, who kill in much more regular intervals of weeks or days, if they don't simply go on a murderous rampage that usually ends only when someone captures or kills them. The minimum death toll to be classified as a serial killer is 3-5 people, providing they were killed in separate incidents over a period of more than 30 days. If numerous people are killed in a single incident (e.g. someone murders an entire family in their home), that is mass murder, though mass murderers can and do become serial killers if they act multiple times.

Real Life serial killers are usually divided into 4 categories, and fictional killers tend to fall into one or more of these categories as well, if not by design, then by their nature.

  • Visionary -- The killer suffers a break from reality, delusions, and/or hallucinations, that compel them to murder. They might believe God or Satan, or simply voices, are telling them to kill, or that killing will prevent some kind of disaster. Tends to result from some kind of trauma and/or a mental illness like schizophrenia. The Insanity Defense will usually only apply to this type (though even this only counts if their mental illness impaired their sense of right and wrong), and as such if a killer is going for that defense, they will usually claim to be such -- this very rarely works in Real Life, and in fact is very rarely attempted, probably because in practice there is only so much difference between being locked up in a jail cell for life for multiple murders, and being locked in an insane asylum for life for the same.
  • Mission Based -- The killer believes that their actions are for the greater good, or in the service of some higher purpose, because they are performing some kind of social, political, philosophical, or religious service, generally targeting people they blame for society's ills, or view as sinful, distasteful, or dangerous. Though they may be deluded, they are not psychotic like the Visionary killer, having a rough grasp on reality. Vigilante killers are a sub-type of this.
  • Hedonistic -- Someone who kills for lust, thrill, or comfort/profit. The first two kill principally because they enjoy it; lust-based killers get sexual satisfaction out of murder, while thrill-based ones simply find it exciting. Comfort/profit killers are the type who kill to maintain or fund a life of luxury, or otherwise for money; hitmen and assassins fall into this category, but it usually refers to cases of fraud, embezzlement, or robbery that involves killing somebody. Women serial killers are usually comfort killers, though not all comfort killers are women.
  • Power/Control -- These murderers kill because it makes them feel powerful. Often (though not always) the type who were mistreated or abused as children, they are driven more by insecurity or rage than by any pleasure they might get out of killing, though that might eventually play a part. If rape is involved, it is not, like a Hedonistic killer, motivated by lust, but as another means of dominating the victim.

In addition, as mentioned, there are several sub-types of these killers that fit into the above categories. Some examples include:

  • Revenge killers commit murders to lash out at real or perceived wrongs done to them in life, the victims typically being substitutes for the perpetrator of the original offense. May kill friends, relatives, or strangers for slights, sometimes petty in nature.
  • Black Widow killers cash in on the insurance of murdered relatives (or friends with wills). Typically serial spouses who murder their new husbands/wives and then move on, though they have been known to murder other relations, including children. Almost always women.
  • The Bluebeard killer is a male counterpart to the Black Widow killer, except that this specifically refers to men who kill their wives, not other relatives. Also, the motive is usually power, not financial gain, though that often plays a part.
  • Professional Killers are now increasingly regarded as a sub-type of killer, falling under Comfort/Profit Hedonistic killers.
  • Cost Cutters are those who kill to save money, such as a person who murders employees to avoid paying them.
  • Lethal Caretakers are nurses, carers, or other such who kill patients and carees for profit, e.g. to cash in on social security checks in their name. Usually women.
  • Angels of Death are similar, but kill patients for feelings of power and control, or sometimes serial mercy-killing (or believe their crimes to be such), and are thus harder to trace. Again, usually women, though Harold Shipman -- British doctor and the most prolific serial killer in the world, falls into this type.
  • Munchausen By Proxy is a personality disorder where the perpetrator harms another for attention -- for example, murdering a relative for sympathy at the loss, or killing someone and then trying to "save" them to act the hero. Usually not killers, but serial abusers of relations or strangers, but have been known to turn lethal.
  • Sexual Predators are killers who lure victims to their death with promises of sex or intimacy, or simply chatting the victim up. May drug their victims to make it easier. Usually Lust killers, but other motives are suspected in certain cases.
  • Sexual Sadists are lust killers who torture their victims before killing them; the torture is usually more important than the actual murder. The torture may be psychological and can last for a matter of seconds or minutes, or it can last for hours or days, depending on the offender.
  • Antisocial killers are those suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder; impulsive, impatient sociopaths with deep-seated rage who pathologically violate social norms and values, such as repeatedly committing serious and petty crimes, and always social deviants. Serial murder is usually just one of many crimes they regularly commit, and they often do so in the course of other crimes, such as robbery, rape, and various forms of manipulation.
  • Supernatural killers are what happens when a normal, flesh and blood killer for any of the above types dies. Or rather, doesn't. He may discover Evil Makes You Monstrous, get turned into a vampire or werewolf, or linger on as a ghost. This usually makes them (perhaps literal) nightmares as they suffer from a Horror Hunger, gain superpowers, and are nigh unkillable.

Serial killers can further be divided into Organized and Disorganized. The former plan their crimes carefully and often well in advance, and are thus always premeditated. They may even hold a stable job and have a good education, and appear perfectly normal in every way. Such people are very likely to be The Chessmaster. The latter are much more impulsive and careless; their crimes may or may not be premeditated, and they are recklessly executed when they are, without due care for witnesses or leaving evidence. These tend to be poorly educated and not in steady employment.

The following things tend to occur in a serial killer plot:

  • The killer sends a note to the police, or a newspaper, or both, with a taunting message that ends in a challenge along the lines of "You can't catch me." A gruesome souvenir may also be included.
    • A variation is to have the killer send a message saying "Please catch me before I kill more."
  • Serial killers are often, but not always, portrayed as The Chessmaster, brilliantly layering one Evil Plan onto another. Often, this takes the form of a series of Batman Gambits that lead the police on a series of wild goose chases as the killer gloats.
  • They have a wall full of newspaper clippings covering their actions. Sometimes they keep a photographic record of their kills, or even a souvenir of the victim's.
  • If it's part of a Story Arc, one cop is probably going to fall victim (which is part of the requisite Tonight Someone Dies hype).
  • At the climax, one of the cops is usually Alone with the Psycho, but is saved Just in Time.
  • If the killer is not depicted as Ax Crazy, then the victims all have something to do with one another.
  • If somebody else is wrongfully implicated, and looks close to taking the rap, the serial killer will bump them off, even though this means casting suspicion back on himself.
    • Or the killer will kill again while the wrongfully accused is incarcerated, casting suspicion back on himself.
    • Sometimes he will do it because it casts suspicion back towards himself, because he is insulted that the police suspect someone he considers unworthy of the attention.
  • The killer might leave a distinctive Calling Card at each scene of his crimes.
  • There might be some sort of poetic/ironic theme to the victims and methods.

Serial Killer plots tend to be men killing women, although The Bill subverted this. This is somewhat realistic, however, because in the real world, the vast majority of serial killers are men -- or, more exactly, men tend to murder in ways that make it easier for them to get caught. Female serial killers will typically be Angels of Death and may work in health care or similar vocations. In fiction, they'll often have a Torture Cellar or do their killings in a Sinister Subway.

Over the last few years, daytime soaps have had an unusually high number of serial killers. One Life to Live has had at least two in as many years. It's the chic way for producers to pare down their casts.

It's notable that many of these behaviors are realistic for serial killers, though seeing all of them with one killer is unlikely. Also notable is the fact that they are practically never allowed to go uncaught by the end, despite many of the most famous unsolved cases in history being serial killer investigations.

Compare with Psycho for Hire, the step-up of this trope into full-blown fictional villain. The killer feared by other killers is a Serial Killer Killer.

Sometimes they are more like a so-called 'Spree killer', i.e. someone who goes on a murderous rampage in a smaller area over a shorter time. In fact, this is more common than actual serial killers, though characters often confuse the two, as time contraints mean the killings in a story usually take place over the space of a few days, whereas real serial killers by definition usually have weeks, months, or years between their kills.

Note that the Real Life section below is only a very small sampling of well-known serial murderers. Also, many potential Serial Killers get caught quickly because they use an MO, and also because a lot of them are so sick and demented that they want to get caught -- yes, they see it as some kind of game.

Examples of Serial Killer include:


Anime & Manga Edit

  • Barry the Chopper from Fullmetal Alchemist is a comically violent serial killer even after his death.
    • That said, the images of his backstory are rather unnerving, and the only reason he stops killing is because of his involvement with the various conspiracies.
      • In the first anime, he was encountered earlier as a Villainous Crossdresser. When we see him again as #66, he keeps on killing right up until he is killed by Scar.
    • Scar is of a different (and often overlooked) variety. He only targets state alchemists with the motivation of revenge for the massacre of his people. This makes him a "mission-oriented" serial killer. He becomes more of a sympathetic Anti-Villain and then Anti-Hero over time.
    • Also Zolf J. Kimbley, who is a pretty smart psycho who manages to do most of his killing on government assignments and so avoids having to hide. He did eventually kill his commanding officer when they tried to take away his Philosopher's Stone after the war, and got thrown in jail until the time of the series.
    • This series also gives us The Slicer, who (like Barry) is Animated Armor, created to guard Lab 5 following the execution.
  • Gaara from Naruto constantly murders anyone who gets in his way, all because he believes that this is his sole purpose.
    • Although since he and everyone he is known to have killed are combat personnel, he fits this trope considerably less than most.
    • Orochimaru is, or rather was, a straighter example; he fled the Leaf village after being exposed as a serial killer who had abducted and killed close to a hundred ninja, civilians, and babies to perform gruesome human experiments, though a number of these were technically unintentional in that he was usually trying to find safe ways of performing said experiments on himself and therefore wasn't really wanting them to die (not that he gave a crap if they did -- plus, he seemed to be really enjoying himself.)
  • Light Yagami, the protagonist of Death Note, uses the titular Artifact of Doom to anonymously kill criminals, under the guise of Utopia Justifies the Means. Near even lampshades this.
    • Misa Amane, the Second Kira, and Teru Mikami, the Hand of Kira, both do the same while in Light's service.
  • Beyond Birthday, in the Death Note spin-off Another Note: the Los Angeles BB Murder Cases
  • Johan Liebert, the Monster. He even manipulated other killers into doing his work for him, most of whom also ended up dead. Johan is an unusual example in that it is debatable whether he has a compulsion to kill, since he shows that he can stop whenever he wants, and his traumatic childhood is revealed to have happened to someone else. It should be noted that having these false memories is the only sign of insanity he demonstrates; all of his killings and manipulation may be motiveless and irrational, but Johan himself comes across as terrifyingly sane (with the exception of one Freak-Out).
    • Also, he does not appear to get any sort of benefit from killing; he shows no signs of getting a thrill or sexual pleasure from his acts, nor does he seem to get any kicks from domination, and the killings are usually carried out as pragmatically as possible (no wasting time through torture, etc.), which suggests that his use of other people to kill might be simple expedience rather than enjoying his ability to manipulate. In addition, with many of his victims, there is no financial gain or any real progress towards whatever plan he may have at the time, making their deaths totally pointless. The lack of any recognisable motive is arguably the main reason why he's widely considered Nightmare Fuel incarnate, as well as the poster-boy for the Complete Monster page.
  • Naoki Urasawa, the creator of Monster, has another manga called Pluto, in which he manages to turn the titular character, a big, goofy-looking green cartoon robot with horns from the classic Astro Boy series, into a genuinely terrifying serial killer figure.
  • Kira Yoshikage, the Big Bad of the fourth part of Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure, kills women for their hands, which he has a strange fetish for (he thinks of the hands as his "girlfriends" and he seems to show no interest in the rest of the body). He is all the more dangerous because his ability leaves no evidence, and he will kill anyone who comes in between him and the normal life he wants to live.
  • In the anime version of the Locked Room Mystery in Haruhi Suzumiya, Haruhi saw "a shadow" in the distance during the storm, believing it to be the murderer. Since this is Haruhi, Kyon figures that there might be a psychopathic serial killer lurking around the island, simply because Haruhi wanted to have one. It is left open, but the chances of this really happening are more or less low.
  • With all the seemingly random killings in StrikerS Sound Stage X of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, this was what the investigators originally thought the Mariage Case was about. However, it soon became clear that Mariage wasn't a serial killer but a group of undead super soldiers seeking the whereabouts of their king so they can begin a new war, all orchestrated by someone else as part of a terrorist scheme.
  • One particularly loathsome Contractor in the second season of Darker Than Black was a serial killer before getting his powers, and while being a Contractor means Lack of Empathy, that actually made him a bit saner and more able to control himself.
    • In a way, Nick in the first season might qualify. He was killing people to carry out a goal, not just as an end in itself, but his Power At a Price involved a compulsion to untie his victim's shoes, and so he kind of fit the "killer with a calling card" idea.
  • Yami no Matsuei (Descendants of Darkness) has played with this. In the Kyoto arc, Muraki goes on a serial killing spree, partially to draw Tsuzuki's attention, and partially to try and create a Frankenstein monster styled body with which to resurrect his hated brother so he can kill him with his own hands. Did I mention this guy's a psycho?
    • He's also behind the serial vampire murders that constitute Tsuzuki and Hisoka's first case together (Nagasaki), and the cruise ship disappearances they investigate later, which turn out to be organ farming. This is kind of his thing.
  • In ARAGO The Patchman's M.O. is a burned hand print on the throat of the victim... And some body parts missing (he uses them to patch up his own rotting body).
  • The two IceDevimon featured in Digimon Tamers and Digimon Frontier had shades of this.
  • MPD Psycho centers around the protagonist, who attempts to use his multiple personalities to track and thwart serial killers. Since one of his personalities is itself a serial killer, it goes without saying that things at times can get complicated.
  • Goth follows a pair of murder-obsessed high school students who track down serial killers to admire their (often gruesome) work.
  • The Psychopathic Manchild named "Old Cho" from Katsuhiro Otomo's early manga Domu: A Child's Dream psychically controlled 29 people into "committing suicide" all within three years, so he can take one possession of theirs as a trophy.
  • In Ibitsu, Kazuki is horrified to learn, far too late of course, that he's not the first person approached by the "Strange Lolita" killer. The others who became the Strange Lolita's "older brothers" were never heard from again.
  • Underdog: Naoto's first opponent, Masaya Hiuchi, is an 18 year-old who was just recently released from a mental institution after brutally murdering several of his female classmates in middle school. His first actions in the tournament show that he's already up to his old tricks.
  • Cho Hakkai (AKA Cho Gonou), one of the main characters in Saiyuki, is a mass revenge serial killer who goes Ax Crazy Yandere after his Twincest older sister/lover is sacrificed by his village as an offering to the local demon king, leaving half of the village and most of the demons clan dead in the aftermath.
  • Kabuto from Parasyte. We don't know much about him, since by the time he first appeared he was already in jail, but a few flashbacks show that he used to be a big fan of mutilation, cannibalism, and necrophilia. He is brought to help the police catch parasites because he has the ability to see who is infected. It's implied to be because he sees other humans the same way parasites do -- but at least the parasites need to eat humans to survive. He pretends that, deep down, everybody is like him, and he's just the only one who doesn't try to suppress his true nature.


Comic Books Edit

  • Batman, of course, has dealt with many of them, and several members of his rogue's gallery fall into the category from time to time. The most recurring ones are The Joker (obviously) and Victor Zsasz. But by far the most notable serial killers in Batman history (by virtue of their actions being the main plot of an entire mini-series) are Holiday and The Hangman.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is a serial killer protagonist. Psychologically, he see-saws between being a visionary and a thrill/control killer: On one hand, Johnny is very obviously psychotic, talks with his own furniture, suffers memory loss, and believes there's a thing[1] living inside one of his walls (it's never consistent which wall), which he needs to paint with fresh blood regularly to keep the thing inside from escaping. On the other hand, Johnny is aware he's a psychotic serial killer and cherry-picks his targets from perceived Asshole Victims (or anybody unfortunate enough to stand close enough to one) and also exhibits a personal enjoyment in murdering people. Oh yeah, and that thing in the wall? It's real (well, that, or Johnny's psychosis is contagious. And sentient. And able to kill people). It's implied that Johnny was 'chosen' to become the thing's prison guard, with the duty having driven him insane and made him kill people. Then again, his personality doesn't really change all that much from being released from his duty.
  • The Sandman has an issue where a bunch of serial killers have a convention, in the style of a comic book or sci-fi convention. They, of course, advertise it as a convention for the cereal industry. The escaped nightmare who draws the plot's attention there is, of course, the Corinthian -- who became one of these for his own amusement in Morpheus' absence. For over half a century.
    • Has a crossover connection to Hellblazer, where John Constantine was having a run-in with the Cereal Convention's absent guest speaker at the time. ("Anyone seen the Family Man?")
    • Dog Soup hung a lampshade on this trope, complaining at a panel discussion that female serial killers like herself are stereotyped as either angel-of-mercy nurses or black widows. "I'm a serial killer and a woman, and I'm proud of it!" Judging by the name, she is a lot more hands-on about her work.
      • Bonus points because she's flanked by a woman in a nurse outfit and a woman tagged as "the grass widow," both of whom are giving her dirty looks as she says this.
    • The presence of at least two conventioneers who'd written "God" on their name tags, along with the "Religion Panel," may also be a lampshading of the kinds of delusions commonly attributed to serial killers.
  • Kevin from the comic/film Sin City is a particularly disturbing example. He kills and cannibalizes vulnerable hookers. However, it can be argued that he's a hit man for the Cardinal rather than a genuine serial killer.
    • The two are not exclusive. Look at the Iceman.
    • Roark Junior from the story That Yellow Bastard is another particularly vile one of these. He rapes little girls and slashes them to ribbons, and particularly enjoys hearing them scream. He's protected by his powerful U.S. Senator father, who makes life hell for anyone who tries to take Junior down.
    • A serial killer briefly appears in the Sin City short story "Behind Door Number Three". He was targetting Old Town girls. Things ended very badly for him, to say the least.
  • Carnage from Spider-Man is one of these; his alter ego Cletus Kasady was one even before he came in contact with the symbiote. Early in his villainous career, he would leave the message "Carnage Rules!" written in his victim's blood (or with his own) at the site of each murder.
  • One story from Alan Moore's famous run on Swamp Thing was told from the perspective of a serial killer who called himself the Bogeyman. His career comes to an abrupt and anticlimactic end when he runs across the eponymous plant-man.
  • Onomatopoeia, a mask-wearing Serial Killer introduced in a Green Arrow story and later seen in Batman: Cacophany, targets Badass Normal vigilantes. He isn't against killing other people such as prostitutes either. The creepiest element of his character is one shared by more than a few Real Life serial killers: he leads a double life as a loving and seemingly normal family man with a wife and two kids. He handwaves the injuries he gets as sports accidents and has a secret trophy room in his house with the masks of the vigilantes he killed.
  • At least one writer for The Punisher has described the character as a serial killer who kills criminals.
  • Arkham Asylum Living Hell, in addition to regular Batman villains, introduces Jane Doe, who kills people to take their identity and life, and Doodlebug, who drains people of their blood for his paintings but also to free several demons trapped beneath Arkham Asylum.


Fan Works Edit

 Shadow: Eleven rapes, nineteen murders. And that's just what they caught me for.

    • Scourge the Hedgehog is also a Serial Killer-Rapist, but with a much more Hedonistic motive.
  • Cupcakes casts Pinkie Pie as one.
  • The Happy Tree Friends fanfiction "The Reaper" has one.
  • In New Dawn, Nebiros is a Revenge Killer, taking very petty vengeance on those who he thinks were born into better circumstances than him. He also fits the Supernatural mold, due to the whole "he's a demon" thing.
    • In a similar vein, most villains in New Dawn III are Serial Killers, the Big Bad being a Revenge / Mission Based Serial Killer. Its worse in Robin's case because his Modus Operandi leaves no trace of his victims behind.


Film Edit

  • M, starring Peter Lorre as the bizarrely sympathetic child killer Hans Beckert, is one of the first film portrayals of a serial killer. Since many of these tropes had not taken effect yet, the climax was actually about saving him from a furious lynch mob.
    • M was inspired by the case of Fritz Haarmann (aka "the Butcher of Hanover"), which also inspired two other movies: Tenderness of the Wolves in 1973, a fictionalized account of Haarmann's killing spree, and The Deathmaker in 1995, an account of Haarmann's psychological examination, based on the actual transcripts of his interrogation.
  • Several Alfred Hitchcock films feature these:
  • The main antagonist in the time-travel movie, Frequency, specializes in killing nurses.
  • David Allen Griffin in The Watcher, whose main purpose of doing this is so he can continually meet FBI Agent Joel.
  • The other classic cinema example is Preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) in The Night of the Hunter, who famously has "Love" and "Hate" tattooed across his knuckles.
  • Johnathan Doe from Se7en is possibly the most disturbing one on this list. He is a serial killer who is obsessed with sin and punishment, and models his unimaginably cruel murders after the Seven Deadly Sins.
    • The most disturbing thing about him is not only his intelligence and sadism, but that everything goes according to his plan and he is victorious in the end.
  • Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire. John goddamn Malkovich.
  • In Hunting Humans, the main character is a serial killer -- being stalked by another serial killer.
  • Richard from Dead Man's Shoes, though his motive makes him more sympathetic than most.
  • Rare female example: Erica Bain from The Brave One. Doubles as a Vigilante Woman.
  • Jigsaw of the Saw movies arguably fits here, though he is fairly sporting -- he gives his victims a (very slim) chance to escape, and apparently wants them to escape, on the hope that their life will be improved by the experience.
    • As for his apprentice Amanda, well... Not so much.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who murdered his customers and sent them down the chute, where his partner Mrs. Lovett baked them into pies. His initial motive is revenge for what happened to him and his wife at the hands of the corrupt Judge Turpin, and his first killing is a man who recognized him from his days as Benjamin Barker and tried to blackmail him, but after "Epiphany", he starts committing the murders that would make him infamous.
  • The Stepfather series of films involves an unnamed serial killer (he only ever uses aliases) obsessed with finding the perfect family to become a part of. Things are all smiles and sunshine for a while, but if the family doesn't reach expectations and becomes too hard to handle, he moves on to another, murdering his current one (and anyone else in the way) in a vicious cycle, being pretty much incapable of believing that there is no such thing as "the perfect family". One of the most memorable scenes in the original is of the killer losing his composure in the basement, thrashing around and muttering nearly incomprehensibly, unknowingly in front of his stepdaughter. Also, the "Family Killer", as he's called in the third film was apparently based off real life killer John List.
  • Before becoming a dream-stalking ghost via demons, Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame was a serial killer by the name of the "Springwood Slasher", who would prey on young children (and, if an old newspaper in the fifth film is any indication, he'd do more than just butcher them). The sixth film reveals that he had an entire secret room in his house filled with trophies of his kills (and various implements of torture), and the opening of Freddy vs. Jason also at one point had him flipping through a scrapbook of his victims while chuckling to himself.
  • Henry, the Villain Protagonist of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, is a brutal murderer who changes his M.O. for each kill, so the police don't know what he's up to. He eventually gets away with killing literally every other major character in the film, including his accomplice and his girlfriend. He's also so cold and unfeeling that he makes Dexter look like a warm, caring individual.
  • The murderous truck driver from Steven Spielberg's Made for TV Movie Duel is revealed to be one of these, as we see several license plates mounted on his truck, presumably as trophies from drivers he previously killed.
  • The focus of an amusing subplot in the Steve Martin comedy The Man With Two Brains, when Martin's character accidentally stumbles across the identity of The Elevator Killer:

 Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: You. You're the elevator killer. Merv Griffin.

The Elevator Killer: Yeah.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Why?

The Elevator Killer: I don't know. I've always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and -- it's just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn't even lurk anymore. I'd hear, "Who's that lurking over there? Isn't that Merv Griffin?" So I came to Europe to kill. And it's really worked out very well for me!

  • Grindhouse's Stuntman Mike: He's a stuntman. Who horribly butchers women. With his car. Yeah. Of course, Tracy Thoms, Zoe Bell, and Rosario Dawson turn the tables on the redneck lunatic bastard.
  • The Scream series each featured a Serial Killer in costume who hunted down all the friends and family of Sidney Prescott (or the cast of the Film Within a Film in the third one). The various people who have donned the Ghostface mask are: Billy Loomis and Stu Macher in Scream, Mrs. Loomis and Mickey in Scream 2, Roman Bridger in Scream 3, and Jill Roberts and Charlie Walker in Scream 4.
  • Friday the 13 th's Jason Voorhees: He gets even worse after getting hacked up with a machete.
  • Halloween's Michael Myers: Killing just one sister just wasn't enough for him.
  • Scorpio, in Dirty Harry. Scorpio was based on the real life Zodiac Killer who was active in San Francisco in the late 1960's, but never caught.
  • Citizen X, a real one, Andrei Chikatilo.
    • Evilenko, also based on Chikatilo (though much more loosely).
  • Jack in the movie Blacktop, who, as the title suggests, works driving a truck around the mid-West and uses the trailer's freezer to store the strung-up corpses of his victims. Best part is, he's played by Meat Loaf.
  • Mike and Bart in the black comedy How To Be A Serial Killer.
  • Carl Panzram in Killer: A Journal of a Murder, memorably played by James Woods. Disturbing in its way since the story is based on an actual serial killer, although the film isn't nearly as gruesome as Panzram's real career.
  • The Element of Crime subverts many of the expected associated tropes by featuring a very elusive child killer whose identity is never revealed (in fact, he may be have been dead already even before the events of the movie), and by having some of his murders actually committed by the people who pursue him, as they become crazy because of the very profiling method they're using.
  • The protagonist of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is an especially terrifying example.
  • Hugo Stiglitz of Inglourious Basterds was basically a serial killer that targeted Nazi officers despite being one himself. This got him immediate entry into the Basterds after they busted him out of prison.
  • Angela Baker is a mission-based one. In the original Sleepaway Camp, she killed people who had wronged her in some way, while in the next two films, she's developed an extreme set of morals, and is pretty much a puritanical killer, murdering people who personally offend her (so, the usual slasher film stereotypes). In the fifth film, she murders Alan's main tormenters.
  • Leatherface. Several of his relatives also count, but in general, the dirty work is left to him.
  • Charles Lee Ray, better known as Chucky the Killer Doll.
  • Each installment of the Prom Night series features one. The first has Alex Hammond, the second and third feature Mary Lou Maloney, the fourth has Father Jonas, and the remake has Richard Fenton.
  • A few of the main characters in Predators.
  • The murderer in Untraceable abducted and killed people in gruesome ways while broadcasting over the internet that he would spare the victim only if it didn't meet the number of viewers that he attracted, as it turns out the people he was killing were people connected to his father's suicide.
  • Monsieur Verdoux, the Villain Protagonist of the eponymous Charlie Chaplin film, is a Bluebeard-style killer, inspired by the actual serial killer Henri Landru.
  • Changeling features Gordon Northcott, who kidnapped and murdered more than 20 young boys on a small farm in California.
  • Monster, the one with Charlize Theron (but not Charlize Theron's eyebrows) as Aileen Wuornos.
  • The Convenience Store Killer from Cornered.
  • The murderer from Psycho Beach Party killing people they consider imperfect, eg. the disabled girl, a man with an extra toe, etc.
  • Waingro from Heat kills a third (underage) prostitute early in the movie, officially making him a serial killer. Since this is never brought up again in the movie, that was propably only done to show how much of a Complete Monster he was.
    • Actually, it just makes Waingro a murderer, not a serial killer. There was no particular pathology to his murders, and they were all done in a short amount of time. He was just a murderous criminal.
  • The Gemini Killer from The Exorcist III.
  • Child killer Rustin Parr in The Blair Witch Project.
  • Zodiac is about the hunt for the real-life Zodiac Killer.
  • Arsenic and Old Lace pits Only Sane Man Mortimer Brewster against two separate serial killers: his old maiden aunts, Abby and Martha, who poison lonely old men as a "charity" and bury them in their cellar (falling under Visionary as they are clearly insane); and his older brother Jonathan, who is a psychotic murderer with kills all over the world (falling under Power/Control). When they discover each other's crimes, they wind up comparing notes, Body Count Competition-style, which is played for Dead Baby Comedy.


Literature Edit

  • The Silence of the Lambs is the definitive serial killer novel, in that almost every fictional serial killer since has been inspired by the two examples in the movie.
    • Buffalo Bill is a complete maniac who kills and skins five women. Although feminine and very disturbing, he is a fairly generic serial killer. Buffalo Bill is actually a combination of real life serial killers Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Gary Heidnik.
    • On the other hand, Hannibal Lecter is a cultural icon. He's a well-educated man, a famous psychiatrist, and a genius who sometimes helps out the protagonists. His cold eyes are the only signs that he is a serial killing cannibal. Although in the book (but not the film), he has maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand.
    • Francis Dolarhyde from Red Dragon (the first of the Lecter novels) and the movie Manhunter is a gruesome one, complete with scrapbook of newspaper clippings and drawings from when he was a kid, reflecting his Freudian Excuse. Rather than sending taunting letters to the cops, he sent fan letters to the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter himself.
  • Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi has the title character, a charming, wealthy aristocrat who is revealed to have killed hundreds of young women that he keeps in a chamber in his estate.
  • Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is a sadistic sociopath, although he doesn't fit all of the qualifications. For one thing, he might not have actually killed anyone.
  • Annie Wilkes from Misery is an "Angel of Death" example. She was a nurse, and killed many old patients, and later, babies in the hospitals she worked in.
  • Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith has one operating in the Soviet Union in the early 1950's. The catch? The killer is the protagonist's brother, Andrei, from whom he was separated as a child. Turns out Andrei was killing his victims the same way that he and his brother killed game for food, in an effort to lure his brother back to him. Not to kill him, just to be with him again. You find out the identity of the killer a while before the end of the book (if you can put the clues together), so it becomes a whydunnit.
  • Subverted in the Agatha Christie novel The ABC Murders, where Hercule Poirot receives a series of letters from 'ABC' threatening to kill a series of victims in alphabetical order and challenging Poirot to unmask him. Alexander Bonaparte Cust is being used as a front by the real killer, who wants to murder his brother for the inheritance and plans to cover it up by disguising it as the act of a serial killer.
  • A staple of the In Death series.
  • Martin Vanger from The Millennium Trilogy defies all stereotypes and all rules on top of this page. He is the kindly CEO of a corporation, a nice but troubled guy, and a friend who even saves the protagonist's life. And he is a serial killer who has been imprisoning, raping, and murdering hundreds of young Russian girls. This has been going on since he was a teenager. The most chilling thing is Martin's explanation for his actions: "This is every man's innermost dream. I take whatever I want".
  • John Dread from Tad Williams' Otherland series is an excellent example. He was raised by a violent, drug-addicted mother who fulfilled her revenge fantasies against the world by intentionally turning him into a sociopath. He started killing as early as six, was moved from institution to institution and deemed "incorrigible", and finally escaped into society after Corrupt Corporate Executive Felix Jongleur noticed his abnormal psychic powers and began training him as a Psycho for Hire. He murders women for pleasure in fetishistic ways (basically acting out a Revenge Fic against his mother) and records all the killings in his private video library. He taunts the police by leaving bizarre clues at the scene and "fogging" security cameras with his "twist". He chafes at Jongleur's leash, and eventually breaks free by infiltrating the heroes' group in Otherland and discovering how to break the network's security, upon which point he proves how Eviler Than Thou he is by going on a godlike killing spree.
  • Serial killers are the main subject of I Am Not a Serial Killer.
  • In The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub, Dick Dart is most definitely this, despite how much he hates being called this by the media.
  • In Stationery Voyagers, Clandish Consto toys around with the idea of making a career out of being a Serial Killer. Then, he decides to become a full-blown terrorist instead (with plans to become a god).
  • Gretchen "the Beauty Killer" Lowell, first introduced in Heartsick, has tortured and killed over 200 people, whether alone or by manipulating her lovers into killing for her.
  • Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, has a strange example: a character known as Johnny Walker (very strongly implied if not proven to be the dad of the main character, Kafka.) Why is it strange? Instead of people, he kills cats, and eats their hearts.
  • The search for a serial killer in New York City in 1896 is the plot of Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
  • Mr. Harvey from The Lovely Bones, for a pedophilic example.
  • The period mystery Eater of Souls is a serial-killer story set in Ancient Egypt. One of the few cases where the "Supernatural" variant of this trope is genuinely and plausibly suspected by the investigators.
  • The David Eddings novel Regina's Song has the Seattle Slasher, a killer who paralyzes sexual predators with a syringe of curare and then carves them to pieces with a linoleum knife.
  • Ramsay Snow in A Song of Ice and Fire, alongside with being a torturer and altogether unpleasant person in every regard. Even his father, himself a fairly monstrous man, finds his excesses distasteful.
  • The Roman Empire setting of the Marcus Didius Falco novels might strike some as an odd place for a serial killer, but Three Hands in the Fountain has one anyway. Then again, the thoroughly modern sensibility of the series makes it work.
  • Many of Michael Connelly's mystery novels involve pursuit of a serial killer.
  • The first story that featured the infamous demon barber Sweeney Todd, The String of Pearls, had Sweeney murdering his customers by means of a barber's chair rigged to send people down to his basement, taking his razor to any who survived the fall, then delivering the bodies to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop across the street through a tunnel below to be made into pies. Sweeney was not motivated by vengeance like in the musical, but money. The story is a lot less romantic or melodramatic than the musical, and it ends with the two getting caught, Mrs. Lovett poisoning herself before the trial after almost getting lynched by her customers during her arrest, and Sweeney himself being tried, convicted, and hanged for his crimes.
  • In the Fate/Zero novel, the historical hero Gilles de Rais (summoned to the war as Caster) is a visionary serial killer (with aspects of a thrill killer) who kills to spite God for abandoning Jeanne d'Arc. He favours children as his targets. His master, Ryuunosuke, is a sadistic thrill killer who ended up summoning Caster out of curiosity and gleefully follows Caster because he considers him an artist.
  • Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen has Ellery being hired as a special investigator to assist the NYPD to catch a serial killer who has been terroising New York. Initially, the only pattern Ellery can find in the killer's targets, who vary in sex, race, and marital status, is that each victim is younger than the one before.
  • Two stories in Stephen King's Night Shift features a serial killer: "Springheel Jack" in Strawberry Spring and the hammer murderer in The Man who Loved Flowers. In both, the protagonist is the killer; in the former it's a case of The Killer in Me, in the latter an extreme example of Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick.


Live-Action TV Edit

  • There's the Showtime series Dexter, and the books by Jeff Lindsay from which it was adapted, which feature as their title character a serial killer who is a police forensics expert, and who preys solely on serial killers whom he feels have escaped justice.
    • In the books, Astor and Cody show signs of developing into serial killers, themselves. It's touched on with Cody in the TV series, but mostly left out due to Executive Meddling.
    • The series also features a serial killer of the season that the police focused their attention towards.
      • Season 1/"Darkly Dreaming Dexter: - The Ice Truck Killer, dabbling in the murders of prostitutes by methods quite like Dexter's methods. Turns out it's Dexter's own brother, Brian, who is later killed by Dexter.
      • Season 2 - Dexter himself, after his garbage bags are found. Doakes takes the fall for it, and Lila kills him in a cabin explosion.
      • "Dearly Devoted Dexter: - Dr. Danco, a former interrogation specialist and surgeon who was employed by the US government in El Salvador, who was sold out and starts to hunt down the people who caused it. A former comrade of Doakes. Killed while experimenting on Doakes with Dexter tied down. Doakes comes out of it missing a few body parts. A lot of them. He gets slightly better.
      • Season 3 - The Skinner, a man known for, well... skinning people. He kidnaps Dexter and tries to get him to tell where Freebo, an associate of the Skinner, was. Dexter snaps his neck and then throws him into the incoming path of a police car.
      • "Dexter in the Dark" - A serial killer who kills in an odd tradition, by beheading and throwing the body in a kiln. A subversion, since it's all being committed by several people in a cult worshiping Moloch, an old god. Arguably played straight when it turns out Moloch is very real, and drives people to murder. Dexter's stepchildren were about to be victims by the head of the cult until Cody saves the day.
      • Season 4 - The Trinity Killer, a man who kills in threes. One of the most prolific and deadly killers in America, having avoided capture for three decades. Dexter unravels Trinity's double life and eventually kills him, but not until after Trinity (or someone using his signature) kills Rita. He killed each person during a cycle in different ways, to reflect deaths of family members he either directly or indirectly killed. It also turns out he killed in fours, but the first part of his cycle was not picked up by the original investigator because the bodies were never found.
      • "Dexter by Design" - A killer who carves out the innards of victims and stuffs them with ironic objects based on the scenery. Averted, turns out they were corpses stolen from the Miami morgue. Then played straight when Dexter kills one of the two masterminds behind it, sending the other one into a killing spree. He then kidnaps Rita and tries to kill her. Dexter and kids save the day.
  • Jack of All Trades from Profiler both supported and subverted this trope. Jack was the killer, yes, but he had a girlfriend/project named "Jill", whom he made up to look like Sam Waters, the object of his obsession. But Jill, not Jack, is actually the one who kills off Sam's boyfriend Coop in Season Two.
  • The Carver from Nip Tuck.
  • So far, the extraordinarily dreadful Wayne Callison has only appeared on two episodes of Shark, but several plot arcs were initiated by his fairly memorable role.
  • Monk had a subversion in "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy". The "Six-Way Killer" sends the police a note bragging that he'll strike again within 72 hours, and the police focus all their resources on the case. Actually, the killer has no intention of killing anyone else. He wants to distract attention from a previous murder long enough for the police to lose their chance at a crucial piece of evidence.
    • Played straight in "Mr. Monk's 100th Case": A modelling photographer goes to the houses of young actresses who have posed for him, takes them off-guard, strangles and kills them, then takes their lipstick (to sign his work). In addition, each target he kills, he paints the deceased target's photo in his own photo studio with lipstick, leading Randy to call him the Lipstick Killer, a name Stottlemeyer disapproves of.
    • Monk has had some other serial killer cases before: one example is "Mr. Monk and the 12th Man", where this is Monk's only explanation for a string of eleven unsolvable homicides.
  • Criminal Minds has loads of these guys. That's part of the premise.
    • As a side effect of this, and the writers' close working relationship with real members of the BAU, it is very rare for more than two of the listed criteria to appear in the same killer.
    • Most villains that aren't serial killers are spree killers (a slightly different classification, but one that still ends up with a ton of people dead). The sheer variety of them covered in the show is one of its most interesting aspects.
  • Plenty in Wire in The Blood
  • Sylar. Throw in a slew of psychological issues and superpowers and you've got a doozy.

 "Wow. So you're like a serial killer."

"I'm not a serial killer."

"But you've got a pattern. You go after specific victims. You collect mementos."

"Okay, technically, I'm a serial killer."

  • Millennium: Frank Black (no, not the guy from Pixies) specializes in profiling serial killers.
  • CSI has had at least three, including "The Miniature Killer", who made miniatures of the crime scenes before a murder, and ultimately tried to kill Sara Sidle. Turned out this killer was a woman. Others include: the "Blue Paint Killer", who lured women into a trap using wet paint, and the "Dick and Jane Killer", who killed couples, keeping the girls to himself and leaving the male bodies to be found, the bodies stabbed sequentially to show their order of death, then ended up stabbing Dr. Ray Langstrom in the Season 10 Cliff Hanger.
    • Don't forget that Dentist! Dr. Dave - cuddly older fellow, does dental work for the un-insured, eats lunch in the same little diner for forty years, loves his wife and (grown) kids, and callously murders young women and drops their bodies in places with high crime rates. And gets away with it for years. And even when caught, calmly refuses to identify bodies because he simply doesn't care about the victims' families. Beyond creepy.
    • Also, Paul Millander, who shot men in bathtubs and made it look like suicides.
    • CSI New York had one such arc with "The Cabbie Killer", a guy who gassed people in the back of his taxi- with the exhaust fumes. As means of murder go, that is Nazi-level, being the method used before Zyklon-B was introduced.
      • Every CSI show has had numerous serial killer that lasted for only one episode, rather than forming story arcs. Of those that do make recurring appearances, most tend to either die in prison usually via suicide, or be killed by the cops.
  • A classic ep of Hawaii Five-O played around with this trope. The killers (a man and woman) are preying on wealthy young widows and unmarried women, offing about one a month. There is no note to the cops, no wall of evidence. A wealthy young widow goes missing and her attorney pesters Five-O to find her. They come up with scads of missing women who fit the M.O., only to find the attorney's client alive and happy being a hippie on a beach. But all the other women ended up very, very dead. Being Five-O, McGarrett sets a trap using a policewoman as bait and catches said villains.
    • Hawaii Five-O also had an episode with a family of serial killers, headed by Slim Pickens. They're presented as inbred hillbillys with barely an IQ point between them (hey, it was the 60's). In the end they are caught because one of the children kept a souvenir. They excused their crimes on two points. It wasn't robbery because they killed the people first and dead people don't need money and secondly it was okay to kill them because "They weren't kin."
  • In the season 3 finale of Psych, the "Yin-Yang" killer, who will challenge a cop he views as worthy with riddles, challenges Shawn to catch him before he kills. However, Shawn beats him by taking his plan Off the Rails (Shawn was supposed to answer a cell phone they found, but threw it into the ocean), forcing him to change his intended target to keep Shawn "in the game". But it just causes him to be caught for the first time ever. And he turns out to be a she.
  • Subverted in the final season of The Wire, where two cops invent a fictitious serial killer preying on homeless men, even going so far as to fabricate evidence and lie to the media. They use the subsequent uproar to get city hall to pony up funds withheld from the police due to a budget crisis.
  • Numb3rs has had quite a few, from serial snipers to people staging fake car accidents to murder to a murderer killing people in ways that mirror the death of every one of Jesus' apostles. Most of them only appear in one episode. Of course, this being a show about Math fighting crimes, all the serial killers are found using math.
  • Law and Order: Criminal Intent: Nicole Wallace. Also, Kevin Riddick a.k.a. The Motel Ripper, Frank Mc Nare a.k.a B.B.J., Dr. Edwin Lindgard, and Jo Gage.
  • Gormogon from Bones was the latest in a line of cannibalistic serial killers who preyed on those they believed to be members of secret societies. Other serial killers who feature in multiple episodes include Howard Epps and the Grave Digger. Two of the three are thankfully dead, and the third just got her head shot off as she was going to trial.
  • NCIS gives us Kyle Boone, who killed close to thirty women (one his mother and another a Naval officer) and was ultimately caught by Gibbs some years before the series began. As he was set to be executed, however, more murders occurred. Turns out he'd trained his lawyer to carry on as part of a scheme to escape execution and gain more attention from Gibbs. The lawyer picked Recurring Character Paula Cassidy as his next victim...and she killed him. Others appeared as well, including a serial sniper going after Marine recruiters and a young Jack the Ripoff who laughed after he was caught, convinced that he'd be famous. Gibbs deliberately withheld his name from the press.
    • In the season four episode Smoked, the dead body of a serial killer Fornell has been hunting for years turns up. In the end it turns out it was actually the dead man's wife who was the killer. Except they found the toe of one of the victims in her husband's stomach.
    • At the end of season eight and beginning of season nine, they try to catch the P 2 P (Port-to-Port) killer, who kills navy personnel, dresses them up in uniforms belonging to people above them in the hierarchy, wraps them in plastic and ties their feet together. Turns out he didn't start out as a serial killer. He was part of a CIA/NCIS program called Operation Frankenstein which purpose was to train "super assassins". The training pushed him over the edge and gave him a need to kill. And now this killing machine is angry because of what the CIA and NCIS did to him and seeks revenge.
  • Supernatural:
    • The monster in "Skin" is a shapeshifter whose MO is to take the appearance of someone and then torture, rape and kill one of their loved ones so they would be framed for his crimes.
    • In "No Exit", the protagonists had to take out the ghost of H. H. Holmes, America's original serial killer.
    • In a flashback in "Repo Man", a demon kills and mutilate women while he is possessing somebody. Years after having been sent back to hell by the Winchesters, a very similar killing spree starts again in the same region. The killer is the guy who was possessed by the demon in the past, who always wanted to be a serial killer but never had the strength or expertise to actually do so until he got possessed.
  • A handful of Cold Case examples. Usually it's the killer resurfacing after years of inactivity, or their dump sites being discovered that prompts the team to investigate.
  • Tobias Lehigh Nagy ("The Smog Strangler") from Seinfeld; Kramer gets mistaken for him. Another episode had The Lopper, who apparently cut the heads off of men who just happened to resemble Jerry.
  • An episode of Everybody Hates Chris had Chris convince the neighborhood that a serial killer (who murdered people with scissors) was on the loose.
  • Castle has had three encounters with serial killers.
    • In the pilot, this trope was averted; the Genre Savvy killer framed a crazy person by killing two people in addition to his real target, and staging all three scenes to look like the work of a serial killer. Averted because Castle is dangerously genre-savvy.
    • Scott Dunn, the serial killer in "Tick Tick Tick..." and "Boom!", uses a series of ridiculously elaborate plans to point the police at a patsy, who was actually a victim. Later, he got his Alone with the Psycho time with the guest star, and nearly killed an entire FBI team with his diabolical Evil Plan. Defeated by Castle, who as an author is Dangerously Genre Savvy and foiled his plot by explaining how he would have written it if it was one of his books.
    • Castle and Beckett finally meet their match in "3xk". This killer is so brilliant that he got another criminal to kill some of his victims while he was hiding in jail on a minor charge-- a nearly bullet-proof alibi. While Castle solves this one as well, it's too late to stop the killer from escaping. Escaping, that is, after knocking out Ryan, taking his gun, and gloating as he ties Castle up.
  • The Mentalist:
    • Red John, the Big Bad of the show, is of the uncatchable variety. Fortunately he only kills about once a year. He's technically retired in that most of his last victims are to cover his tracks, or to avenge an insult, whereas he began as someone who targeted women seemingly for kicks; a dramatic change of M.O.
    • At least two serial killers appear for one episode as the murderer of the Victim of the Week. One is an ally of Red John, while the other, the San Joaquin killer, is killed by Red John after insulting him.
  • Life had a serial killer who murdered people and stuffed them in trunks because they were happier than him.
  • Kamen Rider Ouja from Kamen Rider Ryuki is a particularally nasty case. He was already an unrepentant psychopath with a body count before he got superpowers. The fact he actually enjoys killing people made him one of the most successful Riders in the Rider War with the most kills. Is ultimately killed by sniper fire when he emerges from Mirror World and is pinned down by the cops.
  • The first episode of Sherlock deals with a serial killer who's somehow been forcing his/her victims to apparently kill themselves. Turns out he's a cabbie who's being paid for each murder. Sherlock, incidentally, is beside himself with glee when he confirms that the deaths are in fact the work of a serial killer.
  • Pops up from time to time on Law and Order, perhaps most notably in the episodes "Vengeance" (in which the A.D.A.s have to decide whether to allow the killer to be extradited to Connecticut, which has the death penalty, when they know the crime was really committed in New York), "Agony" (in which the A.D.A.s have so little evidence that they are forced to give the killer a sweetheart plea bargain...then find out he may not be guilty of that particular murder), and "Bodies" (in which the A.D.A.s prosecute the killer's lawyer for conspiring with him because he knows where the bodies are buried and won't say).
  • Angel:
    • The demon from "Lonely Hearts" wants to find the perfect body to inhabit, but until then it has to keep killing to find a new one when its latest acquisition has been worn out.
    • Like all vampires, Penn in "Somnambulist" loves killings and rampages, but unlike most he has a particular pattern which he has kept for centuries, making him a truer example. As a human, he used to be a man who hated the restrictions of his puritan father. After being made a vampire by Angelus, he murdered his family and deliberately sought out victims who resembled his family, killing them in order to reenact his past murders. He then carved a cross on their faces - the police believes it was because he thought he was doing God's work, nicknaming him "The Pope", but it's actually to mock God.
  • Many, many of them show up in Medium. Notable ones include Dr. Walker, a long-dead serial killer (played by Mark Sheppard) who as a ghost whispers to the ears of innocent doctors until they loose their mind and become killers themselves, and a serial killer who has the same visions as Allison.
  • True Blood: the main villain of the first season is a serial killer who strangles women who are sleeping with vampires or use their blood as a drug. Also, it's Rene.
  • Rizzoli and Isles: Charles Hoyt.


Mythology Edit

  • Classical Mythology: When Theseus traveled on the road to Athens, he encountered numerous bandits who had unique murder methods. Theseus offed them with their own methods. These included:
    • Polypoetes, who would beat people to death with his club.
    • Sinis, who would tie people between two trees that he had bent down. Then, he let go of the trees, ripping them in half.
    • Sciron, an elderly man who would ask passersby to wash his feet as a sign of respect. When they bent over to comply, he would punt them off a cliff and into the jaws of a sea monster at the bottom.
    • Cercyon, who would challenge passersby to wrestling matches, then kill them after they had lost.
    • Procrustes, who would invite passersby to stay the night at his place. If they were too short for the bed, he would stretch their bodies until they fit. If they were too tall for the bed, he would chop off the excess. If they fit just right, he would smother the victims between the mattress and a specially rigged canopy.


Music Edit

  • The Other Wiki has a list.
  • The Rolling Stones' "Midnight Rambler" is sung from the point of view of one of these.
  • "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", by The Beatles.
  • Steely Dan's "Midnight Cruiser"
  • Queen's "Killer Queen"
  • Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer"
  • Pretty much everything by Macabre, or really any Death Metal band.
    • Especially Cannibal Corpse, e.g. "Stripped, Raped, and Strangled".
  • A rather famous example is the song "Dead Skin Mask" by Slayer. "Angel of Death" could count as well, since Mengele racked up quite a body count.
  • Radiohead's "Climbing Up The Walls".
  • Swans, a band never known for their cheery subject matter, have two songs actually from the perspective of serial killers: "Young God" (Ed Gein, who inspired Psycho) and "Killing For Company" (Dennis Andrew Nilsen).
  • Early Industrial music in general, but the Power Electronics sub-genre in particular (Whitehouse are notorious for this).
  • Implied in Scott Walker's "The Electrician", the title character of which is a professional torturer.
  • The Dead Kennedys' "I Kill Children".
  • Sunn0)))'s "Bathory Erszebet".
  • Band Of Susans' "Elizabeth Stride (1843-1888)" follows the last minutes of Jack the Ripper's third victim.
  • Sufjan Stevens "John Wayne Gacy". Defines Lyrical Dissonance.
  • Ozzy Osbourne has several, most notably Little Dolls and No More Tears.
  • Alice Cooper's 2008 concept album "Along Came A Spider" is all about a fictional serial killer who wraps his victims in silk and cuts off one their legs to construct a flesh spider. His rampage is quelled when he falls in love with his eighth victim and finds Jesus.
  • Beck's cheery and catchy "Girl" takes the POV of one.


Tabletop Games Edit

  • The New World of Darkness has slashers, humans who find themselves compelled to kill. Strangely enough, they're playable, and you can opt for a game in which the people the slashers kill often deserve it. Each slasher archetype, or Undertaking, has two tiers: Ripper (steps above your standard serial killer, but still conceivably human) and Scourge (outright supernatural incarnation of murder).
    • Also notable as the rules presented allow you to make pretty much every character seen on this page:
      • Avenger/Legend: Paul Kersey from Death Wish starts killing criminal punks, but eventually becomes so fed up with "the filth on the streets" that he becomes Candyman, haunting the urban projects.
      • Brute/Mask: Mickey from Natural Born Killers gets off on killing so much that he trades all that makes him human -- language, literacy, the ability to be around others -- to become Jason Voorhees, unkillable but lurking in the woods for the pain human contact causes.
      • Charmer/Psycho: Reverend Powell from The Night of the Hunter gets by on the thin veneer of humanity for so long that it eventually turns inside out and he becomes the freak you can't help but stare at, not unlike The Joker.
      • Freak/Mutant: The families from The Hills Have Eyes take to the caves and degrade until they become the Crawlers.
      • Genius/Maniac: Hannibal Lecter tells people how much they suck so many times, he comes to believe he's the model example for mankind and goes on a John Doe-esque killing spree with a message.
    • Over in the Old World of Darkness are the Euthanatos of Mage: The Ascension, an entire group of the mission-based style. Justified to some extent as there really are a number of Complete Monsters out there, and they're warned against judging too quickly.
      • Although they have to be careful and not turn into the hedonistic type, otherwise they might become one of their colleagues' next targets.
  • Subverted in the Ravenloft adventure Hour of the Knife. What seems like a hunt for Jack-the-Ripper Expy "Bloody Jack" is complicated by the revelation that A) "Jack" is a doppelganger, and B) the killings aren't insane at all, but a murderous ritual to empower an artifact-caliber cursed knife.
  • Mutants and Masterminds has a spirit that manipulates people into this - Jack-a-Knives, the Murder Spirit.


Video Games Edit

  • Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines has the psychotic Dr. Gimble who lures victims to his prosthetics lab with the promise of a modeling job, and proceeds to lock them in the basement and slowly dissect them over a matter of months.
  • Eddie Low in Grand Theft Auto IV.
  • SHIKI in Tsukihime in the routes where he's in control over Roa. He doesn't actually enjoy killing and unlike Satsuki he isn't doing it to live. He just doesn't possess the power to stop.
    • It's revealed that he's trying to find and kill Shiki because their mind-connection is driving him mad, but he can never find him because he was given false information about what he looks like. So instead he kills women who bear a resemblance to his sister Akiha because he wants to drink their blood.
  • Touhou Project's Sakuya Izayoi is a maid, and an awesome one at that. But she is a Knife Nut and her spellcards have a serial killer theme. Could it be that she used to be a serial killer before joining Remilia?
  • The Origami Killer from Heavy Rain, a sick fuck who murders children by throwing them in deep ditches and waiting for them to drown, in addition to putting their fathers through hellish trials. It's really Scott Shelby: player-character, resident Nice Guy and private detective "investigating" the Origami Killer.
  • The Baldur's Gate series features several of these, starting with Neb, the child-killing gnome who returns in the sequel, and the "tanner" in Baldur's Gate 2, who removes the skin of his victims and makes clothes out of it.
  • Adachi from Persona 4.
  • The Scissorman from the Clock Tower series. In the first game he's more a generic monster who chases you, but by the second game (the first one released in America), he fits this trope because there is genuine mystery as to his identity and most of the characters are criminal psychologists.
  • Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura has the Whytechurch murderer, loosely based on Jack the Ripper. His true identity is Vincent, an elven wizard possessed by a demon.
  • Morinth from Mass Effect 2 is an Ardat-Yakshi who uses her genetic abnormality to kill whoever she meets by seducing and "melding" with them to satisfy her insatiable lust.
  • One of these can be optionally confronted in Action Doom 2: Urban Brawl, depending on which path throughout the game you take. Hugo's a huge, fat silent guy who looks like Hugo Andore and lives alone in a farmhouse in the middle of a forest where he keeps a vicious dog. He kidnaps children and apparently butchers them, then hangs them up in his barn. You confront him one-on-one and potentially beat him to death in a fist fight... or just slice him in half with a chainsaw, if you have found it.
  • Dragon Age II has Quentin, an insane Blood Mage who murders women and takes parts of their bodies that resemble his dead wife in a crazy attempt to bring her back. His last victim is Hawke's mother Leandra.
    • Kelder from the sidequest "Magistrate's Orders" is an insane killer who targets elven children because they are "too beautiful" and blames his impulses on imaginary demons (as opposed to the real ones in the setting). He has managed to escape justice thanks to 1) the protection of his powerful magistrate father and 2) the lack of concern most humans have for elves. Part of him is still sane enough to realize that he is beyond redemption and he begs Hawke to kill him.
  • The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim had a serial killer sub-plot essentially identical to the Dragon Age II one, except the killer was trying to build a new body for his dead sister rather than dead wife.
  • Kara no Shoujo: There are three serial killers, though one has disappeared from the police radar a few years back. They all appear to be a mix of type one and two.
  • Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal is of the hedonistic type with antisocial and disorganized sub types.


Visual Novel Edit

  • Hinimizawa Syndrome in Higurashi tends to induce people to become the Visionary type. Most prevalent with Shion Sonozaki, who also adds the revenge sub type in the Cotton Drifting and Eye Opening chapters.


Webcomics Edit

  • The Dragon Doctors: The Doctors confronted a magical serial killer in their "Messenger of Death" chapter. The murderer killed several shamans using summoned spirits of his own; finding out what spirits were used to determine the character profile of the murderer was the main focus of the plot.
  • Achewood: Nice Pete, who combines type 1 (visionary) and type 4 (power/control) with a thoroughly creepy dead-eyed stare.
  • Jared features four serial killer characters. Mary and Shia are more Headonistic, while Lilac seems to like the power. Jared is more of an antisocial killer.
  • In Homestuck, Vriska Serket and Eridan Ampora were both serial killers well before the story even started (although both had their excuses). Much later, Gamzee Makara goes Ax Crazy after a major crisis of faith and ends up killing a couple minor characters.


Web Original Edit

  • Terrence of Kate Modern was revealed to be a serial killer in "Precious Blood".
  • Unexpectedly used in Survival of the Fittest. Johnny "Mordread" Lamika of version one and Walter Smith of version two were both serial killers despite being high-school age teenagers. Johnny was explained as having initially never left enough evidence for the deaths to be considered anything but an accident, but was eventually caught and sent to a mental institution after a successful insanity plea on the part of his defense. Walter got away with his actions because his father was a Senator, and used his influence to cover up Walter's actions and get him out of trouble on the few occasions he was suspected. In return, his father would sometimes bring him political enemies to torture and/or dispose of.
  • Cause of Death is pretty much all about this. The very first episode shows the nameless killer bust into the victim's house and kill him...with a granola bar. There seems to be some mystery behind who the woman is in the picture, but the story is ongoing.
  • A Played for Laughs version from Echo Chamber: In Terrible Interviewees Montage, there was one terrible interviewee known only as "???" who might have been one. He had a large knife, seemed Axe Crazy, and talked about a large freezer...


Western Animation Edit

  • South Park has (at least) two episodes involving serial killers.
    • "Cartman's Incredible Gift" features the Left-Hand Killer, who is a better example of a typical serial killer in comparison to later examples, though not by much. He's mostly a parody of Francis Dolorhyde as depicted in the newer Red Dragon film, with a few other tropes thrown in.
    • "Hell On Earth 2006" shows the "antics," of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffery Dahmer. Said "antics," are called so because they become a parody of sorts of the Three Stooges after their initial introduction.
    • The obviously insane Hat McCullough from "Free Hat", though his defenders claim he killed those twenty-three babies in self-defense.
    • "Merry Christmas Charlie Manson"
  • Flippy from Happy Tree Friends.
  • An episode of Family Guy dealt with the "Fat Guy Strangler", who strangled fat men. It turns out to be Lois' brother Patrick (voiced by Robert Downey, Jr. in his debut), who was sent to an insane asylum as a child after being traumatized by seeing Jackie Gleason having sex with his mother, and from there concluded that all fat people were evil and so went on a killing spree.
    • An earlier episode had The Mass Media Murderer, who specifically targeted members of the press. Another episode briefly featured a Quahog encyclopedia of crime, which mentioned such figures as "The Berserk Hobo" and "The Golden Autumn Day Strangler".
  • A Looney Tunes short entitled "Bye Bye Bluebeard" involved Porky Pig being paranoid about a serial killer named Bluebeard who raids houses to kill the residents and steal their food, a mouse hearing the news decides to impersonate him eventually Porky sees through his disguise and soon comes face to face with the real Bluebeard.
  • A couple of Beavis and Butthead episodes dealt with serial killers, in "Most Wanted" the duo hunt for a serial killer with a tattoo on his forehead of the word "KILLER" whom we later find out is named Tom, so they can collect the prize money. They end up encountering him in their backyard and he attempts to kill them but due to their stupidity they think he is also looking for the killer. He becomes friends with them because Beavis is just as crazy as he is and as a reward he gives them tattoos of butts on their butts, we see him in a later episode calling a dating service to invite women over to his jail cell so he can kill them.
    • Another episode "A Great Day" they encounter another serial killer whom resembles real life killer Jeffrey Dahmer after following a trail of blood to his house he gives them 20 bucks to forget what they saw, later on he can be seen loading a dead body into the trunk of his car and the duo present him with the body of a canary presumably belonging to the victim that had been stabbed to death he again tells them to forget what they saw and gives them another 20 bucks.
  • In his first appearance on Courage the Cowardly Dog, Katz ran a Hell Hotel where he fed his guests to spiders for no discernible reason other than to just do it -- yet another horrifying trope this show played straight.
    • In his second appearence, he turned his victims into machines to have them battle to the death for his amusement. He also tried to blow up a submarine with all aboard and, despite having a motive this time, still relished in killing a huge number of people. His only appearence where what he's doing isn't a front for commiting murders is his candy shop. Then again, he seemed to be well versed in turning people into candy...
    • Benton Tarantella and Eroll Von Volkheim. Amatuer film directors who managed to slay 12 people before their deaths. Then they came back from the dead to keep doing it!
  • The Tattletale Strangler from SpongeBob SquarePants.
  • The Total Drama Island episode 'Hook, Line, and Screamer,' dealt with this: the contestants had to watch a horror movie about a psycho killer with a chainsaw and a hook (the whole thing said every time.) As quoted above, Duncan found it hilarious, until a real killer confronts Gwen, and everyone rushes to save her. Thankfully, she manages to kick his butt.
  • In an American Dad Halloween Episode, Stan, in order to upstage his neighbor's awesome haunted house, brings in five of the most vicious serial killers in the Eastern Seaboard to act as attractions in his own. Havoc predictably ensues.

  Stan: "Head for the woods, its always safe there!"

    • In the same episode, Klaus claims that after university he traveled around Italy, stabbing students.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, this was Heloise's original characterization, before they decided to make her a Mad Scientist instead. She's still pretty Ax Crazy.

Real Life Edit

  • Many a fictional serial killer is Very Loosely Based on a True Story. Ed Gein and Albert Fish in particular have a lot of Captain Ersatz counterparts based on them.
    • Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter from Silence of Lambs are, respectively, loosely based on Gein and Fish.
      • Mama's boy Norman Bates is also based on Gein.
      • And elements of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were inspired by Gein's gruesome style of interior decorating.
      • Buffalo Bill was also partly based on Bundy, namely, the bit where Bill pretends to be disabled and asks his victim for help to move/carry something.
      • Buffalo Bill is also based on Gary Heidnik, who abducted women and imprisoned them in his basement. However, his motives were to make the women his harem, whereas Bill had no sexual interest in his captives.
    • It is worth noting, however, that Gein himself is a subversion via the most technical details. As disturbing as his story is, he was only convicted of two murders. Three murders is the baseline for law enforcement when classifying serial killers. Though he was suspected of killing his brother and a number of other local women who "disappeared" while he was active.
  • Jerry Brudos wasn't very prolific, but he stands out for one particular reason: at his trial, he argued that a photograph of him with one of his victims couldn't be used as evidence against him because the victim in the picture wasn't the person he had been accused of killing.
    • To be fair, he's got an argument there. If he wasn't charged with killing the person in the photo, it's irrelevant to the specific case at hand and extremely prejudicial to the jury.
  • The most prolific serial killer in history, who didn't advertise it, was Harold Shipman. A British medical doctor, he was sent down for a full life term (no possibility of parole) in 2000 for 15 murders, using drug overdoses. Investigations concluded that he had, overall, killed at least 215 people, mostly old women, and probably 250, if not more (459 patients had died in his care overall, but it is unclear how many he actually killed since many of his patients were elderly). He committed suicide in 2004.
  • One special episode of the A&E series The First 48 had the detectives being documented discover a genuine serial killer, one who actually did call the police to gloat when the first bodies were discovered. Even more unbelievably (in the sense of "it only happens in movies") they actually did use sound analysis of the call for background noise and tracking the cellphone to pinpoint his location.
  • More common in real life than we'd like to believe. Heriberto Seda is an example, and was caught because he sent some many messages to the police that when he shot his sister's boyfriend with a zip gun, the cops recognized his M.O. and his handwriting. His model example, the Zodiac Killer, who operated in San Francisco, was never caught.
  • Who could forget Jack the Ripper?
    • Peter Sutcliffe, "The Yorkshire Ripper".
    • "Jack the Stripper"
  • One of America's first serial killers was Herman Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, who was most active during the time of Chicago's Colombian Exposition. He killed mostly women, and while it's confirmed he killed at least 27, some people believe the true count to be over a hundred. He committed his crimes in what literally was a labyrinthine hotel full of secret passages.
    • With a Torture Cellar and at least one Gas Chamber (masquerading as just another hotel room). It was designed from the start to be a murder house.
  • John Douglas is one of the first Real Life profilers, actually writing the book on the patterns of serial killers (several, in fact). It wasn't without cost, though; the cumulative stress of the work literally nearly killed him. His autobiography, Mindhunter, is highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer anyone?
  • Carl Panzram.
    • Quote: "In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy [read: rape] on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry."
    • Originally Panzram was only sentenced to twenty-five years. Why was he executed? When they sent him to Leavenworth, he told the warden, "I'll kill the first man that bothers me." You hear this a lot, but Panzram kept that promise - he beat the laundry foreman to death with an iron bar, and then threatened to kill the human rights groups that tried to appeal the death sentence he got for it!
  • Aileen Wuornos, whose story inspired the movie Monster.
  • Ted Bundy.
  • Robert Pickton, who inspired the Criminal Minds season four finale.
  • Richard Trenton Chase, the Vampire of Sacramento. His Wikipedia article alone consists of pure Nightmare Fuel.
  • Belle Gunness
  • John Wayne Gacy
  • One of the most prolific in history, Andrei Chikatilo, who killed over fifty women and children. The reason he got away with it for so long was because the Soviet Union, where he lived and killed, was totally in denial and believed serial killers to be a consequence of the "decadent west". He may actually be the partial basis for Roark Jr, aka That Yellow Bastard, in Sin City, particularly the part about "can't get it up without hearing his victims scream".
    • Although it is debatable just how many victims were really his, and how many were simply unsolved murders that the Soviet authorities pinned on him once they had someone to blame for them. He certainly was a prolific killer, but just how prolific may never actually be known.
  • Charles Manson himself may not have been a serial killer, but his followers absolutely were. A serial killer is defined as someone who kills more than three people with a "cooling off" period in between the killings. Music teacher Gary Hinman was murdered by the family on July 25, 1969. On August 9, 1969, they murdered five people, six if you count Sharon Tate's unborn baby; the next night, they killed grocers Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. On the 26th, they killed Donald "Shorty" Shea, a Hollywood stuntman. That's nine people (ten if you count Tate's child) in just a few weeks. In addition, other people are suspected of having been victims of the family, including Ronald Hughes, one member's defense attorney (believed to have been killed for balking at letting his client sacrifice herself to clear Manson). Although he was a chief conspirator in all of the killings, Manson did not personally draw a single drop of blood -- except for cutting Hinman's ear off, according to testimony -- but the various members of his "family" could certainly count as serial killers, especially Charles "Tex" Watson (Tate, LaBianca and Shea murders), Susan Atkins (Hinman and Tate), and Patricia Krenwinkel (Tate and LaBianca).
  • David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz.
  • The Zodiac, who was never caught during his lifetime. Authorities seem to have narrowed their area of suspicion down to about a dozen different men, almost all of whom are now dead.
  • Tommy Lynn Sells, recently claimed to have killed 70+ people, once said that he didn't like/use guns, because they were dangerous.
  • Countess Elizabeth Báthory is one of history's most prolific serial killers, tortured and killed over 500 women, although she was only convicted for 80. Legend has it she did this so that she could bathe in the blood of young virgins and maintain her vitality, but it is believed Báthory did it for the fun of it, which is far more chilling.
    • However, modern Hungarian historians have attempted to give her a Historical Hero Upgrade claiming that maybe she wasn't a serial killer at all, but a victim of a show trial by the Habsburgs to get her land and fortune. However the reports of the murders, which her husband joined in with, are far closer to contemporary though and it seems fairly likely that she killed at least some. The notaries in the case took testimony from more than 300 witnesses, several of whom lost relatives. Two of the accused named around 36 victims (although they may well have been tortured so the reliability of that is up for debate).
  • Pedro López raped and killed at least a hundred, but maybe three hundred, young girls across South America. The higher figure would make him one of the most prolific known serial killer in history. What could be scarier than that? He's been a free man since 1998 and is wanted for murder again.
  • Gilles de Rais was a French nobleman, war hero, compatriot of Joan Of Arc and murdered at least 80 children between 1432 and 1440, the majority of whom were also raped or sexually abused. Much like Bathory, a few people have tried claiming that he was framed by the church to acquire his lans but that's extremely unlikely since firstly, the church didn't have a hope of acquiring his lands (which ended up going to the Duke of Brittany); secondly, his confederates gave very detailed testimony and thirdly, around forty bodies were discovered. Margaret Murray has also tried claiming that he was a Dianic pagan who was subject to religious persecution but the evidence for this is virtually nil.
  • Australia had Eric Cooke, an unusual serial killer who changed his M.O. Two innocent men were also charged with crimes Cooke committed, but have since been exonerated.
  • "BTK" (Bind, Torture, Kill): Dennis Rader, who murdered 10 people in the Sedgwick county area of Wichita, Kansas from 1977-1989 while sending taunting letters and poems to the police, and was caught approximately a decade and a half after his last victim, because after such a long time he got bored and started sending letters to the police again, announcing that he was plotting his next murder. Lots of televison shows have since had a take on him, though most commonly the reason for their killer's lengthy absence is that he was seriously injured in some way and had to temporarily stop.[2]
  • Henry Lee Lucas is an interesting case. While he confessed to the murder of nearly 600 people (including people who turned out to still be alive), he often would recant his confessions, only to confess to other murders. He often became the "go-to" guy by police departments who wanted to clear their unsolved murder files. Since he was already sentenced to death, he relished in the attention that the confessions brought him. When he died in prison in 2001, forensics were only able to confirm 3 of his confessions, which technically did make him a serial killer. His supposed exploits inspired the brilliant Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
  • Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer, is one of the most prolific serial killers of the 20th century. He was convicted for the murder of 48 women over the course of three decades. However it is believed that he killed up to 90 women.
  • Richard Ramirez is notorious for his completely random modus operandi as well as choice of victim. He literally managed to terrorize the whole LA area in the 80's.
  • The Cleveland Torso Murderer is an especially gruesome example of an unsolved serial killing case. As the name suggests, the victims of this killer were dismembered and some of them were disembowled. Only a handful of the victims could be identified, making it an even more disturbing case. He/She also might be the culprit behind the infamous Black Dahlia murder.
  • Peter Kürten, also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf. Known for being one of the first investigations to use a criminal profile.
  • The Servant Girl Annihilator, in turn of the century killer from Austin, Texas. Noted for stalking black and white women with an axe, his crimes predate Jack the Ripper by only a few years, leading the newspapers of the time to claim the two were the same man. Two men were tried for the crime, but no one was ever convicted. The killings were supposedly the indirect inspiration for the famous moon towers that dot the Austin cityscape.
  • Edmund Kemper, who started with his grandparents (at 15) and worked his way from there. When asked by the judge what he thought a suitable punishment for his crimes would be, Kemper answered, "Death by torture."
  • Levi Bellfield only murdered three woman (and attempted to kill two others), but one of those murders (the murder of Milly Dowler) he got away with for years until he was suspected of it in 2008 and convicted in 2011 (he had been convicted of the other murders in 2008).

Notes

  1. fun fact:It's not a moose!
  2. The reason Dennis Rader stopped was simply that he got a job with the local Compliance Department, meaning he could stalk, bully and harass people with a veneer of legality, which he did with gleeful abandon, especially women, on at least one occassion taking one womans dog and having it put down and lying about it being a dangerous animal. In other words it was only because now he could live out his sadistic fantasies at greatly reduced risk, which makes him a much bigger bastard than any of his adaptations. And unlike them, when caught, he not only confessed to the killings, he bragged about them.

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