True crime has captured an audience of millions for years. Shows like Unsolved Mysteries and Forensic Files have followed the abduction and murder of hundreds of victims across the world, and every bookstore in the US has at least some shelf space dedicated to the subject.
But serial killers are at another level with many true crime fans. With docuseries and movies on famous serial killers like Ted Bundy and the BTK killer gaining worldwide interest, it begs the question – just what do we find so interesting about serial killers?
Serial killer is a special distinction that not all murders get. The FBI has strict guidelines as to what makes a killer a serial killer, and they follow that closely when classifying deaths. A serial killer is someone who commits at least three murders over more than a full month’s span, with a series of breaks in between. They call it an ‘emotional cooling’ period.
A serial killer is not someone that kills once from passion or impulse and then stops. They’re not shooting their husband’s lover and moving on with their lives, but they are driven by a need or compulsion to kill. Most often serial killers will murder people they do not know or are not close to, but every case is a little different.
It is similar to why people love horror movies. It might be dark and twisted, but it’s also a little bit fascinating. And stepping out of what you are familiar with and into something so completely different can be thrilling.
A serial killer is also, by definition, evil. They are taking others lives with no regard for anyone but themselves. And for the average person, that idea is so far from their life that stepping into the mind of a serial killer is like stepping into another world. The concept that evil in that state exists is mind-blowing and can be terrifying.
The Silence of the Lambs came out in 1991, skyrocketing serial killers into media and social interest, if you will. Since then there have been no shortage of movies, tv shows and books dedicated to the idea of serial killers, both accurate portrayals and fictional ones.
As long as we as a society are compelled to consume media that is different from what we are used to in our daily lives, serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer will continue to be popular in the mainstream. And there will always be a niche audience of people who are driven to learn more about the how’s and whys of serial killers, be it to understand the victims better, or the murderers.