Serial Killers: Five Myths and Why We Believe Them

Serial killers myths

In the summer of 2017, prosecutors released video of kidnapping victim Kala Brown being rescued by police from a metal storage container. She had been held against her will for two months by alleged serial killer Todd Kohlhepp in South Carolina.

You can view footage of his confessions, which he gave as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

Kala Brown was kidnapped in 2016 when she and her boyfriend responded to Kohlhepp’s work advertisements. She said she had d been friends with Kohlhepp, a real estate agent, for years on Facebook.

The alleged killer shot and buried Brown’s boyfriend and imprisoned her. Kohlhepp confessed to the murders of the others whose bodies were found buried on his property. In addition, he confessed to four more murders from 2003.

Serial Killers and Serial Murders

The nature of these shocking crimes lends itself well to publicity – especially when there is a living victim who escaped to tell the tale. Murder, in general, is a more sensational story than the everyday events in our lives. Or even the more prevalent non-violent crimes that happen in our country.

Serial murders are actually what is defined by the FBI as opposed to “serial killers” which is a media term. They happen very, very rarely. They account for only 1% of all murders. However, they are highly publicized. And so we have an idea of what serial killers are like fixed in our minds.

But do we have the right ideas?

Scientific American has published an excerpt from the book, Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers, by Scott Bonn that is interesting.

5 Myths About Serial Killers

Here are the five myths we believe about these murderers we call “serial killers.”

  1. Serial killers are men.
    Actually, 17% of all serial homicides are committed by women. Only 10% of total murders in the U.S. are committed by women, which means that relative to men, women represent a larger percentage of serial murders than all other homicide cases.
  2. Serial killers are Caucasian.
    The racial diversity of serial murderers mirrors the racial diversity of the U.S. population. It’s only the white male serial killers who become popular icons, in a way, like Ted Bundy. Proving that the racial divide does indeed permeate all sectors.
  3. Serial killers are isolated and dysfunctional.
    While there is some clinical correlation between antisocial personality disorder and serial murder, most serial killers do not stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way. They generally can maintain a hiding place in plain sight and can thereby sometimes avoid detection for long periods of time.
  4. Serial killers travel and kill interstate.
    Ted Bundy was a rare exception in that he did travel and kill in several states. Most killers of this nature have clear geographical boundaries as they are operating in their comfort zones, often anchored by their homes or places of business. The famous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, buried bodies under his home.
  5. Serial killers are mentally ill or evil geniuses.
    Serial killers actually have average to above average intelligence – the same as the general population. What sets them apart, and makes them able to kill repeatedly without getting caught, is their attention to detail, meticulous planning, and obsessiveness, as well as a lack of empathy.


So much time in the media is devoted to the stories of grisly murders and the inner worlds of the people who commit them. However, serial homicide is still very rare.

It could be argued that serial murderers should not become cultural icons or have their stories told and publicized again and again.

What do you think? Should our culture lend a hand in denying violent criminals like this a stage? How would we do this?