This article was brought to you by criminal profiler Pat Brown and originally appeared on

By the light of the full moon, the face of the stuttering white man bore an evil look as he carved the letter X into the forehead of his latest victim’s naked body because she looked just like his mother who he hated with a passion born of having grown up with her vicious abuse and manipulativeness and with whom he lived with and led a quiet life that caused the neighbors to think he was just the “nice boy next door.”

While this paragraph could be a winner of the “worst opening line of a serial killer novel contest,” serial killers have often been stereotyped and portrayed in such a way that the public and even police investigators have misguided notions about this particular set of criminals. Let’s take a look at some of the most often believed characteristics of serial killers and their crimes.

1. Serial killers are weird looking, stuttering creatures OR they are really good looking

Actually, serial killers tend to fall pretty much in the average category. Rarely are they so handsome that they are real “lady killers.” Rarely are they horrific looking. Most of the time they are the kind of guys who an average girl might think is an okay date for a boring Friday night.

2. Serial killers live with their mothers

Serial killers DO sometimes live with female relatives because they have trouble with employment and paying the rent on time. Therefore, they find a sucker (read: nurturing female) to feel sorry for them and take them in. They may live with an aunt, a sister, a girlfriend, or a wife. However, sometimes they just live in a room or a cheap apartment all by themselves.

3. Serial killers play cat and mouse games with the police

Most of the time, they just kill and go back to their normal lives. Playing games with the police is dangerous and can get them caught, something most serial killers are trying to avoid. Only a few serial killers play this game and, of course, because it is such a public behavior, we remember these unusual criminals.

4. Serial killers are male

While a good portion of serial killers are male, there are many female serial killers at work as well. Female serial killers tend to kill more quietly and focus on victims that they know. They kill their children, the kids they baby-sit, and patients on their shift at the hospital. On occasion, they join their boyfriends in violent killings of young women.

5. Serial killers always use clever ruses to abduct their victims

The most prolific type of serial killer actually just comes up behind a woman in an alley or a jogging path and hits her over the head or puts a knife to her throat. These are also the killers that are more likely to get away with their crimes.

6. Serial killers kill every month

Most serial killers have a great deal of down time between killings, often years. Killing is hard work and dangerous. Killing every month is quite demanding and only a few really energetic serial killers do in that many victims.

7. Serial killers will never stop killing unless he is caught or dies

Most serial killers stop killing at a certain age. They simply run out of the steam and ability to commit crimes. If they are never caught, they will take their secret to their graves after dying of old age.

8. Serial killers all keep souvenirs and newspaper clippings

A good many of them just kill and go home and never look back except in when they relive the crime in their heads. Some may keep an eye on the news just to make sure the police aren’t looking in their direction. Most do not keep souvenirs because they know these items can link them to the crime. However, because some killers DO keep souvenirs and newspaper clippings, Hollywood pretty much uses that in every movie. After all, it makes for good visuals.

9. Serial killers are brilliant strategists

This myth comes from both the police and movies. The police want to make him look smart so they don’t look so bad if they can’t catch him. The movies make the killer brilliant because it makes for a more interesting plot. Most serial killers are of average intelligence. If they were smarter, they would find a better way to live life.

10. Most serial killers are caught through brilliant police investigation

Actually, most serial killers are caught through carelessness. Sometimes during a first crime, the inexperience of the killer will lead him to make mistakes that are easily followed up. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, a serial killer who has killed a lot may get careless because he has gotten away with the crimes so many times he becomes arrogant. Other times, an escaped witness will identify the killer, or the killer will get caught with a body in the trunk of his car during a routine traffic stop.

All these myths interfere with the police investigators and public’s ability to help solve these crimes. Mistaken beliefs cause suspects to be ignored, cases to go unsolved, and serial killers to remain at large in our communities.

Want to learn more?

Join profiler Pat Brown on the fascinating journey through the minds of serial killers in her best-selling book Killing For Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers.