What is the Difference Between a Serial Killer, Mass Murderer, and a Spree Killer?

serial-killer-1-1533896Too often people classify the wrong groups of people as a serial killer. While it’s fine for their own personal reference, when they begin to make these statements on their websites, it presents bad information.

What is a Spree Killer?

First, a spree killer isn’t a serial killer. These are two completely different things and they do not mean the exact same thing. While they are sometimes used interchangeably in the media, they are very different. A spree killer is someone who takes the life of at least two people, across multiple locations with almost no break at all. So people like Ronald M. Holmes and Richard Chase are spree killers. Despite Chase often being called a serial killer.

Chase, also known as “The Vampire of Sacramento” killed his six victims over the course of 30 days. There was no “cooling off period” during this time.

What is a Mass Murderer?

A mass murder is when a group of four or more people in a single killing. Usually, the killings have to be done in the same location. While there is a minimum for a mass murder, there isn’t generally a cap on the number of victims that cap it. Examples of mass murder include incidents like killings committed by Richard Speck when he killed eight nurses in 1966.

What is a Serial Killer?

A serial killer is an individual who has killed at least three victims on different occasions. These victims are selected, take place after a cooling off period between the murders, and are often planned. The serial killer is further broken down into four main types.

The visionary serial killer who kills under the order of visions or voices. The classification is further broken down into either God or Demon mandated. An example of this type of a God mandated killer is Herbert Mullin. In turn, David Berkowitz would be considered a demon mandated killer.

The mission orientated killer is one who targets those who are not worthy of life and killing them would improve the world. Their victims are often considered “undesirable” in terms of religious or personal beliefs. This includes other races, homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts or similar groups of people. The Zebra Murders are an example of this.

The hedonistic killer is one that becomes sexually aroused by murder. This is further broken down in three main categories.

  • Lust is when sex is the primary motive. The fantasy takes place with living or dead victims. Kenneth Bianchi is an example of this type of serial killer.
  • Thrill is when a person gains sexual excitement on the pain and terror they cause. Coral Watts is an example of this type of killer.
  • Comfort is done for material gain of some kind and revolves around the basis of trust. Typically, these are female killers. Dorothea Puente is a great example of this type of killer.

The power-orientated killer is one who craves the control over their victims. They often capture and control them and require them to obey them before they kill them. Ted Bundy would be a good example of someone who falls in this category.

Media is one of the most common excuses that is used. However, it is often not true. This is where some form of media influenced the killer to kill. It might be through the power of suggestion and even the desire to get vigilante justice through the media. Peter Kurten is one of the few examples of a serial killer that falls in this category.

There is of course plenty of other factors that are relevant, but this gives you a little extra insight into the different types of killers out there.


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