Let’s say that for some reason you are sitting in a criminal psychology class and the teacher scrawls one statement across the chalkboard that is to serve as the one essay topic for your final exam:
Describe a serial killer.
If you have been paying attention in class all semester, or even just watched some good thriller movies at the local theater, you probably would share a serial killer is usually a male and often white. He tends to be a narcissist. There may be drug abuse involved, but there’s a good chance he is perfectly clean. There is likely some dissociative disorder, an inability to feel for others or to develop normal emotional connections. There may be evidence of abuse in his childhood.
But as you are writing, are “he” and “his” and “him” the words to which you default? After all, the first defining characteristic I included in the paragraph above is that serial killers are men. And, this is true in an overwhelming number of cases. There is an interesting new posting on CNN’s website, however, that takes readers on a tour of some notorious female serial killers who have committed heinous crimes over the past century.
If you take a few minutes to look at the photographs and read the descriptions of the crimes, you will find female criminals who murdered their own husbands and mothers and children. There are other examples of women who killed the elderly and sick who were relying on them for medical care and still others who decided to murder for sport or money. Their faces are chilling.
I have long been fascinated by the minds of serial killers and I have used my novels to delve deeper into the psychology behind their acts. Due to the societal expectations of gentleness and protection of family with which women are associated, I wonder if we find female killers even more shocking than their male counterparts.
What do you think? Are we more jarred when the photo of the accused murderer shown on our local news is that of a woman?
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