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What makes a serial killer? Five types of killer personality from the charmer to the power junkie

From Harold Shipman to Fred and Rose, Wayne Gacy to Jeffrey Dahmer, they all have their own characteristics as serial killers according to criminologist Dr Elizabeth Yardley and her team.

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Silence of The Lambs

To the outside world they may seem perfectly normal, but they are hiding a deadly secret.

Real-life serial killers aren't as easy to spot as fictional supervillain The Joker as they often go about their daily business without raising suspicion.

Now criminal experts at Real Crime magazine working with Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University. have unveiled the characteristics that may unmask what real serial killers look like and what makes them tick.

Power: Mug shots of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady after they were arrested

1) The Power Junkie

Serial killers typically have a real affinity with power, even when they’ve been caught and know the game is up.

Dr Death: Harold Shipman is thought to have murdered hundreds of patients

2) The Expert Manipulator

Apparent vulnerability and the need to please have been used effectively time and time again by serial killers as a way of hiding a sinister personality.

Serial killers are also often able to manipulate a situation in order to pass the blame for their actions, using hot-button issues of the day or medical psychological research to try to explain their actions.


Trophy: Police search Saddleworth Moor for the bodies of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett who were killed by Brady and Hindley who took photographs of the scene

3) The Bragger

Egoistical serial killers often can’t help but brag about the atrocities they’ve committed, whether it’s aimed at their accomplices, the next victim, law enforcement, or just themselves.


Ian Brady and Myra Hindley for example. They revisited the burial sites on Saddleworth Moor often, taking ghoulish trophy shots of the desolate landscape as a memento of their horrendous crimes.

Of course, these helped incriminate the pair and lead the police to the three bodies eventually found on the Moor.


Jeffrey L. Dahmer enters the courtroom 06 August 1991

4) The Superficial Charmer

Serial killers tend to have a very good grasp of other people’s emotions and are quick to pick up on any vulnerability or weakness in order to convince them into doing things they normally wouldn’t.

They’ll get others on side and take charge of a situation with a mix of compliments and common sense.

Jeffrey Dahmer known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, who murdered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991 was able to lure his victims to his house where he killed them.


Clown: Wayne Gacy dressed up to entertain but was a secret killer

5) The Average Joe

Possibly the scariest trait of all, many serial killers look like a pillar of the community on first sight. However it’s a way of gaining trust, only to abuse it in the most appalling ways.

This tactic has enabled many to get away with a lot of deviant stuff behind closed doors.

This was the case for Wayne Gacy. nicknamed ‘Killer Clown’ who was politically active in his Chicago suburb and worked hard for the local community, even performing at parties and events as a ‘Pogo’ the clown.

But in private he was a man who raped and murdered teenage boys, burying their remains in the crawlspace of the house where he lived.

Real Crime magazine reveals untold stories behind some of the world's most gripping cases.

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