Do serial killers have bad childhoods? (3 reasons)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Do serial killers have bad childhoods?” and study who serial killers are, their traits, functionalities and their upbringing in order to help understand the answer. 

Do serial killers have bad childhoods?

Yes, most serial killers have bad childhoods because of the following 3 reasons –

  • Childhood abuse.
  • Childhood abandonment. 
  • Childhood maltreatment.

These 3 reasons why serial killers have bad childhoods will be discussed in further detail below after taking a deeper look at who a serial killer is.

Who is a serial killer? 

A serial murderer is someone who murders three or more people, generally for abnormal psychological enjoyment, over a period of more than a month and with a large gap between them. While the majority of authorities establish a three-murder threshold, others raise it to four or lower it to two.

The most common reason for serial killing is psychological fulfilment, and many serial killings involve sexual interaction with the victim, but serial murderers’ motives can also include rage, thrill-seeking, financial gain, and attention-seeking, according to the FBI.

In a similar way, the murders may be attempted or completed. The victims may share characteristics such as demographic profile, appearance, gender, or ethnicity.

The FBI frequently focuses on a certain pattern that serial killers follow. Based on this pattern, vital clues about the killer’s identity and intentions will be revealed.

Despite the fact that a serial killer is a different categorization from a mass murderer, spree killer, or contract killer, there are conceptual parallels between the three. 

There is some disagreement over the precise requirements for each group, particularly when it comes to the distinction between spree and serial killers.

Types Of Serial Killers.

Although it is hard to fully categorise and comprehend each serial murderer, it is possible to examine their tactics and habits in order to better characterise the sort of criminal they are. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has classified serial murderers into three categories based on how they commit their crimes. Knowing which group a serial killer belongs to can help investigators better understand their crimes and how to bring them to justice.

The Medical Killer.

Despite the fact that this sort of killer is extremely rare, certain people have used the medical field to carry out their evil crimes. Because it is not commonplace for individuals to pass away at a hospital, this sort of murderer believes they are shrouded. 

They are typically knowledgeable people who know how to cover their crimes with care and deception. If a person looks to have died of natural causes, there will be no reason to assume foul play and seek for the perpetrator. 

Only a few physicians in history have been able to kill scores of individuals before others notice.

The Organized Killer.

This is the most difficult sort of serial murderer to track down and apprehend. They are typically clever and extremely well organised, almost to the point of being fastidious. 

Every element of the crime is meticulously planned, and the assailant takes every measure to ensure that no damning evidence is left behind. This sort of psychopath is known to observe potential victims for several days in order to select someone they perceive to be a good target. 

Once the victim has been picked, the murderer would abduct them, frequently using a ruse to win sympathy, and transport them to a new place where the murder will be carried out. When someone is killed, the offender will generally take steps to ensure that the body is not discovered until they want it to be.

A criminal like this is generally quite proud of what they regard to be their “job” and pays close attention to news headlines about their crimes. One of their motivational motivations may be to elude the cops who are attempting to solve their crime.

The Disorganized Killer.

These people almost never plot their victims’ deaths in any way. The victims they kill are almost always in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

When the chance arises, this sort of serial murderer appears to strike at random. They make no attempt to hide their crime and move around often to avoid getting apprehended. 

Killers who are disorganised frequently have low IQs and are antisocial. They don’t have many close friends or family members, and they don’t like to stay in one area for lengthy periods of time. 

These assassins are more likely to have no remembrance of their crimes or to admit that they were driven by voices in their brains or some other fictitious source.

What are these 3 reasons why serial killers have bad childhoods?

Childhood abuse.

The elements that cause a person to begin on a mission to murder others continue to confound psychiatrists and criminologists who are attempting to find out why one person becomes a serial murderer while another does not.

Childhood abuse has garnered a lot of attention in the media and scholarly circles in recent years, thanks to the allegations of many serial killers that they were abused as children by their parents or guardians. 

While not all victims of child abuse grow up to be criminals or abusers, there is a higher chance of personality disorders and criminal activity in later adulthood when childhood trauma and antisocial behaviours are present.

Mitchell and Aamodt of Radford University in Virginia conducted a study in 2005 to look at the incidence of child abuse among convicted serial killers and compare it to the rate of child abuse in the general community. 

The goal of this study was to discover if there was a link between childhood abuse and serial homicide later in life.

The issue of serial killers abusing children is not a new one. Researchers studying serial killers have discovered that a substantial majority of them were subjected to childhood abuse and trauma, raising the possibility that this may have influenced their homicidal behaviour later in life. 

The term ‘abuse’ refers to personal abuse as well as abuse observed by others that entailed violence or sexual actions.

A number of studies have been conducted on some of the most well-known examples of serial murder and serial killers who had previously reported child abuse. 

Three notable serial killers, John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgeway, and Ed Gein, were all physically and verbally tortured by their parents as youngsters.

Newton’s data was utilised to pick 50 serial killers from within the United States who fit into the ‘desire killer’ category, where some sort of sexual enjoyment was engaged in their killings, in Mitchell and Aamodt’s 2005 child abuse and serial murder research.

Childhood abuse is defined as abuse that occurs while a person is under the age of 18 years old. Finding trustworthy and accurate information about these killers is difficult, thus the writers combed through 48 books, 54 websites, psychiatric reports, and 140 news pieces, categorising them as follows –

Physical abuse.

Inflicting or permitting unintentional bodily harm.

Sexual abuse.

Any sexual behaviour, regardless of how harmful it is or whether it falls within the criminal definition.

Psychological abuse.

Activities that cause emotional distress or are harmful to one’s mental health.


Failure to give appropriate food, clothes, and shelter, as well as medical treatment and emotional nurture.

Childhood abandonment. 

“Other historical characteristics frequent in serial killers are abuse, trauma, insecure attachment, loss or desertion of a parent or carer, antisocial behaviour, brain injury, and low arousal levels,” Rebecca Taylor LaBrode said in her study “Etiology of the Psychopathic Serial Killer.” 

“Familial factors include the physical absence or lack of personal interaction by one or both parents, as well as alcohol or drug abuse by one or both parents,” Mitchell and Aamodt noted.

Between 1979 and 1983, FBI profiler Robert Ressler led the Criminal Personality Research Project, interviewing 36 convicted killers in prisons around the United States alongside colleagues. 

It was the first and most thorough investigation into violent criminals who had committed several murders, their psychological and behavioural features, their backgrounds, and their intentions at the time.

Childhood maltreatment.

“All the killers – every single one – were subjected to terrible emotional trauma throughout their childhoods,” Ressler said in his 1992 book “Whoever Fights Monsters.” 

According to him, 40% of serial killers examined said they were physically tortured and beaten as children, and 70% said they had “witnessed or been a part of sexually traumatic incidents” as youngsters.

Their findings imply that all kinds of childhood maltreatment, save neglect, are more common among serial killers than in the general population. The following are the members of the serial killer research group –

“36% suffered physical abuse, 

26% sexual abuse, 

50% psychological abuse, 

18% neglect,

32% reported no abuse at all.”

The investigators also looked at data on serial killers who were classed as organised, disorganised, or mixed offenders, and found no significant differences in the incidence of abuse across these sub-types. 

When compared to a disorganised murderer, individuals who experienced more psychological trauma did not become more organised killers. The percentages of victims of each form of abuse were quite comparable among the three groups of offenders. 

Organized killers made up 25 of the 50, while disorganised killers made up 11 and mixed killers made up 14.

Conclusion – 

This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Do serial killers have bad childhoods?” and reviewed who serial killers are, their traits, functionalities and their upbringing in order to help determine if serial killers have bad childhoods. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

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Who are some serial killers who had a terrible childhood? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Marono, A. J., Reid, S., Yaksic, E., & Keatley, D. A. (2020). A Behaviour Sequence Analysis of Serial Killers’ Lives: From Childhood Abuse to Methods of Murder. Psychiatry, psychology, and law : an interdisciplinary journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 27(1), 126–137. Retrieved from

What serial killers had bad childhoods? Bowie State University. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Criminal Justice/ Special Topics, CRJU 410-001: Serial Killers as Children. (2022, January 20). Retrieved from