The very existence of such aberrations, despite the passage of time over the centuries and the supposed evolution of our societies, suggests that some of the most basic instincts inherent to humanity may fundamentally relate to its proclivity for violence. Far from being manifestations of the modern era, serial violent crimes bear an uncanny resemblance to a number of ancient mythological creatures. These similarities raise suggestions that such creatures may have been attempts by ancient cultures to account for the abhorrent crimes. A series of seemingly unrelated brutal murders featuring the excessive mutilation of victims, with indications of body parts having been consumed and/or blood having been drunk, provided inspiration for folklore creatures such as werewolves or vampires. Similarly, the demonic spirits known as incubi that would rape women may be the ancient world seeking to account for serial rapists. Moving beyond these mythological examples, identifiable vignettes of serial violent crimes can be found in history, such as the Roman emperor Nero, who is well chronicled for his madness and delight in starting fires.
Serial violent crimes in contemporary society no longer typically invoke any relation with the supernatural but are, instead, now more notionally explained by labels such as serial murder, serial rape, or serial arson. However, what is more, difficult to reconcile than the simple labelling of these behaviours is their continued manifestation. Whereas perhaps some argument may be advanced that serial violent crimes were an artefact of barbaric and/or less evolved societies, the basis for this rationale seems to be undermined by the observation of these crimes in contemporary and arguably progressive societies of the modern era. That is, despite the supposed evolution of modern civilization in fostering compassion, human rights, and equality among races, cultures, and religions, these crimes of extreme serial violence continue to emerge and, instead of being assuaged or diminished by the human race’s ascent into greater civility, appear to be increasing in their prevalence.
Perhaps even more perplexing than the continued existence of these crimes is the unique and yet contradictory ways in which contemporary societies perceive these crimes. In contrast to the almost habitual high-volume crimes such as burglary or assault, the singular occurrence of one of these serial sexually violent crimes strikes immeasurable fear into a community. Paradoxically, despite the fear these crimes generate, they also attract an almost insatiable, albeit morbid, fascination by the public, with popular media depictions of these crimes and their investigation featured as mainstream ingredients for contemporary film, television, and literature.
Beyond the origins and impact of serial violent crimes, the investigation and apprehension of individuals who perpetrate these crimes pose one of the greatest challenges for modern-day law enforcement even in cases where direct eyewitnesses to the crime exist. In many circumstances, the typical criminological factors that characterize many of the more common manifestations of murder (e.g., the existence of some prior knowledge of or acquaintance between the victim and the offender) are not present. The absence of these factors renders criminal investigations surprisingly difficult, as the motivational dynamics and purpose for the crime are internalized in the offender’s own mind and are therefore not necessarily discernible from the evident situational factors of the crime. ‘Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes’ also examines the inherent danger of inaccurately analyzing information that exists about a violent crime and how this may adversely impact upon a criminal investigation.
Given the difficulties these serious crimes pose to law enforcement and the obtuse psychological factors inherent to their perpetrators, it is surprising that few books are available (in contrast to the plethora of popular culture and true crime literature) that examine these crimes and/or their perpetrators in a scientifically dispassionate context. It is with these goals in mind that ‘Serial Murder and the Psychology of Violent Crimes’ has been assembled, with scholars from around the globe contributing their collective knowledge in an attempt to understand the mechanisms that characterize these offenders and, through such understanding, aid or enhance procedures for the investigation of serial violent crimes in the future.