almost as many active serial killers in the United States in thernfirst three or four decades of the present century as there are today.rnHowever, the number fell sharply in mid-century beforernrising again from the late 1960’s on, and this increase hasrncaused contemporary perceptions of a “murder wave,” thernmodern “epidemic” of serial murder that has proved so profitablernfor the thriller novelists and true-crime writers. Nor is itrnself-evident that serial killers are the “worst” criminals in termsrnof the number of their victims; we might point to various corporaternor governmental decisions that have resulted in thernspilling of more blood than has been shed by the most savagernstreet predator. Serial killers are important not because of thernquantitative scale of the mayhem they cause, but for what theyrnsuggest about the causation of other less publicized forms ofrncrime and about the incredible destructive potential of the humanrnanimal.rnIt is unnecessary to expound upon the activities of multiplernkillers and the rape, torture, and mutilation that they oftenrninflict upon their victims. Perhaps more horrifying than anyrnindividual atrocity is the collective nature of many of therncrimes, which popular stereotypes often ignore. Many serialrnmurders, perhaps a fifth or more, are committed by groupsrnof offenders. Such cases include the “Trash Bag Killings” ofrndozens of young men carried out on the California freeways inrnthe 1970’s by Patrick Kearney, David Hill, and possibly others,rnand the “cannibal killings” that occurred in Chicago during thernearly 1980’s, when a group of four young men murdered andrnmutilated up to 18 women, preserving parts of their bodies inrnwhat was said to be a “Satanic chapel.” England witnessed onernof the most remarkable of such cases, when a pedophile ringrnbased in London undertook the abduction, rape, and murderrnof several bovs during the 1980’s, including some as young asrnfive years old. The ring might have included up to seven orrneight people.rnThat one person might be sufficiently deranged to attackrnstrangers can be understood, but far less comprehensible is therndecision of three or four (or more) distinct individuals to combinerntheir efforts in such a bloody enterprise. This fact alonerngoes far toward discrediting the conventional psychologicalrnexplanations for extreme violent crime, the endless litanies ofrncausal factors based on physical abuse or maternal neglect.rnSuch explanations might apply in one case, but how do severalrnsuch aberrant individuals chance to find each other? Thernphenomenon of group serial homicide seems rather to suggestrnthat these are “normal” individuals, free from obvious psychiatricrndisturbances, who find themselves in a social situation inrnwhich they can fulfill urges and desires that would otherwisernremain suppressed.rnThere is no shortage of explanations for the nature of thesernurges, and social and political activists of all stripes have attemptedrnto use the serial murder theme as a vehicle for theirrnown pet analysis of the wrongs of the world. Recently, feministrnmilitants have portrayed serial murders as a manifestation ofrn”femicide,” a form of misogynist terrorism that prevails in sexistrnand patriarchal societies that permit discrimination andrnpornographic literature. Of course, such a view depends on thernassertion that serial murder is usually motivated by sexualrnurges, a stereotype whose accuracy is far from certain. Therntheory is belied by numerous cases in which nurses and otherrnmedical personnel of both genders kill patients out of motivationsrnthat have far more to do with the assertion of power andrncontrol than with any overtly sexual impetus. The feministrnview also depends on serial killing being a male prerogative, arndubious notion given that about a fifth of recorded offendersrnare female. Women also tend to kill by means that are less likelyrnto be detected by doctors or police, so the actual proportionrnof women serial killers is likely to be even higher than it appears.rnIt has been amusing to observe the intellectual contortions ofrnfeminist theorists and media people desperate to prove thatrnseven-time Florida killer Aileen Wuornos is somehow not arnblatant example of a female serial murderer.rn^ — y ^ t is hardly surprisingrn^-^/ that in seeking tornK_^ describe suchrnindividuals, modern writers have had tornresort to a terminology that is so out ofrnfashion as to be almost humorous, sornthat Nilsen, Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmerrnbecome ‘monsters,’ ‘ghouls,’ ‘demons,’rn’wolves in human form/ They are, inrnshort, evil.rnSome serial killers undoubtedly act because of perverted sexualrndesires, and some because of atrocities committed againstrnthem in their early years. In virtually no case, however, shouldrnwe accept at first hearing the explanations they offer for theirrnown motivations, as these are often intended to con or manipulaterna researcher. Ted Bundy was superb at presentingrnaccounts of his career that would mesh with the expectationsrnof an interviewer, and his final interview on the evils of pornographyrnwas a masterpiece of the genre. But having said this,rninterviewed killers repeatedly return to the same themes inrnanalyzing their acts, and their statements gain a certain credibilityrnbecause they can achieve no gain or profit.rnWhat do serial killers have in common? One trait thatrnrecurs is an absolute self-absorption, a failure tornacknowledge the reality of outside phenomena except asrnsources of sensory pleasure. Ted Bundy, for example, once remarkedrnthat “the past is like a mist—who can touch a mist?”rnand clearly in his mind his victims never possessed morernthan a wraithlike quality. Victims thus cease to have reality asrnhuman beings and become bizarre toys for the violent fantasiesrnof groups like the London pedophile ring. This sense of godlikernpower over victims can be manifested in bizarre and evenrnchildlike ways, as with the two nurses who murdered severalrnelderly patients chosen so that their surnames would spell thernacronym MURDER.rnEnglish multiple killer Dennis Nilsen has produced somernof the more telling self-analyses, and his articulate views havernbeen recorded by journalist Brian Masters. Nilsen remarked, “Irnmade another world, and real men would enter it and theyrnJANUARY 1995/1 7rnrnrn