K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

We’re used to a typical set of motives for serial murder. Most often, thanks to novels and TV shows, we think of sexually compelled killers who seek victim types for their own gratification. But we also know of anger, delusional mission, revenge, power, thrill, greed, morbid tastes, and fame. I’ve written about the array of cases that typify these motivators in Inside the Minds of Serial Killers. Yet there’s always room for something unique.

Last week, we learned about Takahiro Shiraishi, who was found with the legs, arms, heads and bones of nine people in his apartment near Tokyo. Apparently, just after his suspended sentence for scouting for a prostitution ring, he’d told his father that life had no meaning. He was just 27. Jobless, he’d searched social media for others who felt like he did. They weren’t hard to find. Japan is among the top three countries for high rates of suicide. And according to a former girlfriend, Shiraishi was obsessed with death.

He set up two Twitter accounts, offering himself as a professional hangman on one and as a forlorn victim seeking company on the other. He sent tweets like, “I want to disappear” and “I want to spread my knowledge in hanging.” He urged those who were at a “dead-end” to consult him. He sometimes offered to die with them, if they sought a suicide pact.

One near-victim said, “He had given me two options. One was that he makes me unconscious by putting sleep drug in my drink and then strangles me with a rope. The other was that he strangles me with a rope from behind while I’m watching TV or something.”

Unlike Dahmer, Gacy, Nilsen, and others who’d enjoyed keeping body parts as reminders, Shiraishi kept parts of his victims because he didn’t have a disposal plan and was scared he might get caught. He kept some in coolers and some covered in cat litter.

Shiraishi had mixed motives, though, because he’d robbed some victims and sexually assaulted others. Still, there are other ways to commit these offenses besides orchestrating suicide. The only male among the nine was killed because he knew too much. He'd accompanied a young woman who’d arrange to meet Shiraishi to discuss “arrangements.” She became his first victim, but he realized that if her companion reported her missing, he’d know where to send the police. So, he died, too.

In 2005, Hiroshi Maeue had a similar MO. He lured three people for murder through a suicide website. In one case, he pretended to form a pact, and while they were attempting to suffocate “together,” he strangled his targeted victim. His youngest was 14.

In a different type of case in Australia in 2016, Jemma Lilley revealed during her murder trial that committing murder by age 25 had been on her “bucket list.”  The experience of strangling and stabbing a young man with an autistic disorder had thrilled her, because she was a step closer to becoming like her role models – serial killers. She’d even once married a man who'd resembled John Wayne Gacy. She’s also written a novel about serial murder that features her as a character named "SOS.”

With her housemate, Trudi Lenon, Lilley lured eighteen-year-old Aaron Pajich to her home to install games on her computer. Lilley approached him from behind to choke him with a wire before stabbing him multiple times. They buried the body under a patio behind their home. Both were found guilty.

Lilley claimed she was “in character” when she sent Lenon a message before the murder, which said, "I feel as though I cannot rest until the blood or the flesh of a screaming, pleading victim is gushing out and pooling on the floor, until all the roads and streets are streamed red and abandoned, and the fear in the back of everyone's minds and on the tongue of each human that's left standing is SOS."

In a case I’ve covered before, the unusual motive emerged during the trial. Donna Perry was convicted of killing three women in Spokane in 1990. Her defense was that she didn’t do it because at the time, “Donna” did not exist. The evidence against her was associated with Douglas Perry, her former male incarnation. Since then, she’d had gender reassignment surgery. Becoming female had changed her, she insisted, eliminating the aggressive impulse.

However, Perry’s cellmate from Texas said that Perry, claiming credit for thirty murders, had targeted prostitutes because she was jealous. They could have children but had wasted themselves by becoming prostitutes. This made her angry. The informant added that Perry had admitted to two murders post-surgery as well, contradicting her claim that as a female, she was no longer a danger.


Ramsland, K. (2006). Inside the minds of serial killers: Why they kill. Praeger.

You are reading

Shadow Boxing

MeToo: A Watershed Moment

Collection of sexual assault narratives illuminates shared trauma and healing.

Strange Motives for Serial Murder

In recent years, some serial killers have acted outside the box.

Cabin 28, and Other Rural Crimes

A team of writers explores nightmarish tales from lonely places.