Thrill killers are a type of serial killer that derives immense satisfaction from the process of murder—that is, the acts leading up to it such as tracking their victim—rather than the killing itself. They come to crave the euphoric adrenaline rush provided by stalking and capturing their victim. Tracking their prey becomes an addiction for them much like a narcotic drug.
The primary motive of thrill killers is to induce pain or terror in their victims prior to killing them which provides intense stimulation and excitement.
The victims of a thrill killer are generally strangers, although the killer may stalk them for a period of time before the attack in order to fuel the excitement of the hunt. Normally, the attack of a thrill killer is swift and there is generally no sexual aspect to the murder. Once the victim is dead, a thrill killer typically loses interest in him/her almost immediately.
Therefore, postmortem mutilation or necrophilia is rarely engaged in by this type of serial killer. This pattern represents a stark contrast to hedonist lust killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer who love to engage in postmortem sexual activities.
Hedonist thrill killers can abstain from murder for long periods of time and become more adept at killing as they gain experience and refine their skills. They are typically meticulous and highly organized in the planning and execution of their crimes.
Thrill killers are perfectionists and often have narcissistic personalities. Such traits may drive them to pursue the goal of a perfect murder or delude them into thinking that they will never be caught.
Israel Keyes, the army veteran, who stalked and killed eight people across several states prior to his capture and suicide in Alaska in December 2012, is a recent example of this type of serial predator. Another example is Robert Hansen, who murdered at least seventeen women near Anchorage, Alaska, between 1980 and his capture in 1983. A psychopath, Hansen took his captured victims to a secluded area where he would let them loose and then hunt and kill them just for the fun of it. He was in essence a twisted trophy hunter who preyed on humans.
The inability of a psychopathic thrill killer such as Keyes or Hansen to feel compassion or sympathy enables him to view the torture and killing of his victims as a sport.
Perhaps the ultimate hedonist thrill killer was the unidentified predator who called himself “Zodiac” and operated in Northern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Zodiac terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area and aggressively tormented his pursuers throughout his crime spree.
The Zodiac targeted four men and three women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine in the San Francisco area from December 1968 until October 1969. Five of his victims died and two were injured in the attacks. He finally stopped killing for unknown reasons and his identity remains a mystery.
The killer gave himself the name Zodiac in a series of taunting letters that he sent to local newspapers in the Bay Area. His numerous letters also included four cryptograms (or ciphers)—only one of which was definitively solved. The tremendous excitement that the Zodiac Killer derived from his murders is evident in the words contained in his one cipher that was solved.
In it he wrote, "[Killing people] is so much fun. It's even better than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal. To kill gives me the most thrilling experience. It is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl."
For the Zodiac Killer and other psychopathic thrill killers like him, the process leading up to the act of murder affords them the greatest satisfaction of their lives.
In a forthcoming book that is tentatively titled Women We Love to Hate: Jodi Arias, Pamela Smart, Casey Anthony and Others I explore the intense fascination with female killers and why they are demonized by the media and much of the public. More specifically, I examine the social processes that transform certain attractive, young, white females who are charged with murder into high-profile, celebrity monsters.
In my current book, I examine the public’s intense fascination with notorious and deadly serial killers, including David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”) and Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) with whom I personally corresponded, in Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers. To read the reviews and order it now, visit: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1629144320/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_dp_B-2Stb0D57SDB
Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for expert consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website docbonn.com