Serial homicideBMJ 1996; 312 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.312.7022.2 (Published 06 January 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:2
- Jan Scott
- Professor of community psychiatry Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4LP
We need to explore behind the stereotypes and ask why
The British media's recent preoccupation with Myra Hindley and Rosemary West, two now infamous convicted female serial killers, both reflects and reinforces the public's fascination with such crimes. Myra Hindley was jailed in 1966 for the murder of five children and has recently made a public plea for understanding and forgiveness. Rosemary West was convicted last year of the murder over a period of 16 years of 10 young women, including her 16 year old daughter. The press reports express our anxiety that such a person could have lived undetected in the community for so long, our abhorrence at the nature of the crimes, and our confusion about how anyone, particularly a woman, could commit them. It is easy to condemn serial killers as monsters. However, it is important to explore beyond the stereotypes and consider what we can learn from the research literature about women and men who kill repeatedly.
Hickey defines a serial killer as “someone who, through premeditation, kills three or more people over a period of time.”1 His descriptive study of over 200 serial killers, identified over a period of more than 100 years, found that offenders tended to be about 30 years old and that 90% were white. On average, the murderers killed between eight and 14 victims over a …