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10 Signs Someone You Know Might Be a Serial Killer

Brooding, loner types may be charming in movies, but in real life those are warning signs that someone you know might be a serial killer.

By Ben KharakhPublished 6 years ago 7 min read

You think someone in your life might be a serial killer? Cool your jets, Clarice Starling, because that's quite the accusation! Does your friend have a full back tattoo of William Blake's Red Dragon? Do they talk a lot about making the world bear witness to their becoming? Have they shaved off their fingerprints? You haven't checked?! Well, get on it, Criminal Minds, because there are actual warning signs someone you know might be a serial killer that you can consult.

White, American, & Male

Think of the person you know who might be a serial killer. You're imagining an American White guy! How did we know? Because 76% of serial killers in the world are American, 90% are male, and 52% are White. This breakdown also makes us think of the numbers behind mass shootings. Since 1982, 54% of high fatality events were caused by White men while Black men, the second most common perpetrator, committed 16%.

We've been reading enough of the internet to make an educated guess: this probably has something to do with toxic masculinity, misogyny, and White supremacy. In general, if something bad is happening in the US, this trio can be offered up as a at least a partial explanation and work pretty well. Try it yourself! You can't? Hmm. That might have something to do with toxic masculinity, misogyny, and White supremacy. Works every time!

The Macdonald Triad

Enough serial killers have a history of arson, preteen bedwetting, and torturing small animals that the traits are considered signs that someone might be a serial killer. Can you imagine Hannibal Lecter secretly washing his sheets as a teen because he's been wetting them? "I bleached my sheets in the wash and then used some nice dryer sheets. Slurp slurp slurp."

This trio, known as the Macdonald triad, is not without controversy. Some argue these traits are more likely an indicator of neglect or abuse than of future serial killing. At the same time, abuse and neglect are in and of themselves said to be indicators of serial killing. So, how's about this: if you have a friend who's a White American male with a history of torturing small animals, arson, or pre-teen bedwetting, you keep an eye on them.


You don't have to watch the best Criminal Minds episodes to spot a serial killer. They may tell you themselves! Many of them are so pleased with their crimes that they can't help but tell others. Some even get caught because they told the wrong person! And then, when in jail, some killers are known to take credit for crimes that weren't even their own just to heighten their reputation. And, of course, you can only think about and do something for so long before you say some stuff that makes people think you might be a serial killer “Mister police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues. I also told my sister, the bartender, the bus driver, a radio show host, and posted about it on Reddit." Actually, a murderer did once get caught because they were posting pictures of their victim on 4Chan.


At 43%, guns are the weapon most commonly used by serial murderers. Their own bare hands are in second place at 21.7%. "Guns don't commit ritualistic occult murder, people do." Can it, Yellow King. These statistics come from the FBI! But you don't have to be a True Detective or a Mind Hunters to think a gun may be used to kill. That's what they're made for! So, yeah, if someone owns a gun, they might be a serial killer.

Emotional Manipulation

Many serial killers are superficially charming. That's because they have enough of an understanding of human emotions to get people to do what they want, like help them load a couch into their van, but not enough to feel emotionally invested in others. So, if there's a White, male American who owns a gun and is emotionally manipulative, they might be a serial killer, or at least someone to just cut out of your life. Come on, Bones, this guy doesn't sound like someone you should be friends with!


Serial killers grow up fantasizing about killing. Some of them have even reported that they couldn't even remember any fantasies from childhood that weren't about harming others! And as they begin to approach their first kills, the fantasies recur more and more frequently. So, if the person in your life is wistfully looking out a window and you ask them what's on their mind and they say, "Guts," consider that they might be a serial killer.


Being anti-social doesn't mean you're not social. As we said, many serial killers are superficially charming. Instead, being anti-social means having a lack of care for others so severe that it's pathological. Many anti-social individuals seek out careers that give them power over others, so it's no surprise that there's a fair share of serial murderers who are doctors or police officers.

Anti-social behavior behavior feeds into the serial killer's relationship with control. They not only seek power over others but feel they are entitled to it. This is in part why serial murderers torture small animals and set fires in their youth; it lets them feel the power to control they feel they deserve. The same is true of emotional manipulation. Many anti-social people, however, are very good at faking being normal. You need to know how to spot a sociopath if you think someone in your life might be a serial killer.

Poor Impulse Control

Many serial killers have discovered the health benefits of masturbation firsthand, because they're excessive masturbators. This is in part a consequence of anti-social behavior that prevents them from seeking normal sexual relationships as well as an expression of their desire for the power to control. It may also feed into the addictive personalities that many serial killers have, since masturbation can be a form of escape.

It's a trend for many serial killers to be unable to hold down jobs. Being anti-social plays a part in this, but so does poor impulse control, since addiction can compromise one's work performance, as does being unable to keep one's feelings professional. Many recall how the serial killers in their lives would have powerful explosions of rage.

Someone who flies off the handle, can't hold down a job, and has poor impulse control might be a serial killer. After all, being a serial killer is an expression of poor impulse control in and of itself!

History of Abuse

Not all survivors of abuse are serial killers, but many serial killers are survivors of abuse. Exposure to abuse is said to provide behavior for serial killers to model. It may teach the children that human life has little value, so why not do as you please? It is also believed that the ways in which serial killers kill is, in many cases, a way for killers to reclaim the narratives of their own abuse with themselves in positions of authority. Abuse also drives many to addiction as a way of escaping recurring trauma.

Psychologist Alice Miller has written extensively about the essential role of an enlightened witness in society. An enlightened witness is someone in the life of the survivor of abuse who recognizes the suffering of the abuse, provides emotional validation, and lets them know that they are deserving of love. Enlightened witnesses have the potential to break the cycles of violence of which serial killers are an expression. The young person you witness might be a serial killer in the making that you stop.


It makes sense that serial killers would spend a lot of time observing others from afar. They're anti-social and are likely fantasizing about murder. So, if the White American male prone to outbursts of anger who struggles to hold down a job spends a lot of his time out at night but refuses to say what he's up to, he might be a serial killer. Or maybe he's really, really sad. Doesn't that sound like the life of a sad person?

Try talking to him, Agent Cooper! Make sure to ask plenty of questions so that he feels listened to but also has the opportunity to accidentally out himself as a serial killer. This will also give you the chance to make sure you're not actually imagining your friend in the first place and that it's not you who's the serial killer.

Oh, that's unlikely but your friend being a serial killer isn't?! You're one notch away from living a Seinfeld episode and you think I'm weird for suggesting you're unusual?! You know what, somewhere out there someone's writing an article called, "Signs someone you know is an asshole," and they're describing you. Yeah, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Ben Kharakh

Manic pixie dream goth. With appearances in Fortune, Vice, Gothamist, and McSweeney's.@benkharakh

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