Serial killers: power dynamics

The concept of social dominion provides a multifaceted framework for understanding the complex behaviors of serial killers, highlighting the interplay between individual psychology, social interactions, environmental settings, and broader social influences. This approach deconstructs the simplistic notion of serial killers as solely driven by internal psychopathologies, proposing instead that their actions result from a dynamic interaction across various distinct yet interconnected domains.


Psychobiography refers to the in-depth study of an individual’s psychological development throughout their life, focusing on how personal history, formative experiences, and emotional growth shape their behaviors, motivations, and personality. Within the context of serial killings, psychobiography seeks to uncover the underlying psychological factors that contribute to someone becoming a serial killer. This domain examines the intersection of biological predispositions, early life experiences, and significant life events to understand the complexities of a killer’s psyche.

Key components of a serial killer’s psychobiography include:

  • Early Life Experiences: This encompasses any form of trauma, abuse, neglect, or significant emotional event experienced during childhood. Such experiences are examined for their impact on the individual’s emotional development and potential maladaptive coping mechanisms.
  • Formative Events: Significant events throughout the killer’s life that may have influenced their worldview or psychological state. This includes positive experiences, such as achievements or supportive relationships, as well as negatives, like losses, failures, or new victimizations.
  • Personality Development: How the individual’s personality traits, emotional regulation, and interpersonal skills have formed over time. This includes the development of antisocial behaviors, empathy deficits, and other traits often associated with serial killers.
  • Psychological Triggers: Events or circumstances that may have triggered the onset of serial killing behavior. These triggers are considered in the context of the individual’s life history and psychological state.

By exploring the psychobiography of serial killers, researchers and practitioners aim to identify common patterns or traits in their psychological development that may predispose individuals to commit serial murders. This knowledge not only aids in profiling and apprehending these individuals but also contributes to the development of preventive strategies aimed at at-risk populations. Psychobiography offers a comprehensive insight into the killer’s psychological makeup and enables an understanding of the complex interaction between their inner world and their violent acts.

Activities in the Context of Serial Killings

This refers to the specific actions, behaviors, and interactions that serial killers engage in during the commission of their crimes. This domain focuses on the immediate context in which these activities occur, ranging from victim selection and attack planning to execution and the aftermath of the crime. Essentially, they are the practical manifestation of the killer’s psychological intentions and impulses in the physical world.

Key aspects include:

  • Victim Selection: How and why serial killers choose their victims, which can be based on specific criteria like appearance, behavior, or perceived vulnerability. This selection process is a critical component of the killer’s exercise of power and control.
  • Approach Method: The strategies used to approach the victim and gain control over them. This can involve deception, coercion, or force, and is often meticulously planned to reduce the risk of detection and resistance.
  • Crime Execution: The act of murder itself, including the methods and tools used. This phase not only reflects the killer’s desire for power but also their psychological needs, such as acting out violent fantasies.
  • Evidence Elimination: The measures taken after the crime to avoid apprehension, including the disposal of the victim’s body and any evidence that could link the killer to the crime. This aspect underscores the serial killer’s awareness and manipulation of their environment to maintain their freedom.

These are not isolated actions but are deeply rooted in the serial killer’s psychological structure and broader social context. They reveal the complex interaction between the killer’s internal desires and the external world, highlighting the adaptive and often cunning nature of serial killers as they navigate their social environment to fulfill their desires for domination and control. This understanding helps to better grasp the operational aspects of serial killings and provides crucial information for profiling, prevention, and investigative strategies.

Social Environments

Social environments refer to the immediate social settings and relational networks within which individuals operate, encompassing family life, work, friendships, and other community interactions. In the context of serial killings, this domain examines how serial killers navigate and manipulate their social environments to facilitate or conceal their criminal activities. It focuses on the killer’s ability to integrate into social norms, maintain relationships, and, in some cases, use these social connections as a means to pursue their violent ends.

Key aspects of serial killers’ social environments include:

  • Dual Life: Many serial killers are adept at leading seemingly normal lives, often maintaining jobs, relationships, and social obligations. This duality is crucial for understanding how they can hide in plain sight, managing to divert suspicion and avoid detection.
  • Relationship Dynamics: The nature of the killer’s interactions with their family, friends, and colleagues. This includes how they present themselves, manage impressions, and manipulate others for information, resources, or opportunities to commit their crimes.
  • Social Manipulation: The strategies employed by serial killers to exploit social networks for their benefit. This can involve using charm or deception to gain trust, accessing certain social circles to find potential victims, or leveraging relationships to create alibis.
  • Community Integration: The extent to which the killer participates in or isolates themselves from broader community activities. This integration can serve both to cover their actions and to scout for potential victims.

Understanding the social environments in which serial killers operate reveals the complex interplay between their internal psychological impulses and the external social world. It highlights the killers’ ability to navigate social norms and relationships in a way that conceals their true nature, allowing them to commit crimes without immediate suspicion. This domain emphasizes the importance of considering the social skill and manipulation capabilities of serial killers in the broader effort to understand, profile, and ultimately stop them.

Contextual Resources

Contextual resources encompass the broader social, cultural, economic, and environmental factors that influence an individual’s behavior and opportunities. In the context of serial killings, this domain explores how external conditions and social structures affect the actions, methods, and choices of serial killers. It considers the impact of social norms, cultural beliefs, technological advancements, and economic conditions on the prevalence, detection, and nature of serial killers’ activities.

Key aspects include:

  • Social Norms and Values: How cultural attitudes towards violence, authority, gender, and morality influence a serial killer’s motivations and the justifications for their crimes. This includes social stigma associated with certain groups, which can make them more vulnerable to becoming victims.
  • Economic Conditions: The role of poverty, unemployment, and social inequality in the environments where serial killings may occur. Economic factors can affect both the killer’s choice of victims and their ability to evade capture.
  • Technological Advances: How technological changes affect the methods used by serial killers to track their victims or evade law enforcement, as well as the tools available to investigators for solving crimes. This includes the internet, social media, and advances in forensic science.
  • Legal and Law Enforcement Practices: The impact of criminal justice policies, law enforcement strategies, and legal procedures on the detection, investigation, and prosecution of serial killings. Variations in these practices can significantly influence a serial killer’s ability to operate within a given jurisdiction.

Understanding contextual resources allows for a comprehension of the “macro” influences that shape serial killings beyond individual pathology or immediate social interactions. It highlights the importance of a broader social perspective in addressing and preventing serial killings comprehensively, recognizing that these killers do not act in a vacuum but are influenced by the wider social context in which they live.

Layder, D., & Forensic Research & Technology, University. (2023). Serial murder: Power, control and social domains. Forensic Legal & Investigative Sciences9(3), 1–10.