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what differentiates a murderer, a mass murderer, a serial killer and a spree killer?
Before we begin, I must state, these definitions are highly contested among legal professionals and law enforcement alike, so they are very prone to change, manipulation and disagreement.
So, a murderer; Murder is a form of criminal homicide involving the unlawful killing of another person with premeditation (a plan to kill), their actions have criminal intent and (by minimum definition) they will have intentionally murdered at least one person. That’s a murderer.
Next is a spree-killer; a spree killer is a person or a group who commits two or more murders over a short period of time (normally over less than a month), in multiple locations and with almost no “cooling off period” between the murders. So The Blackout Ripper, who murdered four women, in four different locations, over consecutive four days is a perfect example.
A mass-murderer is a person or a group who commits several murders (the FBI states this as “four or more”) which occur either simultaneously or over a relatively short period of time, and in a single location or within close proximity, and (like a spree-killer) there is no “cooling off period”. Mass murders can be committed a group or a single person, and are usually (but not always) attributed to cults, fascists, terrorists, acts of genocide and mass-shootings, with some form of persecution acting as a catalyst. A good example is the mass-shooting at Columbine High School.
A serial killer is more often a person who acts alone (although this is not always the case) who commits three or more murders, usually for personal gratification, over a period of more than a month and includes a “cooling off period” between each murder. Now, three or more is a vague definition, as the FBI defines a serial killing as “a series of two or more murders”, and yet other law enforcement authorities define it as at least four murders. Perfect examples would be the Yorkshire Ripper, Dennis Nilsen, etc.
There. I hope that makes a little more sense. And if you’re a murderer who has been unfairly labelled a serial killer or mass-murderer when you’re quite clearly a spree-killer, there will be a helpline number for you to call.
If you found this interesting? Check out the Mini Mile episodes of the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast, or click on the link below to listen to an episode.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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