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What is a Serial Crime?

By P. Schroeder
Updated May 16, 2024
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A serial crime is one that is repetitive — one that is committed by a habitual offender who usually commits the same type of crime and in the same manner. Law enforcement data bases typically contain information on crimes, the offenders, the victims and the items involved in the crime. These bits of information help form groups of crimes that can be flagged as “serial” when patterns emerge as to the type of crime and the methods of its implementation. A serial crime committed by a career criminal is frightening to many people because they believe that the criminal will continue to offend until he or she is stopped, and they they will continue because they actually enjoy committing crimes against others. Legal codes typically do not define “serial” crime, so this type of crime does not have any definite elements.

There are several types of serial crimes, including serial murder, serial rape, serial arson, stalking, serial bombing and even some juvenile crimes. Murders by serial killers are the category that most people think of when hearing the term “serial” in regard to crime. Although there is no particular definition for serial murder, it was fairly well accepted that there must be three or more victims with a certain amount of time passing between each murder, rather than all of the murders happening within a short amount of time. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has defined serial murder as the murder of two or more people in separate events. It is believed that most serial killers get some emotional gratification from the killing, as opposed to someone who kills for profit, like a contract killer, who would not necessarily be labeled as a serial killer.

Another serial crime is rape. This crime typically is meets the same criteria as serial murder — three or more victims with a period of time in between each rape. Although it has been assumed that rape is a sexually motivated crime, many experts believe that serial rape is a crime of anger and power over the victim.

There are also serial arsonists, serial bombers, serial robbers, stalkers and juvenile serial crimes. One can understand the intent of the arsonist, bomber and even the stalker, but the juvenile serial criminal might be more difficult to comprehend. Some crimes that a juvenile commits are brushed off as the person just being an angry teen. Even though this might true in some cases, continued recidivism of the juvenile might be a clue to their criminal future — perhaps even a future as a serial criminal.

Serial crimes of all kinds have some factors in common. In general, serial crimes result from a passion — the love of the kill, the pride of the fire set, the joy of seeing victims in fear or even a sexual release that is possible only by committing the serial crime. Many experts believe that some or most serial criminals were abused as children, or perhaps they suffered a great loss. Criminologists and researchers worldwide know little about the serial criminal because there are so few that are willing to talk, and of those, one must understand that many of them can be manipulative and deceptive, so the real truth might be difficult to ascertain.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By rwbplastic — On Aug 23, 2013

True short story. I had a remote office in Sunnyvale, CA and a none to bright secretary that honestly thought that "serial crime" was what cereal companies did to children's cereals or so thought the woman that had, by her own admission, had three kids by four men.

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