I Hate Serial Killers

I hate serial killers.

I hate serial killers

You might consider that a ludicrous statement as 99.9% of all people who’ve ever lived hate serial killers, too. The only ones who don’t hate serial killers are the killers themselves and their mothers.

And the mothers only said they liked them, so they didn’t get—well, you know.

Privately, I bet those mothers hated the crazy bastards.

So let me clarify my introductory statement—I hate fictional serial killers.*

This makes me an outlier in society since it seems like 99.9% of readers, television viewers, and moviegoers love the crazy bastards. It’s funny how that modifier “fictional” makes all the difference.

It sure seems that every other crime fiction book features a serial killer. Almost every crime show is about one. It certainly feels like the most popular crime podcasts talk about serial killers.


Too Many Killers

Let’s start with the most apparent reason to hate fictional serial killers—there are too many of them. I mean, let’s get real.

Serial murders account for less than 1% of all murders in the United States.

Yet the entertainment industry seems to think that serial killers are responsible for 90% of all homicides. That’s a made-up statistic. It could probably go as high as 98%, but I wanted to give the media the benefit of the doubt. You know, in case they come calling to make one of my books into a movie. I don’t want them to believe I hold something against them because they’re so into psychotic weirdos. Hollywood is like that crazy person who falls in love with a serial killer behind bars. “I know he’s bad, but he’s good for me, and I think I can change him.”

That’s why I’m leaving 10% of wiggle room here. There must be a couple of decent people in Hollywood. Right? Maybe?

Anyway, back to the serial killers (an introduction to a paragraph I never thought I would write). So many novels feature these guys that Amazon has a Best Sellers list dedicated to them. A ‘serial killer’ genre! WTF? It’s bad enough that there is one for vampires and werewolves, but serial killers?


Amazon Best Sellers - Serial Killers


Our society seems to have a peculiar fascination with the mass murderer on television.

Criminal Minds ran for a dizzying 15 seasons. Not all those episodes were about serial killers, but the vast majority were. So, wow. Fifteen seasons.

The streaming and premium services also seem littered with serial killer shows. True Detective, You, The Killing, and so many more that I couldn’t possibly list them all here.

Type in “serial killer list” on the internet, and it’s like you’ve found a secret trove of murder porn. Good lord, so many folks are oddly excited about this genre that it astounds me. The lists cover the “worst,” “dreaded,” and “famous” serial killers. Add the modifier “fictional” to your search (fictional serial killer list), and you’ll get the same results.


Categorizing Serial Killers

According to the FBI, serial killers are classified into two main categories: organized and disorganized. There’s a third type,’ mixed,’ which sounds like a lazy way of saying serial killers are like the rest of us—screwed up with a behavior that doesn’t follow a consistent rationale.

I organize my office every couple of months and try hard to keep it clean. Then things go awry, and crap gets piled everywhere. You could call me organized for a short time, or you might call me disorganized. Or you might say I’m mixed, which seems like you’re trying to lump me in with serial killers, making me very unhappy. Why do you have to be that way?

The FBI further breaks down killers into types based on their motivations. These categories are visionary, mission-oriented, hedonistic, and power/control. That seems like fancy, big-brain talk to me.

For our discussion about fictional killers, we’re going to simplify things. There are six types:

- The Helpful Serial Killer
- The Antagonist Serial Killer
- The Killer Who Only Kills Bad Guys
- The Dapper Killer
- The Complicated Killer
- Everybody Else

The Helpful Serial Killer

This evildoer willfully helps the police solve mysteries involving other serial killers.

Hannibal Lector became the gold standard for this behavior after his appearance in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (both made into movies). There have been plenty of clones, however.

For example, in the first episode of Prodigal Son a former FBI profiler is assisted by his serial killer father in solving the murders of another serial killer.

Willfully helping law enforcement makes the evildoer seem just a bit nicer and, you know, a little more human. Then we forget that he’s an evil man and start rooting for him. Like we did with Dr. Lector in the book/movie Hannibal (when he becomes a Dapper Serial Killer).

The Antagonistic Serial Killer

This is the baddie who finds himself an opponent in law enforcement. The killer and the cop go after each other throughout the book/TV/movie series. Sometimes the cop gets close. Other times, the baddie slips away into a crowd (to show up in another book/sequel).

In the first two seasons of The Following, FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) tried to recapture serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who built a cult of killers. Hardy didn’t know initially that Carroll made it part of his mission to humiliate and kill the FBI agent.

Were we supposed to believe that a killer’s ego was so bruised at his capture that he wanted to humiliate the guy who initially arrested him? Yes, that’s exactly what we were supposed to believe. Carroll could have slunk off to a remote island and lived peacefully with his throng of adoring followers.

In James Patterson’s Alex Cross series, Kyle Craig (the Mastermind) serves that role. He wants to kill Cross to prove that he’s brighter than the detective.

There’s an old saying about poking the bear. These fictional serial killers aren’t smart enough to understand that they were Goldilocks when it came to the cops.

The Killer Who Only Kills Bad Guys

We’re talking Dexter, of course. Killing bad guys is such a fantastic premise that we can all get behind it. We want bad guys punished, and evil guys should be significantly punished.

As the Bay Harbor Butcher, Dexter whacked the other baddies, stuffed their pieces into garbage bags, then tossed them into the Atlantic Ocean.

This series resonated with folks. It ran for eight seasons on Showtime, and Dexter returned in 2021 for a 10-episode limited series.

A serial murderer can get away with a lot when people like him.

 The Dapper Killer

 While Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman dressed dapper in American Psycho, the guy was a wingnut. Not the kind of guy who could get away with a long-term life of slashing and dashing in upper society.

Look no further than Earl Brooks and Tom Ripley for truly dapper killers.

In Mr. Brooks, Kevin Costner played a Portland businessman who has tried to keep his killing urges under control but now struggles to contain them.

Or look at John Malkovich’s turn as Tom Ripley. In Ripley’s Game, Malkovich played a dapper Tom Ripley with a bit of revenge on his mind.

They had the looks that kill.

The Complicated Killer

And this is where the serial killer genre really jumps the shark if it hadn’t done it previously.

The Saw franchise created more elaborate games for the Jigsaw Killer to test his victims.

Se7en is a great movie, but Kevin Spacey’s John Doe had to go to great lengths to kill his victims. Even the bad guys on Dexter had to be weirder than the show’s titular hero—the Doomsday Killer, the Brain Surgeon, the Ice Truck Killer, and the Trinity Killer.

Come on now. The complex lengths that some of these guys had to go to whack their victims was truly over the top.

 Everybody Else

This is my catch-all category, and I figure if the FBI can have a mixed category, then I can have one called Everybody Else. So this is for all those guys and gals that don’t fit into the above.

There’s not much to say here except if I can’t shove a fictional killer into one of the above categories, they’re getting placed here.

Coming Clean

There are outliers to every rule.

As much as I hate serial killer books, TV shows, and movies, I have enjoyed a couple over the years. In the case of fairness, I thought I’d share them, so you would know that I’m a complicated person—that even my hate has limits.

For years, I disliked Tom Brady. When people started dogging on the guy for being “too old,” I thought, “Hey, that’s uncalled for,” and started rooting for him. Now, I hope he plays until he’s eighty.

So if I casually blurt, “I love Se7en,” while on a podcast, please don’t get upset and say, “But that guy hates serial killers!” And I’m gonna admit that I really dug Mr. Brooks, too.

But here are two of my all-time favorite serial killer shows.


One of my favorite movies deals with serial killers.

Manhunter (1986) – This was an adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, and it’s the first appearance of Hannibal Lector in the movies. Although, it was spelled Hannibal Lektor in the credits. I’m a massive fan of this creepy movie. A lot has to do with William Petersen’s portrayal of Will Graham, the former FBI profiler who caught Dr. Lektor.

Francis Dollarhyde, aka the Red Dragon, is a complicated killer.

Michael Mann directed the movie, and it’s worth repeated viewing.


The BBC’s Luther is full of killers, and some are serial. But Idris Elba is the reason to watch this show. John Luther sets the standard for a super cool serial killer detective.

No one else comes close. (Except the dreadful Netflix movie - avoid that).


It would be a hellish world if there were as many serial killers operating in real life as in books, movies, and television. Blood would run in our streets, and body parts would be in every trash can. And somewhere, one of them would be joking about eating liver with fava beans.

What do you think?
Are there too many serial killers in books, movies, and TV shows?
Or are you one of those weirdos who can’t get enough? j/k
Let me know in the comments below.

*I hate real serial killers, too.

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