When a crime story pops up on the television, in a newspaper, or on an online news source, viewers and readers often have various questions about the crime and the definition of what constitutes the specific crime reported. This is especially true when it comes to serial killers, mass murderers, and spree killers. Generally, when the public hears or reads about a person killing or murdering more than two or three people, they tend to identify the murderer as a serial killer. Serial killers, after all, are the most infamous murderers of the serial killer, mass murderer, and spree killer grouping. However, serial killers, mass murderers, and spree killers all have different definitions that separate each term from the others. This paper aims to define those terms and create a clear distinction between serial killers, mass murderers, and spree killers.
The term serial killer is defined as a person or offender who acts alone in committing two or more murders on separate occasions. This is to say that the murders are characterized as being completely separate events, only linked by the murderer. Often times, serial killers have “cooling-off” periods between murders, but this does not carry universal application to all serial killers. The term mass murder describes the act of killing or murdering larger numbers of people in a short period of time. This is to say that mass murder is defined as the murder of four or more people in a singular event, often occurring over the course of a few hours or even a few minutes. Finally, a spree killer differs from serial killers and mass murderers in that they kill multiple people in a short time period, but they do this in multiple locations. A spree killer differs from a mass murderer most distinctly in that mass murderers kill in singular locations while spree killers kill in multiple locations.
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