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How to Spot a Serial Killer: Crime Research Strategies

Research Strategies

Biographical research strategies vary greatly, depending on the notoriety and date of the crime. You will find much more information about the killer than the victims. Books may be written about these crimes, so consider searching the library catalog and not just online/web-based resources.

Profile of the killer should include (but is not limited to):

  1. Upbringing – family (how many sisters, brothers etc.)
  2. Education? Where did he/she to go high school, college, etc.?
  3. Married? Straight? Gay? Bi-Sexual? Children? Divorced?
  4. Employment – where did the person work, what job(s), etc.?
  5. How did he/she choose victims?
  6. How did he/she kill victims? and how did he/she dispose of them?
  7. What were the similarities between victims?
  8. Known mental illnesses?
  9. What type of Serial Murderer?
  10. Was the killer caught? When, how?
  11. What was/is his/her prison sentence?
  12. Is this person still alive? Where?


Profile of a victim should include (but not be limited to):

  1. Biographical information; age, gender, nationality, religion
  2. Employment & Education
  3. Family? Married? Children?
  4. Any known accomplishments?
  5. Any connection with killer?
  6. What was the person doing when caught by killer?
  7. Where did the death take place?
  8. Include photos of victim while alive

Constructing a good search can save you a lot of time and effort.  By creating better searches, you can eliminate many irrelevant hits.  The following search tips and strategies can help you find more relevant information.

Phrase Searching - Putting "quotes" around your search words tells the database that you are looking for that exact phrase.

Example: "crime"

Try Different Wording (synonyms) - Think of different words that describe your topic.

  • Example: "crime"     Try: "corruption"

Try a Broader Search - Sometimes you might choose keywords that overly specific. Try to think of a broader term that includes your topic.  The more general the search, more results are likely.

  • Example: killers     Try: serial killers

Look for Limiters - Search tools often present options for limiting by date or range of dates, full-text or specific format, publication type, etc.  Look for advanced search options to find search features that may not be obvious at first.

Keywords =

Important words or phrases within the text of articles, citations, or abstracts.

Subject Headings =

Specific vocabulary assigned by database indexers to describe the article content so all records on a given subject can be found in one search.

Keywords Terms

  • Behavior
  • Child Serial Killer
  • Criminal Minds
  • Criminal Profiling
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Mass Murders
  • Motivation
  • Multiple Murders
  • Pairs of Serial Killers
  • Perpetrator
  • Serial Arson
  • Serial Killer
  • Serial Killings
  • Serial Murderers
  • Serial Rape
  • Spree Murders
  • Victims
  • Violent Crime 

Other Subject Terms

  • Affective disorders.
  • Antisocial personality disorders.
  • Anxiety.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Autism.
  • Behavior disorders
  • Behavior disorders in children.
  • Borderline personality disorder.
  • Conduct disorders
  • Conduct disorders in children.
  • Criminal behavior -- Genetic aspects.
  • Criminal behavior.
  • Criminal psychology.
  • Depression, Mental.
  • Drug abuse.
  • Manic-depressive illness.
  • Mental illness.
  • Mental illness -- Prevention.
  • Mentally ill -- Public opinion.
  • Narcissism.
  • Neurobehavioral disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Personality disorders.
  • Phobias.
  • Psychology.
  • Psychology -- Research.
  • Psychology, Pathological.
  • Psychopaths.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Separation anxiety in children.
  • Sexual disorders.

Substance abus

Library Databases

See the list of databases that contains information about Serial Killers 

Online Periodicals

Go to these sites and do a search to find information. You can search with keywords (mental illness, crime, criminal behavior, mass murder, serial killers, etc.) or you can try searching for a specific individual (James Holmes, Zodiac Killer, Andrea Yates, Andrew Goldstein, Ted Bundy, etc.).