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Facts and Fiction about Serial Killers

Prof. dr. Marieke Liem, Professor Social Resilience and Safety at ISGA, discussed the facts and fiction surrounding serial killers on Dutch NPO Radio 1.

Serial killers have been a huge source of inspiration for films and TV series over the last few years. Many people are fascinated by the subject. How can someone be capable of killing several people? Marieke Liem explains that a murder can be classified as a serial murder when the killer has killed at least three victims on three separate occasions. 
For many people, this is not only fascinating but also terrifying. We are often afraid of 'men lurking in the bushes', but that is a rare phenomenon, says Liem. In the Netherlands the number of known serial killers can be counted using both hands. Which means that it is a myth that serial killings are a very socially relevant phenomenon. The risk of being killed in the Netherlands is already very small. And if it does happen, says Liem, chances are that the killer is someone close to you. Serial killers are so rare that realistically speaking there is no need to be afraid of them.

The profile of a serial killer

The profile of a serial killer is often misinterpreted as well, says Liem. The image that often comes to mind is that of a white middle aged male who gets a kick out of murders or who has a sexually sadistic motive. Yet if we take a look at both the perpetrators as well as the victims of serial killings, they come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and different age groups. There are definitely women who commit serial murders too but the majority are men. A wide range of motives can be found behind serial killings. Sometimes people are suffering from mental issues, these are the people who most often get caught, because they are less meticulous than perpetrators who act rationally.

Serial killers in the Netherlands

There are a number of reasons to explain the fact that there are so few serial killers in the Netherlands, according to Liem. She mentions 'linking blindage' as one of them. Even though the Netherlands is a small country, provinces and municipalities have different ways of registering murders. As a result, single murders that are part of a series slip through the cracks and are filed as unsolved cases. There are also many unreported cases in the Netherlands; concerning, for instance, missing persons, homeless people and other vulnerable groups. Whose bodies may never be found or who go missing without being reported. Liem calls this number of unsolved or unlinked cases the 'dark number'. 

You can listen to the full segment (in Dutch) on the website of NPO Radio 1.

A graduate from the University of Cambridge, Marieke Liem completed her PhD in Forensic Psychology at the University of Utrecht. Her research interests involve interpersonal violence, with specific research projects on domestic homicide, the effect of issues such as psychological problems, firearms and drugs have on violent crimes, the effects confinement on violent offenders, and international comparative research in lethal violence.

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