Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Dawn L. Rothe

Committee Member

Allison T. Chappell

Committee Member

Scott Maggard

Committee Member

George Cronin


The crime of serial murder both fascinates and repulses a myriad of academic disciplines, law enforcement agencies, news media, and popular culture. Despite the vast attention the phenomenon of serial murder has received, serial murderers are poorly understood. The current study used an interdisciplinary approach, combining insights from criminology and psychology to explore what mechanism(s) allow serial murderers to maintain a seemingly normal existence, frequently maintaining personal relationships, steady employment, and reputable social networks.

The data were analyzed using a deductive approach guided by a set of research questions as well as an inductive approach, which allowed emergent themes and patterns to be identified. Findings indicate that these offenders demonstrate some psychopathic traits and show some evidence of learning and neutralizing their behavior. The results suggest, however, that these criminological and psychological elements do not sufficiently explain how serial murderers are able to deceive others into believing that they live a normal existence. Overall, the findings suggest that while it appears that serial murderers are able to live a duplicitous lifestyle, there are typically red flags that could alert others to their criminal behavior. Limitations of the research, as well as implications for prevention, intervention, and future research are also discussed.


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