Did you know that there are seven psychological phases a serial killer goes through in his mind?
They were identified and described by psychologist Joel Norris in 1988. Norris worked on the defense teams of several convicted killers from Georgia and completed 500 interviews with such individuals, during which he identified the following phases.
1. Aura Phase
The to-be-killer begins with an aura phase, in which there is a withdrawal from reality and a heightening of the senses. It means that the killer distances him/herself from social interactions. Nevertheless, friends, family and those who encounter this person, may not be able to detect this person’s change in personality. The killer becomes antisocial and life no longer has meaning to him. This phase may last anywhere from several moments to several months and can begin as a prolonged fantasy, which may have been active for a short time or for years. These fantasies often include sadistic sexual and other violent acts which possibly derive from early childhood experiences. The killer may attempt to medicate himself with alcohol or drugs which often leads to an intensification of the fantasies. After a while they have the urge to be acted upon.
2. Trolling Phase
This leads into the second stage, which is the called the trolling phase. In this phase, the killer tries to find a victim. Most serial killers will search for a victim in places he is familiar with or where he feels comfortable (the so-called comfort zone may be around the killer’s neighborhood, in a certain district or area). They will also look for a particular discreet location to perform the murder and to a perfect place to dump the bodies. They usually tend to look in school yards or lovers lanes or even red light districts. This might go on for hours days and sometimes even months, until the perfect victim will be found. In the trolling phase the serial killer often follows a behaviour pattern used to identify and stalk his victim. Norris described how Ted Bundy strapped his arm in a sling and asked for help with books, packages, or even the hull of a sailboat to lure the victim into his car. Some victims escaped and said he never seemed out of control until the moment he actually attacked them.
3. Wooing Phase
In the wooing phase the killer tries to win the confidence of a victim before luring it into a trap. This phase is only done by the organised killers who are much more confident, more daring, and have better social skills than disorganised killers. The killer tries to socialise with the victim and – as stated before – tries to gain his victim’s trust. This is a very important phase because the organised killer often seems to only proceed to kill those who allow him to gain their trust. “When homicide detectives finally begin to uncover a pattern of serial murder, one of the first things they notice is that the victims rarely seem to have struggle against their killers” (Norris 29). Once the trust is received, the killer will then lure the victim into quiet and secluded area where the killer uncover his/her mask and moved on to the next phase.
4. Capture Phase
The fourth phase is the capture phase. This is where the killer reveals what he is. The capture of the victim can be as swiftly as snapping a handcuff on the victim’s wrists,or a blow that renders the victim helpless. The killer may draw his victim into his car which has no door handle one could use as an escape. He usually savours this moment. It is disturbingly fun for him and is included in his sadistic needs. The victim may be taken to a new location, far out from people and help. Once the killer is sure that there’s no way for the victim to escape, he move to the climax phase of the cycle, the murder.
5. Murder Phase
Norris described the murder phase as the ritual reenactment of the disastrous experiences of the killer’s childhood, but this time he reverses the roles. The killer may decides to kill his victim instantaneously, but sometimes he will torture his victim to death, tries to revive it on the brink of death and continue with the torture (Scott). A disorganised killer is more likely to kill the victim instantaneously by a powerful attack or a quick strangulation. It is likely that the corpse is heavily “depersonalised” by mutilations of face and body (Vronsky). Any violent acts such as rape are often taken place after the victim is dead (necrophilia). The organised killer commits a much slower and more painful murder act. The victim is most likely to be tortured and raped before death. In his case the act of killing is delayed because the murder itself it often not the motive of the crime; rather, it is the torturing that the killer enjoys most. This is especially true in the sadistic killers, the most organized of all killers. This type of killers will keep their victims alive as long as possible – sometimes revive them from injuries, keeping them just alive enough to feel the pain from the tortures. The sexual sadistic killers will resources to different equipments, such as electrical wire that they brought with them to the crime site. “The most prevalent forms of sexual acts inflicted on the victim, in order of case frequency, are anal rape, forced fellatio, vaginal rape, and foreign object penetration” (Vronsky 314). Eventually, when the killer finished with the tortures, he proceeds to kill.
6. Totem Phase
The next phase Norris described is the totem phase. After the kill, the excitement of the killer suddenly drops and he wakes up from his fantasy. He is likely to sink into a depression, which is why some serial killers develop a ritual to preserve their fantasy. They may collect their victims possessions such as clothes and save news clippings about their crimes. Some serial killer cut off their victims body parts to preserve and/or consume them. Others take pictures or videotape the crime. The trophy is meant to give the murderer the same feelings of power he experienced at the time of the kill and to remind himself/herself that the fantasy is real, and he/she really did fulfill it.
7. Depression Phase
The last phase before the serial killer starts over again is phase seven, the depression phase. There is a great emotional let down for the killer. The depression phase can last for days, weeks, or even months. They may even become so depressed as to attempt suicide. A victim, now killed, no longer represents what the killer thought he or she represented, and the memory of the individual that tortured the murderer in the past is still there. Ressler compares the murder to a television serial with no satisfactory ending because the serial killer experiences the tension of a fantasy incompletely fulfilled. In each subsequent murder, he attempts to make the scene of the crime equal to the fantasy. Norris notes that there is an absence of the killer’s sense of self and, during this phase, the killer may confess to the police before the fantasies start once more. However, because victims are not seen as people, recollections of murders may be vague or viewed as the killer having watched someone else. Eventually, the killers will fall back into their fantasies and proceed to the murder again. Each time after the murder, the fantasy will become more real and the murder will become more brutal, the cycle continues on and on until the pattern gets interrupted. The killer’s interruption included getting caught, or simply the killer is “burnt out.” When the killer is “burnt out,” he/she withdraws from killing, and possibly commit suicide. This is one of the reason there are many unsolved serial murder cases. However, the chances are that the killers will not stop killing on his/her own. Serial killing is an addiction, and the killing patterns will be continued.