8 Characteristics of Psychopathic Killers - Listverse (2022)

Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths aren’t all vicious murderers. Most simply use mind games and manipulation to get people to do what they want. Of course, there are those insanely savage killers (both famous and otherwise) who are labeled as “psychos.” Here are some of the more typical psychopathic characteristics observed in killers all over the world.

See Also: 10 Signs You May Be A Psychopath

8 The Charming Psychopath

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Photo credit: ABC News

Most women love a charming, intelligent man—the kind of guy who gives compliments without leering and can work out a difficult math problem without struggling.

The problem?

You won’t immediately know if he’s hiding violent psychopathic tendencies. The first killer who comes to mind when thinking about charm, intelligence, and the pretense of caring about others is Ted Bundy.

He was a psychopathic killer who made sure that his victims’ defenses were down. He did this by being charming and pretending to be an all-around nice guy. Much the same as Bundy, Albert DeSalvo (the “Boston Strangler“) was a harmless-looking, nice guy who could get people, especially women, to trust him in an instant.

Little did they know that DeSalvo would go on to murder 13 women in the early 1960s by strangling most of them with nylon stockings. He also sexually assaulted many of his victims. Although there is some debate as to whether DeSalvo was responsible for all the murders, the Boston Strangler is still believed to have been one of the most prolific psychopathic killers in history.[1]

7 The Cold and Calculating Psychopath

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Psychopaths lack empathy and are often calculating and aggressive. They plan every move to ensure that they get their way in everything, whether at work or in their personal lives.


Daniel Jack Kelsall is the epitome of a born psychopath. He carefully planned a terrible crime, and in his execution of it, he fulfilled all his psychotic fantasies.

In 2013, Kelsall, then 20, stalked Morgan Huxley, 31, and eventually followed him to his house. Kelsall overpowered Huxley, indecently assaulted him, stabbed him more than 20 times, and then left him for dead.[2]

Even though the murder itself was frenzied, Kelsall took a lot of time planning the crime, which meant that he made very few mistakes while carrying out the killing. To this day, Kelsall has yet to show any remorse for his crime and is reportedly too busy having sex in prison to care about anything else.

6 The Superior Psychopath

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Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

The term “proud” has more than one meaning. You can be proud of your heritage or station in life or simply have an excessively high opinion of yourself—a superiority complex. You can also be proud of your achievements in life. Psychopaths often feel immense pride in themselves and in their crimes.

Samuel Little stood trial in 2014 for the murders of three women in California. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2018, something unthinkable happened. Little confessed to the murder of another woman who had been found strangled to death in 1996. He also admitted to murdering a Texas woman in 1994. He continued confessing to dozens of murders—at least 50 are now confirmed as being linked to him. It is believed that he may have murdered as many as 93 people between 1970 and 2005.

There was no apparent reason for Little’s admissions because the police had not suspected him of any more killings. To explain such behavior, Dr. Rebecca Seifert Lynch, a clinical psychologist who had not examined Little, stated that Little probably confessed because he was immensely proud of what he had done and wanted to wear his “badge of honor” with pride.[3] This was most evident when he smiled in court after receiving a fourth life sentence.

Little is now dubbed the most prolific psychopathic serial killer in US history.

5 The Schizoid Psychopath

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Photo credit: murderpedia.org

(Video) Unidentified Serial Killers (Trigger Warning)

Schizoid personality disorder is not a common affliction. Those who have it shy away from social situations and don’t possess the desire to befriend anyone. They also lack the necessary interpersonal skills to form relationships with anyone.

Individuals with this condition may have suffered childhood abuse or neglect, so this often becomes a form of self-serving victimhood. A schizoid personality disorder is not always a precursor to violence. But when it is, the violent tendencies usually lead to self-harm as opposed to hurting other people.

Andrei Chikatilo was an exception. He was identified as a schizoid psychopath after his arrest and conviction for multiple killings. It seemed that he considered himself a worthless idiot, but in his imagination, he was like a king.

He was a teacher who largely failed at his job because of his inability to maintain order in the classroom, leading to a complete lack of respect from his students. He started sexually molesting some of his female students and even fondled himself in front of the class. But he was never disciplined.

It was only after complaints escalated that Chikatilo was asked to leave. Although his teaching career ended in 1981, his killing spree had already started in 1978.

Nicknamed the “Red Ripper,” Chikatilo was found guilty of 52 murders in October 1992. He was executed in February 1994.[4]

4 The Deceitful and Manipulative Psychopath

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Photo credit: The Economic Times

Psychopaths are the worse kinds of narcissists. They not only disregard society and social cues, but they also carry this disdain for rules to the extreme, calculating and scheming ruthlessly. They are notoriously callous career criminals. They enjoy what they do—the bottom line is that psychopaths are deliberately deceitful and manipulative.

Psychopaths are unable (or unwilling) to control their impulses or to delay gratification. They use rage to control and manipulate others into submission. Many of them are sadistic, taking genuine pleasure in inflicting physical, emotional, and financial harm to their victims. Not all psychopaths are law-breakers. However, all psychopaths engage in antisocial acts such as lying, manipulation, aggression, and cruelty. John Wayne Gacy, for example, refused to take responsibility for the 26 boys buried beneath his house, even though he also once said that clowns could get away with murder. Gacy was known to entertain children dressed as “Pogo the Clown.”

After being convicted and sentenced for sodomizing two young boys in 1964, he served 18 months and then relocated to Chicago, where his activities did not stop. In 1976, parents of a young teenager who worked for Gacy wanted the police to investigate when their son disappeared. Unfortunately, no investigation was starte4d. In 1978, the Des Plaines police did investigate Gacy for the disappearance of a 15-year-old boy. They searched his house and found several suspicious items possibly belonging to several missing boys.[5]

Gacy was eventually arrested and entered an insanity plea that, however, did not work. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Of his victims, he said, “I think after 14 years under truth serum, had I committed the crime, I would have known it. There’s got to be something that would … would click in my mind. I’ve had photos of 21 of the victims, and I’ve looked at them all over the years here, and I’ve never recognized anyone of them.”

Gacy used deceit and manipulation to get away with murder, as many of his neighbors claimed to have really liked him.

(Video) Forensic Factor: Finding a Serial Killer in Baton Rouge - Full Episode (S5, E7) | A&E

3 The Situational Psychopath

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Considering that “depraved” is defined as being morally corrupt or wicked, it could be argued that all murderers are depraved. However, some make a major effort to live up to the adjective.

Charles Albright started killing small animals when he was just a teenager. He described it as an interest in taxidermy. He was only 13 when he was arrested for the first time.

Even so, he appeared gentlemanly and considerate. He was also extremely bright and enrolled at North Texas University at age 15. He even started premed classes but soon dropped out. After he turned 16, he was arrested for theft of money and the possession of firearms and was sentenced to one year in prison. Albright was in and out of prison in the years that followed.

In 1990, Albright’s first murder victim was found. Thirty-three-year-old Mary Lou Pratt had been beaten and shot. Her eyes had been removed. In 1991, two more victims were found shot and beaten, with their eyes removed as well.[6]

When Albright was eventually arrested for the murders, he was described by those who knew him as a soft-spoken gentleman who was fluent in Spanish and French. He was also a fantastic painter and a piano wizard. His friends simply could not fathom that Albright had viciously murdered and mutilated three women.

He was found guilty of only one murder and is currently incarcerated in a psychiatric unit in Texas.

2 The Narcissistic and Boastful Psychopath

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Photo credit: The Guardian

Some psychopathic killers feel that they haven’t received enough credit for their gruesome acts. An example is Ian Brady, who has also been described as a “true psychopath.” Brady murdered five children, with at least four suffering sexual assault as well. As a result, he and his accomplice, Myra Hindley, were imprisoned for life.

Hindley tried all avenues to get herself out of prison. She cut off all contact with Brady, professed her innocence, and then gave a full confession admitting to involvement in all five murders.

(Video) Criminologist Reviews Serial Killers From Movies & TV | Vanity Fair

In 2003, Professor Jeremy Coid, a forensic psychiatrist, interviewed Brady. He refused to show any remorse for his crimes and even smirked at the idea of it. He also hinted that he was responsible for even more murders than those for which he had been convicted. Brady revealed that the thrill from killing a person was too fleeting for his liking and ultimately a letdown.[7]

1 The Thrill-Seeking Psychopath

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Psychopaths, especially the narcissistic kind, crave attention, enjoy bullying people, and love abusing them. They also get bored quickly, like to test life’s limits, and seek whatever thrill they can find. They cover up their core of psychosis with a veil of polite, unassuming personality traits.

Perhaps the best example of a terrifying but outwardly unassuming psychopathic killer is Jeffrey Dahmer. After Tracy Edwards escaped Dahmer’s claws and brought police to the killer’s apartment, it was only a few disturbing photographs lying in plain sight that tipped off the officers. If it hadn’t been for that, the police most likely would have turned and walked away from the polite Dahmer, who had almost convinced them that it was all a misunderstanding.

Once they searched the apartment, the true scale of Dahmer’s psychotic tendencies was revealed. Skulls perched on a computer, a drum full of bodies, and heads inside a freezer were just the tip of the horrifying iceberg. Evidence suggests that Dahmer had been experimenting with cannibalism to fulfill his thrill-seeking fantasies and had eaten parts of some victims.[8]

Eventually, Dahmer was sentenced to 16 life terms for murder. He was killed by a prison inmate in 1994.

For more lists like this, check out 10 Crazy Facts About Psychopaths and 10 Fascinating Things You Might Not Know About Psychopaths.

fact checked by Jamie Frater


Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.

(Video) Forensic Factor: The Smiley Face Killer (S5, E5) | Full Episode | A&E

Read More: Mary and Me


What are 5 common traits of a serial killer? ›

Serial killers differ in many ways, including their motivations for killing and their behavior at the crime scene. However, attendees did identify certain traits common to some serial murderers, including sensation seeking, a lack of remorse or guilt, impulsivity, the need for control, and predatory behavior.

What are the main characteristics of a psychopath? ›

A person who is manipulative, dishonest, narcissistic, unremorseful, non-empathetic, and exploitative may be a psychopath. Criminality, promiscuity, and lack of responsibility are also common traits associated with psychopathy.

What are the 3 different types of psychopaths? ›

Clinical observations at ASH have suggested 4 possible subtypes of psychopathy: narcissistic, borderline, sadistic, and antisocial.

What are the 10 signs of a psychopath? ›

10 Signs That Prove You Might Be A Psychopath
  • Narcissists Of Another Level. Psychopaths take self-love very seriously. ...
  • No Empathetic Feeling. ...
  • Perennial Absence Of Regret. ...
  • Superficial And Shallow. ...
  • Dishonesty Is Their Nature. ...
  • High Level Of Intelligence. ...
  • Inclination To Get Violent. ...
  • Extremely Reckless.
29 Jan 2017

How can you tell if someone is capable of murder? ›

Warning Signs That Someone Is Capable of Murder
  • Jealousy and Possessiveness.
  • Impulsive Temper.
  • Juvenile Delinquency.
  • Habitual Liars and Narcissists.
27 Jul 2017

What personality disorder do serial killers have? ›

As a psychoanalyst, Stone's specialty is personality disorders so it is not surprising that most of the mass murderers in his study were diagnosed with antisocial, psychopathic, narcissistic or paranoid personality disorder.

What are the 9 traits of a psychopath? ›

Psychopathy is characterized by diagnostic features such as superficial charm, high intelligence, poor judgment and failure to learn from experience, pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love, lack of remorse or shame, impulsivity, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, manipulative behavior, poor ...

What are the 7 symptoms of a psychopath? ›

Here, in a nutshell, are seven characteristics that should alert you that a psychopathic personality might be in your sights.
  • Superficial Charm. ...
  • Puffed-Up Self-Esteem. ...
  • Deceitfulness. ...
  • Shallow Emotions. ...
  • Boredom and a Need for Stimulation. ...
  • A History of Shady Conduct. ...
  • A Riddle of Contradictions.
11 Oct 2021

What is a psychopaths weakness? ›

lack of empathy, guilt, conscience, or remorse. shallow experiences of feelings or emotions. impulsivity, and a weak ability to defer gratification and control behavior.

How can you tell a male psychopath? ›

Lets jump right in.
  1. Grandiose behaviors. Psychopaths often think they are smarter and more powerful than other people. ...
  2. Extremely charming. ...
  3. Needs constant stimulation. ...
  4. Pathological lying. ...
  5. Has no sense of guilt or remorse. ...
  6. Blunt affect. ...
  7. Parasitic lifestyle. ...
  8. Unable to accept responsibility.
15 Sept 2016

Can a psychopath be obsessed with someone? ›

They're known for being reckless, thrill-seeking, and lacking in empathy. Relationships with psychopaths are never smooth sailing. If they are particularly narcissistic, they're not happy unless they're the center of attention all the time, meaning they can be obsessive and controlling.

Can a psychopath love? ›

According to Perpetua Neo, a psychologist and therapist who specializes in people with DTP traits, the answer is no. "Narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths do not have a sense of empathy," she told Business Insider. "They do not and will not develop a sense of empathy, so they can never really love anyone."

What is a narcissistic psychopath? ›

Characteristics of a Narcissistic Sociopath

NPD is characterized as a grandiose sense of self-importance, attitude of entitlement or arrogance, and an excessive need for external validation. The symptoms of ASD include impulsivity, aggression, and a total disregard for rules, laws, and social norms.

How do serial killers lure their victims? ›

Organized serial killers often plan their crimes methodically, usually abducting victims, killing them in one place and disposing of them in another. They often lure the victims with ploys appealing to their sense of sympathy. Others specifically target prostitutes, who are likely to go voluntarily with a stranger.

What makes a killer? ›

What Makes a Killer is a twelve-part series that chronicles the lives and crimes of the world's most notorious serial killers. In every episode host Jennifer Nittoso will trace a killer's origins, examine their behavior, and follow their path to bloodshed.

What killers have BPD? ›

Borderline personality disorder
  • Aileen Wuornos, the woman who inspired the 2003 film “Monster” starring Charlize Theron, confessed to seven murders in Florida. ...
  • Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” killed seventeen boys and men between 1978 and 1991. ...
  • Kristen H.

Is there a serial killer gene? ›

As I said before, there's no “serial killer” gene–there's a gene that can influence someone's level of aggression and emotional control. Classifying people as “serial killer gene carriers” is a terrible idea for several reasons.

Are killers born or made? ›

In The Anatomy of Violence, criminologist Dr. Adrian Raine says that, “Genetics and environment work together to encourage violent behaviour.” Therefore, it seems like there are various factors namely, genetics, environment, trauma and personality traits that contribute to the making of a serial killer.

How do serial killers think? ›

Serial killers characteristically lack empathy for others, coupled with an apparent absence of guilt about their actions. At the same time, many can be superficially charming, allowing them to lure potential victims into their web of destruction.

What is a serial killers favorite color? ›

Studies on the effects of LSD (& other hallucinogenic drugs) have shown drawings/paintings by "crazy" folks with much more yellow as the effects advanced. Yellow was said to be Einstein's favorite color as well as the favorite color of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Are killers born or made? ›

In The Anatomy of Violence, criminologist Dr. Adrian Raine says that, “Genetics and environment work together to encourage violent behaviour.” Therefore, it seems like there are various factors namely, genetics, environment, trauma and personality traits that contribute to the making of a serial killer.


1. Watch: Bodycam Footage Shows Oklahoma Chase For Suspected Cop Killer
(NBC News)
2. Cold Case Files: Police Receive Detailed Confession From Murderer Decades After Crime | A&E
3. Gucci Mane - Serial Killers [Official Music Video]
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4. Comparison: Celebrities Ranked By Intelligence
5. Unmasking the Golden State Killer: dark investigation into Joseph DeAngelo | 60 Minutes Australia
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6. Convicted killer and rapist free to live in community after 30 years in jail | 60 Minutes Australia
(60 Minutes Australia)

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