5 of literature's most fascinating serial killers

serial-killers-cover.jpgFew things both repulse and fascinate society like serial killers.

A serial killer is defined as someone who has killed at least three victims in three separate events with an emotional "cooling off period" between murders, said Dr. Scott Bonn, a criminology professor and author of the new book Why We Love Serial Killers, on Q recently. Perhaps it's because that serial killers blend back into normal life, often holding down jobs and other quotidian responsibilities, before being consumed by the urge to kill again, that is so darkly curious. Listen to Dr. Bonn's full interview on Q:

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"Serial killers love to kill," he said. "They don't want to get caught. They have no intention of going out in a blaze of glory like mass murderers."

Serial killers are part of pop-culture lore. Authors have certainly used them to explore aspects of society and humanity in their novels. We highlight some of literature's more famous serial killers below.

misery-cover-120.jpgAnnie Wilkes, created by Stephen King

In King's 1987 novel Misery, he introduces one of the iconic angel of death-type characters in Annie Wilkes. Paul Sheldon, a romance novelist, is rescued from a car crash by Annie Wilkes, who turns out to be a deeply disturbed fan. Wilkes, a trained nurse, cares for him, but becomes erratic and violent when she discovers he intends to kill off her favourite literary character. Sheldon later discovers that Wilkes is a serial killer with blood on her hands since childhood. Her victims included her own father, a neighbouring family, her college roommate, and several patients and infants under her care during her nursing career. It's said that Wilkes is loosely based on the real-life serial killer nurse Genene Anne Jones, who killed dozens of infants with deadly injections and tried to cover her tracks by destroying hospital records of her activities. Jones was eventually caught after a doctor noticed puncture marks in a drug bottle that was only accessible to the two of them.

Darkly_Dreaming_Dexter-120.jpgDexter Morgan, created by Jeff Lindsay

In Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004), Jeff Lindsay riffs off the traditional serial killer narrative by developing a complex anti-hero that many people actually root for. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer that satiates his homicidal urges by targeting murders, rapists, and other criminals who escape justice. He works for the police in Miami as a blood spatter pattern analyst, which gives him resources to stalk his prey, and tries to project an air of affability and normalcy. Flashbacks reveal that Dexter's foster father, a police detective, recognized his sociopathic nature as a child and put him on this bloody path as a vigilante killer. Lindsay's novel series inspired the popular TV adaptation Dexter, which wrapped up its successful run last year.

AmericanPsychoBook-120.jpgPatrick Bateman, created by Bret Easton Ellis

The controversial and extremely graphic American Psycho shocked readers in 1991. The central character and narrator, Patrick Bateman, purports to be a Wall Street yuppie by day and a criminally insane serial killer by night. The story moves between the superficial, banal encounters between 1980s investment bankers and Bateman's disturbing descriptions of killing, torturing, and sexually violating numerous victims. Dripping with prejudice, misogyny, and narcissism, Bateman was a despicable yet darkly compelling character. Ultimately, the purposefully unreliable narration and ambiguous conclusion left readers wondering whether his violent rampages really happened or were just a figment of his fevered imagination.

mr-ripley-120.jpgThomas Ripley, created by Patricia Highsmith

In the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Highsmith introduces us to con artist Thomas Ripley, a charming and suave young man. He becomes acquainted with a young aristocrat named Dickie Greenleaf, eventually murdering him and assuming his identity. The other books in the series (a total of five works dubbed the Ripliad) sees Ripley scheming, outsmarting, and killing whoever gets in the way of his efforts to conceal his past. Literary critics have found him to be an interesting serial killer creation in that he doesn't necessarily fit the bill of a true psychopath. Ripley, for the most part, takes no pleasure in murder and does it only so that he may continue to escape justice. And although he doesn't feel particularly guilty for many of his kills, Ripley has expressed awareness of his own wrongdoings.

red-dragon-120.jpgHannibal Lecter, created by Thomas Harris

A list like this wouldn't be complete with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who was first introduced to the world in 1981's Red Dragon. Brilliant, cultured, refined, and a master manipulator, Lecter was described as failing to fit any known psychological profile. He also liked to prepare gourmet meals from his victim's parts. After being captured by the FBI, he ends up assisting them in investigations (including the one to catch Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs). It's later revealed that Lecter was brutally traumatized as a child. During the 1930s, he and his younger sister became orphans in their native Lithuania. A group of desperately hungry Nazi collaborators kill and cannibalize the girl, and feed parts of her to an unknowing Hannibal. Among Lecter's first victims as a young man are the collaborators, whom he tracks down to exact revenge.