Mark Reed teaches about murder: the types of murder, the kinds of people who murder, the ways to murder, but most importantly, the reasons why people murder. And one of the more popular courses this associate professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology teaches is CRJU 4900: Serial Killers.
“This course always fills up, and it’s fun,” he says, “but we will push these students to the limit in terms of their analytical and critical-thinking skills.”
Reed begins the course by differentiating serial killers from other types of multiple murders such as spree and mass murder. He reviews FBI definitions on each distinctive type and profiles each according to their motives and different patterns of behavior, victims, location and methods.
Then he breaks the course into two main parts: the making of a serial killer and catching the serial killer.
“A huge question is trying to understand what led to the making of the serial killer,” says Reed, who broadens his students’ focus on environmental influences to examine the role of genetics and biology.
“I help our students explore dispositional aspects, including genetic and biochemical factors that, when coupled with exposure to environmental trauma or stressors, can create the context and plant the seeds from which serial killing may develop,” he explains.
Traditional criminological theories are useful starting points, he suggests, but often the theories fail to provide adequate explanations. Alternatively he exposes students to Hickey’s trauma-control model, which provides a unique account of the serial killing process and the motives of serial killers.
Students must assess the extent to which Hickey’s model fits a particular serial killer of their choice. After Reed signs off on their choice, they do research and develop a profile and timeline. Then they collect information about their killer, victims and life events from a variety of credible sources.
“In creating the timeline, they look at how events develop in the killer’s life and various crimes they have committed, even as a young kid. They chronicle everything up to the killings, noting the dates, victims, methods of killing and location,” Reed says. “They should be able to see patterns emerge. Some killers will fit the model nicely; others will not. We talk about how the model fits and doesn’t, and where they can modify it.”
Reed teaches the various investigative tools that help law enforcement apprehend serial murderers and suggests that the information can be applied to a single homicide. “Serial murder is rare, but these strategies and tools can be applied to any murder situation.”
Reed has begun compiling his students’ profiles to advance knowledge involving the explanation of serial murder and its different types. He plans to write an article or book using this data and hopes the information will better assist law enforcement in their investigation of serial killers.
Reed will teach CRJU 4900: Serial Killers again next fall semester. Find more information on GoSOLAR.