Serial killers and their heinous crimes fascinate us. How could someone do what they do and get away with it for so long?

Staff and students at FGCU are now studying these things, with the help of a massive database.

Dr. Michael Aamodt of Radford University developed a database in partnership with FGCU. The Radford-FGCU serial killer database is the largest non-governmental database of serial killers in the world. It now has 5040 entries dating back centuries.

At FGCU, psychologist and professor Dr. Terry Leary, along with professor Larry Southard with the mathematics department, help lead students through research in order to reveal more on the makeup of serial killers.

“I was surprised from my grad school days to the present, we don’t know much more than we did then, in terms of good solid research,” explained Dr. Leary. “…The database provides us with the data so we can look at the associations, relationships… and one’s propensity to commit serial crimes.”

One of the fields of interest he’s studying now, is the connection between I.Q.’s and how a serial killer will commit his or her crimes.

STUDY: “The Macdonald Triad Revisited: An Empirical Assessment of Relationships between Triadic Elements and Parental Abuse in Serial Killers”

“We’re finding that those who serial kill for enjoyment are brighter,” he explained. “We also are finding that serial killers who engage in even more heinous activities, mutilation, decapitation… have the highest I.Q.’s.”

Those brighter serial killers are what Dr. Leary refers to as “organized killers” who are methodical in what they do.

“Organized serial killers are extremely glib,” he explained. “They’re highly egocentric, highly narcissistic, they lack empathy, and remorse and they are not readily identified because people get lured into their style.”

Some of serial killers in the database that have higher I.Q.’s include Ted Bundy, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Rodney Alcala, the man known as the “Dating Game Killer” because he was a featured contestant on the 1970’s game show.

Ted Bundy

It’s their charisma and their appearance of normalcy that Dr. Leary says makes it easy for them to hide in plain sight for so long.

“They could be a next door neighbor. I’ll use BTK [Bind, Torture, Kill] [Dennis Rader] as an example– who was an elder in the Lutheran church, who also was a head of the Boy Scouts, a pillar of his community– so who would ever think someone like this would do this?”

Besides I.Q., Dr. Leary has used the database to study early child abuse in serial killers’ lives along with something called “MacDonald’s Triad” — a theory that serial killers tend to have some shared traits including animal abuse, pyromania and bed-wetting problems past the age of five.

Troubling traits like these, he said, should not be ignored.

“It doesn’t mean they’re going to become serial killers, but they may be at risk for other antisocial behavior. So take it seriously when you see this—get them into some form of therapy, and not avoid it or think that it’s just a phase they’re going through.”

Women and Men Sentencing Differences

Another study Dr. Leary and his students are working on, is looking at the women serial killers in the database and sentencing discrepancies between then and the men serial killers. There are more than 500 women in the school’s database.

“Women seem to have lighter sentences for similar crimes committed by men,” said Dr. Leary. “and what my students are finding is that this might be some sort of inverted gender biased, that gee, women aren’t tough enough, they’re not as hard.”

One of the students studying this issue is senior Samantha Dreier.

“Males got sentenced higher to death whereas females got sentenced to life or they got actually– like, permitted to be out like get out with a fixed number of years [of jail time].”

Another reason for the lighter sentences was because some of the women claimed they were victims, themselves.

“Many women tend to be victims of Stockholm syndrome, on this basis which is a situation where they’re forced to identify and join forces with their capture,” explained Dr. Leary.

Dr. Leary and his students hope to publish those findings this summer.