I would go home and watch what I done on the television. Then I would cry and cry like a baby.

— Albert De Salvo
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Spree Killers – Characteristics


Like the mass murderer, the spree killer is someone who has become so profoundly alienated and embittered that he no longer feels connected to human society. His life has amounted to nothing, and his murderous rampage is his way of bringing his intolerable existence to an explosive end. Most spree killers prefer death to surrender; others allow themselves to be captured, knowing that they will be executed or locked away forever. One way or another, their lives are over.

Two major motives fuel the spree killer’s final, hate-filled act: revenge against the world and a desire to show that-all evidence to the contrary-he is a person to be reckoned with. Tormented by his failure to achieve those things that seem to come so easily to others-satisfying work, loving relationships-he will prove that he is special in at least one regard: in his power to wreak havoc.

Like the mass murderer, the spree killer sometimes targets specific victims: the boss who fired him, the professor who flunked him, the bully who made his high school years a living hell. But the randomness with which he mows down everyone unlucky enough to cross his path shows that his rage is really directed against society itself.

The defining difference between the spree killer and the mass murderer has to do with motion. Whereas the mass murderer slaughters in one place, the spree killer moves from site to site, killing as he goes. In that sense, spree killing might best be described as mobile mass murder.

Since mass and spree murder are essentially two manifestations of the same psychological phenomenon, a new term has recently been proposed that covers both kinds of crime. In a series of articles published shortly before the first anniversary of the Columbine massacre, The New York Times refers to figures like Dylan Klebold, Charles Whitman, and others as rampage killers- a highly expressive phrase that pinpoints the essential difference between these types of offenders and serial killers.