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A popular myth about serial killers is that they are all motivated by sex. Although sex is a motive for approximately half of all serial killers, it is typically found in conjunction with other motivations such as anger, power and control or monetary gain. Hedonist lust killers are a glaring exception to this rule.
Sex is the primary motivation for hedonist lust killers regardless of whether the victims are alive or dead. As such, necrophilia is a frequent aspect of lust killer homicides. Edmund Kemper (The Co-ed Killer), for example, returned to have sex with the abandoned and decomposing corpses of his young, female victims long after killing them. For many hedonist lust killers, sexual gratification often requires mutilation of their victims, drinking their blood and cannibalism.
As explained by Peter Vronsky, lust killers typically need intimate skin-to-skin contact in their killings and often use a knife or strangulation to murder. They are highly organized in their crimes and normally fantasize extensively about murder. Lust killers may rehearse it in their minds for years before actually killing their first victim.
Over time, lust killers become addicted to rape and murder much like an addict becomes addicted to drugs. Generally, as they progress, either the time between their killings decreases or the amount of sexual stimulation they require increases. Sometimes, both occur.
Jeffrey Dahmer, a classic hedonist lust killer, fantasized obsessively about his perfect lover—beautiful, submissive and eternal—which led him to murder and cannibalize seventeen men and boys in Wisconsin and Ohio between 1978 and 1991. As his killings and sexual desires both increased, he began to experiment with drugs, alcohol, sadomasochism and fetishism.
His escalating need for exotic and morbid sexual stimulation was manifested in the dismemberment of his victims, whose heads and genitals he preserved in specimen jars, and in his attempts to create a “living zombie” by pouring acid and other chemical agents into a hole drilled into his victims’ skulls.
Jeffrey Dahmer graphically described his motivations as a hedonist lust killer when he said:
“Lust played a big part in it [the murders]. Control and lust. Once it happened the first time, it just seemed like it had control of my life from there on in. The killing was just a means to an end. That was the least satisfactory part. I didn’t enjoy doing that. That’s why I tried to create living zombies with … acid and the drill. I wanted to see if it was possible to make—again, it sounds really gross—uh, zombies, people that would not have a will of their own, but would follow my instructions without resistance. So after that, I started using the drilling technique”.
Dahmer’s need for sexual stimulation had no limits. Like many other hedonist lust killers, Dahmer also practiced cannibalism on his victims whom he believed that he loved. He sought to possess his secret lovers forever, so Dahmer took trophies from them in the form of human flesh which he ingested. By eating the flesh of his prey, Dahmer believed that his beloved victims would become internalized and everlasting.
Such insatiable thirst for blood combined with an ever-increasing sexual appetite make hedonist lust killers such as Dahmer arguably the most frightening and barbaric serial killer type of all. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter as portrayed in the iconic 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs is the Hollywood prototype of the hedonist lust serial killer.
Author: Scott Bonn, Ph.D., professor of criminology at Drew University