Serial, Spree, and Mass Murder: The Difference

I see a lot of folks–including the media–confusing serial killings for mass murders, mass murders for spree killings, and so on. I want to clear this up.

*Serial: consisting of, forming part of, or taking place in a series. For example, a magazine issued monthly, bi-monthly, etc. is a serial. A TV show is a serial. There’s a distinct time-lapse between each installment.

A serial killer is someone who kills three or more people in different locations as isolated events with a cooling off period in between each murder.

Example: In March, Bob kills a woman in a park. In June, he kills a man in a grocery store. In July, he kills a woman at a bus stop. In November, Bob kills another woman behind a bakery.

Note the cooling off period in between each murder as well as the different locations.


*Spree: a spell or sustained period of unrestrained activity of a particular kind. For example, a shopping spree.

A spree killer is someone who kills two or more people in a short time in different locations with almost no time break in between murders.

Example: John has had enough. He grabs his rifle and heads out the door of his house intent on getting his revenge. He stops at his ex-wife’s house and kills her and her mother. From there, he drives across town to his ex-wife’s boyfriend’s house and shoots him dead. Then, John drives to where he works and shoots his boss and three co-workers.

Note the different locations of each murder and the fact that there is almost no time in between for cooling off.


*Mass: relating to, done by, or affecting large numbers of people or things. For example, terror seizes a crowd of people and causes mass panic. They all try to flee, which creates mass chaos. It affects the whole group as one being.

A mass murderer is someone who murders four or more people in one location with no cooling off period between each murder.

Example: All of Joan’s friends have gathered at her house for a party. What they don’t know is Joan laced the punch with a healthy dose of arsenic. They’ll all be dead within the hour.

Note the single location with no cooling off period.

I hope this helps everyone better understand the difference between a serial killer, mass murderer, and a spree killer. Because there certainly are differences.


About Kimberly A Bettes

I whittle away the minutes of my life by entertaining myself with various projects and people. One thing is certain. I'm never bored. I also write stuff and take pictures of things.

Posted on February 27, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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