Crime history tells us that many serial killers had a difficult upbringing due to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse as children.

Some also showed mental illnesses and suffered from physical brain dysfunction caused by injury or fetal alcohol syndrome. Despite all those issues, serial killers are intellectually capable people in their ways.

Murderers are only labeled as “serial killers” if they have committed multiple killings at different times with a cooling-off period in between.

This means they get away with the first, second, and perhaps third instances of murder.

It takes someone who is not severely damaged to hide evidence of crimes or evade arrest, so the mental issues associated with some forms of childhood adversities could not be overwhelming enough to render serial killers incapacitate.

They are not even reckless – on the contrary, serial killers often work meticulously.

Otherwise, the authority will take them into custody without much investigative challenge. That said, the following known serial killers showed early warning signs of disturbing behaviors as children.

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10 Ted Bundy

Before his execution in 1989, Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides he had committed between 1974 and 1978, although he was suspected of earlier killings.

As a teenager, Bundy had a bizarre inclination to spy on people’s homes and catch a glimpse of how the neighborhood girls getting undressed.

An eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr disappeared from her home on August 31, 1961. Bundy lived just a few miles from the Burr household.

If she was his first victim, then Bundy did it when he was only fourteen. Her body was never recovered; Bundy remains a prime suspect.

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9 David Berkowitz

The self-proclaimed Son of Sam, officially known as David Richard Berkowitz, murdered six people and injured seven others in a series of shooting attacks between 1976 and 1977.

As a child, Berkowitz was a pyromaniac – even his classmates called him “Pyro” as a nickname. Fire is psychologically attractive, but it usually does not trigger unhealthy obsessions like Berkowitz’s case.

In addition to the killings, he also reportedly started more than 1,000 fires in New York before becoming the Son of Sam.



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8 Albert DeSalvo

Some serial killers started their heinous behaviors at a young age. About 70% of violent criminals have had episodes of animal abuse during childhood, compared to just 6% of non-violent offenders.

As kids, they would test the limits to which the body could withstand abusive treatments using animals or pets as victims.

The “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo, who murdered 13 women in the Boston area in the early 1960s, captured dogs and cats as a kid. He would trap them in boxes then shoot arrows at the animals for no apparent reason.

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7 Edmund Kemper

An American serial killer who murdered ten people, Edmund Kemper, didn’t have to wander around and looked for his first victims. His parents separated in 1957, and he ended up living with his grandparents.

At the age of 15, Kemper killed his grandmother by shooting her once in the head and two more in the back.

When grandfather arrived from grocery shopping, Kemper fatally shot him in the driveway as well. He killed his grandparents only to know what it would feel like.

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6 Ottis Toole

The child of an alcoholic father and abusive mother, Ottis Toole, probably never had a proper childhood. His father abandoned him, whereas his mother liked to dress him as a girl and called him Susan.

Toole dropped out of school in the ninth grade, developed a habit of visiting gay bars, and became a male prostitute as a teenager.

According to his confession, his first murder happened when he was 14. After being propositioned for sex by a traveling salesperson, Toole took over the car and ran over the man in the woods.

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5 Jeffrey Dahmer

On May 1, 1992, Jeffery Dahmer was sentenced to 16 terms of life imprisonment for the murders and dismemberment of 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991.

From an early age, Dahmer developed a strange form of fascination with dead animals. He collected animal carcasses then dismembered them in woodland or at home.

At the age of four, his father noticed how Dahmer became oddly thrilled by the sounds that dead animal bones made.

Dahmer once took a carcass of a dog and decapitated it – he impaled the skull on a state and nailed the body to a tree.

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4 Dennis Rader

Over more than 17 years, from January 1974 to February 1991, Dennis Rader, a.k.a. BTK Strangler, killed ten people in Wichita and Park City, Kansas.

He was charged with ten counts of murder in 2005 and is now serving ten consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility.

Rader mostly had a normal childhood. He was an active boy scout and joined a church youth group.

However, he claimed to have developed a strange sexual fantasy about the torture of women. He also admitted to killing and hanging small animals during his younger days.

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3 William Bonin

The twice-paroled sex offender and serial murderer William Bonin raped, tortured, and killed at least 21 boys and young men in southern California in a murder spree that lasted from May 1979 to June 1980.

Bonin was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison in February 1996. At the age of 10, the Bonin family relocated from Mansfield, Connecticut, to Downey, California.

While living in the new address, he was known to have molested several neighborhood children and even his younger brother. All victims were younger than him.

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2 Gary Ridgway

With 49 confirmed victims in his rap sheet, Gary Ridgway – also known as the Green River Killer – is one of the most prolific American serial killers in history.

The most peculiar thing about his childhood was a prolonged case of bedwetting until his early teens. His mother would wash his genitals after every instance.

From an early age, he had a fantasy about stabbing his mother in the chest, heart, and face. When Ridgway was only 15 or 16, he stabbed a six-year-old boy to see how stabbing worked.

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1 Aileen Wuornos

For the murders of seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990, Aileen Wuornos was sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection in October 2002. 

Young Wuornos experienced terrible childhood due to abandonment by her parents and sexual abuse by her alcoholic grandfather.

At the age of 11, she began engaging in sexual activities in school to earn food, cigarettes, and drugs. She was practically a prostitute as a child. Wuornos also engaged in sexual activities with her brother.

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