Creating Cultural Monsters: Serial Murder in America, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Creating Cultural Monsters

Serial Murder in America, 1st Edition

By Julie B. Wiest

CRC Press

244 pages | 12 Color Illus. | 31 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2011-06-06
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Serial murderers generate an abundance of public interest, media coverage, and law enforcement attention, yet after decades of studies, serial murder researchers have been unable to answer the most important question: Why? Providing a unique and comprehensive exploration, Creating Cultural Monsters: Serial Murder in America explains connections between American culture and the incidence of serial murder, including reasons why most identified serial murderers are white, male Americans. It describes the omnipresence of serial murder in American media and investigates what it would take to decrease its occurrence.

Presenting empirically supported arguments that have the potential to revolutionize how serial murder is understood, studied, and investigated, this volume:

  • Places the serial murder phenomenon in a cultural context, promoting qualitative understanding and the potential for reducing its frequency
  • Includes an illustrated model that explains how people utilize cultural values to construct lines of action according to their cultural competencies
  • Demonstrates how the American cultural milieu fosters serial murder and the creation of white male serial murderers
  • Provides a critique of the American mass media’s role in the development and notoriety of serial murder
  • Describes the framework on which the majority of definitions of serial murder are based

Drawn from years of dedicated research of Dr. Julie B. Wiest, this volume presents a new approach to the study of U.S. serial murder, offers important implications for law enforcement and mass media, and forms a basis for future research on serial murder, murder, and violence in the U.S. and in other nations.


" … well thought out and scholarly …."

—Heith Copes, University of Alabama at Birmingham

"Using an interdisciplinary framework that takes into account culture, gender, and race, the book provides a critical analysis of serial murders in the United States and makes an important contribution to knowledge in culture, gender, race/ethnicity and criminology."

—Hoan N. Bui, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

"I will be adopting this book as a primary source for additional insight and information for teaching an upper division course on Serial Killers … . The author’s sociocultural approach to understanding serial murder is a much needed theoretical conceptualization"

—Jacquelyn L. Sandifer, Campbellsville University, Kentucky, USA

"The author has written a fascinating, creative, and enlightening examination of our cultural monsters. Anyone who seeks to understand this horrific phenomenon will want to read Wiest's excellent work."

—Jack Levin, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts and author of Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers: Up Close and Personal.

Table of Contents


Important Implications

Major Contributions

Book Organization

Part I: What We (Think We) Know about Serial Murder

Fundamentals of Serial Murder

Who Studies Serial Murder?

Law Enforcement Personnel

Academic Researchers

Journalists and True Crime Writers

Prevalence of Serial Murder

Definitions of Serial Murder

Distinguishing Serial Murder from Other Types of Murder

Defining Serial Murder

A Working Definition of Serial Murder

The "Typical" Serial Murderer

Popular Portrayals in American Media

Common Characteristics Identified by the FBI and Academic Researchers





Similarities with Other Types of Offenses

Other Serial Crimes

School Shootings

White Supremacy

Existing Explanations for Serial Murder

Psychological Explanations

Social Psychological Explanations

Sociological Explanations

A New Direction

Part II: A Sociocultural Approach to Understanding Serial Murder

Cultural Context of Serial Murder

Serial Murder in American Popular Culture

Serial Murderers as Monsters and Celebrities

Marketing Murderabilia

Cultural Context of Human Behavior: How Culture "Works"

Broadcasting Culture

"Tuning In" and Cultural Competencies

Building Lines of Action

Applying the Model of American Culture

American Cultural Values: Contextual Features Suitable for Serial Murder

Regard for Violence

Individual Accomplishment and Competition

Masculinities and Privilege

The Criminal Experience

Risk Taking and Thrill Seeking

Power and Control

Broadcasting Cultural Values: The Role of the American Mass Media

Representations of Crime

Model of Media Coverage

Narrative Structure

Initial Reports

Notoriety and Record Setting

Need to Know Why

Anniversary Stories

Missing Victims

Social Typing

Tuning In: Accepting the Messages

Regard for Violence

Individual Accomplishment and Competition

Masculinities and Privilege

The Criminal Experience

Risk Taking and Thrill Seeking

Power and Control

Culturally Familiar Imagery

Building Lines of Action: Using Cultural Values


Toward a Deeper Understanding

Investigative Considerations

Decreasing the Incidence of Serial Murder

Message Consistency

Protections for All

Appendix: Methodology




About the Author

Dr. Julie B. Wiest is an assistant professor of communication and sociology at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. She earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Georgia. Wiest also has nearly a decade of experience in print and electronic journalism and published a book in 2006 titled We Were There, a compilation of the World War II narratives of 30 veterans.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Criminal Law / General
LAW / Forensic Science
MEDICAL / Psychiatry / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Criminology