What makes a serial killer turn to cannibalism?

In a society seemingly fuelled by an obsession with serial killer documentaries, one academic researcher has been sinking her teeth into the darker side of history – and has unearthed some interesting discoveries.

Dr Abbie Marono, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Northampton, has spent three years conducting research which seeks to understand the association between cannibalism and serial killers.

Working alongside criminal profilers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US to comb through more than 80-years of interviews, historical backstories of offenders and detailed crime scene evaluation, Abbie has compared patterns within the lives of cannibalistic serial killers to understand what drives them to commit such violent acts.

This work shines a spotlight on the complete data from birth to post-murder of 42 cannibalistic and 42 non-cannibalistic serial killers – the biggest evidence sample ever evaluated in research of this kind.

When discussing her research, Abbie said: “In an age of serial-killer documentaries on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, it’s in fact surprising how little progressive research has been made in this field.

“The research published by me and my co-researchers* is entirely data driven, evaluating the lives of offenders down to minute detail in order to extract patterns following the trail of data to support our published findings.”

On reaching their conclusion, Abbie was surprised by the outcome of the research, explaining: “Our results indicated that the factors which may differentiate cannibalistic serial killers from non-cannibalistic serial killers likely result from life history milestones rather than influences at the time of their killing.

“Evidence unearthed from this research suggests brain abnormalities, low social economic status and abandonment as a child were some of the key factors for those who cannibalised their victims. When we started our research, we expected to see severe mental health concerns around the time of the kill playing a significant factor, however this wasn’t the case.”

Importantly, Abbie adds: “This research is a huge step towards understanding the complex nature of cannibalistic serial killers, and highlights potential patterns in the criminal and life histories of cannibalistic serial killers.

“Overall, this research leads us to understand there may be significant life history events which can have an overwhelming influence on what leads a person to commit cannibalism, which ultimately steers us to conduct further research into preventative measures.”

Abbie’s research can be viewed in full here.


*This research has been conducted in collaboration with Dr David Keatley, Associate Professor in Criminology at Murdoch University in Australia, as well as via data obtained from criminal profilers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US.

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