Serial killers tend to work one of these 12 jobs before their murder sprees

“I lead a normal life, except for this one small but very potent and very destructive segment of it,” Bundy once said in an interview.

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If the rapid success of Netflix’s Making A Murderer proves anything, it’s that Americans love a good murder story. Occasionally, serial killers are confusingly underwhelming, but oftentimes they’re eerily prophetic, like John Wayne Gacy working as a party clown for small children or Rodney Acala winning a dating game show just before embarking on his tour of horror.

More recently, we can look to the focus point of the latest Zac Efron film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, that centers on a young Ted Bundy moonlighting as a suicide hotline operator.

That’s right. Serial killer Bundy, while still studying psychology at The Univerity of Washington, was employed by Seattle’s Suicide Hotline Crisis Center.


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An archived interview with the infamous serial killer, while on death row, suggests this particular occupation might have been just another of many vehicles fueled by his intense fascination with obscene and morbid material.  In the 1989 footage, the interviewer tries his best to get Bundy to intellectualize the root of this love affair with evil – to no avail.

“I was essentially a normal person, I had good friends, I lead a normal life, except for this one small but very potent and very destructive segment of it,” Bundy explained matter-of-factly.

In this instance, Bundy’s early occupation potentially funded sadistic interests, though a common variant on this kind of career antecedent is the one wherein the vocations occupied by future serial killers ends up contributing to their horrific crimes in one way or another. Take, as an example, the way Jack The Ripper’s proposed life as a surgeon gave way to victims uniquely horrific and dismembered.

The link that joins the skillset and methods of histories most reviled killers is explored intimately in a new book, by Michael Arntfield, called Murder in Plain English.

A closer look reveals more questions

Arntfield compartmentalizes the jobs that seem to pop up with the most frequency in his review of 50 years worth of famous serial killer cases. He breaks them down as follows: Top three skilled serial killer occupations, top three semi-skilled serial killer occupations, top three unskilled serial killer occupations, and top three professional/government serial killer occupation.

Top three skilled serial killer occupations

1. Aircraft machinist/assembler

2. Shoemaker/repair person

3. Automobile upholsterer

Top three semi-skilled serial killer occupations

1. Forestry worker/arborist

2. Truck driver

3. Warehouse manager

Top three unskilled serial killer occupations

1. General laborer (mover, landscaper, et. al.)

2. Hotel porter

3. Gas station attendant

Top three professional/government serial killer occupation

1. Police/security official

2. Military personnel

3. Religious official

Several factors stood out to Arntfield about the bulk of these professions, namely that accessibility to these jobs is currently pretty obsolete. Many killers adopted these professions in order to gain access to a larger pool of rotating victims, obtain otherwise unavailable information, and exercise specific and twisted fantasies – all features made more readily available via the internet.

Ultimately, even Arntfeild concludes that individuals capable of the kind of acts that earned them infamy are rarely susceptible to the same trail of logic that stifles you and me.  An interview with an imprisoned Jeffrey Dahmer, mirrors the one of Bundy cited just above. Both of these have clearly toiled over countless hours, reveling and analyzing every thought and action that beguiled them to the other side – yet the best they have to offer is half-remembered impulses and illusions to exposure pornographic images. Or, as Arntfield illustrates more succinctly:

“While many killers use their employment as a pretext to acquire vulnerable victims, obtain information, or cultivate violent fantasies for reasons we still don’t fully understand (“Milwaukee Cannibal” Jeffrey Dahmer once admitted that his work as a chocolate factory machinist awakened homicidal and necrophilic urges he had otherwise suppressed), in McArthur’s case, occupation was the back end to his alleged crimes, not the inspiration for them.”


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.