Thanks in no small part to the billion-dollar movie industries in different parts of the world that release tons of serial-killer-themed movies on a yearly basis, and writers and authors who publish thousands of books that portray the lives of fictional serial killers, we have become accustomed to the phrase "serial killers". A common idiom says that "familiarity breeds contempt"; this idiom is largely true and it is fact-reflected in the way we associate criminals with the phrase "serial killers". It is not uncommon to see a toddler, or perhaps even a teenager, who has spent hours watching a movie series centered around the life of a serial killer begin to associate just about every criminal activity he hears on the news with serial killing. Consequently, we hear statements like "Dad, I heard the FBI finally apprehended the man who fatally shot Aunt Serena at the park...the man must be a serial killer."
The reasons for this apparent common misinterpretation of serial killing, or perhaps more appropriately, serial killer, is not exactly farfetched.
Just as there seems to be a form of chaos regarding the use of the phrase "serial killer", there also seems to be a form of "disorderliness" regarding the origin of serial killer. Even though it must be said that there appears to be a consensus in the case of the latter, especially recently. It is widely believed that the phrase was first used in a book entitled The Complete Detective, a book written by Richard Hughes and published in 1950. However, recent research credits the first use of the phrase, albeit in German, to Ernst August Ferdinand Gennat, the director of the Berlin Criminal Police, around 20 years before The Complete Detective was published. In the new age however, FBI Special Agent Robert Ressler, who was one of the founding members of the Bureau's elite Behavioral Science Unit, deserves a larger chunk of the recognition for inventing the phrase "serial killer".
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