Is Your Boss A Serial Killer? Maybe

In the course of our lives most of us — at one time or another — have to answer to a boss. We hope they will be someone not unlike the charmingly scattered Rob Gordon, owner of Championship Vinyl in High Fidelity, or the affable Joe Reaves, manager of Empire Records who pretty much acts as guidance counselor to his menagerie of naive, hormonal, barely-legal staff.

(Yes, both examples of the would-be perfect boss are record store managers, and maybe that’s pretentious, or maybe you’re just jealous about that dream-job example being better than yours. Hard to say, really.)

At some point however, it’s likely that we will encounter at least one boss who’s a lot more Bill “That’d be great” Lumbergh than the aforementioned cheerfully-idealistic vinyl peddlers.

But just because your boss makes you work on Saturdays or moves your cubicle to a rat-infested storage room, doesn’t mean he’s a bloodthirsty sociopathic serial killer. Does it?

Maybe. But what is a sociopath? While there is not one particular set of universally accepted traits to establish a diagnosis in the clinical world, most of the factors still used today originated by Hervey Cleckley.

In 1941, Cleckley published The Mask of Sanity, in which he described 16 key behavioral characteristics that defined psychopathy. Psychopathy and sociopathy are terms with an intertwined clinical history, and are now largely used interchangeably. The DSM excludes both, in favor of the term antisocial personality disorder, which is believed to be the clinical diagnosis shared by most serial killers.

Among the 16 traits Cleckley used to define psychopaths, at least 10 of them can easily be used to describe most people with high-ranking job positions.

  • Superficial charm and good intelligence
  • Absence of delusions
  • Absence of nervousness
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love
  • General lack of emotion
  • Apathy in interpersonal relationships
  • Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
  • Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated

In fact, as we previously reported, psychologists such as Oliver James believe that being a sociopath can actually give you an advantage in business.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a study conducted by University of North Texas professor of psychology Craig Neumann, psychopaths make up only 1 to 2 percent of America’s population. But in corporate workplaces, Neumann and his co-authors found that the prevalence of psychopathy in management positions was about 3.9 percent.

“Individuals with elevated psychopathic features in corporate settings could be nearly four times the rate of the general population.”

Similarly, British journalist Jon Ronson discovered while researching for his book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, that the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent.


However, not all sociopaths are serial killers, even if all serial killers are sociopaths.

From the Washington, D.C., Crime Museum comes a list of 9 specific warning signs of personality and behavioral traits that are unique to most serial killers.

  1. Antisocial behavior, particularly if a child regresses from being extremely social to extremely anti-social. Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho’s Norman Bates and Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill, had no social connections besides his extremely religious and abusive mother.
  2. Often serial killers will start out as arsonists. Arson attracts serial killers because it involves manipulating power and control. David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, was infatuated with fire as a child, and some sources indicate that he might have been responsible for up to 1,400 fires.
  3. Torturing small animals is one of the strongest warning signs. Children who torture or kill small animals without showing remorse are highly likely to be sociopaths. Cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer killed and dismembered his own puppy, mounting its head on a stake when he was done.
  4. Many serial killers come from unstable families psychiatric and/or criminal histories. Usually their relationships with their family members are poor, and will often target them as their first victims. Ed Kemper, “the Co-ed Killer,” killed six female college students before killing his alcoholic mother. He was particularly brutal with her corpse, throwing her vocal cords down a garbage disposal, decapitating her and using her head as a dart board.
  5. Most serial killers are abused – physically, psychologically, sexually – as children by a close family member. Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute serial killer portrayed by Charlize Theron in Monster, was physically and sexually abused by her grandfather until she ran away at age fifteen.
  6. Serial killers often struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
  7. From a young age, many serial killers are interested in voyeurism, sado-masochistic pornography, and fetishism. Ted Bundy said that, as an adolescent he would get drunk and walk around his community at night, looking into windows of houses to watch women who were undressing.
  8. Serial killers are usually highly intelligent. Often they have IQ’s in the range of 110-119 which is considered high average. Ed Kemper had an IQ of 136, whereas 140 is often used as the genius mark.
  9. Despite higher than normal intelligence, many serial killers have trouble keeping jobs for any length of time. After leaving the military, David Berkowitz, who was reportedly of “above-average intelligence,” held several blue-collar jobs before he was captured.

Additionally, in an article written by FBI Special Agent Robert K. Ressler for the Internal Association of Forensic Science, he listed the 14 most common traits of serial killers. The list includes many of the above aforementioned behaviors and traits, as well as the following.

  • Over 90 percent of serial killers are male.
  • As children, they are often abandoned by their fathers and raised by domineering mothers.
  • Many serial killers spend time in institutions as children and have records of early psychiatric problems.
  • They have high rates of suicide attempts.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most unusual common trait of serial killers, more than 60 percent wet their beds beyond the age of 12.

Hopefully, this will help you figure out whether or not your curmudgeon of a boss is just your every day average sociopath or possibly a serial killer hiding underneath fancy suits and a charming smile like Ted Bundy.