Organized Versus Disorganized Serial Killers

The organized/disorganized classification is one of the most commonly cited classifications of violent serial offenders. This distinction between offenders is made on the criteria that it can be drawn from an examination of the crime scene and the victim.

The FBI’s behavioral specialists have compiled the Crime Classification Manual, which categorizes murder into four main groups: criminal enterprise homicide (category 100); personal cause homicide (category 120); sexual homicide (category 130); and group cause homicide (category 140). There is no separate category for serial killing; serial homicides fall into the various categories depending on the their type. The most common group where serial homicides frequently occur is category 130: sexual homicide. That group is divided into subcategories that include the following: (131) organized sexual homicide, (132) disorganized sexual homicide, and (133) mixed sexual homicide (Burgess, Ressler, Douglas. 1997).

The organized offender leads an orderly life that is reflected in the way he commits his crimes. He is said to be of average to high intelligence, socially competent, and more likely than the disorganized offender to have skilled employment. In many instances, he lives with a girlfriend or is married. He may even be a father. He will plan his offense before the opportunity arises often for weeks, months, and even years before acting. He is aware of his growing compulsion to act out his murderous desire. He will typically use restraints on the victim, and bring a weapon with him, which he will then take with him when he leaves. Typically, the organized offender leaves three crime scenes: Where the victim is confronted, where the victim is killed, and where the victim’s body is disposed of (Vronsky, 2004).

The organized killer approaches his victims by socializing with them, charming them, or tricking them into a situation where he can overpower them. He typically owns a car, which he then uses in his crimes. He follows the reports of his crimes in the media and changes jobs or moves to a different city when he believes he may be detected. He is sometimes schooled in police investigative methods and he is constantly improving his technique with each additional murder. The longer he kills, the more difficult it becomes for police to catch him (Vronsky 2004).

The ultimate example of an organized killer is the infamous Ted Bundy. Bundy was so organized police never located the crime scenes where his first seventeen victims were killed. Six of his victims remain missing to this day. Bundy once referred to himself as, “the only Ph.D in serial murder.” He had been attending law school when police finally identified him. He was exceptionally intelligent, having once worked for a state Republican Committee as a consultant. He was engaged and also owned a car, which he took the front passenger seat out to more easily transport bodies. Bundy would frequent parks and colleges, pretending to have a broken leg. There, he asked young girls to help him carry things to his car in order to charm and lore them to their deaths (Crime Archives 2007).

In contrast to the organized killer, the crime scene of the disorganized offender is described as reflecting an overall sense of disorder and suggests little, if any, preplanning of the murder. He, too, is difficult to catch because while the organized offender is predictable in some way, the disorganized offender is very much not. He has vague and intense murderous fantasies, but he does not develop a thought-out plan of action. The disarray present at the crime scene may include evidence such as blood, semen, and the murder weapon. There is minimal use of retrains because the victim is usually rendered unconscious moments after encountering the disorganized offender. This is thought to be because the offender is aware of his inability to interact with the victim. The body is often displayed in open view, is usually left where the confrontation took place, and is often subjected to extraordinary mutilation. The disorganized offender is often times still living with parents or guardians, and to have a below-average intelligence. The killer is usually unemployed or unskilled, does not own a car, and kills near his home (Vronsky, 2004).

An example of the disorganized class of serial kills, Miguel Rivera randomly attacked young boys in tenement buildings in East Harlem and on the Upper West Side of New York between March 1972 and August 1973. His first victim, an eight-year-old-boy, was stabbed thirty-eight times and sodomized, and an attempt was made to cut off his penis. Three other boys were found in hallways, in basements, and on the rooftops of various tenements, stabbed to death and their genitals cut off. After being arrested, Rivera claimed that God had told him to transform little boys into little girls (Crime Archives 2007).

In the Crime Classification Manual, a third category is presented: the “mixed” offender (Burgess, Ressler, Douglas 1997). It is suggested that the reasons for those offenders who cannot be easily discriminated as organized of disorganized are varied. The attack may involve more than one offender, there may be unanticipated events that the offender had not planed for, the victim may resist or the offender may “escalate” into a different pattern during the course of an offense or over a series or offenses. The suggestion is that in this sort of crime, although there may be some evidence of planning, there will be poor concealment of the body. The crime scene might be in great disarray, and there will be a great deal of manual violence committed against the victim. The offender may be young or involved in drugs or alcohol (Vronsky, 2004).

Richard Ramirez is a perfect example of a mixed killer, who killed nineteen people been June 1984 and August 1985. He killed his victims in their homes at random, not always sure whom he would find when he entered houses. He overcame them with a fast blitz attack using extreme force. He left many of his victims alive, suggesting that when he made a decision to kill he made it spontaneously at the scene. He did not disguise his face and left forensic evidence behind. On the other hand, Ramirez brought weapons to the scene and even carried a police frequency scanner, trains of an organized offender (Crime Archives 2007).

Critics of the organized/disorganized model argue that the “mixed” category demonstrates the weakness of the system too many serial kills do not fit into the neat categories and are thus classified “mixed” a meaningless classification (Death Reference 2007).
The model for classifying offenders as disorganized, organized, or mixed was only the beginning of an effort to classify serial killers. There are other ways of classifying serial killers for psychological or criminological study; however, this model is more widely accepted among the criminal investigative analysts at the FBI.


Burgess, Ressler, Douglas. Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for
Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes. 1997.

Death Reference:
Retrieved: April 2007.

Crime Archives: Retrieved: April 2007.

Vronsky, Peter. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. 2004.
Penguin Books.