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Poetic Serial Killer

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Voted "Most Likely to Have Her Name in Lights"
"The irony is that if you want to die you just have to stay where you are, but if you want to live, you'll have to cut yourself again."
Jigsaw to Paul Leahy (a man whom he believes cuts his wrists for attention), Saw

Some Serial Killers seem to delight in killing, but don't seem to care who their victims are. A Poetic Serial Killer, on the other hand, picks victims who are guilty, in the killer's mind at least, of some sin or other, and kills each victim in a way that reflects that perceived guilt. He may also arrange the scene of the crime in a tableau to make a similar point to the investigating police.

Meaning, the "poetic" in this trope refers to poetic justice. Not a Serial Killer who happens to be a Warrior Poet.

The Serial-Killer Killer can be prone to this if they want to make the point to their murderous victims particularly clear.

Can be considered a dark(er) counterpart to the Vigilante Man, and related to Death by Irony. Compare Ironic Hell, Sex Signals Death, Criminal Mind Games. For serial killers who follow a theme, but the theme isn't poetically appropriate to the victims, see Theme Serial Killer.


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    Comic Books 
  • Kevin from Sin City always chose hookers, apparently perceiving them as sinful, in order to satisfy his craving for human flesh. He apparently "felt the Hand of God" on him when he killed but was consumed with guilt. It was a Catholic Cardinal and adoptive father who convinced him to go after prostitutes instead of "innocent" victims.

    Fan Fiction 
  • A Darker Path: Atropos's kills are done in a way meant to be ironic for each victim. Bully Sophia Hess is beaten to death by the very teen she intended to brutalize. Oni Lee is shot with his own gun. Coil is hung with a coil of rope in one timeline (his throat is severed in another). Kaiser is stabbed to death with a metal spike, specifically a sword belonging to Kaiser Wilhelm I. The dragonslayers are killed by Lung. Lung is burned to death. And Skidmark is ran over by Squealer's monster truck, turning him into a greasy skidmark.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 5 Card Stud, a killer is picking off members of lynch party who hanged a card cheat. The first four all die by asphyxiation reflecting the way the man they lynched died. The first is smothered in a flour barrek; the second is garrotted with barbed wire; thhe third hanged from the church bell rope; and the fourth drowned in a horse trough.
  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes had Phibes (played by Vincent Price) poetically murdering the doctors he feels were responsible for botching his wife's operation. Each of the murders was based on one of the "Ten Plagues of the Egyptians" from Exodus (though a couple weren't quite faithful to the original — bats instead of flies, for example). Particularly amusing is the murder for "beasts" — the victim gets impaled with a statue of a unicorn. In the sequel, however, Phibes is more of a Theme Serial Killer.
  • The killer in Cornered! murders his latest victims in the exact same ways they said they'd kill him if they got the chance, leading him to go on a rant about how deep down, they're just as twisted as he is.
  • In Most Likely to Die, the killer targets the former members of a high school yearbook committee on the night before their 10 year high school reunion. The killer blames their actions for what happened to an unpopular student, and kills each in a manner befitting each's senior yearbook superlative.
  • In Righteous Kill, the killer has been (and continuously is) killing the scum of society. What separates this from The Scourge of God, however, is that he literally writes each victim a poem.
  • Saw: Jigsaw would arrange a Death Trap for each of his victims reflecting the flaw or sin that they embodied; as he was a Knight Templar who wanted to make people "better" than they were, the traps were arranged so that only by overcoming the punished flaw could they escape.
    • A crucial plot point in Saw III was Jigsaw's first revealed apprentice, Amanda Young, being chided by him for making the traps of the victims she abducts inescapable, as well as forcing him to admit his disappointment that none of his surviving victims (including Amanda) "learned their lesson" and reformed, as he always intended them to.
  • The killer in the Scream movies kills anyone who insults him.
  • In Se7en, the killer kills those guilty of the Seven Deadly Sins. The first found, a glutton, is force-fed to death, and the other victims suffer similar punishments. And then later we find out the real first victim was a drug dealer, his choice for Sloth, who he'd kept gradually starving to death on a narcotic IV for a year as of the start of the movie. They didn't find him 'til later, though. Much, much later.
  • Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, the (newly) female serial killer often comments upon the sins of her victims. Played with in that she seems to make up excuses to kill people who catch her in the act.
  • Theatre of Blood had a washed-up Shakespearean actor (played by Vincent Price) killing the critics who had failed to recognise his genius in ways based on death scenes from William Shakespeare, with each death also being appropriate to the victim's character flaws.
  • Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? had chefs being bumped off in ways related to their famous dishes. For example, Jacqueline Bisset opens the oven to find her chef husband being cooked alive inside.

  • The killer in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None invited nine people who were responsible for the deaths of othersnote  but who had escaped punishment to an isolated island, and murdered them in order of least guilty to most guilty. Said killer also arranged the killings to follow the varied fates of characters in a nursery rhyme.
  • Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club has a serial killer in 19th century Boston killing people in ways that reflect the punishments of sinners in Dante's Inferno.
  • Vassago in Dean Koontz's Hideaway takes his victims to an area of the abandoned theme park fashioned to look like hell, torturing them to death and posing their bodies in ways he thinks would suit their flaws and sins. He also thinks he's from Hell and if he does this enough, will get to go home.
  • The villain of part two of the original Night Watch (Series) novel is a Muggle (actually - a latent Light Other) serial killer who murders Dark Others, believing them to be the source of all evil and himself - the only person who can recognize them. What he doesn't know is that Dark Is Not Evil in this setting and that low-level Dark Others he targets are usually no more evil (selfish, arrogant, manipulative) than Muggles around them, whereas high-level ones (some of whom are truly evil) are way beyond his reach.
  • The killer in Ben Elton's Past Mortem targets absolute bastards and kills them in ways too horrific to mention here, basing his methods on acts of bullying and abuse committed by the victims when they were children and adolescents. He has to work extremely hard sometimes to find a way to reflect the original abuse and make it fatal. He also kept the man who tormented him as a youth locked in a dungeon to experiment with the methods for his next victims so he gets it right.
  • The Radix: Erich Metzger, a Professional Killer, is known to kill his victims in a way related to the reason they are killed. Santiago Rojas once fed a woman to insects alive, so Metzger, hired by her children, does the same to him. Later he kills the Knight who collected art and tortured people to use as models for his own paintings. Metzger makes a bonfire of his collection and burns the Knight on top of it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Awaken: The serial killer's victims are all criminals, and his warning messages show he kills people in ironic ways.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • The killer in the episode "Reckoner" would do nasty things to his victims' bodies that represented crimes they themselves had committed.
    • In the Season 11 episode "Drive," where the killer picks victims depending on whether they have done something that he deems immoral.
  • CSI: Cyber: The killer in "5 Deadly Sins" who targets people they know to be guilty of committing one of the '5 deadly sins' of social media. Also a Theme Serial Killer as they choose a method and a location appropriate to the 'sin' each of the victims is guilty of.
  • Shane Casey on CSI: NY, whose targeted victims had been involved in his brother's case. The methods and the cryptic t-shirts the victims were dressed in all represented their roles. One victim, a witness, had nails driven through his eyes. The judge had the Scales of Justice. Hawkes, the coroner at the time, was to have had Hades, lord of the underworld. Casey used numerology in some of his designs as well.
  • Dexter:
    • Dexter occasionally indulges in this behaviour. The pedophile Serial Killer is confronted with the corpses of his victims before being killed, the serial drunk driver is presented with a home movie of his latest victim from the trial where he was found innocent, and generally, he uses pictures of their victims. He often picks a place of significance — a boxing ring for a retired boxer, a room full of defunct gambling equipment for a gambler who pays off his debts by acting as an enforcer... and that drunk driver? To add to the poetry, he was offed in a closed-down liquor store.
    • Season 6 has Travis and Professor Gellar, who are much less ambiguous than Dexter. They kill in an abandoned church because they're acting out the Book of Revelation, with the stated goal of causing The End of the World as We Know It. They seem to pick their victims more or less randomly, but they represent sins of all the world for them. They really put a lot of horrifying imagination into their tableaux. So much imagination, in fact, that Professor Gellar himself is imaginary. Travis killed the real Gellar for refusing to go along with the murder spree, but was too crazy to realize it until Dexter found the body and pointed it out.
  • Epitafios involved a serial killer motivated by the deaths of four students in a hostage situation. The killer killed anyone who had contributed to their deaths, even inadvertently, sometimes in a way that mirrored their contributing mistake and left lovingly hand-made epitaphs on the bodies.
  • Hannibal: Dr. Hannibal Lecter usually targets people who are guilty of what he views as the greatest of all sins: rudeness. His murders and the elaborate post-mortem stagings are meant to be humiliating, a public shaming for people who didn't deserve the lives they had, before he steals a few of their organs to put them to better use than the victims ever did. One notable example is a hunter who was brought into an emergency room with an arrow wound to the leg and was very discourteous to Hannibal, the emergency room physician; many years later, Hannibal left the hunter lying on a table in his own workshop, impaled by every tool on the rack in a manner identical to the Wound ManNote .
  • Murdoch Mysteries:
    • One mysterious killer kept disguising himself as the Grim Reaper and was killing off people working in a prestigious facility researching the human brain. His victims caused the death of his fiancée and did not feel responsible because she was just a case study to them.
    • Episode "Werewolves": The Toronto Constabulary investigates a savage death which appears as if it was caused by a wild beast. However, there were altogether five killings of prominent citizens, all happening at the time of the full moon. Said citizens belonged to a hunting party, whose one surviving member reveals that they accidentally wounded their Indian guide in his chest and left him for dead in the wood. The man (who used to be a shaman) survived and managed to track them down.
    • The killer in "Murdoch on the Corner" is apparently killing people at random. It turns out she's dropping full wallets (with an address enclosed) on the street as a Secret Test and killing people who keep the money.
  • The Trickster/Gabriel in Supernatural uses his Reality Warper powers to take out Asshole Victims, typically in ironic ways. Dean even comments in his first appearance that the deaths they're investigating are "almost poetic".
  • The Puppet from the The X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" kills psychics, feeling that since they have Psychic Powers, they should have seen it coming.

    Video Games 
  • Garrus from the Mass Effect series spent his time between the first and second games hunting down and killing criminals in delightfully poetic ways. He killed a saboteur by sabotaging his spacesuit, a drug dealer by giving him a lethal overdose of his own supply, a weapon smuggler with a smuggled weapon, and a Plaguemaster by... coughing on him (he was a quarian).

    Western Animation