Frequencies of Various Aspects in the Horoscopes of Murderers and Serial Killers vs. Those of Randomly Generated Control Groups. Part One


First and foremost, I would like to thank Lois Rodden. Without her tireless efforts in collecting thousands of timed birth charts, this research would not have been possible. ]

Thanks are also due to Mark Mc Donahue who put it all on the Astrodatabank CD, and Mark Pottinger who wrote the CCRS research program. Yes, it's a DOS program from a decade ago, but it still does almost everything (except Windows).

Thanks also to the New York City chapter of the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR) for a $200 research grant. Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank Diane Cramer, who ran most of the controls.


A horoscope is like a two-dimensional "snapshot" of planetary positions at a given moment. It should be noted that these charts are 100% objective since they are calculated with Astronomical data based on good old reliable Newtonian mechanics. It is the claim made by astrologers that horoscopes are related to actions taken by people here on Earth that skeptics have questioned, not the objective fact of planetary location.

The way to settle the skepticism about alleged connections between horoscopes and human actions is clear. Find a group of people who have performed some specific action, obtain their birth information (birth date, birth time, and birth location), and see if any objective horoscope features occur in this group by more than random chance in comparison to a control group. There are several problems here:

Most astrologers either don't know how to do research or have no interest in it.
Those who are interested usually have neither the time nor money. And there are few, very few, research grants available for astrological research, and those that are available are small.

Most scientists simply dismiss astrology or have no interest in doing a study.
The few scientists who do research studies know nothing about astrology. As a result, they test assertions that no astrologer ever made and thereby commit the "strawman fallacy."

Still, this research must be done. Anecdotal evidence is insufficient as proof and the responsibility of demonstrating that astrology is valid belongs to astrologers. In other words, the people who listen to what you say don't have to prove that it is true. That's your job.

I am not claiming that the following paper is "proof" of astrology. It clearly is not. It is, however, a logical first step in the testing process. Hypothesis hunting (explained below) is a legitimate procedure for finding factors which may be tested further on new batches of data.

Test Proposal:

The test proposed here is as follows: we will examine the timed horoscopes of people who have performed a specific act, in this case murder, and see if angular separation between certain points on the horoscope wheel occur by more than random chance. But there are several questions that have to be answered first.

Who is a murderer?

Do we include soldiers and police officers who kill in the line of duty? How about someone who kills out of negligence, such as a drunk driver? How about an otherwise peaceful person who kills in self-defense? The problem here is one of motivation. Killing done deliberately (murder in the 1st or 2nd degree, or manslaughter, where there is an intent to injure) is different from that done accidentally (negligence) or where there is no other choice (self-defense or in time of war). This study will be limited to those who deliberately kill or who kill while intending to otherwise cause harm.

But even here, there are differences. Can someone who gets angry one day and kills their spouse be classified with a serial killer or with the "quiet person" who suddenly goes berserk and kills many people at once? For this reason, the murderers are separated into three groups:

  1. Single murderers. Those who killed only one person.
  2. Serial killers. Those who killed several people one after another.
  3. Mass murderers. Those who killed several people at one time.

There are still problems here. Suppose someone comes home one day and finds their spouse in bed with someone else. If they take a gun and kill either the spouse or the lover, they are a single murderer. But what if they kill both? Do we classify them as a multiple murderer? Is their motivation that different from the person who kills just one?
And then there are "spree killers" like Andrew Cunanin. They kill people one after the other, but not all at once. Unlike serial killers, they don't try to cover up. And they kill during a relatively short span of time. They fall in between mass murderers and serial killers.

Even among serial killers there are differences. Some, like Ted Bundy and John Gacy, kill during sexual encounters. Others, like David Berkowitz, the "son of Sam" killer, simply kill. Richard Ramirez, the "night stalker", claimed to kill for Satan. Kenneth Kimes and Dorthea Montalvo killed for money. Jeffery Dahmer cooked and ate his victims. Still, the main motivation for all of them would seem to be the act of murder itself, so, initially at least, killers as diverse as these could be grouped together.

Setting Up the Groups:

In this study, murderers were divided into three groups: single murderers (M), serial killers (S), and mass murderers (MM). Each group was then divided into sub-groups of twenty each. There were less than 20 mass murderers, so they were put aside until data on more cases could be obtained.

Setting Up the Control Groups:

The control groups were computer generated with the "Jigsaw" research program. One group of control horoscopes was generated for each batch of murder horoscopes. Each control chart was set up for the same year and same location as the corresponding chart of a murderer. Controls were labeled with the letter "C." For instance, the control group for the first group of single murderers (M1) was labeled CM1; the control group for the first group of serial killers (S1) was labeled CS1; etc.

Why Use Computer generated Horoscopes?

Wouldn't it be better to use horoscopes of actual people taken from the general population? First of all, it would be extremely difficult to make a control group of people born the same year and in the same place as each murderer. More importantly, what would be the difference statistically between a group of computer generated horoscopes and those taken randomly from the general population? None whatsoever. A computer generated control group should yield the same statistical result as a random group taken from the general population.

Specifics of the Test Itself:

The objective feature of the horoscopes that will be analyzed is the angular separation between planets and the angular separation between planets and certain points in the charts that astrologers claim to be significant. In addition, the particular degrees of the zodiac will be examined to see if any appear by more than random chance.

Back in 1998, I had lunch with Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine. He said he had never heard of angular separation being used in astrology before and asked when astrologers started doing it. "Over 2,000 years ago" I replied. "The technique goes back at least to Claudius Ptolemy." It would be helpful if skeptics learned something about astrology and astrological techniques before reaching conclusions about its validity. But, as I mentioned above, it is the responsibility of astrologers to provide the evidence.

The astrological term for angular separation is "aspects." There are several aspects referred to as "Major." These are angles of 0, 60, 90, 120, and 180 degrees. The 60 and 120 degree (called the sextile and trine respectively) aspects are said to have a "soft" effect and are alleged to be beneficial. The angles of 0, 90, and 180 degrees are called "hard" aspects and are claimed to be associated with problems and dysfunctions in the life. Since we are examining the horoscopes of murderers, a dysfunctional act to say the least, the obvious place to start would be with the hard aspects.

Aspects don't have to be exact. Astrologers allow an "orb of influence" of a few degrees on either side. How much? Regrettably, there has been no statistical research in this area. Orb size can vary with circumstances, and even with the astrologer. There are those who allow orbs of up to eight degrees. To be safe, the orbs used in this study have been set on the smaller side of the range. The orb size for the conjunction (the 0 degree aspect) and the opposition (the 180 degree aspect) were set for + or - 5 degrees. The orb for the square (the 90 degree aspect) was set at + or - 4 degrees.

Now what is the chance of any two planets making a "hard" aspect if we use the above orbs? Well, picture a stationary point on a circle. If there is a second point moving around the circle at a uniform rate, what are the chances of that second point making a hard aspect with the first?

That second point will make a hard aspect with the first if it lands in any of the zones around the aspect points. In other words, if it lands within 5 degrees of the first point, it will make a conjunction. If it lands within five degrees of the opposite point, it will make an opposition. And if it lands within four degrees of either square point (there are two possible ways to have a 90 degree aspect; to the left or to the right of the first point) it will make a square. Adding up all of these zones (5+5) + (5+5) + (4+ 4) + (4 + 4) = 36
we get that there are 36 possible degrees on that circle where the second point can land and make a hard aspect with the first. Since there are 360 degrees in a circle, the odds of the second point making an hard aspect with the first point is 36/360 or 0.1 which is 10%.

But planetary motion is not uniform. Won't that throw the calculations off? Not if we take birth dates over a long enough time span. The fluctuations even out in the long haul. Even for a planet like Neptune, which takes over 160 years to make one orbit? In that case, Neptune is moving so slowly that it can be considered stationary compared to the faster moving planets. But how about aspects that the outer planets make to each other? They stay in force for so long that they appear in the horoscopes of entire generations. Neptune and Pluto, for example, made an aspect of approximately 60 degrees for decades after 1943. For this reason, aspects outer planets make with each other will not be covered in this study.

Since everyone has a 10% chance of having any one aspect, it should be obvious that no one aspect could be the only factor in cases of murder. However, if there is an astrological effect, there should be some aspects that would increase the tendency towards murderous behavior. That tendency should be detectable by statistical techniques. Those who have committed murder should have certain aspects occurring in their natal horoscopes by more than would be expected by random chance.

Could there be a difference between individual angles? In other words, even though the angles of 0, 90, and 180 degrees are alleged to have similar effects, could one of them predominate in some cases? That is something that would also have to be checked. The odds of having either a conjunction or opposition occur by random chance would be 1/36. For the 90 degree angle (the square) the odds would be 16/360 (remember that there are always two possible 90 degree angles, clockwise and counterclockwise) or 2/45.

How about other factors? Could certain degrees of the zodiac, for instance, play a role? The odds of any planet or other point in a horoscope appearing in one particular degree of the zodiac are 1/360. Using an orb of + or - one degree, this becomes 1/180. It must be remembered that every planet or point must appear somewhere in the chart. What we have to look for are repeats, one planet or point appearing in a particular degree by more than the theoretical odds of 1/180. Once again, it is possible for the three outer planets to stay in a particular degree for months. For this reason, caution must be exercised when examining outer planet degree placement.

According to Astrology, What Aspects Would We Expect to Find?

Aspects to Mars, of course. Mars is said to be the planet of action and aggression. Negatively, that would be an indicator of violence. Pluto intensifies whatever it touches and it is supposed to be the ruler of death. Early upbringing could be a factor, and, in the horoscope, that would be influenced by the placement of the Moon. But has there been any previous work done on this topic?

Previous Studies of Murder in the Astrological Literature:

The first source here is "Astropsychiatry" by Harry Darling, M.D., and Ruth Hale Oliver, CSA Press, 1973. They claimed to have found the following aspects in the horoscopes of murderers:
"I believe that the midpoint of Mars with Saturn, Uranus or Neptune, when occupied by a natal planet, gives a tendency to violence, that is, to commit violence or to be its recipient. The midpoint of Mars/Saturn coarsens and makes cruel, the midpoint of Mars/Uranus excites and makes erratic and aggressive, and that of Mars/Neptune creates hysteria, sensationalism and sometimes fanaticism, as well as aggression." (Pg.145).

Also mentioned were the midpoints of Venus with either Saturn or Uranus.

Less than 10 cases of the horoscopes of murderers were listed. No mention was made of control groups or of aspects that were tested and gave negative results.

The second source is "Destined for Murder: Profiles of Six Serial Killers" by Sandra Harrison Young and Edna Rowland, Llewellyn Publications, 1995. While the cases were discussed in detail, the number examined was nowhere near statistically significant, and, once again, there were no control groups. It should be stated that until recently, obtaining accurate birth data for a statistically significant number of cases was extremely difficult and time consuming. For astrologers, it was either do anecdotal research or none at all.

At the end of the book, possible astrological factors in the horoscopes of murderers were mentioned.

"Planetary aspects and placements, and the rulers of the following houses, should also be examined carefully: the 8th house (which rules death and sexual preferences); the 4th house (which rules our family heritage and endings, including the end of life); and the 12th house. (The 12th house rules imprisonment or incarceration in any institution where we may be deprived of our freedom. This is sometimes referred to as 'the house of self-undoing.')" (Destined For Murder: Pg.179).

"In the examination of the charts of criminals or mass murderers such as those described in this book, we can't overlook the importance of midpoints. Although all midpoints are vitally important, the following can be classified as key in cases of murder or crime: the Mars/Saturn midpoint (death); Mars/Pluto (murder); Saturn/Pluto (cruelty or violent assault); and the Mars/Uranus midpoint (accident proneness). The Sun/Pluto or Mars midpoints are equally important in indicating a potential for violence, and the Moon/Saturn midpoint should be also noted, since it often indicates an unnatural dependency on one of the parents beginning in early childhood. Occupied midpoints should be given special attention, as well as those aspecting chart angles or cusps of angular houses." (Pg.180).

Hypothesis Hunting:

No previous study cited "negative" outcomes, horoscope features that gave a result no greater than random chance or, alternately, that showed no difference from a control group. Nor did any previous study claim to be complete. Could there be other aspects out there that give positive results? The only way to do a thorough job is to do some "hypothesis hunting", checking everything in the initial sample to see what is there.
Now it is common sense that this procedure has to give some result, and it is possible for one sample to have one particular aspect give a very high result by random chance alone. The key, however, is reproducibility. As long as enough cases are held in reserve to so that the initial results can be retested and verified (or falsified), hypothesis hunting is a valid procedure.

Now how is the test itself to be run?

Test Parameters:

As mentioned above, the cases were divided into groups of 20. An individual group of this size is too small to run meaningful statistical tests. For this reason, the results from several groups were totaled. The tests were run initially on the totals from four groups. A minimum standard was set arbitrarily. An aspect had to appear at least 50% above random chance to be considered significant.

For example, the random chance result is 10%. For 80 cases, that means 8 "hits." To be considered significant, a particular aspect would have to appear at least 12 times out of 80 cases.

Test Results, Phase One:

Aspects were run for the following groups: M1, M2, M3, and S1. This initial phase involved some "hypothesis hunting" as well as examination of combinations that would be "expected" to give positive results. In Phase Two, the same tests were to be run on group S2 and the results totaled. In Phase Three, the same tests would be run on group S3 and the totals tabulated.

The following results were obtained for Phase One :

There were no stress aspects between the Sun and any planet. There were two "hits" to midpoints. The Moon had eight "hits." Astrologers allege that the Sun has to do with "ego", outward personality, and relations with the father and male authority figures, while the Moon indicates one's feelings, habits, "instincts", early nurturing, and relations with the mother.

A stress aspect between the Moon and Mars is not surprising. Mars is allegedly aggression and violence and a stress aspect to the Moon would show anger directed towards women, starting with the mother. Mass murderer Richard Speck, for example, who killed eight student nurses, had the Moon square Mars. (His chart is not included here as he was neither a single murderer nor a serial killer). Once again, let me emphasize that these aspects will be possessed by 10% of the general population. What we are looking for are those aspects which occur at least 50% above the number predicted by random chance. If there is to be an "astrological effect" at all, it will be statistical and not a one-to-one correspondence. And there would be several aspects involved, not just one.

Stress aspects from the Moon to Venus are more of a surprise. After all, in astrology Venus allegedly affects pleasure and comfort. However, our first experiences of these come from our relationship with our mothers. Any problems at that early stage could indicate trouble later in life.

In astrology, Mercury is said to rule conscious thought and the ability to communicate. There were no aspects of Mercury that gave positive results.

Venus gave two more hits (besides its aspect to the Moon, already covered). One was to Mars (violence). Stress aspects between Venus and Mars allegedly are associated with difficulties in expressing affection and passion. The other is a stress aspect between Venus and the planet that rules the first house (it made no difference which planet happened to rule the first house). Again, this could indicate difficulty in both giving and receiving pleasure and affection.

Since early nurturing is known to have a strong effect on subsequent behavior, the next question to ask is: are there other things in the horoscope that are supposed to affect it? In astrology, the Moon is not the only alleged indicator of nurturing. The asteroid Ceres is also claimed to have an effect. Ceres aspects would be the next place to look. Ceres stress aspects gave positive results with Jupiter and the Mars/Saturn midpoint. The connection with that midpoint is not surprising, since Mars/Saturn has a reputation for brutality. Jupiter, however, expands things. Too much nurturing? Perhaps too much of the wrong kind of nurturing, since we are looking at stressful aspects here. Or could it indicate an excessive need for nurturing? Further study is certainly indicated here.

The Venus/Ceres midpoint also gave results. Venus/Ceres would allegedly show pleasurable nurturing, or one's ability to experience pleasure from nurturing. That midpoint gave strong positive results when configured with Mars (violence), Jupiter (excess) and Saturn (deprivation).

Mars/Jupiter stress aspects are supposed to give a volatile temper. This also gave results. No surprise here. The Moon/Mars connection was already mentioned. Mars configured with the Moon's Nodes showed positive results as well. The nodes are the points where an orbit crosses the plane of the Earth's orbit.

The asteroid Juno gave a result for the Pluto/Node midpoint. Demetra George in her book "Asteroid Goddesses, claims that Juno "…represents our capacity for meaningful relationship…" and that its horoscope placement "…describes the ways in which we face the issues of compatibility, receptivity to others, mutual sharing, trust, jealousy, possessiveness, and power struggles"(pg.168). Pluto, however, is the planet of both extremes and death. It too has a connection with power struggles. And the Moon's Node does have a connection with emotion. Murder is, after all, about power.

Jupiter gave no results with Saturn or Chiron, or the outer planets. However, there were positives for the following midpoints: Venus/Ceres (mentioned earlier), Venus/Uranus, Venus/Neptune, Mars/Uranus, Saturn/Pluto, and Pluto/Node.

Venus/Uranus and Mars/Uranus are two of the midpoints mentioned by Darling and Oliver in "Astropsychiatry." Venus/Uranus has to do with sudden surges of amorous feeling as well as affection expressed in an unusual or bizarre fashion. It is also associated with rapid changes in the level of blood sugar. The negative effect of Mars/Uranus is claimed to be associated with sudden outbursts of temper. The alleged effect of Jupiter is to "expand" whatever it contacts. These combinations in the horoscopes of murderers are no surprise.

Neither are the stressful aspects of Jupiter to Saturn/Pluto or Pluto/Node. Pluto is known (anecdotally) to act like sort of a super Mars, but is more internal and brooding. This would mean that, potentially at least, Saturn/Pluto could have similarities to Saturn/Mars, a point of brutality. The (alleged) effect of Jupiter to expand things could bring out the negative side of Saturn/Pluto. As for Pluto/Node, we have already seen it give a positive result with Mars (action) so it is not unexpected for the (alleged) effect of Jupiter to expand things to have similar results.

There seems to be a lot of activity for Saturn with various midpoints of Venus. In several cases, the results were over the 50% minimum. For instance, Saturn gave a strong positive with the Venus/Chiron midpoint. Venus/Chiron is one of the places where we can have trouble experiencing pleasure. This would be a problem that would tend to linger. Saturn also shows positive results when in aspect to Venus/Ceres (pleasure received from nurturing). According to astrology, Saturn restricts and inhibits things. This does not necessarily mean that there was no pleasure from early nurturing. It could also indicate a lessened ability to accept nurturing. In any event, if the child did not perceive sufficient nurturing, there could easily be repercussions later in life.

Astrology alleges that the effect of Uranus is to excite, to make restless, to cause us to desire change, and increase our attraction to anything unusual or bizarre. Uranus gave positive results with the Moon/Mars midpoint (Moon=emotions, Mars=anger), and also with the Venus/Neptune midpoint (which is associated with sexual fantasies). Both gave strong results in three out of four groups. Uranus gave another strong result in stress aspect to the Moon's Node.

The Special Case of Oppositions:

The sixty horoscopes of the serial killers were inspected visually. It was noticed that there seemed to be an above average number of certain planets forming opposition aspects to the cusp (beginning) 8th house (death) and/or the 12th house (psychological problems). The odds of an opposition occurring by random chance alone are, of course, less than the combined odds for all of the so-called stressful aspects. Since we are allowing an orb of influence of plus or minus 5 degrees, a planet can land in any one of 10 degrees of the zodiac circle and form the opposition. 10 degrees divided by the 360 degrees of the full circle yields 1/36, or 2.8%.

A striking example was the planet Saturn opposite the 12th house cusp. This happened in 6 out of the 60 horoscopes of the serial killers, or 10%. This is 3.6 times what would be predicted by random chance. Granted that the sample size is small, however this does indicate a subject for further research.


To be released on November 6th, 2003 - Part Two of this Article

The Claim being made for this Study:
This is a work still in progress so no claim is being made (or can be made) as to whether or not there is any validity to astrology. The claim I do make is that this method (comparing objectively observable horoscope features, such as angles between planets and midpoints, with objectively observable phenomena in the lives of people, e.g. murder) is a valid way to put astrology to the test. Further results will be reported as obtained.

The Supporting Data used for this Study. This section exhibits the astrological charts and the tables used to perform this research.