Throw Out What You Think You Know About Serial Killers
Hollywood and fiction in general have done a disservice to our understanding of serial killers. While these misconceptions and misinformation are fine for entertainment purposes, they couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, in many cases, they portrayals are nothing more than dramatizations of stereotypes and hyperboles that prevent us from having a true understanding of these individuals.
First, it’s important to take a realistic look at serial killers and their victims. On average, only about 1% of homicides are actually the result of a serial killer. Money, revenge, hate, sex, and love are the most common reasons why people often die. In most of these cases, it’s a victim or two who end up paying with their life.
Murder also isn’t as common as the media would make us believe. In 2013, there were approximately 13,716 deaths in the United States. St. Louis is the leader of homicides in the country with 159 murders taking place that year. But per capita, Detroit had the highest rate per 100,000 residents. Based on those numbers and statistically, in 2013 only 137 of the recorded deaths would likely be linked to a serial killer. While the number of serial killers that have lengthy sprees in today’s modern forensic age have dwindled, there are a few that remain at large. The most common examples are:
- The Edgecombe County Serial Killer (Antwan Maurice Pittman was charged with some of the crimes attributed to this killer.)
- The New Bedford Highway Serial Killer (Some believe the Route 8 Killer is the same individual)
- The Flat Iron Killer (Killings ended in 1975 and no one was ever caught)
- The Daytona Beach Killer
So why not look for serial killers based on their race, gender, intelligence, living conditions, or characteristics of their victims? That is where the myths that must be debunked come in.
Chances are you’ve heard about the FBI profiler who stated that there were no female serial killers. 17% of all serial killings are committed by women. Some of the most notorious female serial killers include Velma Barfield, Martha Beck, Anna Marie Hahn and Aileen Wuornos.
This means serial killers are not defined by their gender. Interestingly enough, while the rate of serial killer victims by women accounts for 17% of the total, for homicides in general, women only account for 10%.
All Serial Killers are Not Caucasian
You’ve likely heard this myth used frequently. The truth is that not all serial killers fall into the Caucasian race. There are African-Americans, Asian-Americans and even Latinos who are classified as serial killers. In fact, some of the most notorious serial killers of all time aren’t Caucasian. Here’s a look at the top 10 serial killers of all time with their victims, nicknames, country of origin, and legal status.
- Luis Alfredo Gravito Cubillos (La Bestia), Columbia, 138 confirmed killings. Jailed until 2021.
- Pedro Lopez (Monster of the Andres), Columbia/Ecuador/Peru. 110 confirmed killings. Released from jail in 1998. Additional murders may be linked to him.
- Daniel Camagro, Columbia/Ecquador, 72 confirmed killings. Killed in jail in 1989.
- Pedro Rorigues Fiho, Brazil, 71 confirmed killings. Jailed until 2033.
- Kampatimar Shankariya (The Hammer Murders), India. 70 confirmed killings. Deceased. Hung May 16, 1979.
- Yang Xinhai (Monster Killer), China. 67 confirmed killings. Deceased. Executed February 2004.
- Abudl Djabar, Afghanistan. 65 confirmed killings. Deceased. Hung October 21. 1970.
- Andrei Chikatilo (Butcher of Rostov/The Red Ripper of Rostov), USSR. 53 confirmed killings. Deceased. Executed 1994.
- Anatoly Onoprienko (Beast of Ukraine/The Terminator/Citizen O), USSR/Ukraine. 52 confirmed killings. Sentenced to Death, changed to life in prison.
- Gary Ridgway (The Green River Killer), 49 confirmed workers. Life in prison.
It is important to note that these killers are attributed with more killings than they were convicted for based on confirmation. Whether the numbers were inflated on their own, bodies were never found, or other circumstances were listed, only their confirmed totals were used above.
What you can gather, as you look deeper into each of these individuals is they are not in Caucasian. But are in fact from several different races.
While the Red Dragon famously let us know that socially challenged people are serial killers, it’s actually not true. Most of the serial killers in history are gainfully employed, appear non threatening, upstanding citizens. In fact, they look and act so incredibly normal, their families, peers, and police didn’t even have them on their radar for a long time. Look at Gary Ridgway as an example. Even Ed Kemper (The Co-Ed Killer) would deal with police detectives.
The fact they can hide in plain sight makes these individuals far more terrifying than you can imagine. In fact, that is one of the things that has these individuals so fascinating to so many people. This is one of those facts about serial killers that people need to move away from. Yes, some of those who are isolated from the world seem strange and different from the rest of us, but it in no way means that they are going to hunt you down in the middle of the night and kill you.
While Ted Bundy had us fearing for our lives across state lines, most serial killers don’t head out too far from the home. Instead, these killers stick close to home. Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most famous stereotype in this group. As we know, his murders were kept to the Whitechapel District of London.
Why do they stick close to home? It’s because this is where they are most comfortable. They know the area, they know what to expect. They can case the area without standing out as a stranger in the area. Many serial killers will commit their first murder fairly close to where they live. They may hide the bodies in a crawl space, beneath a foundation, or in a shallow grave nearby. This ability to remain safe and free from detection boosts their confidence and as more time passes during their cooling off period, they are more likely to feel the urge to kill again.
However, it should be noted that the same reason why many kill, is also the reason why many don’t have large victim numbers. While killing in their comfort zone, not all individuals will have the opportunity to kill in a small area, others don’t have the luxury to travel and hunt their prey either.
There are two perceptions of the serial killer. One is that they are expert killers who are able to forever evade detection because of their incredible genius. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs is an example of this stereotype. The other is the mentally ill personality disorder that is hell bent on emotionlessly killing people.
Only a few serial killers are shown to have a mental illness that caused them to kill. Even fewer are considered legally insane by the definition of the law. In fact, since a serial killer would need to be completely unaware that the act of killing is legally and morally wrong, only a small number of these killers have ever been classified as legally insane. A look at Dennis Rader shows how aware he was that his acts were, but that didn’t stop him from his intense desire to kill.
Most of those who have committed the acts take pride in what they do. Most also have no desire to be listed as mentally incompetent to stand trial. When you consider in 1977 the Song of Sam David Berkowitz and his wild tales were enough to make him competent to stand trial, we can clearly understand just how clear things are.
While some of the most provocative cases of serial killers involve sex, this isn’t the only motivation there is. In fact, financial gain, attention seeking, anger, and even the thrill of simply killing are also contributing factors. Examples of serial killers not motivated by sex are John Allen Muhammed, , and even Paul Reid.
That doesn’t mean that there are not cases where there are serial killers who are driven by sex. But for those who are looking to gain a better understanding of these criminals, it is important to realize that this isn’t the only motivation that they have.
Serial Killers Can and Will Stop Killing
It’s true that some serial killers are caught while they are still killing. But there are several documented cases where a serial killer has simply stopped killing. Dennis Rader killed 10 people from 1974 until 1991 and never killed again. Instead, he turned to other activities to give him the thrill he needed. Jeffrey Gorton killed in 1986 and then again in 1991. He chose other outlets for his excitement and stopped killing as a result. That means once a serial killer begins their killings it doesn’t mean they won’t simply just stop.
Serial Killers Don’t Want to Get Caught
Yes, many serial killers make a mistake early on. These mistakes are the result of being a novice in the area and not knowing what to anticipate. Often, this results in their eventual capture. Others gain a deeper understanding of the process and take notes on how to avoid eventually being captured. Before long, they know how to execute their crimes and reduce their risk of identification of being discovered. However, many will make a cocky mistake at some point and that will ultimately lead to their capture, not their desire to give up their life of killing.
Chances are you’re seeing how the serial killer is different from what you’ve seen in movies or read in books. But there is so much more to learn about them.
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