As true crime fans, we all have a picture in our minds when we imagine serial killers: Many of us would picture a real-life version of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs — a young, dysfunctional white male who lives alone. But years of research by the FBI and outside experts show that serial killers span all races and ethnic groups in the U.S. And of course we know they are not all men, either.
Vernon Geberth, consulting criminologist, former commanding officer of the NYPD’s Bronx Homicide Task Force and author of Practical Homicide Investigation, weighed in on myths surrounding serial killers in a recent episode of Crime Scene podcast.
Geberth said that his research showed that, in 2012, Black offenders committed 37.2 percent of all sexual serial murders in the United States.
Below are five facts about serial killers that don’t normally make headlines:
1. Serial killers span all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. According to the FBI, the racial diversity of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population. There are well-documented cases of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American serial killers.
In a 2012 report titled The Imperceptible Phenomenon of Black Sexual Serial Killers, Geberth wrote:
“The media has either ignored Black sexual serial killers or opted not to focus on the race of the serial killer due to some illogical interpretation of political correctness. Only recently has the media reported on Black sexual serial killers with the arrest and conviction of Anthony Sowell, ‘The Cleveland Strangler’ who had killed 11 women between 2005 and 2009 and more recently the arrest of ‘The Grim Sleeper’ in Los Angeles who killed 10 women between 1985 and 2007. Lonnie David Franklin, Jr., a Black Male was finally identified after all these years through a Familial DNA Analysis.”
2. African-Americans comprise the largest racial minority group among serial killers, representing approximately 37 percent of the total. The failure of police to pursue Black suspects can occur, Geberth says, due to “linkage blindness,” which he describes as “an investigative failure to recognize a pattern which links one crime with another crime in a series of cases through victimology.”
He cited the example of Wayne Williams, who killed at least 23 children in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. At the time, he was considered an anomaly by investigators and the press, according to Gerberth.
3. Most murder victims, including serial murder victims, are the same race as their killer. According to authorities, in approximately 90 percent of all homicides, the killer and victim are from the same race.
Experts say that this fact could inadvertently feed into the myth that all serial killers are white men, because news organizations have tended to focus overwhelmingly on white female victims.
4. Serial killers are not all young, disaffected loners. According to an FBI report on serial murder, the majority of serial killers are not reclusive, social misfits who live alone. It reads:
“They are not monsters and may not appear strange. Many serial killers hide in plain sight within their communities. Serial murderers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed, and appear to be normal members of the community.”
They also have a large age range: According to the Serial Killer Information Center, only around 27 percent of serial killers are in their 20s.
5. It’s a myth that once serial killers start murdering people, they cannot stop. According to the FBI, some serial killers — including BTK killer Dennis Rader — are able to stop killing for long period of time. In these instances, the report indicates:
“There are events or circumstances in offenders’ lives that inhibit them from pursuing more victims. These can include increased participation in family activities, sexual substitution, and other diversions.”
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