America’s Serial Killers – How Many?

by Diane Dimond on January 16, 2012

How Many Are There in America?

It was a small but horrifying item in the Los Angeles Times. “Police are asking for the public’s help in identifying what they call a ‘serious, dangerous serial killer operating in Orange County. Police believe one person is responsible for stabbing three middle-aged homeless men. He is (considered) extremely dangerous to the public.” Another serial killer, I thought. And then the question: How many serial killers are out there in America? John Douglas, a former Chief of the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit and author of “Mind Hunter” says, “A very conservative estimate is that there are between 35-50 active serial killers in the United States” at any given time. Often, Douglas told me, they will, “kill 2-3 victims and then have a “cooling-off” period between kills.”

Dennis Rader Taunted Police for Decades

Dennis Rader Taunted Police for Decades

That period can be days and in some cases  — such as the BTK Strangler, Dennis Rader, convicted of killing 10 people from 1974 to 1991 — even years.” But others who study serial killers (defined as someone who kills 3 or more people) think there are many more of these demented predators out there than the FBI admits to – maybe as many as a hundred of them actively operating right now. Why don’t we know the exact figure? Because serial killers are a secretive and often nomadic bunch.

Ted Bundy’s Charm Lured Victims

Right before his execution in January 1989 the widely traveled Ted Bundy, described as a charismatic killer, admitted to 30 murders across half a dozen states – from Washington to Florida. Andrew Cunanan killed at least five people during his wanderings through Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida, including fashion designer Gianni Versace in Miami.

Rigs Hard to Follow State to State

The FBI knows death travels and five years ago it set up the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. The bureau reveals it has “a matrix of more than 600 victims and potential suspects in excess of 275.” Since the bodies were found off major highways top suspects are long-haul truckers who may pick up prey in one state and dump the body several states away. I know this is disturbing to read and you may wonder, “Why should I care? I’m not going to hitchhike at a truck stop!”

Two Faces of John Wayne Gacy

Well, realize lots of serial killers stay close to home and their victims are random. The aforementioned Dennis Rader found all his victims in Kansas not far from the Wichita home he shared with his wife and two kids. Rader, the president of his local church, knocked on his victim’s doors and they simply let him in. John Wayne Gacy, met many of his 33 victims (all young men and boys) at charity events where he appeared dressed a clown. After luring them to his house and murdering them he stuffed them under his Cook County, Illinois home.

Ridgeway, The Green River Killer

Gary Leon Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, was convicted of strangling 49 random women he met in Washington. He confessed to killing 71 but authorities believe the number of victims could be over 90.

Dahmer Wanted To Be Studied

Jeffrey Dahmer of Milwaukee admitted to killing and cannibalizing 17 young men and boys before he was arrested. Dahmer’s mother, Joyce, once told me her son wished doctors would come study him in prison to help figure out what drove him to do it. We who write about crime are told that law enforcement nationwide is doing a better job of communicating with each other about suspected serial killers. Indeed, the item I read about the homeless murders was a milestone. In the past, detectives were loath to tell the public about a serial killer on the loose for fear of spooking people. Now, they’ve come to realize that knowledge is power and citizen’s information can be a huge help in solving crimes.

Five Victims of ABQ’s West Mesa Killer

Hardly a state in the union hasn’t had a serial killer. California, Texas and Florida seem to have more than their fair share. And mass graves have been found all around the country. Two examples: The 11 bodies of young women and an infant found on the isolated West Mesa outside Albuquerque. And, an eerily similar case thousands of miles away in Long Island, New York where authorities unearthed 10 bodies – eight women and a toddler along with a man dressed in women’s clothes. These are among the serial killer dumping grounds that have been found. Many others may go undetected forever. The best thing we can do is be vigilant. Know that many victims of serial killers put themselves in harm’s way. Most are women who have some contact with the sex trade or illegal drug underworld and if they have children they are in grave danger too.

Reaching Troubled Kids Early is Key

Dr. Maurice Godwin has studied serial killers for years and one in-depth analysis of 107 of them revealed important information. Godwin found 55% of serial killers began having trouble in childhood and had criminal juvenile records. 45% had been convicted for a previous sex crime. As with so many criminals it goes back to their early formative years and the best lesson we can learn is that when we find a troubled child we best help them. Failure to do so could result in another serial killer walking among us. home

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Facebook Friend Ginnie Oleskewicz Schwartz writes:

“So scarey…….especially for older people like me………”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Facebook Friend Sean Bagley writes:

“I think we all should leave our houses every morning thinking theres a serial killer in the shrubbery. Just saying.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Facebook Friend Lisa Ladd Linke writes:

“Right Sean, there always was, we just didn’t talk about it as much.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Facebook Friend Ronald Jeffries Tallman writes:

“Cell phones can no doubt save many- both in being able to call right away and also the location pings given off. People need them with themselves as much as possible, I guess. Some professions and the way people live may attract one and more education is needed for those in risky situations.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Facebook Friend Pat Melchionno writes:

“Sad stuff DD but as always, well written.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Facebook Friend Lucia Eleen writes:

“I live in the Pacific NW. ‘Nuff said.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Facebook Friend Diane LaBella Palen writes:

“I keep checking on line for sex offenders to see if they are in our area,so we know where they are.. you never know who is in your neighborhood…i dont live in fear…but you never know….”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Facebook Friend Joyce Truett writes:

“We never know how close we might live by a serial killer…I don’t go out alone at night.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Twitter Follower OldeHippi Karen writes:

“@DiDimond Excellent piece!! I believe we do harm by hiding serious juvenile crime – MUST follow the adult if they continue such crimes.”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 4:51 pm

Twitter Follower Sue_Evans64 (in Tacoma,WA) writes:

“@DiDimond where I live we are notorious for them, Ugggh!”

Diane Dimond January 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Twitter Follower MichelleHarnois writes:

“@DiDimond read your piece. Interesting! I grew up with a serial killer named Craig Price. I’m traumatized to this day about the whole thing.”

Diane Dimond January 17, 2012 at 10:23 am

Facebook Friend Joyce Truett writes

“We never know how close we might live by a serial killer…I don’t go out alone at night.”

Diane Dimond January 17, 2012 at 10:31 am

Nancy Kiley Erickson-Flake writes:

“As your article notes, many signs of trouble begin in childhood. What’s interesting about that is often people do report kids that need help of some kind, however the system makes it difficult if not impossible to both investigate and treat if necessary. The burden on child services is partly to blame. Many social workers are overworked and under-qualified. So, then what? Often parents don’t see the red flags and some parents simply ignore them. There’s no quick fix, Diane, and there are many obstacles along the way. In a perfect world we wouldn’t even be talking about this. Maybe if we as a society exercise a little more RESPECT towards all in our lives, it might help.”

Diane Dimond January 17, 2012 at 10:34 am

Facebook Friend Carey Smith writes:

“It is a terrible thing if fear grips our every waking moment. I believe in being safe & prepared but not living in fear. I’m not sure we’d know if there’s danger around. Thinking back to a few serial killers that appeared very normal.”

Diane Dimond January 17, 2012 at 10:36 am

Facebook Friend Carole Tara writes:

“I think talking about it and knowing who is living in your midst and protecting yourself is very different from living in the grips of fear every waking moment. It doesn’t have to control your life or every waking moment. Serial killers appear to be normal, very sociable, intelligent, charming, and smart. Until they get the desire to kill. Then you could very well be their next victim simply because you crossed paths with them. It is sad. But it’s much sadder to face once someone you know has been killed by one of them. I’d like to rid the world of them but unfortunately there’s too many bleeding hearts in the population or people whose livelihoods depend on them….(police, prison guards, judges, parole boards, probation officers, criminologists, etc.)”

Diane Dimond January 17, 2012 at 10:37 am

Facebook Friend Lucia Eleen writes:

“Interesting link describing how to predict when they’ll strike next:

Shari Greer January 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

You can check to see where ‘sex offenders’ are living in your area and they will give you their addresses.. Shame they don’t have the same data for these monsters. Beware of someone who is too friendly and comes from ‘nowhere’ to your ‘space’. Today life has become more violent as more people end up desperate, and resort to awful things. Last week in my little town two older men were taking a walk, when four people came up to them on bicycles. They asked for money and jewelry but they had nothing on them so one man was stabbed three times while the other ran.. Who would think 4 bicyclests would be searching old people to rob on their daily walk? They should be in jail… but our jails are full of people who committed non violent crimes and are over their limit. Crime is gaining ground….and we are their victims.

Diane Dimond January 19, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Facebook Fan Page Friend Pam Good MacIntyre writes:

“Yes. But I mostly wonder about how many sociopaths/psychopaths are in our area! Esp since O.J., Scott Peterson and all the others these past several years…who appear to be normal and are truly sick!!”

Diane Dimond January 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Huffington Post Reader topkatnc writes:

“I remember years ago it was stated that we have around 35 active serial killers in America .. but it’s not that way anymore … In the last 8 years there have been two serial killers within 60 miles of where I live .. that were caught .. I read true crime and there are some real sick puppies out there .. Being a woman .. I never go out at night alone .. and I have something to protect myself with 24/7 .. Women and children are looked at as prey .. and there are alot of predators out there just waiting for an opportunit­y .. and it is not wise for women to jog alone anymore .. that is something that I would never do .. I would not advise any woman to do that .. it could cost you your life .. you mentioned Godwin and his findings , very interestin­g .. I remember something that Ted Bundy said in an interview , right before he sat down on ole sparky .. he said that the one thing that got him started was seeing porn at a young age .. I shudder to think about all the porn that is available for kids to see on the internet , and how it will effect them , and us .. in the years to come …”

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