Who is Killing Whom in America?

by Diane Dimond on February 1, 2014

We’re Fascinated By Murder

We have a fascination in America about murder.

Serial killers, mass murders, thrill kills, the so-called “mission murderers” who think it’s their duty to rid the world of certain groups like prostitutes, drug users or the homeless. That all those prime time TV shows, replete with mysterious murders and the resulting criminal trials are so popular speaks volumes.

But what is the reality? How many murders are there in America? Who are the victims and their killers? What parts of the country are most dangerous?

The FBI’s latest figures tell us there were 14,168 killings in the U.S. in 2012. That’s slightly higher than the rate in 2011.

Unlike other crimes, like burglary, robbery, rape and assault, which are historically under-reported by a surprisingly large margin, the murder rate is considered to be pretty accurate because it’s awfully hard to hide a corpse.

Not surprisingly, the statistics show that murder is much more prevalent in major urban areas as opposed to suburban or rural areas.

After all the headlines about Chicago being on track to become the murder capital of the U.S. the top 10 deadliest cities may surprise you.

Flint’s Homicide Division Has Been Very Busy

Tops on the 2012  list: Flint, Michigan, which sees 64.9 murders for every 100,000 citizens. Detroit, Michigan is next with 54.6 murders for every 100,000 in population. New Orleans has 53.5 murders among each of its 100,000 citizens, St. Louis’ rate drops considerably from that level – to just 35.5 homicides per 100,000 in population. Baltimore has 35 murders for every 100,000 citizens and Birmingham, Alabama comes in at 33.7. Tied at number seven on the list was Newark, New Jersey and Oakland, California, each reporting 33.1 homicides per 100,000. Rounding out the top ten list: Baton Rouge, Louisiana (28.9); Cleveland, Ohio (24.6) and Memphis, Tennessee (24.1).

In the book, “Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice“, by sociologists Steven Barkan and George Bryjak the authors explain that forty years ago murders most often occurred between people who knew each other. In the mid-60’s, detectives learned to assume that the victim was acquainted with the killer – a friend, lover or relative. Back then, police had an astounding 91% arrest rate. In the 90’s, arrests of suspected killers happened 65% of the time.  Today, when so many people are murdered by total strangers, the number of arrests is just 33% in some urban neighborhoods.

So, who is killing who and who are the victims? About 65% of the time males are murdering other males but 22% of their targets are women. That’s not to say women don’t kill too. Females murdered men most often but about 2.4% of all homicides were women killing other women.

The FBI’s 2010 report reveals that black victims are killed by other blacks in 90% of the time. White victims are killed by other whites 83.4%, which clearly busts the myth that racial tensions frequently lead to murder.

FBI Stats Offer Reality Check

A startling point in the FBI stats: While black Americans constitute less than 14% of the U.S. population, in more than one out of two homicides the fatality is a black person. Interestingly, the FBI does not maintain a tally for Latinos or Asians.

As to the mode of murder – Whites are more likely to die by poison, during work place violence or in a sex-related killing. The numbers show Blacks and Latinos are over-represented in drug-related deaths.

Homicides go up in the months of July, August, December and on the week-ends when people are out-and-about together either trying to beat the heat or holiday shopping. And, yes handguns are the favored weapon of choice for today’s killer. The average age of the killer is about 27 years old.

There is no one general motivation for murder. But authors Barkan and Bryjak do cite extenuating circumstances frequently found in a murderer’s background: poverty, drugs, lack of education, crowded living conditions and family problems.

“Your chances of committing crime depend to a large extent on your gender, social class, and race/ethnicity,” they wrote. “(That) heavily influences how and/or where you are raised and socialized and (that) in turn heavily influences your chances of committing a crime.”

The Faces of Serial Killers

The most often asked question I get about the homicide rate is, “How many serial killers are out there?” Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows for sure how many are operating at any given time in the U.S.. Experts who study and write about such killers put the number at between 35 and 100. Personally, I’d go with the lower number but realize there are thousands of victims of these fiends still out there – either unfound or unidentified as a victim of a serial killer.

Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, was convicted of murdering 49 prostitutes in Seattle. He’s suspected of killing more than 90 women. Where are their bodies?

May Have Killed More Than 100

Charismatic Ted Bundy confessed to killing 36 women but authorities estimate the total number of his kills could run upwards of 100.

In the aforementioned myth busting book the authors quote experts who conclude, “Most of these (serial killers) are more cruel than crazy, with a disorder of character rather than of the mind.”

We can all agree that the homicide rate is too high in the U.S. Yet, there is some comfort to be found in all these statistics. Consider that only about 3 out of every 1,000 men (0.3%) are arrested for a violent crime each year. That means 99.7% are not arrested. And, serial killers are responsible for only 1 or maybe 2% of all U.S. murders.

So, no matter how many murders you hear about on TV it is unlikely that you or anyone you know will ever be a victim.



Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Facebook Friend Marilyn Rundle writes:

“This was very interesting!”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Facebook Friend Angela Laughlin Bailey writes:

“Fascinating read Diane, interesting that they don’t keep stats on Asians and Latinos…wonder why that is?”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 1:25 pm


I guess because that’s always been the way they kept the stats. But I hear rumblings that they will soon add other ethnic categories. I’ll let you know! ~ DD

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Twitter Pal roughside_out writes:

” @DiDimond Recall a quote from FBI-SAC in 1968 “Violence is a way of life in American.” Looks like history continues to repeat itself.”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Twitter Pal jim_shoe52 writes:

“@DiDimond What puzzles me.. We all love life, cherish life.. But as long as its someone else, we are not phased.. Grain of salt.”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Facebook Friend Diane Haas Noble writes:

“Excellent!!! I understand about the “fascination”…I watch Criminal Minds with my eye closed and cringing on the couch and wonder what the heck am I thinking watching stuff like this…and then there is the Following!!! oy!!!”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Facebook Friend Alexandrea Merrell writes:

“I had a friend who was an Air Marshall. He said that they were tracking 25 serial killers in California alone, and that these people rarely make the news anymore.”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Facebook Friend Casey Jordan writes:

“Great points, Diane…but the key is that it isn’t the quantity of the homicide that is on the rise, it is the aberrant QUALITY of the homicides that happen today that has us criminologists alarmed.”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Twitter Pal DrSteveAlbrecht writes:

“@DiDimond Good info. Dr. Bryjak was my Criminology professor at USD in 1984. I enjoyed our talks about crime and crooks.”

Diane Dimond February 3, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Twitter Pal DawnNevarez writes:

“@DiDimond most of the killings seem to be random acts done by emotionally damaged people with access to guns.”

Diane Dimond February 4, 2014 at 10:31 am

Twitter Pal bubbleeyed writes:

“@DiDimond Thank you I realized while reading the article I’ve been having irrational worries that it would happen again. It gave perspective.”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Huffington Post Reader Dale R. (LT714RET) writes:

“I’m wondering how many of the 14,168 homicides are justifiable, such as police involved, home invasion, robbery and other violent crime victims etc. Would be nice to know since any death in that manner has to be labeled as a homicide.”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Huffington Post Reader Roxanne Roxanadanna writes:

“One nice fact should always be mentioned in this context. The murder & non-negligent homicide rate has been dropping since the early 1990’s & shows no sign of stopping. Just check this wonderful little FBI violent crime table.


Ms. Dimond is right as rain about the other types of crimes. From the table, you’d think that violent crime in general, while much lower than 1990, still has a long way to go. That would be wrong especially with respect to aggravated assault; for you see a sea change in law occurred whereby with assault with a deadly weapon, there was not a requirement in the bad old days for the State to prosecute absent a complaint from the victim. Were the neighborhood drug king to stab you several times in the chest, completely understandable would be your reluctance to press charges!”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Huffington Post Reader Charley V. (charleyvldm9) writes:

“Why is crime so prevalent in poor areas when everyone is poor, is it worth the while, does it really pay off for these criminals?”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Huffington Post Reader Scott Bonn (DocBonn) ·Criminologist & Professor writes:

“Thank you for this enlightening article, Diane. I believe, as do a number of former FBI profilers, that there are no more like 25-50 serial killers, at most, operating in the U.S. at any given time; representing no more than 1% of all murders. Based on current trends, that means that serial killers account for 150 murders annually. Bottom line: serial killers are horrible but rare.”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Huffington Post Reader Steven Rowe (thorrsman) writes:

” Nothing really surprising in any of this, not to those of us who have been paying attention to the real world.”

Diane Dimond February 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Huffington Post Reader Cargo Squid (Cargosquid) writes:

“They may not keep a tally for latinos and asians as victims…but they do have one for arrests.


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