THERE may be up to 4,000 unidentified serial killers in the United States, experts say, with as many as 50 active at any one given time.
The FBI defines a serial killer as one person acting alone who commits two or more murders in separate events, often with a psychological motive or sadistic sexual component.
The US is home to more serial killers than anywhere else in the world, with famed offenders Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez, and the Zodiac Killer among those who have burned their names in the history books and cemented their place in popular culture for their heinous and macabre crimes.
The 1970s and 1980s are remembered as the so-called “golden age of serial murder”, but according to the FBI serial killings have plummeted more than 85 percent in the decades since, now accounting for less than one percent of all killings.
A number of factors have been cited as the cause of this decline, including longer prison sentences and reduction in parole.
Advancements in forensic science and various cultural and technological shifts have also aided the decline, including fewer hitchhikers and more surveillance cameras, experts say.
Interestingly, however, as the number of serial killings has supposedly fallen so too has the number of murder cases solved by police.
Thomas Hargrove, the founder of the Murder Accountability Project (MAP), told The Sun that in 1965 around 91 percent of all homicide cases were solved by law enforcement in the US.
Fast-forward to 2020, and that rate dropped to just 54 percent – one of the lowest rates in all of Western civilization. That means that around 46 percent of the time, murders get away with killing.
And some experts say that a large number of so-far unidentified serial killers are responsible for a significant portion of these unsolved murder cases.
‘THOUSANDS OF UNRECOGNIZED SERIAL KILLERS’
Hargrove and his board of directors at MAP developed technology that examines how many unsolved murders are linked by DNA evidence.
The non-profit has collected records on more than 800,000 murders carried out in the US since 1976.
Hargrove believes that at least two percent of all murders in the US are committed by serial offenders – translating to roughly 2,100 unidentified serial killers.
“It’s a floor, not a ceiling,” Hargrove said of the figure. “I’m not saying that I think there are 2000 active serial killers but that there are at least 2000 who have gone unrecognized as being serial killers.”
Hargrove attributed the issue to something called “linkage blindness”, which is the failure of law enforcement to communicate or share information in a way that connects unsolved crimes.
There is often a lack of communication between police departments, Hargrove says, which means “commonalities in crimes will get overlooked and therefore most serial murderers go unrecognized.”
There is also no centralized database for all police departments across the country to report murders in, nor is there a complete master list of all unsolved killings for them to reference during an investigation – compounding the issue.
Retired detective Michael Arntfield, who has authored 12 books on serial murder, also cast doubt on the FBI’s projections and put the number of unidentified serial killers closer to between 3,000 and 4,000.
Explaining why more serial killers aren’t apparently being caught, Arntfield cited a number of potential factors.
They include increased expertise, with killers studying the mistakes of their murderous precessors and knowing how to dupe police; constrained resources of law enforcement, including a lack of training; growing social isolation, which can make some victims more vulnerable; and enhanced geographic mobility, which can make the dots of an investigation harder to connect.
Arntfield also put down the FBI’s apparent underreporting of serial killer cases down to patchy data and communication issues, among other things.
‘CHANGING’ NATURE OF MURDER
Hargrove also put forward a number of theories as to why the murder clearance rate has declined so sharply in the US over the last four and a half decades.
Describing the topic as “complicated”, Hargrove told The Sun one of the main catalysts driving the issue is the fact “a lot of cities are broke and cannot properly fund law enforcement.”
“It’s quite common that they can’t even afford their pension plans,” he added. “That’s the main thing.”
Another reason, he said, is that the nature of murder has also shifted quite dramatically since 1976.
“The typical victim of murder used to be white, now the majority are black,” Hargrove said.
“It also used to be more common for murders to be domestic but that has declined for a lot of reasons: women are now less dependent on their partners, and courts are more proactive in how they deal with domestic abuse offenders.”
He continued: “That leaves the other kinds of murders that are more difficult to solve: stranger on stranger crimes, such as drug and gang-related killings.”
When questioned as to whether the rise in the rate of black murder victims, combined with the decrease in the number of crimes solved suggests a police bias, Hargrove said he doesn’t believe so.
“It’s true that black murders are less likely to be solved, but again it’s complicated,” Hargrove said. “I don’t believe there is a bias. I’ve worked with a lot of detectives and they’re some of the best people I know.
“The fact is a lot of these murders happen in inner cities which are fiscally challenged. Also, there is going to be a higher rate of stranger on stranger crimes in these areas, which are more difficult to solve.”
US’ MOST MURDEROUS STATES
While the FBI and criminology experts remain at odds over the statistics, the World Population Review has broken down the number of serial murder victims by state for 2021 using data shared by the FBI.
Unsurprisingly, topping the bill for the nation’s highest number of serial killings was California with 1,628.
California has been home to some of history’s most infamous serial murders over the last century, including Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected Golden State Killer; the Mason Family leader Charles Manson; and the so-called “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez.
Next in the rankings is Texas with 893 serial killer victims, Florida with 845, Illinois with 629, and New York with 628.
The remainder of the top 10 is made up of Ohio (433), Pennsylvania (420), Washington (390), Michigan, (381) and Georgia (365).
When it comes to murders per capita, Alaska has the highest rate of serial killings at 7.01 per 100,000 people. Lousiana ranks second with 6.48 per 100,000 and Kansas is third with 5.25 per 100,000.
Listed below are some of California and Texas’ most famed serial killers:
Serial killing activity in the US peaked during the 1980s, and during that decade roughly one-fifth of all serial murders took place in California.
But it was actually two decades earlier that one of the nation’s most notorious serial killers was active in the state.
The Zodiac Killer was likely responsible for at least five murders in northern California during 1968 and 1969.
In encrypted messages to the police and media, the elusive killer claimed to have actually killed as many as 37.
The killer earned his nickname by signing his fourth letter to the press with “Zodiac” on August 7, 1969. In it, he wrote: “Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking.”
He also signed his letters with a circle and a cross over it, resembling a target or a coordinate symbol.
Authorities believe that the signature symbols were meant to represent coordinates possibly indicating future killing locations, however, they were never fully decoded.
Earlier this month, a crack team of independent investigators claimed to have finally unmasked the Zodiac after 52 years, identifying him as Gary Francis Poste, who died in 2018.
They also claim to have linked Poste to a sixth killing hundreds of miles away that has never before been connected to the Zodiac.
Police have denied the claims and say the case remains ongoing.
GOLDEN STATE KILLER
A serial rapist terrorized Northern California in the 1970s, breaking into dozens of women’s homes in attacks that spanned three years and sparked fear throughout the suburbs of Sacramento and Contra Costa counties.
From 1976 to 1979, more than 40 rapes in northern California were attributed to an assailant called the East Area Rapist.
Then in southern California between 1979 and 1986, a serial killer who was dubbed the Original Night Stalker took the lives of ten people.
Neither spate of crimes was solved. Then, in 2001, DNA analysis revealed that these rapes and murders had been committed by the same perpetrator, whom crime writer Michelle McNamara coined the moniker the “Golden State Killer.”
In 2018 Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer, was arrested and charged with 13 murders and other crimes linked to the Golden State Killer.
In June 2020, DeAngelo pleaded guilty and in August, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dubbed the “Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez was a serial killer who killed at least 13 people and tortured dozens more before being captured in 1985.
In most of the cases, Ramirez entered homes in the early morning hours through open windows or doors.
Some of the victims were found strangled, others had their throats slashed, but most had been fatally shot.
He had an obsession with Satanism which became a calling card for investigators at his crime scenes, with spray-painted pentagrams found on the walls of some of his victims’ homes.
THE RAILROAD KILLER
Angel Maturino Resendiz, known as the Railroad Killer, was a Mexican drifter who crisscrossed the country by freight train and terrorized rural communities in Texas during the 1990s.
Investigators linked Resendiz to at least 15 murders committed in Texas and elsewhere. His killing spree during the late 1990s earned him a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
The confessed serial killer was ultimately executed for the December 16, 1998, robbery, rape, and murder of Houston doctor Claudia Benton.
Benton had been stabbed with a kitchen knife, bludgeoned with a 2-foot bronze statue and raped in her West University Place home, which was located near railroad tracks.
DNA found at the scene was later linked the killings of church pastor Norman J. Sirnic and his wife Karen Sirnic, who were beaten to death with a sledgehammer.
He committed six more murders in June 1999 before surrendering to FBI the following month.
THE CANDY MAN
Between 1970 and 1973, Dean Corll, one of the country’s most prolific serial killers, murdered at least 28 teenage boys in Houston.
An electrician and former candy store owner, Corll enlisted the help of teenagers David Owen Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley to lure other teen boys to his apartment, where they were handcuffed and shackled to a plywood torture board before being sexually assaulted and killed.
Corll’s killing spree ended in August 1973 when Henley, one of his accomplices, shot and killed him in self-defense.
It was then that Henley confessed to police all that he knew and led police to the graves of the dead.
THE TOURNIQUET KILLER
Anthony Shore raped and strangled his victims in the 1980s and 1990s. Shore was dubbed “The Tourniquet Killer” because he used homemade tourniquets to strangle his victims.
Shore wasn’t arrested for murder until 2003, when his DNA was matched to the 1992 murder of 21-year-old Maria Del Carmen Estrada. Back in 1998 Shore was arrested and convicted of raping two young girls. As a convicted sex offender, his DNA had been added to a state database.
When investigators working Estrada’s murder case tested DNA evidence found under his fingernail, it was a match to Shore’s.
Following his arrest, he confessed to murdering Estrada and three others.
Before being executed, Shore apologized to the family members of his victims.
“I’d like to take a moment to say I’m sorry. No amount of words could ever undo what I’ve done,” he said. “To the family of my victims, I wish I could undo that past. It is what it is. God bless all of you. I will die with a clear conscience. I made my peace. There is no others.
“I would like to wish a Happy Birthday to Barbara Carrol, today is her birthday. I would like to especially thank those that have helped me, you know who you are. God bless everybody until we meet again. I’m ready warden.”
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