From notorious figures like Ted Bundy,Jeffrey Dahmer, to the Green River Killer, the United States boasts a disturbingly high number of serial killers. With an estimated 2,000 active serial killers, recent research by Dr. Mike Aamodt, a forensic psychology professor at Radford University, confirms that the U.S. surpasses all other nations in this grim statistic.
In a conversation with Dr. Aamodt, explore the reasons behind the decline in female serial killers, the significant surge in serial killings between the 1960s and 1980s, and his most startling discoveries in this unsettling realm of criminal psychology.
Could you tell us about your investigations into serial killers?
Our research has focused on examining over 5,000 individuals globally who have been confirmed as serial killers, having committed two or more homicides on separate occasions. We've conducted thorough analyses regarding various aspects including race, gender, preferred methods of killing, and the specific countries where these heinous crimes were perpetrated.
What led to your discovery that the United States harbors the highest number of serial killers globally?
I posit that the apparent prevalence of serial killers in the U.S. may not necessarily indicate a disproportionate occurrence compared to other nations. Instead, it could be attributed to the nation's effective law enforcement infrastructure, which facilitates the detection and identification of serial offenders.
For instance, competent law enforcement agencies play a crucial role in connecting disparate murders to a single perpetrator. Additionally, once a serial killer is identified, their information must be publicly available, typically through prison records and law enforcement announcements. The United States stands out in terms of its open records policies, which provide greater transparency compared to many other countries.
This transparency enables easier access to information about serial killers and their activities. Moreover, when considering the overall murder rate, the U.S. falls somewhere in the middle compared to other nations. If the U.S. had a substantially higher murder rate than the global average, it might correlate with a higher prevalence of serial killers.
However, since this is not the case, it suggests that the apparent abundance of serial killers in the U.S. is more attributable to effective law enforcement and transparent record-keeping rather than a significantly higher occurrence of such crimes.
What factors have contributed to the decline in female serial killers?
The decline in female serial killers, from nearly 38 percent in the 1900s to only seven percent today, can be attributed to several factors. It's essential to examine the motives behind male and female killings. Historically, women have been more inclined to kill spouses or family members for financial gain, often through insurance schemes. However, advancements in technology have significantly reduced the opportunities for women to become serial killers compared to men.
For example, in the pre-digital era, a woman could potentially evade suspicion by moving between states or selecting different insurance providers between murders. Yet, with modern computerized systems, insurance companies can quickly detect suspicious patterns after just one murder. While financial motives may still drive women to kill, the diminished opportunity for serial killing due to technological advancements has led to a decline in female perpetrators.
Are male serial killers experiencing a decline in the United States?
Yes, there has been a decline in male serial killers in the U.S., and there are several significant reasons for this trend. One primary factor is the implementation of longer sentences and stricter parole restrictions, which have been increasingly enforced since the 1980s. Many killers have a history of prior convictions, and lengthier sentences reduce their chances of being released back into society, thus lowering the likelihood of them committing further crimes.
Obtaining victims has become more challenging for serial killers in recent years. During the 1970s and 1980s, victims often included hitchhikers or individuals who picked up hitchhikers, as well as children who walked to school or the store unaccompanied.
Societal behaviors have shifted, with fewer people hitchhiking and fewer children being allowed to roam unsupervised (often referred to as "free-range" children). These changes in behavior have resulted in fewer opportunities for serial killers to encounter potential victims.
Your research indicates a decline in serial killers in the United States at present, but there was a notable surge between the 1960s and the 1980s. What factors contributed to this increase?
During that period, several factors likely played a role in the rise of serial killers. One significant factor was the expansion of the interstate highway system, which made it considerably easier for serial killers to travel across state lines, evading detection and complicating law enforcement efforts.
Moreover, it's crucial to consider the evolution of terminology related to serial killers. The term "serial killer" wasn't coined until the 1970s, which complicates historical research on these crimes. Prior to the widespread use of this term, newspapers and other sources may have described such cases using different language, such as "convicted of three murders" or "shot three people."
As researchers, this poses a challenge in identifying and cataloging instances of serial killing from earlier decades. It's possible that the apparent increase in serial killings during the 1960s to 1980s was partly due to improved recognition and classification of these crimes rather than a sudden spike in occurrences.
Therefore, while there may have been a genuine increase in serial killings during that time, it's essential to acknowledge the role of evolving terminology and investigative methods in shaping our understanding of this phenomenon across different historical periods.
What has been the most unexpected revelation in your research on serial killers?
One of the most surprising discoveries is the vast diversity among serial killers. Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular profile or modus operandi that defines all serial killers. Initially, like many others, I assumed that serial killers followed a predictable pattern in their killings, with uniform motives and behaviors. However, delving deeper into this field revealed a complex spectrum of characteristics and motivations.
For instance, some serial killers may commit a few murders over an extended period, while others may be involved in multiple killings within a short timeframe. Additionally, not all individuals who fit the criteria of a serial murderer exhibit the stereotypical traits of stalking prostitutes and maintaining a strict killing schedule.
By broadening our understanding and adopting the term "multiple-event killer," we can acknowledge the various subtypes within this category and explore the diverse motivations behind their actions. This approach allows for a more nuanced examination of serial killings, recognizing the intricate interplay between methods and motives that shape each perpetrator's behavior.