When flipping through endless lists of popular movies or shows on streaming services, it’s hard not to notice the prevalence of stories about serial killers. Larger-than-life characters like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy become household names, even though the chances of encountering another notorious criminal like the Zodiac Killer these days are quite low.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, serial killers were highly active and unfortunately resulted in many devastating cases. According to data, during the 1970s, there were nearly 300 active known serial killers in the U.S. The 1980s saw more than 250 active serial killers who were accountable for between 120 and 180 murders yearly.
Fortunately, by the time we hit the 2010s, these numbers had dropped significantly, with less than 50 known active serial killers. While the media continues to sensationalize these stories, it’s important to recognize that the threat of serial killers had decreased significantly.
The decrease in serial killings over the last 40 years has partly been attributed to changes in forensic science, policing, criminal justice, and technology. These changes have made it increasingly difficult for notorious killers like the BTK to evade capture. The source of this information is the Radford University/Florida Gulf Coast University Serial Killer Database, which has been analyzed and published in the updated book, “Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder” by James Alan Fox, Jack Levin, and Emma Fridel.
Thanks to progress in these fields, law enforcement can now use advanced forensic techniques to match crime scene evidence to suspects with far greater accuracy. Meanwhile, new technologies such as DNA analysis and advanced computer software have made identifying patterns and gathering intelligence on suspected offenders easier. Finally, advances in policing and criminal justice have helped develop better methods for tracking and apprehending serial killers before they can cause further harm to their victims or society. As such, the decline in serial killings represents a significant achievement for forensic science and law enforcement alike.
The significant decline in serial killer activity observed in recent years has been linked to a variety of social and economic factors that have played a role in deterring potential offenders from committing violent crimes. One such factor is the nationwide crackdown on crime that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, which made it increasingly difficult for serial killers and other violent offenders to remain at large without being detected or incarcerated.
Safely Behind Bars?
This trend appears to be linked to a decline in the overall murder rate as well, as a surging number of people have been placed behind bars in recent years. As a result, individuals who might have otherwise committed violent crimes are likely to have been incarcerated, rather than roaming free and looking for potential victims. This trend is a positive sign for communities across the country, as it suggests that law enforcement and other stakeholders are having some success in keeping violent offenders off the streets and ensuring the safety of our communities.
The period between 1980 and 1992 saw a significant increase in the number of people being incarcerated in federal and state prisons in the United States. As per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the incarceration rate more than doubled during this period and reached a staggering 332 per 100,000 U.S. residents. This was a significant increase in the number of incarcerated people compared to previous years.
One reason that contributed to this increase in incarceration was the increase in crime rates during this period. However, authorities were also able to make better use of advances in forensic science and DNA testing to investigate crimes, particularly murders. With these advances came better and more detailed evidence, which helped authorities identify perpetrators and bring them to justice.
Through the use of these new investigative techniques, police were also able to solve cases that had remained open or questionable for decades. This was a significant turning point in the history of law enforcement in the United States and helped improve the security and safety of its citizens.
Advances in Forensics
Forensic genealogy has revolutionized the process of catching suspected murderers. A recent case involving Bryan Kohlberger, a quadruple murder suspect, demonstrated the effectiveness of using DNA collected from a suspect’s family to determine their involvement in a crime. This advanced technique has significantly increased the likelihood of obtaining a positive result in cases where traditional DNA testing is not feasible.
Not only are serial killers faced with this challenge, but the evolution of technology has made it increasingly difficult for them to go undetected. The rise in surveillance cameras and GPS tracking capabilities in cell phones has made it more difficult for serial killers to abduct their victims without being caught. Investigators now have a range of advanced tools at their disposal to track a killer’s whereabouts. For example, metadata extracted from a floppy disk helped uncover the identity of the infamous BTK Killer. With these technological advancements, investigators can create a digital fingerprint for a killer and bring them to justice.
According to Fox, there has been a decrease in serial killers, which can be attributed to changing behaviors among the public. This is due to the widespread social and cultural changes that have occurred over time. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was increased drug use, hitchhiking, the hippie movement, and anti-establishment sentiment. This made conditions just right for predators to go on the prowl.
However, times have changed in the last few decades. Fears around mass killings have increased, as well as the public’s general anxiety and distrust for one another. As a result, people are now more cautious and aware compared to previous years. This means that when someone offers help with fixing a flat tire, for example, individuals might be less likely to accept it, which can ultimately contribute to a decrease in the number of potential serial killer attacks.
Over the past few decades, there have also been significant changes in how parents think about their children’s safety which has played a role in decreasing the vulnerability of young women and girls, who have historically been the most common targets for serial killers. That being said, according to statistics presented by Fox, Levin, and Fridel, out of the 5,582 victims killed by serial killers since 1970, a staggering 50% of these victims were female. Furthermore, the data also indicates that 30.2% of female victims fell within the age range of 20-29, while 23% were between the ages of 5 and 19, showing just how vulnerable this group can be. While we have undoubtedly made progress in protecting our children, particularly young girls, we must continue to focus on ensuring that our communities remain safe and secure for everyone.
In today’s world, many parents are increasingly feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place for their children and not just outside the school but even within school premises that were once considered safe. Therefore, parents are now more cautious and conscious about the opportunities they choose for their children, be it beyond school or otherwise. The conventional choices that were normative earlier, such as attending church or participating in extra-curricular activities in school, are no longer sufficient. Due to the general sense of anxiety, parents are assuming a more protective role to ensure their children’s safety and well-being.
Additionally, educators have also taken a proactive approach to promoting social and emotional learning (SEL), a teaching approach that fosters empathy, emotional management, and trauma compensation, among other things. The past decade has seen schools implement SEL, which may partly explain the decline in the number of serial killers. It offers an added layer of support that could prevent potential serial killers from developing in the first place.
Even though the number of serial killers in America has dwindled, there continues to be a collective fascination with “legacy killers”. Referred to as such by renowned criminologist, James Alan Fox, these killers have left a lasting impact on society through the tales of their heinous crimes. While the likelihood of encountering a serial killer in one’s lifetime is greatly improbable, Fox believes there is immense value in studying their actions and developing preventative measures.
The Boston Strangler, for example, killed 13 people and created an overwhelming sense of terror within the city for quite some time. In instances like this, understanding and stopping a criminal early on could prevent further tragedy. Society must remain educated on the subject to maintain the safety of others and potentially identify warning signs or red flags that may lead to the capture of a serial killer before they can inflict further harm.
Soft on Crime Triggering Incoming Resurrection?
In recent years, the number of serial killers at large had been declining attributed to the fact that many potential killers were possibly already behind bars. However, despite this positive trend, some cities are adopting soft-on-crime standards, such as no bond and early releases for repeat-offender criminals, which could potentially lead to a resurgence of serial killers in the near future.
It is quite disturbing to see an increase in soft-on-crime stances. The idea of setting dangerous criminals free on the streets, without serving their entire sentence is a cause of concern and poses a significant risk to public safety. The possibility of not holding dangerous criminals accountable could potentially embolden some individuals who may possess a tendency towards becoming serial killers.
The safety of individuals and the community at large should be given utmost priority. Efforts must be made to ensure that justice is served, and dangerous criminals are punished as per the law. Failure to do so could lead to a ripple effect of negative consequences in the future. Thus, we must approach the issue of crime with a sense of responsibility and a readiness to take action against those who put innocent lives at risk.
Could this be a perfect storm brewing, or will the advances in technology keep them at bay? Cities must prioritize public safety and take appropriate measures to prevent such eventualities. Through consistent and stringent law enforcement processes, we can ensure that our society remains safe and secure for all individuals.
In today’s day and age, it is unfortunate but true that situations of danger are more common than ever before, whether a serial killer or a common street thug. The unpredictable nature of these situations can leave individuals feeling helpless and vulnerable, especially when help is not readily available. While law enforcement is certainly a critical resource in crises, it is important to remember that they may not be immediately available in a moment of need.
This is where the importance of taking on the role of your own first responder comes into play. By having the knowledge and tools necessary to handle threats, you will be better prepared to take action when you need it the most.
Understandably, some people may be hesitant or uncomfortable with the idea of resorting to violent measures even in situations of self-defense. Fortunately, non-lethal defense tools provide viable solutions for self-defense practices. These tools include items such as pepper spray, stun guns, and personal safety alarms, which offer the ability to temporarily incapacitate an attacker without causing long-lasting harm or drawing attention to the situation. Carrying these tools with you can provide an additional layer of protection and peace of mind, ultimately enabling you to defend yourself if push comes to shove, and shove becomes a fight for your life.
As always, be safe and be prepared.