What Are The Odds Of Being A Serial Killer’s Victim?
Netflix’s new true crime drama “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is the latest in a long list of TV shows that have focused on serial killers.
The topic still seems as popular as ever; “Monster” was watched for 196.2 million hours in its first full week on the site, setting a new record for Netflix – and despite an understandable wave of backlash.
The genre of serial killer, true crime entertainment has been around for decades and isn’t just limited to TV.
Films, books, newspapers, and internet media have also focused on serial killers, their stories, and their victims a great deal.
But why is society so fascinated by serial killers?
The answer to this is we don’t really know.
However, many people suggest it’s because we want to understand why serial killers murder and what drives them to act in a completely inhumane way.
Others say it’s because we want to understand how serial killers get away with murder time and again.
Of course, people also want to know who the victims of serial killers are. And many of us can’t help but wonder if we could be next.
So, what are the odds that you’ll be murdered by a serial killer, and how would they do it? Can you do anything to change your chances?
Read on for all the information you hope you never need.
The Odds Of You Being A Serial Killer’s Victim
Thomas Hargrove, the founder of the Murder Accountability Project and Michael Arntfield, the retired police detective turned author, agree that somewhere around 2% of all US murders are committed by serial killers.
This means there was a rate of approximately 0.156 serial killer homicides per 100,000 in the US during 2020.
This equals a 1 in 645,000 chance of being murdered by a serial killer.
To put this into perspective, during the same year, car crashes resulted in 11.7 deaths per 100,000.
This made your chances of dying in a car crash much higher, approximately 1 in 8,547.
But this risk isn’t spread equally. Some people are more at risk than others, which we’ll explore later in this article.
The Typical Profile Of A Serial Killer
The FBI defines serial murder as “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”
This distinguishes them from mass murderers, who might kill numerous people in one fell swoop.
Recent research highlights that only 54% of murders in the United States are solved, making it extremely difficult to estimate exactly how many serial killers are active on US soil.
However, Thomas Hargrove, the founder of the Murder Accountability Project, has gone on record to state that there could be between 2,000-4,000 serial killers living in the United States alone, with around 50 of these being active at any one time.
With over 329.5 million people living in the States, this means that serial killers make up between 0.0006-0.0012% of the population.
Active serial killers only account for 0.000015%.
So there is only a tiny chance you will ever meet any serial killer, let alone one who might attack you.
But how would you recognize a serial killer if you did meet one?
Unfortunately, the real world isn’t like Netflix. Not all serial killers are lone men who wear wire-framed glasses and it’s important to remember that there is no generic template for a serial killer.
However, there is some research that gives us a bit more information about these killers.
According to Insider, over 90% of serial killers are male, 52% of them are white and 27% of them are in their mid-to-late twenties, but of course this doesn’t mean that they always have all those traits.
In fact, only 12.5% of serial killers are white men in their twenties.
If you compare this to regular murderers, there are some similarities.
For example, men committed seven times more homicides than women in 2020, and the most common age of those committing murder was between 20-29.
What may come as a surprise is that a lot of serial killers actually work together.
A study in 2004 found that 26% of serial killers work in partnership with at least one other person. So, it might not be just one person you have to keep an eye out for.
It’s not just physical appearance which can help us identify serial killers, but also their profession.
Michael Arntfield, a retired police detective and author on serial killers, states in his book “Murder in Plain English” that certain jobs appeal to the killers, including policing, being in the military and driving trucks.
These jobs are attractive to serial killers for two reasons. The first is the ability to move around a lot, which makes it harder for the police to identify and catch them.
The second is the opportunities to strike that they provide.
Police, military, and truckers come into contact with vulnerable populations a lot more than someone in an office job. This gives the killers an increased access to potential victims.
The study by Insider also revealed that out of over 1,000 serial killers, 23.9% of them had served in the military.
A huge number when you realize that only around 8% of the American population are involved with the military.
The 4 Main Types Of Serial Killer And Why They Do It
In 1985, R M Holmes authored a paper in the scholarly journal Federal Probation that depicted the four main types of serial killer, which are still relevant almost 40 years later.
Although there are some shared characteristics – often being charming and charismatic, intelligent, and psychopathic – their motivations differ.
A serial killer’s motivation is likely to be one of four:
- Visionary: Believes that something or someone is telling them to kill e.g. God, demons. Hears voices or sees visions. Usually suffering from psychosis.
- Mission-oriented: Wants to “rid” society of a certain group, e.g. women, Catholics, sex workers.
- Hedonistic: Kills victims for personal pleasure, seeking thrill and enjoyment.
- Power/control: Seeks full control and dominance over victims.
Although useful to have the four ‘types’, it’s important to remember that serial killers each have their own individual motives and reasons.
How Serial Killers Murder Their Victims
Generally, serial killers have average IQ levels. However, like all populations, you get individuals above and below the average.
What’s interesting about IQ levels is how they’re linked to the way serial killers choose to murder their victims.
Serial killers of average intelligence tend to use a gun to kill their victims.
However, the “superior” intelligence killers are more likely to use a bomb or poison, while the lower IQ killers will bludgeon their victims.
TV shows and movies often show gruesome ways people are killed, but the reality is that these complicated murders simply aren’t the norm, even with serial killers.
Most killings are done with a gun, with gunshots causing 43% of deaths.
Strangulation, stabbing and bludgeoning are at 21.7%, 14.8% and 9.2% respectively.
This is very different to regular homicides.
In 2020, the FBI recorded that over 75% of all US homicides were committed with some type of gun.
What’s more, only 0.5% of all murders were committed by asphyxiation, 9% by stabbing and 2% with a blunt object.
By comparing the datasets, it’s clear that although guns are the preferred method for serial killers, there is more appetite for more intimate methods, such as strangulation, than regular murderers.
Who Do Serial Killers Target?
The majority of serial killers have a preferred victim type, and those targeted are nearly always both vulnerable and easy to control.
Women have a slightly higher chance of being murdered by serial killers than men with 51.4% of serial killer victims being women.
This data is wildly different to non-serial killer homicides, where males make up nearly 80% of victims.
Age is also a big factor.
24.4% of serial killer victims are aged 19 or younger, while more than half of all serial killer victims are aged under 30.
The highest risk ages are between 20-29, with 27% of serial killer victims being in that age bracket.
The good news is if you make it to 30, you are at less risk of being targeted. This risk generally decreases with every passing decade.
Race also plays a large part in serial killer victim choice.
While two thirds of serial killer victims are white, Black victims are hugely overrepresented.
Black or African American people account for only 12.4% of all people living in the United States, yet 24% of serial killer victims are Black.
As mentioned, most serial killers target vulnerable people. These are often young people who have high-risk lifestyles, especially sex workers.
From 2009-2019, 43% of serial killer victims in the US were known to be sex workers.
This is incredibly high when you consider that sex workers only make up approximately 0.3% of the US population.
Social psychologist Erich Hickey has since claimed that working in the industry makes you 200 times more likely to be killed by a serial killer.
It is also true that some areas of the country see more serial homicides.
For example, using data collected between 1990 and 2020 World Population Review discovered that the area with the highest rate of serial killer murders was Washington DC, with Alaska coming in second and Louisiana third.
Over this time Hawaii, New Hampshire and North Dakota had the lowest rates of serial homicides.
It is thought that the total number of murders committed by serial killers is now well below what it was during the 1980s, possibly because the number of serial killers is declining.
What’s more, our culture has also changed, people are less likely to hitchhike or to let a child ride a bicycle alone in a park. This means it’s simply more difficult for serial killers to find vulnerable victims.
Serial killers only make up a tiny portion of the population and account for a few hundred deaths per year.
This means your chances of being targeted by a serial killer are incredibly small.
However, these risks are elevated if you are a sex worker, live in a serial killer hotspot like Washington DC and are in your 20s.
So remember, while the risk of being attacked by a serial killer is minimal, it always pays to be vigilant.
Just don’t expect serial killers to look, and act, like they do on TV.
Lead image: Netflix