Whether you’re one of the millions of people who watch Criminal Minds or you prefer your serial killers to be like Dexter, society is obsessed with the idea of serial killers. They feature in tons of TV series, movies and other media, and are among the most reported stories on the news.
But with so much buzz around deranged murderers, you might start to wonder if you could be the next victim. So, what are the odds that you’ll be killed by a serial killer, and how will they do it? Can you do anything to change your chances?
Who are serial killers?
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.
In the US, the highest estimate for active serial killers at any given time is 300 individuals, although that number is probably closer to 50-100. With over 325 million people in the States, that means serial killers make up only 0.0000923% of the population. They are exceedingly rare and account for about 150 deaths each year, compared to over 17,000 killings that happen in a given year in the US.
But some research gives us a bit more information about these killers. While 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 of those traits. In fact, 46% of serial killers are white men, and only 12.5% of serial killers are white men in their twenties.
Now, serial killers tend to have average IQ levels, they are often married, might have children and can hold down jobs. This is what makes them a modern boogeyman – they could be your neighbor or friend.
How do they kill?
What’s interesting about the IQ levels is how they’re linked to the way serial killers choose to murder their victims. Most serial killers are of average intelligence, and tend to use a gun to kill their victims. However, the “superior” intelligence killers are more likely to use a bomb, 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. The vast majority of killings are done with a gun at 43%. Strangulation, stabbing and bludgeoning are at 21.7%, 14.8% and 9.2% respectively.
Who do they kill?
When it comes to victims, you have only a slightly higher chance of being killed as a woman than as a man, with serial killers choosing 51.4% female victims.
Age is a big determinant, with 24.4% of victims being aged 19 or younger. The highest risk age is 20-29, with 27% of serial killing victims in that age bracket. So, if you make it to 30 or older, your chances of being a victim of a serial killer goes down and continues to decrease with every passing decade.
Most victims fall into some specific categories and activities. Serial killers go for vulnerable prey, which is usually young people who have high-risk lifestyles. This can include sex trade workers, drug addicts, and vagrants.
What are the odds you’ll be killed?
Research says that less than 0.01% of murders are serial incidents. In fact, even with a homicide rate of 3.9 per 100,000, you’ve got a 0.00039% chance of being a serial killer’s victim.
The rate of serial killers is also declining. Thanks to advancements in DNA and law enforcement, most killers are found after their second murder, never becoming a prolific serial killer with five or more killings. Our culture has also changed, with people less likely to hitchhike or let a child ride a bicycle alone in a park. It’s simply more difficult for serial killers to find vulnerable victims.
So, your overall chances of being killed by a serial killer are incredibly small, unless you live a high risk lifestyle and are in your 20s. If you stick to fairly safe activities and have reached the stage of feeling over the hill, chances are that you’re safe from a serial killer.