How many unsolved homicides are due to serial killers?
By THOMAS HARGROVE, Scripps Howard News Service
8:12 AM, Mar 2, 2011
8:16 AM, Mar 2, 2011
Just how common is serial murder in America?
"Serial murder is a relatively rare event, estimated to comprise
less than 1 percent of all murders committed in any given year,"
supervisors at the FBI's famed Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded
in their published summary of a 2005 symposium the bureau sponsored
in San Antonio, Texas.
That little-known but historically important gathering attracted
135 veteran homicide investigators, scholars and government crime
The group reached an important agreement that serial murder
should be defined as "the unlawful killing of two or more victims
by the same offender in separate events." Until then, there was no
consensus on how many deaths were required for a series of
homicides to qualify.
Several participants at that meeting said the broad definition
-- which they believe certainly encompasses more that 1 percent of
all homicides -- was adopted out of concern that serial killings
are often overlooked by police.
"We underestimate the prevalence of serial murder," concluded
Jack Levin, co-director of Northeastern University's Brudnick
Center on Violence and Conflict and a national expert on serial
killing. "It is hard for police to admit they have a serial killer
on the loose since it terrifies the public. After all, serial
killers are the most successful kind of killer. They frequently
stay on the loose for months, years or even decades."
The FBI reports it has 1,398 cases of known serial homicides
among the more than 60,000 homicides reported since 1985 to its
Violent Crime Apprehension Program in Quantico, Va. That figure
represents more than 2 percent of the homicides on file with the
Veteran FBI agents who've participated in serial killer
investigations agree there are many unsolved - and even undetected
- serial killings among the nation's growing pile of cold-case
"We would be fooling ourselves to think that we've been able to
identify every serial killer," said Bill Hagmaier, former chief of
the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. "We
have to attribute a lot of the unsolved cases to successful
predatory killers, some of whom are proficient serial killers.
That's simply the way it is."
And there's agreement that even the official definition of
serial killing is inadequate.
"You can have a contract killer who's killed five or six people
or a gang enforcer, but those for us are not really serial murders.
They do fit the definition. But they are motivated by devotion to a
gang of love of money," said retired FBI profiler Mark Safarik.
"But we are talking about guys who are murdering people, mostly
women, over long periods of time. There is a sexual piece to these
crimes. That makes them different animals to guys who belong to a
gang or who are involved in drug-related killings."
"The big question is how many serial murderers are active at any
one time?" Safarik said. "It depends on who you ask. My best guess
is that there are up to two dozen offenders who are active