Women account for 70 percent of serial killer victims, FBI reports
By THOMAS HARGROVE, Scripps Howard News Service
1:43 PM, Mar 1, 2011
8:21 AM, Mar 2, 2011
America's serial killers prey on women -- to an extent only
hinted at by Hollywood films and best-selling novels.
According to never-before-released FBI data, women accounted for
70 percent of the 1,398 known victims of serial killers since 1985.
By comparison, women represented only 22 percent of total homicide
The FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), based
in Quantico, Va., released the data at the request of Scripps
Howard News Service. SHNS is conducting an investigation into the
nation's more than 185,000 unsolved homicides committed since
According to the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report, local
police reported that about 33,000 homicides of women remain
FBI agent Mark Hilts, head of the bureau's Behavioral Analysis
Unit No. 2 that profiles serial killers, said "a large number" of
serial killers act with a sexual motive.
"Sex can be a motivation, but it's a motivation in conjunction
with something else -- with anger, with power, with control," Hilts
said. "Most serial killers do derive satisfaction from the act of
killing, and that's what differentiates them" from those who kill
to help commit or conceal another crime.
Crime experts for decades have tried to define serial murder and
to determine its causes and motivations. The Justice Department
currently defines a serial killer simply as someone who kills two
or more people in separate incidents, a definition that ignores the
issue of motive.
The Justice Department for years has estimated that less than 1
percent of all homicides are committed by serial killers, but that
assumption has come under question recently.
Retired FBI agent Mark Safarik, a veteran serial killer hunter,
discounts the official definition of serial murder.
"Serial murder is more related to motive. We use a definition of
two or more, but that's really just for research purposes," said
Safarik, now of Forensic Behavioral Services International, a legal
consultant firm based in Fredericksburg, Va. "For us, there is
almost always some sort of sexual component to the homicide."
The FBI has been compiling victim data for 25 years. They also
released information showing that nearly half of the victims of
known serial homicides were in their 20s and 30s, although people
of every age and from every region of the county have been
"We look at homicides and attempted homicides. We look at sexual
assaults. We look at unidentified human remains cases where
homicide is suspected," said Special Agent Michael Harrigan, who
headed ViCAP from 2007 to 2010 and agreed to release the data.
"We catalog this in a database ... to try to identify serial
killers or serial offenders that transcend jurisdictional
Among states, New York leads in a grim statistic: It has had 137
victims of serial murder since 1985. California has had 128 and
When shown the FBI data, criminologists and veteran homicide
investigators asked why New York leads the nation. Does it lead
because it has more serial killings or because it does a better job
in detecting such killings?
"That surprises me. I thought the numbers would always be higher
in California and some of the Southern states," said retired
veteran New York City homicide detective Augustine "Gus" Papay.
California, which its immense population, ought to lead in every
major crime statistic, Papay said. And he felt Southern states
would be over-represented because of recently documented highway
serial killings by Southern truckers.
Papay was a key participant in the successful hunt for Alejandro
"Alex" Henriquez, convicted in 1992 of murdering a woman and two
girls, including 10-year-old Jessica Guzman.
Papay said serial killers may be drawn to a major metropolitan
area like New York City.
"They think it's easier to get lost in the big city. And think
of all the victims! There are also sorts of different people here
they could target," Papay said. "And maybe they think it will be
harder to get caught here."
Calculated by population, the state of Washington leads the
nation with 1.6 serial homicides per 100,000 people. But that is
almost entirely due to Gary Leon Ridgway, Seattle's so-called
"Green River Killer." He was convicted in 2003 of strangling 48
women and teenage girls, often prostitutes or hitchhikers he picked
up. Washington showed 95 serial killings overall.