It has never been easier to be an undetected serial killer in the United States.
That’s the opinion of two experts in the field of collecting murder data in America. And both men say that as you read this, there are thousands of active serial killers roaming the United States. Some operate in big cities; others prefer the wide-open spaces of rural America.
Here’s the most frightening part: Since only about 60 percent of murders are solved these days, about 40 percent of the time, murderers will get away with it. If the uncaught are serial killers — those who have committed two or more separate murders, often with a sadistic sexual component — they will very likely murder again.
The FBI maintains that serial killers account for fewer than 1 percent of all murders, but that assertion has been challenged by experts at the Murder Accountability Project. MAP’s founder, Thomas Hargrove, and director, Michael Arntfield, the aforementioned experts in the field of murder data, believe that savvy serial killers are responsible for a considerable number of those unsolved killings.
Hargrove and Arntfield maintain that government murder statistics are sorely out of whack with reality, in large part because thousands of murders, specifically those of indigenous women and girls, have gone uncounted. MAP has now sued the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies for failing to keep an accurate count, as required by a 1988 law. They offer as evidence their carefully maintained database, the largest in the nation.
“There are more than 222,000 unsolved murders since 1980,” Hargrove said. “I’ll say almost every major American city has multiple serial killers and multiple uncaught serial killers.” He pegs the current number of active serial killers in the United States at more than 2,000.
Arntfield, a former police detective and author of 12 books, thinks the number is much higher — between 3,000 and 4,000. He attributes the high percentage of unsolved murders to several things: the dissolution of communities where people look out for one another; less experienced police detectives being assigned to homicide cases; smarter killers who learned from television how to fool cops by staging scenes or planting meaningless evidence; and occupations such as long-distance truckers that make detecting serial killers next to impossible.
“The (FBI’s) Highway Serial Killings Initiative has about 400 to 450 offender profiles of unidentified subjects in its database alone that are involved in the trucking industry,” Arntfield said.
Those drivers can cover the entire interstate system in the United States, frequently traveling through isolated areas and into Canada. They might pick up a stranger in one state, and when the unidentified body is found several states away, police have few clues to follow. Other top occupations of known serial killers, Arntfield writes in his book “Murder in Plain English,” include police officers, military personnel, forestry workers, hotel porters and warehouse managers.
And in case you wondered, a majority of serial killers (52 percent) are white men. Their favorite weapon, according to Arntfield, is a gun (42 percent), but some use poison, and a few prefer an axe.
It is important to note that none of Arntfield’s findings pertained to Samuel Little, 79, now identified by the FBI as the most prolific serial killer in American history. Little is a black man. He worked as a boxer and an ambulance attendant. He said he strangled women to death for the sexual pleasure of it. He has confessed to murdering 93 women over four decades beginning in 1970. The FBI believes that all his confessions are credible.
A sad sidebar to all of these statistics: A majority of serial killer victims are women. Many come from hard-knock backgrounds. Some are prostitutes. Many are addicted to drugs. None of that means that their murders should be ignored. And it doesn’t mean federal agencies should fail to include them in the official murder tally.
— Diane Dimond is the author of three books, including Be Careful Who You Love Inside the Michael Jackson Case, which is now updated with new chapters and is available as an audiobook. Contact her at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.