The Golden Age of serial killers—the 1970s and ‘80s—is over. According to National Institute of Justice, the number of serial killers is down 85% in the past 30 years. Reasons abound, including the introduction of DNA and criminal profiling since the 1960s, Add in longer prison sentences (and less parole), a proliferation of security cameras, and less risky behaviors like hitchhiking in our Stranger Danger era. Very simply, there have been fewer serial killers lurking in the shadows, and fewer easy targets.
Um, that’s the good news.
And here’s the bad news, serial killings might be down, but fewer are being solved. According to the FBI, cops were clearing 91% of all serial killings (although sometimes it took some time). By 2017—the last years of available stats—only 61.6% are being closed.
That means nearly 40% of serial killings go unsolved. In other words, as the Atlantic magazine put it in an upcoming October article, damn near half of serial murderers are getting away with murder.
Even if your chances of crossing paths with a serial killer are infinitesimal, that should scare you. The Murder Accountability Project, which tracks such things, estimates that 2% of all American murders are serial crimes. That’s about 2,100 serial killers roaming around. Some, like esteemed forensic psychologist Richard Walter, put the number more like 4,000.
So why are these nasty killers never arrested? The Atlantic article posits several possibilities that might be working in a perfect storm: Serial killers are getting smarter by copying successful colleagues, law enforcement has fewer resources and fewer experienced murder detectives, killers have more ability to move around, and we are increasingly isolatied from the world—mostly because of technology—which makes for more lone victims in places where they mightn’t be found quickly—their own basements, so to speak.
Oh, and you might still think twice about hitchhiking or turning to truck-stop prostitution: from the mid-2000s to around 2016, the FBI has identified 750 serial-killing victims along highways, all murdered by an estimated 450 different UnSubs.
“If there is such a thing as an ideal profession for a serial killer, it may well be as a long-haul truck driver,” says the FBI.
Bestselling crime writer Ron Franscell is the author of “Alice & Gerald, A Homicidal Love Story.” It details the murderous marriage of a couple who eventually became long-haul truckers.
Cover photo: Lacie Slezak.