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Diane Dimond
21 Nov 2015
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Serial Killers -- How Many Are There?


It was a small but horrifying item in the Los Angeles Times. "Police are asking for the public's help in identifying what they call a 'serious, dangerous serial killer operating in Orange County. Police believe one person is responsible for stabbing three middle-aged homeless men. He is (considered) extremely dangerous to the public."

Another serial killer, I thought. And then the question: How many serial killers are out there in America?

John Douglas, a former chief of the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit and author of "Mind Hunter," says, "A very conservative estimate is that there are between 35 and 50 active serial killers in the United States" at any given time. Often, Douglas told me, they will, "kill two to three victims and then have a 'cooling-off' period between kills." That period can be days and in some cases (such as the BTK Strangler, Dennis Rader, convicted of killing 10 people from 1974 to 1991) even years."

But others who study serial killers (defined as someone who kills three or more people) think there are many more of these demented predators out there than the FBI admits to — maybe as many as a hundred of them actively operating right now.

Why don't we know the exact figure? Because serial killers are a secretive and often nomadic bunch.

Right before his execution in January 1989, the widely traveled Ted Bundy, described as a charismatic killer, admitted to 30 murders across half a dozen states — from Washington to Florida.

Andrew Cunanan killed at least five people during his wanderings through Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida, including fashion designer Gianni Versace in Miami.

The FBI knows death travels, and five years ago it set up the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. The bureau reveals it has "a matrix of more than 600 victims and potential suspects in excess of 275." Since the bodies were found off major highways, top suspects are long-haul truckers who may pick up prey in one state and dump the body several states away.

I know this is disturbing to read, and you may wonder: "Why should I care? I'm not going to hitchhike at a truck stop!"

Well, realize lots of serial killers stay close to home, and their victims are random. The aforementioned Rader found all his victims in Kansas not far from the Wichita home he shared with his wife and two kids. Rader, the president of his local church, knocked on his victim's doors, and they simply let him in.

John Wayne Gacy met many of his 33 victims (all young men and boys) at charity events where he appeared dressed a clown.

After luring them to his house and murdering them, he stuffed them under his Cook County, Ill., home.

Gary Leon Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer, was convicted of strangling 49 random women he met in Washington. He confessed to killing 71, but authorities believe the number of victims could be over 90.

Jeffrey Dahmer of Milwaukee admitted to killing and cannibalizing 17 young men and boys before he was arrested. Dahmer's mother, Joyce, once told me her son wished doctors would come study him in prison to help figure out what drove him to do it.

We who write about crime are told that law enforcement nationwide is doing a better job of communicating with each other about suspected serial killers. Indeed, the item I read about the homeless murders was a milestone. In the past, detectives were loath to tell the public about a serial killer on the loose for fear of spooking people. Now, they've come to realize that knowledge is power, and citizens' information can be a huge help in solving crimes.

Hardly a state in the union hasn't had a serial killer. California, Texas and Florida seem to have more than their fair share. And mass graves have been found all around the country. Two examples: The 11 bodies of young women and an infant found on the isolated West Mesa outside Albuquerque, and an eerily similar case thousands of miles away in Long Island, N.Y., where authorities unearthed 10 bodies — eight women and a toddler, along with a man dressed in women's clothes.

These are among the serial killer dumping grounds that have been found. Many others may go undetected forever.

The best thing we can do is be vigilant. Know that many victims of serial killers put themselves in harm's way. Most are women who have some contact with the sex trade or illegal drug underworld — and if they have children, they are in grave danger, too.

Dr. Maurice Godwin has studied serial killers for years, and one in-depth analysis of 107 of them revealed important information. Godwin found 55 percent of serial killers began having trouble in childhood and had criminal juvenile records. Forty-five percent had been convicted for a previous sex crime.

As with so many criminals, it goes back to their early formative years, and the best lesson we can learn is that when we find a troubled child, we best help them. Failure to do so could result in another serial killer walking among us.

Diane Dimond's book, "Cirque Du Salahi — Be Careful Who You Trust," can be ordered at Visit Diane Dimond's official website at for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Your article is biased and skewed to portray an unnecessary level of fear for nothing more than to do it.
I guess the assumption is no one knows serial killers and therefore will not question your loose statements.
Ridgeway killed Prostitutes only...
Wayne Gacy whom was siad to have killed 33 but later found out 5 of those whom he was supposed to have killed were actually alive with one being discovered in Montana jsut in 2013, chose his targets NOT from charity events. He killed 1 he met in that manner. He targeted chicken Hawks primarily. Straight men whom did gay prostitution....of the 26 they discovered 21 were Chicken Hawks...unless you wish to contend that he met many straight men, doing gay prostitution at children's parties...which was the primary venue for his clown outfit, not charity event.s
Dhalmer picked outcast,loner, poor children. Again, not random kids he may have seen waltzing through the local mall of America.
I understand the need to push a factor of fear into a story but come is either your ignorance,flippant view or your need to make evil have a much broader face that allowed you to pen what you did.
The only one in your list that would be potentially accurate was Dennis Raider. He just fixated on a person out of the blue with no apparent motivation. Now, understanding how a person's mind works, that does not make sense. The issue is he does not know why and no one has bothered to figure out why but you can bet there was a similarity to most of his victims that would allow people to ensure they were not in that type of group.
Common sense and reasonable levels of caution will serve most people.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Hardy
Fri May 23, 2014 5:01 PM
Randy Kraft is suspected of 65- the score card killer, there was 3-4 serial killers in 70 in calif on the freeways at the same time killing young men
Comment: #2
Posted by: Margs
Tue Jul 8, 2014 1:07 AM
I think Ms.Dimand has revealed a real bad fact.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Henry Von Fricken
Wed Sep 2, 2015 12:13 PM
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