Disturbed

Criminal profiling and the deviant mind

Invisible Prey: African American Murder Victims

African American victims butchered and ignored


Few crimes draw more headlines that those of the serial killer. Like clockwork, news programs highlight cases where a sinister predator is hunting and killing. These shows focus on alerting the public to the danger lurking, and often, victim family members are interviewed to demonstrate how their lives have been shattered. The public is asked to be vigilant and stay safe. And by getting this information out, these shows are popular and provide a good service.

More recently, we have seen news shows highlight children who have gone missing, and these shows will focus on one case for a long time. But what is missing from these shows? Have you watched these national programs? Do you notice something? It is most rare that you see ongoing news stories about minority victims. The high profile cases almost always focus on Caucasian victims. While I want to see the media covering such cases, I also want them to give time to minority victims as well. There is a void when it comes to coverage involving minority murder victims. I wrote about this in 2007, hoping that the media would make an effort to equalize reporting. Sadly, I have not seen much improvement. I bet you would be surprised to know that African American girls make up 43% of missing children. It is staggering.

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I bet you also didn't hear of the Rocky Mount murders. Ten women were missing. Since 2005 nine women's bodies turned up near bridges and woods in a small area with a population of around 60,000. Sounds like big national news, right? You would think this would be a case covered daily on the crime shows. Alas, few have heard much about it. Why? The victims have been poor, African American females who fit the profile I created in 2007 of ignored crime victims. President of the local NAACP chapter Andre Knight pointed out that if the victims had been Caucasian, that it would not have taken so many victims before a pattern was recognized. And he is absolutely right. The women had known each other and resided in the same areas. To anyone in law enforcement, this should have raised a giant warning flag. There has been one conviction in a single murder, yet the others remain open. Even with so many dramatic homicides, there has been little in the way of national news coverage.

This is a pattern. It isn't just in Rocky Mount. In the summer of 2006, news programs continually ran the stories about two serial killers operating in the Phoenix Arizona area. Serial shooters were targeting hapless victims who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Baseline rapist turned into a boogeyman who sexually murdered his victims. Two serial killers were murdering at once, and people were caught off guard. Invariably, it was common to hear that this was the first time such a thing had happened. However this was far from true. While the Phoenix cases grabbed big headlines, I quietly worked with police in the Atlanta area where several serial predators were claiming victims. These included murders and rape/murders, but they were serial in nature. That is, more than one serial rapist/killer was killing in the Atlanta area. In one serial case, a man has been charged, and we were pleased to get one of the killers off the streets. But there are still those other cases which remain open. It is unlikely that the general public is aware because the victims were primarily African American.

Likewise, in Chicago in the late 1990's, there were four serial sexual killers hunting in the dangerous South Side. Four unique signatures (patterns of killing) emerged, and police were very forthright about the dangers. One offender, Andre Crawford, used a very simple rouse to acquire his prey: drugs. He would promise down and out females cocaine in exchange for sex. The desperate victims were then lured into abandoned buildings with no one around to hear their screams. Then Crawford would rape and strangle the women. Their bodies were left in the buildings which served as their tombs. In some cases, the killers return to rape the corpses as they decompose. Another offender, Hubert Geralds, seemed to take joy in putting his victims in trash containers. Serial killers enjoy disposing of victims in 'no dumping' areas or in trash piles or trash cans. It is their way of giving the victim, the police, and the general public a big symbolic middle finger.

As heinous as this sounds, chances are that most people in the general public have not heard of these cases.

In St. Louis, there have been several predators in the run down areas of the city. In East St. Louis alone, eight women were slaughtered in a small area within two years in the late 1990's. The areas where the victims were abducted and found were full of crime. Prostitution and drug use were common in the crime scene areas. And the victims were degraded even in death. Typically the victims were stripped, raped, strangled, and then left in public view. In some cases, the women were partially placed in trash bags, a poignant and symbolic staging. In essence, the killer was saying that the victims were garbage. Though several serial predators were apprehended, chances are most people never knew.

At the same time, in New Orleans and New Jersey, female victims turned up dead in dangerous areas. In each city, the patterns were unique, and it was clear that serial killers were roaming the streets. Because there were so many homicide victims, task forces were formed, but many cases remain unsolved. It was estimated that there were six serial murderers in the New Orleans area in the late 1990's. On the plus side, police in the New Orleans area have been successful in apprehending such offenders, but after Hurricane Katrina, they are stretched thin. The murder rate is extremely high.

With such astounding situations, one would expect that news shows would have covered these ad nauseum. But even though these crimes were those of the serial killers, and they occurred in large cities, the average person never heard of them. Whereas the Caylee Anthony case, Natalie Holloway and other cases grabbed the national spotlight, these serial cases in Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere were seemingly ignored.

Why?

Victimology can help answer that question. These victims were mostly poor and African American. In each locale, female victims were quietly snuffed out, and though law enforcement worked diligently to do its part, very often, there just was never the interest in the victims that one sees in other cases continually run on every news program.

One day I was talking with an African American gentleman on my way to be on a news program. Upon learning what I do for a living, he asked why the national news showed little interest in cases where African American females were killed. He spoke of endless programs featuring the death of a lone Caucasian female, but he said that he could not remember any such shows dedicated to a lone African American female (let alone, several victims). I immediately thought about the cases around the country, and I tried to think of shows that focused on them as much as they had centered on Caucasian victims. They just were not there. Most people had no idea that several serial killers had preyed at one time on African American women in Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and New Jersey. The women were seemingly invisible. This low profile actually aids the killers as they do not fear high levels of scrutiny. In essence, an alert public can help a criminal investigation.

With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of the characteristics of the women who died in the aforementioned cities. First, the majority of African American victims in these cases were of a lower socioeconomic status. These victims struggle to make ends meet. Often they lived in high crime areas, and many had low education levels. Several had been trying to better their lives, whether it is through more education or working long hours. Others had fallen into prostitution and drug use. This made them extremely vulnerable. In high crime areas, social networks are loose, and it is more likely that predators can move in and out of these areas undetected. Such areas are very unstable, and those who are permanent residents prefer to stay away from law enforcement for fear of criminal retribution. In other words, talking to police can get a person killed. So anonymity is the rule. This reinforces the safety for the offenders. They do not fear witnesses.

Sometimes when the victim bodies are found, it takes a long time to even identify them due to this anonymity. Then, there is the matter is linking crimes together. Signature behaviors and physical evidence can link crimes. When this occurs, usually there is some type of release to the media that a serial predator is working in an area. Local papers and sometimes television will mention the stories. National papers have an article or two. Sometimes though, the crimes get no mention. And intense national coverage just does not happen.

The women tended to fall into an age range of 16-49. It was also common for the women to have children. Typically, they had more than one child, and the children tended to be under 10 at the time of the murders. When the actual homicides took place, the children were usually with other family members. An older female was often a caretaker. There were many instances where the women had lost custody of their children.

Next, the victims were typically single or estranged from a spouse. The relationships were rocky and on again/off again. They came from abusive backgrounds, and often suffered domestic abuse when they were in relationships. Interestingly, they were said to give as well as they got, meaning they were not cowards. They knew how to fight in life. They had strong personalities, and were free spirits. Education presented challenges for the victims as they had addictions that tended to get them into trouble, such as drinking. So school work suffered, and in many cases, the women simply dropped out. This does not mean that they lacked intelligence. In fact, the opposite is true. These women were savvy and could read people quite well. Life simply overwhelmed them.

Almost all did not own cars, and they resided in apartments versus houses. The apartments were small, and they usually shared their space with their children and/or another person. They had modest furnishings. At the same time, the women tried to keep up their appearances, wearing hair extensions and having nails done. However, finances were difficult. Many did not have steady work. Plus, few had job skills. Of those who held jobs, their work histories were sporadic, with layoffs being problematic. Many turned to prostitution as a way to cope. It was common for all of the women to express their desire to better themselves. Circumstances of poverty and bad relationships and/or drug use stood in the way. Thus, the women were very jaded and sometimes fatalistic. Some predicted their own deaths because of their dangerous life styles or place of residence.

Most of the attacks took place outdoors. Victims were outside and usually walking by themselves in bad areas. Offenders ambushed or conned the victims. The con job usually involved the killer offering drugs or money to the victims. Once the victims' guards were down, the offender maneuvered the women into isolated locations. When the victims were vulnerable, the attacks ensued. All types of murder methods were used including beating, stabbing, strangling, and shooting. And all of the victims certainly suffered immense terror.

After the murders took place, the killers either left them in isolated areas or put them in with the trash. It usually took several victims for a pattern to be established. After all, one dead poor African American victim does not register as high profile. However, after the linking was done, police put full resources into the investigations; it was not always reported by media that serial killers were hunting. After a significant amount of time, there truly was not an intense media focus on these homicides. I have never seen a detective that does not put his/her all into an investigation. I know there are some who don't care. The ones I have worked with did care. These officers wanted justice no matter who the victim.

But cases such as these need more media focus. Even though there is not time to highlight every case, surely there is some time to devote every once in a while. As I continually point out, ALL VICTIMS MATTER. No one gets to commit serial murder and sexual homicide and be excused for it.

I wrote this article because of the kind gentleman who simply asked the question of why no one seemed to be focusing on these women at a national level. Hopefully people will take more of an interest in these types of homicides, and thus, media will spotlight them when they occur. With pressure, offenders tend to slip up, and the public is more likely to see something that can be reported. Tips are vital in these investigations. A spotlight on these crimes gives victims a fighting chance. I beg the media to give these victims a voice.

Selected Bibliography

Belluck, Pam. (July 26, 1999). "Decrepit Buildings Shield Crimes of a Serial Killer." New York Times. NY, NY.

Belluck, Pam (July 26, 1999). "Chicago Neighborhood Fears Killer In Midst.". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4196/is_19990726/ai_n...

Berry, W.K. (March 3, 1994). "Pomona NAACP criticizes police department: serial murder case." Precinct Reporter. California.
CNN. (January 3, 2007) "Jury: Death for '60 Freeway Slayer.' Law Center. http://www.cnn.com/2007/LAW/01/03/freeway.killer.ap/index.html (accessed January 5, 2007).

Denver Post. (May 3, 1996). "Addict admits killing 12 women." Associated Press. Denver, CO.

Gambit Weekly, Commentary. (June 3, 2003). "Anatomy of an Investigation." http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2003-06-03/commentary.html (accessed January 2, 2007).

Jameson, Tonya. (July 9, 2003). "Black serial killers and their victims often ignored by media." Knight Ridder Newspapers. Charlotte, N.C.

LiveJournal, (November 2, 2011). "CNN Drops Story of Ten Dead/Missing Black Women For One White girl,ยด http://ontd-political.livejournal.com/4504430.html

Pelisek, Christine. (June 7, 2006). "The Sex Murder Files: A serial killer may be stalking L.A. prostitutes." L.A. Weekly.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (July 20, 1999). "Serial killer stalks Chicago women." Seattle, WA.

Sieber, Samantha. (April 3, 2003). "Louisiana victims' relatives petition for serial killer investigation funding." University Wire.

Star Tribune (May 2, 1996). "Man charged in 8 slayings wanted in sex crime." http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-62628983.html (accessed January 1, 2007). Minneapolis, MN.

Westfieldt, Amy. (April 2, 1998). "Police fear serial killer at work in northern New Jersey." Associated Press. New Jersey.

WRAL.COM, (September 2011). "Probe continues in other Rocky Mount deaths," http://www.wral.com/news/news_briefs/story/10387061/

 

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., is a criminal profiler and expert on serial crimes.

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