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Serial Killers

Not All Serial Killers Are White, Male Loners.

The media perpetuate stereotypes.

Public Domain
Serial killer Joel Rifkin
Source: Public Domain

Contrary to popular myth, not all serial killers are white. Serial killers span all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. The racial diversity of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population. There are well documented cases of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American serial killers.

African-Americans make up the largest racial minority group among serial killers, representing approximately 20 percent of the total. Significantly, however, only white, and normally male, serial killers such as Ted Bundy become popular cultural icons.

Although they are not household names like their infamous white counterparts, examples of prolific racial minority serial killers include Carl Eugene Watts, an African-American man from Michigan, known as the “Sunday Morning Slasher,” who murdered at least 17 women in Michigan and Texas; Anthony Edward Sowell, an African-American man known as the “Cleveland Strangler” who kidnapped, raped and murdered 11 women in Ohio; and Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, a Mexican national known as the “Railroad Killer,” who killed as many as 15 men and women in Kentucky, Texas, and Illinois.

The myth that all serial killers are white is related to another commonly held myth that most murders, including serial murders, are interracial in nature—that is, the perpetrator and victim are of different races. The reality is that homicides of all types in the U.S. are generally intraracial in nature.

By a wide margin, most murder victims, including serial murder victims, are from the same race as their killer. In approximately 90 percent of all homicides, the killer and victim are from the same race. This is the reality of race and homicide in the U.S. The popularly held and sometimes politicized notion that most murders are interracial is simply not accurate. It fact, the reality is exactly the opposite of the myth.

The myth that all serial killers are white is routinely fueled and reinforced by the entertainment news media. This situation persists because the major news outlets, particularly television networks such as HLN, are far more likely to provide coverage of homicides and missing person cases involving white victims than incidents involving racial minority victims.

This biased reporting practice is most acute when a white victim is female. Crime news stories that become major media events almost always feature an attractive white female as the victim. Nicole Brown Simpson is the quintessential example of this phenomenon. It is hard to think of a recent, high-profile case that did not follow this pattern.

The highly publicized disappearance of Laci Peterson, a beautiful, young, white woman, who was killed by her philandering husband, Scott Peterson, in 2002 is another classic example of this reporting trend. Also, the disappearance of high school senior Natalee Holloway in 2005 is another crime story that became a global media event because it involved an attractive, young, white, female victim.

The biased news reporting practice of selectively covering missing person cases involving young, white females is known as “missing white woman syndrome.”

Unbalanced reporting by the news media sends a message that white victims, particularly females, are more important and deserve more consideration than racial minority victims. The biased pattern of news reporting holds true for serial murder victims just as it does for solo victims.

Ted Bundy, Joel Rifkin and Gary Ridgway, who killed young, white women, and had tremendous coverage of their crimes by the news media, are powerful examples of this.

As previously explained, white, male serial killers normally target young white women to be their victims. The myth that all serial killers are white is promoted and perpetuated by the news media when they selectively cover serial homicide cases involving young, white female victims, which they almost always do.

Moreover, the myth that all serial killers are white is also fueled by the entertainment media in films like The Silence of the Lambs, which stereotypically depict attractive white female victims and their demented white male killers.

I have written a book to help set the record straight. I offer new insights into the reality of serial murder in my book Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers.

More from Scott A. Bonn Ph.D.
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