Serial Killer Myth #6: They Are All White.

There are serial killers of every race and ethnicity.

Posted Dec 22, 2014

Contrary to popular mythology, 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 comprise 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 culture icons.

Although they are not household names like their infamous white counterparts, examples of prolific racial minority serial killers are Coral Eugene Watts, a black man from Michigan, known as the “Sunday Morning Slasher,” who murdered at least seventeen women in Michigan and Texas, Anthony Edward Sowell, a black man known as the “Cleveland Strangler” who kidnapped, raped and murdered eleven women in Ohio; and Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, a Mexican national known as the “Railroad Killer,” who killed as many as fifteen 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 inter-racial in nature—that is, the perpetrator and victim are from different races. The reality is that homicides of all types in the U.S. are generally intra-racial 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 inter-racial is simply not accurate. It fact, 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 a 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” (MWWS).

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.

The news media are far more likely to cover serial homicide cases involving white, female victims than serial murder cases involving racial minority victims. Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway, who both killed young, white women and had tremendous coverage of their crimes by the news media, provide 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. 

Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology and a best-selling author . He is available for consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website