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What Is The Serial Killer Capital of the U.S.?

According to statistics, it may be New York.

Public Domain
New York state map
Source: Public Domain

The FBI periodically issues reports on data related to serial killers and their victims. This data includes the gender and race of the perpetrators and the geographic location of the murders. Concerning the geographic concentration of serial homicide by state, the FBI revealed that New York, California, and Florida had the most serial killer victims between 1985 and 2010.

More specifically, New York led the nation with 137 victims of serial murder. It was followed by California with 128 and Florida with 112 during the same period. Based on the rate of serial crime victims, the state of Washington led the nation with 1.6 serial homicides per 100,000 residents between 1985 and 2010.

The finding for the state of Washington is an aberration, however, because it is due in large part to Gary Ridgway, Seattle's Green River Killer, who was convicted in 2003 of strangling 48 women and teenage girls. The state of Washington had a total of 95 serial killings between 1985 and 2010, so Ridgway alone accounted for more than 50% of all the victims.

From my perspective as a criminologist, it is perfectly understandable that the state of New York leads the nation in the total number of serial killer victims. This conclusion is not shared universally among criminal justice professionals, however. A highly regarded, retired New York City homicide detective and serial killer expert expressed surprise by the FBI data that put New York in first place.

As reported by Thomas Hargrove of the Scripps Howard News Service, the detective said, “I thought the numbers would always be higher in California and some of the southern states. California, with its immense population, should lead the country in every major crime statistic” (1).

This detective also expected that some of the southern states would be over-represented in the totals due to a rash of serial killings perpetrated by truckers along southern highways in recent years. When asked to speculate on why the state of New York led the nation in the number of victims, he said that serial killers may be drawn to a metropolitan area like New York City due to massive size.

He reasoned, "They think it's easier to get lost in the big city and just think of all the victims! There are all sorts of different people they could target and maybe they think it is harder to get caught here, too."

I agree with his assessment that some serial killers are attracted to the giant public stage of New York City and its vast pool of potential human targets. The decision of a serial killer to hunt and kill in New York can also be seen as both pragmatic and smart. New York City offers anonymity to a serial killer due to its immense size and population density that enable a criminal to easily blend into the crowds and disappear.

In a classic example of this, David Berkowitz hid effectively in plain sight in his working-class Yonkers, New York, neighborhood during his reign of terror in 1976 and 1977. Throughout his murderous rampage and until his capture, he also basked in the New York media spotlight as the unknown Son of Sam serial killer.

The scope and magnitude of New York City make it an attractive hunting ground for a serial killer who desires public recognition for his crimes but also seeks to travel anonymously and hide out in a vast urban jungle.

The retired NYPD detective is incorrect, however, when he says that the state of California should lead the nation in number of serial killer victims. On the contrary, the odds greatly favor the state of New York in this regard. The Empire State contains much of the "New York metropolitan area," also known as the "Tri-State area," which is the largest metro area in the U.S.

The Tri-state area boasts a population of 18,897,109 according to the 2010 census. The tremendous population density of the New York metropolitan area greatly increases the likelihood that a serial killer will strike there instead of a less densely populated area. This conclusion is based on the statistical laws of probability. The actual geographic distribution of serial homicide victims in the U.S. confirms the accuracy of this prediction.

In fact, the data reveal that the New York metropolitan area has been somewhat of a Mecca for serial killers in recent years. In addition to David Berkowitz, the New York area has also been home to such notorious and prolific serial killers as Joel Rifkin and Robert Shulman.

As of the publication date of this article, an unknown serial killer has claimed at least ten victims in the Gilgo Beach area of Long Island, New York, dating back to 2003. The bodies of his most recent victims were discovered in 2011.

It is possible that the so-called Long Island serial killer may actually be a current or former Manhattan resident. This is suggested by a series of taunting telephone calls he made to the sister of one of his victims, Melissa Bartelemy, following her disappearance in 2009.

The sadistic killer used Melissa’s own cellular phone on seven different occasions to torment her sister by relating the horrible things he had done to Melissa. The calls were traced to the Times Square area of Manhattan. The whereabouts and identity of the Long Island serial killer remain unknown.


Hargrove, T. 2011. Women account for 70 percent of serial killer victims, FBI reports. KSHB-TV online, March 1. Retrieved…