The Demographics of Serial Killing

April 26, 2009

American Serial Killer Ted Bundy

American Serial Killer Ted Bundy

Many criminologists—people who study crime—view America as a nation that spawns an abnormal number of serial killers. Serial killers have been defined as people who kill multiple victims, have no material motive (i.e., they do not want money or to possess physical things), and have a “cooling off” period between killings. Sociologists have suggested all sorts of theories to explain the seemingly more common manifestation of the serial killer phenomena in the United States. They include private ownership of firearms, an American culture that romanticizes violence, a patriarchal value system, and a culture that encourages competition to destructive levels.

Some sociologists think the answer is more simple. They point out that the sociological characteristics of America are much different than other countries. America has many large cities that concentrate a huge number of people in relatively small areas. This might provide a wide scope of potential victims for murderers to choose from and allow the murderers to move among people unnoticed. America is also geographically much larger. Several European nations can fit into the area occupied by the United States, giving a wide “hunting range” for killers. Law enforcement resources in the U.S. are also spread thin over many departments. Japan and France combined have fewer police departments than the State of California.

Some sociologists argue that these basic social factors of America, not its values or beliefs, are largely responsible for the serial killer phenomena. What do you think? Do you believe this hypothesis is correct? Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select a discussion topic below and post a response:

1. Which factors do you think are more important in explaining the volume of serial killers in the United States of America: our culture or the more foundational geographic and demographic characteristics of our nation? Why?

2. Regardless of whether you think these factors can explain serial killers’ activity levels, do you think these geographic and demographic characteristics can be used to explain other patterns of behavior in the United States? If so, could you name examples?

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