Serial Killers by State – FBI Stats – How Many Live Near You?

How many serial killers live near you?An interesting post by James L’Etoile got me thinking about the serial killers in my area. So, like I often do, I researched the subject. It’s not surprising that the U.S. has more serial killers than any other country. In 2016, active serial killers traveled in the United States, Thailand, Kenya, Canada, Italy, Germany, Columbia, Costa Rica, Russia, Turkey, the U.K., India, and China.  In the United States, suspected serial killers were arrested in New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, and Alaska, where a cab driver contacted police about a passenger who refused to pay his fare, and was later linked to several murders along a bike path. Phoenix, Arizona had a serial shooter who remains at large, and I’m sure you all remember the media coverage surrounding the Long Island serial killer(s).

Throughout this post I’ve added serial killers’ quotes that are extremely telling. Be sure to read a few. Some will chill you to the bone when you consider they’re talking about murder the way you and I make dinner plans.

Who is most at risk?

It may surprise you to learn male and female victims are essentially split down the middle, with a slight lean toward women.

As far as race is concerned, two-thirds of serial killers’ victims were white and African-Americans accounted for almost a quarter of all victims.

In general, serial killers prefer younger victims. Your odds of being murdered by a serial killer dramatically decreases after the age of 30.

In 2016, the majority of victims appeared to be women, but the demographics varied widely — homeless men, adults meandering along a bike path, prostitutes, children, hospital patients, kidnapped women.

Motives also varied. Some worked as nurses who killed the patients who annoyed them, or because they wanted to play hero and “save them.” Some serial killers murdered to avenge a parent’s death, or they killed the homeless and prostitutes as a way to clean up the “dregs of society.” Their words, not mine.

Not surprisingly, about half the serial killers were sexual predators. Although, technically, sexual sadists are not always driven by sexual desire. More often, the rape is about power and sometimes, humiliation.

Which states had the most active serial killers?

Let’s take a look at the top 10, according to the FBI.

Oklahoma

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 5.86
Total no. of serial killings: 174

Oklahoma appears to be rife with serial killers. Since the turn of the 20th century, 174 serial murders have taken place there. Compared to the state’s population, serial killings occurred more frequently in Oklahoma than in all but nine other states. During the 1980’s, the FBI documented 48 serial killings. We can’t count Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City because, technically, he wasn’t a serial killer.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Utah

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 6.01How many serial killers live near you?
Total no. of serial killings: 78

Ted Bundy lived in the state of Utah from 1974-1975, and confessed to killing 8 women during that time, though authorities believe that number is closer to 11-14 out of the 18 serial killers’ victims in the 1970’s. Especially if you count the three women whose bodies were too decomposed for forensic analysis.

In the 1980’s, that number rose to 31. Total body count for Utah is 78.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Texas

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 6.11
Total no. of serial killings: 793 

Since the 1900’s, nearly 800 serial killer murders took place in Texas, the highest body count after California. Perhaps it’s the larger populations that lure serial killers to these states. Although, Texas also executes its serial killers. You’d think that’d be a deterrent, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Robert Ben Rhoades aka The Truck Stop Killer called Houston home. He killed 50 during his long haul trucking days, carting victims all over the U.S., torturing them in his cab for so many highway miles their hair was noticeably longer by the time he dumped their bodies. Suspected of attempted murder in 1980 in Houston, and killing as many as 3 per month in the years prior, his first confirmed kill was in January 1990.

There’s a great quote by the Dallas Observer about Genene Jones, an especially nasty female serial killer: “If Coral Watts beat the system, then Jones is about to put handcuffs on it and make it her bitch.”

Why? Because in less than 2 years, this psychotic pediatric nurse — who injected 46 babies and toddlers with succinylcholine!!! — walked free after serving a fraction of her 99 year prison sentence.

Then we had the Candy Man, privately known as Dean Corll, who killed upwards of 29 boys, mostly teenagers he raped and killed in Houston in the early 1970’s. After his discharge from the Army, he went to work in his family’s candy business, which sat across the street from the elementary school. In 1973, he reaped what he sowed when two young men — men who’d helped him lure the boys over — murdered him.

Most active decade: 1990’s.

Louisiana

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 7.35 How many serial killers live near you?
Total no. of serial killings: 276

We can’t discuss Louisiana without mentioning Derrick Todd Lee aka the Baton Rouge Serial Killer. From 1998-2003, Derrick Todd Lee murdered 5 women in their homes, 2 others he abducted from their homes and dumped their bodies in the swamp. DNA tied Lee to all 7 murders. There’s something inherently creepy about a serial killer targeting you in the privacy of your own home. Incidentally, at least three of the women lived on the same street. Imagine?

Serial killers in Louisiana have either shot and/or strangled at least 149 victims since 1900. Between 1990 and 2010, 25 Louisiana residents were murdered by serial killers they met at a bar.

Most active decade for serial killings: 2000’s

Oregon

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 7.36
Total no. of serial killings: 162

In the late 1980’s, Dayton Leroy Rogers aka the Molalla Forest Killer stabbed 7 women in Oregon. After adjusting for population, Oregon has the 6th greatest frequency of serial murders in the country. Across the nation, serial killers have used firearms to kill a significantly larger number of victims than any other murder method. In Oregon, however, serial killers prefer to strangle their victims to death. Since 1900, serial killers have strangled 52 Oregon residents.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Washington

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 7.44
Total no. of serial killings: 277

We can’t talk about Washington without mentioning the Green River Killer. Gary Ridgeway worked as a truck painter; he also frequented church and Bible studies. At night, however, the monster inside murdered at least 48 people, mostly women, over a 20-year period in the Seattle area. Officials believe that number is much higher (closer to 100), but he only confessed to 48.

Robert Yates, a decorated U.S. Army National Guard helicopter pilot, father of 5, and active community member, murdered at least 13 prostitutes in the Washington area during the 1990’s.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s (likely due to Gary Ridgeway)

California

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 7.81
Total no. of serial killings: 1507

As you’ve probably guessed by now, across the United States serial killers’ reign of terror peaked during the 1980’s. Of the 2,670 total serial murders that decade, roughly one-fifth took place in California. Notorious serial killers like the Zodiac Killer bragged to the media and police about 37 murders, but if you include a past Murder Blog guest’s theory of the Zodiac’s identity, that number is much higher.

On a summer night in 1969, Charles Manson and his band of followers entered a Benedict Canyon mansion and murdered 5 people. Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker went on a month-long rampage of rape and murder that spread fear throughout Southern California. In most of the cases, he entered the homes in the early morning hours through unlocked doors and windows. Some of the victims he strangled, others he sliced their throat, and most he fatally shot, as well. Police found spray-painted pentagrams on the walls in many of the homes.

In California, serial killers’ MOs tended to vary too, from poisoning to suffocation to shootings to strangulation. Since 1900, serial killers murdered 552 Californians by gunshot and 334 from strangulation.

 “Between 1976 and 1986, the violent and elusive individual known as the East Area Rapist, and later as the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer, committed 12 homicides, 45 rapes, and more than 120 residential burglaries in multiple California communities. His victims ranged in age from 13 to 41 and included women home alone, women at home with their children, and husbands and wives.” ~ quoted from the FBI website.

In June, 2016, the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. This video goes into detail about the crimes. Detectives have DNA from multiple crime scenes that can positively link — or eliminate — suspects. To my knowledge, the East Area Rapist remains at large. He’d be 65-70 years old now. Take a few minutes to watch. Who knows? You might score 50 grand.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Florida

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 9.92
Total no. of serial killings: 778

Since 1900, the FBI has documented 778 victims of serial killers. This data would assume Florida is not exactly safe, however, it might depend on where in the state you live. Overall, it certainly seems better than California.

In late 1990, Daniel Howard Rolling aka the Gainesville Ripper murdered and mutilated 5 women in their apartments on the southwest campus of Florida University, raping and stabbing the young women before posing their corpses in sexually suggestive positions. As the days rolled by, his MO evolved to cutting off the nipples of a young woman and even severing one of the victim’s head. The skull he positioned on a shelf facing the rest of the body to suggest the victim was staring at her own corpse.

In the weeks before his execution he confessed to 3 more brutal unsolved slayings that took place in 1989, Shreveport, Louisiana.How many serial killers live near you?

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Nevada

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 12.19
Total no. of serial killings: 98

The 20th century peaked in the late 1980’s with a combined total of 80 victims of serial killers. Not surprisingly, the increase coincided with the boon of gambling in Las Vegas. Between 1970 and 2000, only 8 of the victims worked as prostitutes. During 2003, however, an alarming number of prostitutes went missing. Similar in appearance — blonde hair, brown eyes, about 5’5”, same approximate weight, went missing around the same time frame, their plastic-wrapped body parts located throughout the country weeks, sometimes months, later — and 3 out of 8 shared the middle name “Marie.” It wasn’t until Neal Falls was shot to death by a prostitute in West Virginia that the murders finally stopped. He, of course, was the one responsible for the killings.

The serial murder rate is high in Nevada. Violent crime in general is common there. In fact, with roughly 636 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 residents, Nevada has the second highest violent crime rate in the country. Can you guess the first?

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

Alaska

Adjusted number of serial killings per 1 million: 15.65
Total no. of serial killings: 51

The highest number of serial killings per capita goes to Alaska. As recent as 2007, the state remained gripped in fear as Joshua Wade traveled through Alaska, leaving body after body in his wake. Arrested for killing 5 men and women between 2000-2007 — the true number reaches into the dozens — the jury acquitted him due to lack of evidence and the prosecution’s failure to prove their case. Wade walked away a free man.

You’d think a close call like that would be enough of a deterrent for him not to re-offend, but anyone who studies serial killers can tell you it’s not that black-and-white.

Karma didn’t bite back till Wade crept into an empty home, or so he believed, where he intended to rob the homeowner. When the female resident emerged from the bedroom, he abducted her and drove north to Wasilla, where he killed her. Authorities suspected him from the start. The choice to murder this particular woman was his ultimate undoing. Wade became a fugitive until his capture weeks later after a brief hostage situation. Today, he remains incarcerated in federal prison.

Perhaps the most prolific serial killer in Alaska history is Robert Hansen, who gruesomely murdered 17 women. Between 1980 and 1990 more than half of the total 51 serial murders took place. Not only does Alaska have the highest incident rate of serial killings than any other state, it also has the highest violent crime rate.

Worst decade for serial killings: 1980’s

40 years ago, nearly one-third of all U.S. serial killers got away with 5 or more murders before getting caught. Today, that figure is down to 13%. Nearly half get caught after 2 killings.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue's short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show "Partners in Crime" on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud contributor to The Kill Zone (see details in full bio -- menu bar).

46 Comments

  1. As the population grows the more serial killers will come to light. If you think the statistics are right please explain why. I don’t think the researchers and psychologists have a clue especially when many of these killers have an elevated iq much greater than the average public and the people trying to catch them. As the tools to catch these killers get better so do what they do not to get caught, if you look through history there are always criminals that are not 1 but 2 steps ahead.

    • These statistics come directly from the FBI, who has a firm grasp on why certain states attract more serial killers. We’re limited by what they supply to the public.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree on serial killers’ intelligence. Some may have a high IQ — like Edmund Kemper who scored a 145, and still caved to the pressure (he turned himself in) — but I wouldn’t make a blanket statement that most of these killers are smarter than the people chasing them.

  2. Fascinating, and creepy.
    I came from Orange county CA and was wondering how many serial killers were bulies?
    I know personnaly a few and one is in Corcoran state pension for attempted murder I went to Jr high with Jose Torres,a sadistic bully and a few others are they usually bullies?

    • I wouldn’t classify serial killers as bullies. It depends on several different factors. Psychopaths, for example, often have great personalities, which is fake in order to relax their potential victim.

  3. In the ’90’s, Alabama Bureau of Investigations and Air Force CID agents showed up at mom’s house wanting to speak to my sister. They wanted to see her computer, claiming she was online chatting with a suspected pedophile, a helicopter pilot trained at Ft. Rucker Army post, which borders our hometown. Turned out to be Robert Yates. Scary stuff. He had even sent his picture to her. He was suspected but not connected to a few unsolved murders in the local area.

  4. Hello…My name is Rick…40 years ago my oldest sister was murdered on the University of Florida, Gainesville campus. They have never caught the killer(s). It was a sexually motivated crime with rape as the objective(she wasn’t). Bundy had been caught 2 weeks prior after the rampage through the Chi Omega house. Unknown at the time, there were *several* serial killers operating in and around the college(rich hunting ground for them). BTK was there, Otis Toole and Henry Lee Lucas, (Lucas confessed but after extensive interviews, the investigators knew he didn’t do it–was a complete nutcase confessing to just about everything). From that time on to the present, I have been reading and learning all I could about these human aberrations. It’s one thing to be able to talk about them in the third person(I call it the “happens to someone else” context. However, when your family is touched by the ripples in their murderous pond, everything changes. They aren’t faceless, malevolent, super beings moving invisibly among us but sad, twisted, often severely abused humans who have been molded into monsters. Anyone here experienced first hand any thing like what my family has gone through?

    • You’re right, Rick. They aren’t faceless. My heart goes out to you and your family. I can’t even imagine your pain.

      I haven’t had the misfortune of dealing with a serial killer, thank God. This is a crime resource blog for writers. Since I write about serial killers, I also study them extensively.

  5. Well the difficult thing,here in Ohio ,is acknowledging a serial murderer is in the area.We having cartel like murders,like People shot to death tied to trees then the coroner reporting it as a suicide.Seven people shot in the head in one area a year ago April but no one wanting to get involved.Its a problem.

  6. Patricia Bigbie

    Nature vs Nurture.
    So complicated. I wish more studies had been done when the serial killers lived.
    Mainly to see if there brains were noticeably different. That would be interesting.
    The Nuture component seems to be more complete. Looking at many serial killers backgrounds you don’t wonder why so much as why not.
    I am fascinated by serial killers but I really don’t know why.
    I wish they could be caught much more quickly, although law enforcement seems to be much better than in the earlier years.
    Pat Bigbie

    • Actually, Pat, there are studies of serial killers’ brains using CT scans. They have less functionality in their frontal lobe, which is where we experience empathy and where we learn right from wrong. There are also a few fascinating TED talks on the subject. You’d enjoy them. I’m fascinated by serial killers too. It’s the unknown, the unfathomable, that’s intriguing. You’re right. Law enforcement is getting much better at catching them. Did you know there’s an algorithm being tested now that predicts serial killers next move?

  7. It is amazing the things humans are capable of. Also not so surprising that very young people are targeted – children are so often the victims of abuse and even infants are included in that surprisingly often. After some of my personal experiences there is a reason there is a Doberman lounging in my office. At one point I had three of them. I had a female I took with me everywhere since she was good in the car. The males are too big and rowdy. Your research is great and serves a purpose. We all like to think we are safe.

    • So true, MJ. We all like to think we’re safe when, in fact, we’re not. And sadly, yes, children are often victims of such horrendous crimes. I can’t even imagine the horror. However, I did enjoy finding out our chance of being targeted by a serial killer dramatically decreases after age 30. Hopefully they’ll think I’m too old now. LOL

      About the dogs, I don’t blame you. Hence why I had eight Rottweilers at one time. 😉 One sniff of something hinky, and they’d be all over the suspect. Best killer detection possible!

  8. Great post, Sue! Scary, though. I especially remember the whole Ted Bundy thing, made more memorable by the movie about him, in which the handsome and benign Mark Harmon played the title role. Reminded us anyone can be bad news. More fodder for fiction writers 🙂
    JHolmes, author recently posted…Write what you know?My Profile

  9. Sue,
    A terrific and well researched post. However, it does leave me a bit sick to my stomach. Ugh, it’s difficult to believe serial killers are human beings.
    Frances recently posted…NICHOLAS AND MEMy Profile

    • I know what you mean, Frances. Researching serial killers vs. actually coming in contact with one are two totally different things. I think I’ll remain within the confines of my small, rural community, where danger doesn’t lurk. <-- watch me jinx myself now. LOL

  10. Alaska is number 1 per capita? Who would have guessed that? Great post, Sue.

  11. Fascinating! Wow! Now I’m wondering about the numbers in my suburb. We’ve had very low numbers of actual murders, but this makes you think. Too much bushland here…Mmmm. 🙂
    Joycelin Leahy recently posted…A Skier’s Journey in ChinaMy Profile

  12. Creepy stuff, Sue. There is so much we don’t know about the pathology and psychology of serial killers. Makes you wonder that they’re are always described as the nice kid next door. And they always look a bit like Howdy Doody.

  13. I wasn’t surprised to see Washington at #5. The Pacific NW seems to breed them! My husband actually worked with Gary Ridgeway for a time and was shocked when Ridgeway was arrested. And then of course, we also had Ted Bundy and Robert Yates. Ann Rule’s book on Bundy gave me chills.

    • Oh, me too, Dana! Your husband worked with Gary Ridgeway? Wow. Creepy. The Pacific NW does seem to be serial killer heavy. Hence, why I’ll stay in my little corner of the world, with Lisa Gardner, Jodi Picoult, and Stephen Tyler from Aerosmith. 🙂

  14. Well, I’m glad that my state didn’t make the list. This is beyond goosebump stuff. The hairs on the back of my neck still haven’t settled down!
    Mae Clair recently posted…Story Empire Roadshow WinnersMy Profile

    • I was thrilled not to see mine listed, either, Mae, but no state is immune. Over the years, PA was home to the “House of Horrors” killer, Gary Heidnik, who murdered two women in his North Philadelphia home, where he held six victims in chains, raping them, torturing them with electrical shock. Those who survived said he kept them half naked in his basement, feeding them dog food laced with human remains.

      In 2003, Hugo Selenski was found with the remains of five bodies in his northeastern PA yard.

      Steelton Joseph “Joey” Miller murdered 5 women Dauphin and Perry counties. His victims were:
      Kelly Ann Ward, killed in 1986, her body was found in 1997 but not identified until 2015
      Selina Franklin, killed in 1987
      Stephanie McDuffey, killed in 1989.
      Jeanette Thomas and Kathy Novena Schenck, killed in 1990.
      Two other women survived attacks by Miller. In one case, a Harrisburg woman survived after she was stabbed in the head 25 times with a screwdriver and left for dead in a wooded area in Perry County. Another survivor said Miller raped her, bound her in duct tape, beat her on the head with beer.
      He’s serving 5 life terms.

      And then there’s the Unicorn Killer. I’ll let you Google him if you’re curious. Time frame: 1960’s and 1970’s. Real name: Ira Einhorn

  15. Texans aren’t proud to finish second to California in total serial killings. We have more guns, and more gun owners ready to use them. We need to get our act in gear.

    In the meantime, does it surprise anyone that in a culture whose media celebrates vio;ence and murder, the count is so high.

  16. Cool bit of research. You might want to check, but I believe the unibomber and McVeigh were two different people. The name Kosinski comes to mind as unibomber.
    C. S. Boyack recently posted…Meet FrankieMy Profile

  17. This is fascinating information, Sue. Thanks for sharing it. It’s got me thinking about that fine line that separates the vast majority of us from serial killers. Most of us would never cross into that other realm that’s mentioned in that quote. We’re held back by that invisible something that keeps us from cruelty and murder. That line is so fine at times, though…
    Margot Kinberg recently posted…In The Spotlight: John Alexander Graham’s Something in the AirMy Profile

    • Ooh, compelling thought, Margot. Here’s where nature vs. nurture come into play. I often wonder if, say, Ed Gein had grown up in a nurturing and loving environment, if he would have still turned into the same monster. Because really, his childhood abuse and obsession for his mother became the driving force behind his murderous rampage. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Then again, what’s Dahmer’s excuse? This is why the whole debate will never be settled. There’s too many variables, which only intrigues us more.

      • Jeffrey Dahmer was actually abandoned by both his parents during his senior year in high school. His parents had divorced and if I remember correctly his dad moved from the area. Jeffrey went to school one day and came home to an empty house. His mom and brother took everything and moved to her parents. His mom was a raging and mean alcoholic. There was a lot of turmoil in the home.
        As a young teenager he tortured animals, a sign of a future serial killer as we now know. He was ridiculed in school because he was so weird. Jeffrey began drinking a lot, to the point people at school said he reeked of alcohol. He also was conflicted because of his homosexuality. This was the 70’s so coming out wasn’t so easy.
        Dahmer killed the first of many men soon after he was abandoned. A young man hitching his way to a concert was unlucky enough to run into Dahmer who invited the man back to his home with the promise of alcohol and some pot. They partied together and had a good time. When the young man got up to leave, Dahmer didn’t want him to go and abandon him like everyone else. When the man turned his back to Dahmer he was struck in the head and then murdered. Dahmer kept the corpse for a few days then buried him. Dahmer said he ate his victims to keep them with him. Obviously Dahmer was severely affected by his moms abandonment. Nurture here played a huge role in the making of this murderer! I’m sure there are psychological issues, a borderline personality involved as well. The abandonment just set things in motion. Who knows if Dahmer would have become a notorious cannibal if he had a loving, stable home life.

        • I’m guessing you meant to comment on my Nature vs. Nurture post.

          A senior in high school is not exactly a person’s formative years. In fact, I lost both my parents as a teen and I didn’t morph into a sadistic serial killer. That said, I agree that dealing with an alcoholic is not an easy life, and I’m sure it contributed to shaping Dahmer. However, his psychopathic tendencies began very early in life. Psychopaths are born; sociopaths are created. If I had to guess, I’d say nature and nurture both played a role.

          Thank you for your in-depth comment, Shelli.

  18. That’s interesting that Alaska has the highest per capita – What do you make of that, Sue? It’s also interesting that the # of victims before getting caught has significantly dropped. I’d say that’s due to better crime fighting techniques and resources like DNA data banks as well as better inter-jurisdictional information sharing. But as good as technology gets, these monsters will always crop up. Scary to think of who lives next door.
    Garry Rodgers recently posted…HOW INTELLIGENT ARE YOU?My Profile

    • I know, right? Unfortunately, one of our neighbors is creepy with Charles Manson eyes. Not to worry. He doesn’t fool me for a second. #paranoidcrimewriter

      Alaska really surprised me, actually, but I suppose it makes sense. When you think about it, there’s acres and acres of wilderness where serial killers can hide out. Overall there’s also more land per household than anywhere else, I’m guessing, at least where the rural parts are concerned. Perhaps that’s what makes it so ideal. You and I both have heard stories about numerous fugitives who’ve taken refuge there.

      Bob and I have always wanted to see Alaska…till I wrote this post. Hey, maybe I can write off the trip to research. Let’s just hope I don’t come face-to-face with a serial killer or he or she won’t stand a chance against my crime writer super powers. 😉 How strange. Another One Bites the Dust is playing. You hear it too, right?

    • Jesse gonzalez

      Gary Rodgers u sound like a serial killer yourself

  19. Wow, this was so interesting! Great information, thank you for sharing.

  20. Great post, Sue! this kind of research really doesn’t help for those sleepless nights. This is the kind of data that real estate agents don’t include in their listings…

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