How Many Active Serial Killers Stalk Your Streets?

When we leave the house we never know who could be stalking our every move, waiting for us to misstep. Would you know a serial killer by sight? Probably not. Knowledge and lifestyle choices are our best defense to lessen the chances of becoming a victim.

With that in mind, let’s look at technology that finds active serial killers.

Active Serial Killers

I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too.

FBI Serial Killing Initiative

In 2003, too many dead bodies littered the sides of highways for the FBI not to notice. Using this narrow data pool, they developed a technology — called FBI Serial Killing Initiative — to help find the killers of highway murder victims.

“Your mind tells you it’s a deer. It’s a goat. It’s anything but a human being,” said an Oklahoma salesman, who told the Oklahoman Newspaper about a grim discovery off the Interstate 40 exit ramp, where he stopped to relieve himself. “My mind would not even allow me to entertain that as reality until, as I looked at her limbs and followed her arm out to one of her hands, I saw a ring on her finger. At that moment, in that second, it was undeniable, and my mind finally accepted that this was a human.”

The body he’d discovered belonged to Sandra Beard, a 43-year-old prostitute who frequented truck stops in search of Johns. From 2003 to January 2004, Beard was one of seven women murdered on or near highways in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas. These homicides prompted the FBI to develop a way to track the spike in highway bodies. To date, the FBI Serial Killings Initiative has identified more than 750 people whose bodies were dumped near US highways. The database, which also identified 450 potential suspects, allows local, state, and federal agencies to share vital information and recognize trends that could link victims to each other, as well as to potential suspects. Not surprisingly, several of the suspects were long-haul truckers.

“It’s not unusual for a driver to pass through five or even seven states in one day,” said Palazzolo, FBI analyst. “The amount of ground they cover and the lack of any connection to where they’re passing through makes it difficult to tie cases back to them.”

Based on information obtained from trucking company logs, gas station receipts, and other records, law enforcement can determine where the suspect was when a murder or an assault took place.

The Department of Transportation expects the number of long-haul truckers to grow over the next several years, as will long-haul serial killers.

“So, if we’ve already identified a population from which we are getting a significant number of offenders, and if we are going to be seeing more and more trucks on the road, the potential for additional highway serial killings is definitely there.” ~ Palazzolo

According to the FBI, over the past 40 years, more than 500 people have been killed near or along highways. Most are women who live “high-risk, transient lifestyles,” which often involve substance abuse and prostitution. They’re frequently picked up at truck stops or service stations and are sexually assaulted, murdered, and dumped along a highway. The FBI has compiled a list of about 200 potential suspects, consisting of mainly long-haul truck drivers. Even though the bureau refuses to identify the suspects or victims, USA Today reported that at least ten suspects have been arrested in at least 30 deaths. As far as the Oklahoma cases go, none have been adjudicated.

Charges have been filed in only one of the 2003 deaths.

In 2004, John Robert Williams, 33, and his girlfriend, Rachel Cumberland, were charged with capital murder in the death of Vickie Helen Anderson, 45, a prostitute last seen in Sayre. They dumped her body in the Texas Panhandle. At trial, Williams pleaded guilty to Anderson’s abduction and murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. Cumberland pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 20-year sentence. The deadly duo was also charged with the 2003 death of Jennifer Hyman, 24, an Oklahoma City prostitute, but the charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Williams remains a suspect in the 2004 death of another prostitute, Casey Jo Pipestem, 19, of Oklahoma City. Her body was later discovered in Grapevine, Texas.

Serial Killer Algorithm

The Murder Accountability Project (MAP) has developed an algorithm capable of detecting serial killers who target multiple victims within a specific geographic area. Using the similar MO to help link cases, this technique can be useful to police in identifying difficult-to-see patterns over a period of several years or even decades.

The algorithm is based upon a reasonable premise — a serial killer can dramatically reduce the normal clearance rate for groups of similar victims killed through similar methods. The algorithm looks for clusters with extremely low clearance rates. It has successfully detected both well-known serial killers and killers whose homicidal patterns were not recognized by police.

“We are delighted to provide an online version of our serial-detection algorithm,” said MAP Chairman Thomas K. Hargrove. “We hope homicide detectives, police supervisors, and the public will use it to identify threats to community safety.”

Hargrove estimates that 2,000 serial killers are still at large in the United States. According to the FBI, 1,400 murders remain unsolved but are linked to other killings through DNA. That’s only a smidgen above 2% of murders investigated by the FBI.

“Those are just the cases they were able to lock down with DNA,” said Hargrove. “And killers don’t always leave DNA. It’s a gift when you get it. So, two percent is a floor, not a ceiling.”

Care to test out the algorithm?

Now, we can search for active serial killers without expensive statistical software or advanced computer knowledge. Go HERE to find victim profiles, offender profiles, crime stats, and other statistical data for your region. You can also use MAP website’s search function for unsolved murder cases in your area.

In Other News …

Blessed Mayhem by Sue Coletta

BLESSED MAYHEM just released in paperback!!! I haven’t asked my publisher if the $9.99 price tag will last, but you can take advantage of it with One-Click on Amazon. Also available on B&N, iTunes, Google Play, and other fine book retailers. Or order direct from Crossroad Press and snag your copy for $8.00 (limited time sale).

For autographed First Additions, fill out the contact form or email me.

If you haven’t noticed my new video logo in the header, check it out below. Thanks to my amazing Facebook friends, I won the custom logo from Dark Digital Designs. I highly recommend them for all your video needs, including book trailers. Tell them Sue sent you!


Well, did you search your area using the tool? Share your results in the comments.

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 member of the Kill Zone (see details in full bio -- menu bar).


  1. Several years ago there was a truck driver serial killer who murdered a woman a few miles from where I live. The story hit national news. He attempted a few more murders before the father of his last intended victim apprehended him, beat the crap out of him and held him until police arrived. I live in a small town with next to no crime, but he came up off a highway and just happened to spy a woman who was in the wrong place (her back patio at 2:00 AM talking on her cell to a friend) at the wrong time. Even now when I drive by that house I think of the husband and son she left behind.

    And I have to say that although I am not a big fan of book trailers, that one kicks butt, Sue. I LOVE it!!!

    • Thanks, Mae!!! I remember that case. The poor woman was talking on the phone (if memory serves), just chilling on her back patio. Wow, I didn’t know you lived so close. Frightening!

  2. Interesting program, Sue. I played around to see what’s going on in the Seattle area just south of me where someone has now taken over Gary Ridgway/Green River Killer’s job. It got me thinking – ever wonder how many serial killers tap into sites like this to check on their status and how many of their victims have been located? Info like this might make them change MO and make it harder to catch them.

    • Wow. I didn’t realize a copycat started dumping bodies by the Green River like Ridgway. I’ll have to dig into the case.

      Good point, Garry! I bet at least one serial killer is using the tool as we speak. Brrr …

  3. Wow, can’t get away with nothin no more. Now all you serial killers listen up there are 2000 of you but only 1400 victims, so not everybody is going to get one. Some of you are going to have to share.

  4. Thanks, Sue. Stats prove serial killers are more prevalent than even I thought, and I’ve written more than a dozen novels about serial murders. Not all serial killers move around from place to place. Many stay close to home and hide the bodies so no one suspects they may be a next door neighbor or a co-worker or even a spouse. Heh Heh. Or a demented crime writer like you or me!

    • So true, Paul. Statistics show an increase in serial murders, but perhaps it’s only because we’re more informed than ever before. Or there’s a ton of demented crime writers. Hahahahahaha. You never know!

  5. We recently had a serial killer down here in Tampa terrorizing a neighborhood. He was caught, but now there is a lawsuit wherein people are fighting for the reward money. A lady from Wendy’s called him into authorities, but a couple had filmed him with their home surveillance camera, which is what the lady at Wendy’s had seen. I’m just glad he’s off the streets.

    • Wow, Susan. Why can’t they split the reward money? As you say, what’s important is that he’s off the street. Money makes people crazy. I always tell my husband if we hit the lottery, the first thing I’ll do is give most of it away. Glad you’re safe. <3

      • You should look into this Tampa killer ,Sue. He’s very unusual in that he’s very young. Only 24. Well educated. But, he gave the gun to his boss at McD’s & she called the cops on him. Wondering if he wanted to be caught…

        • Hmm, I doubt he wanted to get caught, Barbara. Often times their compulsions cause them to make a mistake, and that one mistake can be their undoing. Perhaps he had a fleeting moment of remorse. Interesting. Now I need to dig into the case. 😉

  6. It’s unsettling to think of how many multiple or serial murderers here are out there, Sue. I think as technology and psychology get better, we’ll know more about them. And that will have its own consequences. Thanks for sharing that online tool. Very interesting!

    • Very true, Margot. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. When our 1st grandchild was born, I signed up to get alerts when/if child predators moved to our area. After a while I had to turn it off. It was making me crazy! I wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who harmed a member of my family, but my sweet, innocent grandbabies? If someone dares to cross that line, they won’t even be able to imagine the hell I’d reign down on him. Admittedly, this may be one area where it’s healthier for me to remain ignorantly blissful. 😉

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