If you think of serial killers who have been active in the United States over the past few decades, you probably conjure up images of Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. And, for the most part, most people would agree that those men fit the bill in terms of gender, race, and everything in between. Surprisingly enough, though, there are numerous serial killers who aren't white men.
To be fair, the U.S. hasn't had as many serial killers on the loose since the days of convicted murderers like Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. Still, most people picture a white guy when they think of the stereotypical serial killer. It really makes you wonder, right?
Why are so many serial killers white men?
According to criminal profiler Pat Brown, the issue isn't so much that there aren't serial killers of other races and sexes, but that the mainstream media prefers to focus on white men who kill — either in isolated incidents or as serial killers — because of their typical victims. Brown wrote in her book Killing for Sport: Inside the Minds of Serial Killers that white men often kill women of the same race.
So, in the eyes of the media, focusing on "All-American" white female victims is more prevalent. That theory makes sense, especially when you consider convicted killers such as Richard Ramirez. He gained national exposure for his killings, possibly because so many of his victims (though not all) were white women. Brown also wrote in her book that there has been over-reporting when it comes to white male killers because, as a whole, there is less focus on killers in urban areas where crime rates are higher overall.
While there are non-white serial killers, it seems as though there are far fewer non-male serial killers. Professor David Wilson, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, told Sky News that, a lot of the time, what motivates a male killer is a blow to his ego or masculinity.
"If you look at the motivation that we know about it, [it] does seem to be that men handle their catastrophic loss and self-esteem worse than women," he shared. "When the husband or father loses their job or goes through a divorce separation they are thrown out of the home." Professor Wilson added, "Men also have unequal access to guns and training in using weapons like handguns and rifles."
There's a reason why female serial killers aren't as widely known.
Although most famous serial killers that the general public knows about have been white males, there have been female serial killers and murderers over the years.
For instance, Aileen Wuornos was found guilty of murder after being accused of killing seven men. And a late 1800's nurse by the name of Jane Toppan allegedly murdered dozens of patients.
Author Tori Telfer, who wrote the book Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion, spoke to the hosts of the podcast Web Crawlers about her research into female murderers. She shared that female killers are more often known to have committed their crimes in homes, hospitals, and other places where they could potentially get away with it over long periods of time.
"They use poison a lot more, they tend to know their victims," she said. "I mean, there's exceptions to all of these things, but generally speaking, they tend to know their victims, they're more relational, they tend to get away with it for much longer because no one suspects them. So female serial killers can have these pretty high body counts. Not because they were killing in a manic rage like Ted Bundy was at the end of his freedom, but because they're not caught for years and years."
So, while there are certainly serial killers who aren't white men, the big takeaway here is that those same killers aren't as widely reported on, due in part to socioeconomic reasons. And even though female serial killers have been around as long as their male counterparts, the psyche behind their methods and motives are often different.