Serial killing was something of a social contagion

Thursday, May 26th, 2022

With mass-killing shootings in the news, Steve Sailer wanted to point out that not all bad things are destined to increase forever:

For instance, according to the Radford University Database of known serial killers, the number of serial killers soared during what Robert Heinlein predicted c. 1940 would be known as the Crazy Years (1960s-1970s) before declining more recently.

Rise and Fall of Serial Killers

It appears that the idea of serial killing was something of a social contagion that spread first among whites, then among nonwhites. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hitchcock’s hugely influential 1960 movie Psycho, often thought as the founder of the “slasher pic” genre, played a role in this real life phenomenon, although how to measure that is beyond me.

It’s also hard to say what caused the decline over the last generation. It could be that serial killing became less appealing to the handful of sickos attracted to doing it.

Or it could be fear of being caught increased. According to Bill James, cops were long particularly bad at catching serial killers because they’d been trained not to fall for the idea that somebody was murdered by a random stranger: instead, it had to be somebody who knew the victim, an ex-boyfriend or the like. So if they had five dead women on their hands, they tended to look for five separate killers. This had been a fairly productive prejudice, since it kept them from going down the wrong path most of the time. But the huge publicity attendant to Ted Bundy c. 1980 forced cops to get serious about the serial killer phenomenon.


  1. Will says:

    It has a lot to do with demographics. If serial killers/mass murderers are typically in their 20s and 30s, and a very small percentage of the population, then having the largest birth cohort, the Baby Boom, being born in 1946+, means it should not be surprising to see an increase in these types of killings in the 60s and 70s. By the 80s, we start to see them aging out, the so-called desistance phenomenon, hence the decline.

    Coupled with the 60s/70s having been a time period of social upheaval when people were becoming unmoored and government was losing legitimacy, we saw a belief take hold that people no longer had to abide by the rules. So, the killers felt emboldened.

    Today, while we may not have a population boom, we are seeing the latter occurring at every turn as it fills our daily news. Police no longer have legitimacy, laws can be ignored, and people come to believe they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

    It seems we have come to a point in time when the center cannot hold and we have nothing but a generation of hollow men.

  2. Steven C. says:

    Focusing on someone close to the victim is still the norm, mostly because it’s easier. You have the suspect right there and can examine motive and opportunity, but how do you do that with some random stranger? It’s happened that completely innocent family members have been incarcerated because the police and prosecutors would not let go of the false assumption that most murders are committed by someone close to the victim. Actually, it’s that most SOLVED murders are committed by someone close to the victim. It’s notable that many serial killers end up communicating with the news media and the police, because they feel they are not getting credit for their crimes. The same is true of missing children; it’s falsely assumed that most cases are abduction by family members, but that’s most SOLVED cases. It’s usually obvious when that happens; because that family member will also make a pre-arranged disappearance.

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