Not much thought is put into research about the victims of serial crime. Most accounts of serial killers that are found in true crime books give lurid details of rape/murder/dismemberment, but do not ever go into much detail about the victim. With interest in forensics and criminal investigation and profiling at a high peak these days, online(in particular) Universities have begun to offer degree plans specifically in criminal profiling, looking through the plan of study lots of information about the criminal but not much information about his (or in some cases her) victim.
Often times, the victim will tell an investigator as much about the offender as the crime scene. By that I mean, is the offender taking time to stalk his victim or is he choosing a victim of opportunity, is the victim a man, woman or child.
Most important is the idea of who can be a potential victim. This isn’t to say that serial killers are lurking around every corner waiting to strike (they aren’t). But some individuals are more at risk for victimization than others.
Research would seem to indicate that certain segments of the population are more likely to be victimized than others. These segments are more likely to be marginalized members of society:
The children in the park, the prostitute on the street corner, the homosexual male prostituting his body in clubs, the hitchhiker trying to find a ride along a stretch of highway, these individuals seem to be more vulnerable than the housewife doing laundry. The presence of a person in a particular place at a particular time is apparently the only known precipitating factor for falling prey to a serial killer on the prowl. The definition of serial murder used by Steven Egger also strongly suggests other commonalities among victims. Levin and Fox (1985) appear to concur with this definition. They state Serial killers almost without exception choose vulnerable victims those who are easy to dominate. The serial killer typically picks on innocent strangers who may possess a certain physical feature or may just be accessible. Levin and Fox provide examples of these vulnerable and typical victims of serial murders who include prostitutes, hitchhikers, children derelicts and elderly women. An emerging trend is seen in the killer who murders robbery and burglary victims. (Egger, S. A. (2001) P 83)
It is likely that these marginalized members of society are being targeted because their disappearance will not be missed. A middle class soccer mom abducted and killed would cause media and community outcry, because that victim is more “like us” groups that are placed into marginal categories are easier to forget or not really care about to begin with.
Part of the reason that the gay community is added in the marginal category is illustrated by the quote below. Not all (or even most) members of the gay community are killers. Some serial killers have been gay men. The reason behind their crimes may be, as proposed by Maghan and Sagarin the simple fact that they are taking out their rage at being gay on their victims. Or another way to explain the crime is that the victim because a symbolic victim, the victim becomes a symbol of what the offender hates the most...himself.
Maghan and Sagarin (1983) in discussing homosexuals as both victimizers and victims note that the offender’s rage against society is deflected and targeted on those who are victimized as the offender is. Victimization appears to produce a rage that feeds an offender mentality and offer the greatest opportunities. Homosexual killers most often prey on homosexual victims although bisexuals and heterosexual males become victims as well. (Egger, S. A. (2001) p 84)
What may cause an individual to become a serial killer has been the subject of debate and endless articles on the nature of serial crime. The included quote shows the commonly held belief that a killer becomes a killer because of some childhood trauma or abuse.
If one combines Karmen’s (1983) discussion of vulnerability and Maghan and Sagarin’s (1983) discussion of victim-victimizer an extrapolation is possible in examining the victims of the serial murderer. If a number of serial murderers were victimized in c childhood, as case studies and research suggests and are thus vulnerable because their childhood situation they may in fact have chosen victims like their earlier selves or from the same general lifestyle. Karmen (1983) states one common thread [that] emerges from most victim/offender studies is that both parties are usually drawn from the same group or background. However it must be noted that there was no serial murder victim-offender empirical studies found in the literature other than anecdotal material or conclusions based on very few serial murder cases. Therefore no valid conclusions can be drawn from the literature regarding victim-offender relationships in this context. The literature suggests however, that many of these killers were abused neglected or otherwise victimized in their childhood. This appears to indicate the possibility that a number of serial killers do victimize people who seem to be earlier versions of themselves. (Egger, S. A. (2001) P 85)
The sad but true truth of modern life, children are abused at the hands of their family. Not everyone becomes a killer; the actual cause of serial crime must lie much deeper than childhood abuse and trauma. The actual cause of serial crime has yet to be determined.
A theory regarding victimization by Dr. Steven Egger is known as “the less dead”, what this theory is basically stating is that certain victims are chosen by the serial criminal because of their status in society. These victims have been marginalized and are the homosexuals, the prostitutes, the street people. Groups that never mattered in life and therefore do not matter in death. Serial killers that rack up large body counts about prostitutes or among street people are allowed to continue on their killing career because no one cares about the victim. They are people that are almost invisible in life and remain so in death.
Steven Egger defines the less dead as marginalized groups of society who comprise the majority of the serial killer’s victims. They are called the less-dead because before their death they never were according to society. In other words this group is basically ignored and devalued by their own communities or members of their neighborhoods. The less dead victims are not missed and basically ignored by society. (Egger, S. A. (2001) P 88)
When the victims are prostitutes, homosexuals or the homeless their deaths fail to capture the attention of the police or the media until the number of victims becomes too large to ignore. However, when the victims are people that the public perceivers as blameless such as college students or young children public outrage begins with the first murder and continues to build until the perpetrator is arrested. Although public outrage and police response should be immediate regardless of the social standing of the victims this is not the case. Few people care when a few black prostitutes die or when young male homosexuals cursing the gay club scene disappear. They are not like us so their deaths do not matter. (Egger, S. A. (2001) P. 88)
Based on this research it would appear that serial killers are not the drooling maniacs that some would like to make them out to be, the killer intentionally chooses victims that are marginalized members of society so that they will not have to worry about law enforcement scrutiny. It would also appear that these victims are chosen because they are easy. Not only will law enforcement not put their best effort into finding a killer of a marginalized member of society, society itself does not pay much attention when a street person or prostitute goes missing.
Until as a society, we begin to see all members of society regardless of status in society as valuable members worthy of protection, serial criminals will continue to prey on these marginalized classes.
Egger, S. A. (2001). The Killers Among Us: Examination of Serial Murder and Its Investigations (2nd Edition) (2 ed.). Alexandria, VA: Prentice Hall.