More or Less Dead
In the abstract for her article entitled, The Missing Missing – Toward a Quantification of Serial Murder Victimization in the United States, Kenna Quinet states, “Although early attempts to estimate the number of serial murder victims in the United States varied greatly and were exaggerated, current estimates may actually underestimate the number of serial murder victims. This study provides extrapolation from existing databases including missing persons, unidentified dead, and misidentified dead to estimate uncounted serial murder victims.
In addition to providing lower and upper estimates of possible victims from these sources, this article also provides a methodology for counting “the missing missing”—missing persons who were never reported as missing and some of whom may be serial murder victims. By counting various sources of possible hidden serial murder victims, the addition of a lower estimate of 182 and an upper estimate of 1,832 additional annual serial murder victims in the United States is suggested.”
In the 1980s, the numbers of possible serial murders were inflated. The factors that affected this included:
Beliefs that stranger homicides were the result of serial killers
Beliefs that unknown offender homicides were the result of serial killers.
Political agendas –
The FBI wanted its Behavioral Science Unit to have authority over serial murders and wanted to expand federal authority to other serial crimes such as arson and rape;
feminists drew on serial murder to highlight the victimization of women
get-tough-on-crime and death- penalty advocates used the heinous nature of serial murder to call for stricter sentences
religious groups used serial homicides as a warning about the evils of Satanism
all forms of media made money from the public’s interest in the crime (Jenkins, 2005).
We know now that these numbers are lower but there are still open ended issues that demonstrate the need for more focused investigations on key areas.
How do we detect additional deaths when a caregiver’s charge dies suddenly?
How do we count an unidentified dead body whose cause of death may be homicide?
How do we categorize a missing person whose disappearance is likely attributed to foul play?
It is believed that the number of serial killer victims may be underestimated due to what we don’t thoroughly track details on –
the serial killer who murders victims who have never been reported missing;
the serial killer who disposes of bodies in such a way that when discovered the cause of death and victim identity are unknown;
killers who choose marginal victim populations such as illegal aliens, prostitutes, and the homeless (populations known as the less-dead; see Egger, 2002).
Estimates also neglect deaths we do not realize are homicides, much less part of a series.
Medically induced homicides ( one study shows that 17% of serial killers are nurses)
The argument is not that the phenomenon of serial murder is increasing, rather, it is that we have always missed some victims in our counts. It is the methodology that Quinet argues which needs to be improved in order to better track potential and actual serial murders.
What needs to be considered is the potential for both male and female serial killers who choose victims that are never found, never missed, or never recognized as homicide victims. “Although most prostitute homicides are not serial killer homicides, there are many serial murder cases documented in the literature with prostitute victims. “ Egger (2003)
Much has been written about the state of missing persons recordkeeping (Olsen & Kamb, 2003). Records are incomplete, closed without cause, and not closed when the person is found. Most States have a law that requires a dental records search if the person is missing for 30 days, there is a 60%-plus rate of non- compliance with this law. Many missing persons cases are not entered into any database and many cases are erroneously cleared without face-to-face identification. Alleged sightings, use of I.D. or credit cards can skew these cases.
How many missing persons are there? The answer depends on our definition of missing. Missing persons includes a number of different categories including family abducted, stranger abducted, thrownaway, kidnapped, voluntarily missing, involuntarily missing, and short- and long-term missing.
The “hidden victims” include the following:
Missing Persons as Uncounted Serial Murder Victims
Transient victims such as prostitutes, hustlers, runaways and the homeless are examples of this group.
The Missing “Missing”
Missing persons never reported as missing, or were reported as missing with the case having been prematurely or incorrectly closed or purged, bodies never found, and unidentified bodies.
This also includes thrownaway children (those emancipated minors who are disconnected from family) and foster children.
In the case of foster children, laws actually prevent easy access to information. In most states, when foster children go missing their name is not publicly released. in some states, biological parents are not even allowed to go to the media if their child who has been placed in foster care goes missing (“Few Looking for Missing,” 2002).
The unidentified dead are made up of persons who died from any number of causes, including natural deaths, although the cause of death is unknown.
“Many jurisdictions across the United States only keep unidentified remains for a year, and then they are either buried in unmarked graves, or as is the case in San Francisco, once a month, the unidentified dead are incinerated and the ashes taken out to sea.” (Davis,1996).
Misidentified and Elsewhere Classified Dead
The misidentified dead are comprised of deaths with unknown causes or deaths that are wrongly categorized as suicides, accidents, or natural causes, when in fact they are the result of homicide.
“Known medical murderers appear to average 2 victims per month. In a small county in Indiana, Orville Lynn Majors killed as many as 130 patients in about 2 years, all of which were coded as natural deaths. Even after investigations revealed the true causes of death, the death certificates were never updated.” (G. Carter and N. Alexander, prosecutors in the Orville Lyn Majors case, personal communication, February 4, 2005).
What we know is that, despite best efforts, many databases are underutilized or contain inaccurate or duplicate information. Many do not contain information on missing individuals who have gone unreported. We know that unidentified bodies, especially those in the state of significant decomposition, prevent not only putting a name to the remains, but also give no clue as to cause of death. DNA is only as good as the information available to investigators.
It is an unfortunate, but nonetheless real, phenomenon that investigators are faced with – the knowledge that there are far too many levels of death in addition to the categories of death that we document. Some victims remain “less dead”.
Week 2 assignment
In this assignment you will read the week 2 lecture titled “More or Less Dead.” The author of the article discusses the “most successful serial killer is the one that selects victims no one will miss or know they are missing (Quinet, 2007).
Using these guidelines and THREE external resources, compare and contrast the psychological and behavioral traits and characteristics of violent killers and their victims. In your response, you should consider these theories; biological, and psychological and how is society impacted?