A serial killer is someone known to have murdered two or more people (some definitions say three or more), usually for some kind of abnormal psychological gratification. The crimes may take place over a period of time and include a significant lapse between them.
Many nations have been plagued with serial killers over the years, but one has had far more than the others – the United States.
To identify the countries with the most serial killers, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the Annual Report on Serial Killer Statistics: 2020 from Radford University and Florida Gulf Coast University. All the countries on this list have been home to at least 10 known serial killers and are ranked according to their total number. (In the case of a tie, the country with the smaller total population, and thus the higher per capita rate, ranks higher.)
The U.S. records more than twice the number of serial killers as the next 25 countries combined. Reports of serial killers spiked in America starting in the 1950s and peaked in the 1980s. (Serial killer reports surged in other countries beginning in the 1950s as well.)
There are no shortage of theories as to why the U.S. has been home to so many murderers of this kind.
The economic dislocation of the Great Depression and the undiagnosed mental issues of returning World War II soldiers, as well as the proliferation of lurid literature about torture and depravity after the war, were contributing factors to the rise of serial murders in the post-war years, according to Canadian author and filmmaker Peter Vronsky, the author of four books on serial killers. (Here’s a list of the most memorable TV serial killers.)
University of Alberta professor of sociology and criminology Kevin Haggerty posits that the transitory nature of American life today has turned us into “a society of strangers,” and that “a defining attribute of serial killers is that they prey on strangers.”
Click here to see which countries have the most serial killers
Click here for a detailed methodology
Then there’s the number of long-haul truckers in the U.S. In 2009, the FBI launched a Highway Serial Killers Initiative in response to the discovery of the bodies of more than 500 murder victims, most of them women and usually sex workers, along or near highways, and noted that “the suspects are predominantly long-haul truck drivers.” (These are the most depraved serial killers in history.)
There may be a simpler answer for the phenomenon, however: “My theory,” forensic psychology professor Michael G. Aamodt, co-author of the Radford University report, told A&E’s True Crime Blog, “is the U.S. really doesn’t have a disproportionate number of serial killers. Instead, it’s just much easier to find serial killers here than it is in other countries….In the United States, we have much more open records than other countries do. If the U.S. had a higher murder rate than the rest of the world, I would be more likely to believe that we have more serial killers, too. But compared to other countries in terms of the murder rate we’re right around the middle.”
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