Why were there so many serial killers between 1970 and 2000?

Originally published at: Why were there so many serial killers between 1970 and 2000? | Boing Boing


I thought leaded gasoline (think of all the suburban men and boys walking behind detuned lawnmowers as well as the aerosolized lead on highways and in city streets) was at the root of this. The time span matches pretty well, no?


I think that’s an overly simplistic explanation that ignores many other possible factors. I doubt it’s a singular reason like that, although it could have been a contributing factor. Rarely are historical phenomenon caused by one thing.


After Dexter killed off all the other serial killers he was done in by a serial killer who killed serial killers who killed serial killers.


the news media also contributed by focusing on sensational stories colored by the public’s perception of the crimes, the perpetrators, and the victims.

I agree this was the major factor why “so many” serial killers “suddenly” appeared during this period, starting in the U.S. but later extending to other countries. That same era was also the heyday of the toxic television Eyewitness News format that had a voracious appetite for sensation. This was also the period when the modern true-crime genre, pioneered by Capote’s In Cold Blood in 1965, became a bestseller category in the publishing industry.

As to why the period came to an end, a lot seems to rest on the mainstream use of DNA evidence, which took a lot of the mystique away. Combine that with the exposure of most of these killers as pathetic opportunists rather than criminal masterminds and interest waned. Once you had terrorists and ammosexuals killing hundreds or thousands of people in one incident starting in the mid-1990s, psychopathic schnooks like Ramirez or Dahmer weren’t as scary (or as good “if it bleeds it leads” fodder for the media).

That’s been put forward as an explanation for the criminal activity in general that seemed out of place during the post-war economic anomaly, but I haven’t seen it specifically used to explain serial killers.


I mean, that’s a a huge leap to make based on a single thin correlation. Are you writing a Freakinomics sequel?

You’d have to start by showing a causal link between lead poisoning and inclination to murder.

Lead was removed from everything because it was shown to cause developmental delays in children.

Regarding serial killers, the reason could easily be cultural. People were into them and they got media coverage. Now it’s all about terrorism or other threats that people like to see in the news. Are there genuinely fewer of them? Is there a consistent definition of what a serial killer actually is? This is all pretty hand-wavy.


Hm. I kind of wonder if the rise of true crime podcasts and streaming docuseries (there is a recent one about Richard Ramierz on the netflix, I think) will cause a new round of interest in serial killers and a new round of copycats…

Oh, and you mention terrorists, but we could say the same about the rise of school shootings since Columbine.

I find the attempt to… I don’t know what the word would be… medicalize? Psychologize? Those aren’t real words, but you know what I mean, this whole phenomenon in the first place. It all sort of culminates in the psychological approach being even more popularized via films like Silence of the Lambs, a drama that I think many people mistook for reality of how these kinds of criminal investigations probably work.


The fascination these days seems to be with confidence artists and grifters. No points to anyone here for guessing why that is!


Back in those days, it was cool to be a serial killer. These days, a glut of movies and tv shows about serial killers have removed all the mystique and made it seem kind of lame.


Reporting of serial killers became easier to do with the creation of a national criminal incident database Violent Criminal Apprehension Program - Wikipedia


Serial Killers are now employed in the Political Sector. That’s where they are hiding…


On average, how long after their crimes were serial killers identified and caught? A lack of recent cases might not be because there are fewer serial murders now, but because these serial murders are still sitting in the “unresolved” pile.

Also, as we discussed in a previous BB thread, murder rates have gone down in general. It’s not unreasonable to think that whatever is driving the decline in murder generally is also driving the decline in serial murder.

That previous thread:


Again, media sensationalism maybe made it seem like they were everywhere at the time. But they were around before (Jack The Ripper) and are still around. Prior to the 20th century they may have been better at avoiding detection, and perhaps now they’re getting more savvy thanks to shows like Law & Order and CSI:Wherever.


Not sure that holds water. I mean if the number of serial killers was constant, the rate of discovery would be too. if it takes on average 10 years to catch a killer then we would be catching the ones from around 2010 now.

Also, maybe, but I doubt that the serial killer rate is very connected to the over all murder rate. They were always a very small set of the number of actual murders and they seem to be driven by very different motivations, don’t you think?

If I had to guess I would say either serial killers are getting caught faster, before they can become serial. Or possibly they just become spree killers and commit one mass murder.


Given the choice, I’d go for a trendy fascination with cat burglars and art thieves, but I guess we go to leisure with the entertainment options we have, rather than the options we wish we had.


kevin drum has a bit of an obsession with environmental lead and over the years he’s convinced me that environmental lead may well account for 75-90% of almost every negative trend of the 20th century that has reversed over the 20-40 years or so that have elapsed since eliminating it from gasoline and paints.


I just don’t think that accounts for the whole of the thing, even if it plays a role. Culture, the shared expression of people, matters.


But unless he can demonstrate actual causal links between environmental lead and all those things, I’m not interested. The whole world has a changed a lot since 1970.


In the 1970s there were more hitchhikers and drifters, who are perfect prey if they are female.


I’ve never looked into it historically, but during that time period, especially the ‘70s-’80s, I had the sense that it involved a reaction to second-wave feminism. Both the killings and the fascination with the killings. Just one more way of trying to keep women scared of going out into the world.

But I guess it wasn’t just women who were killed, and, as you say, there are multiple factors to everything that happens in the world. But it always seemed to be made the most sensational when victims were women. I’m sure my own bias of having been a young adult woman in the ‘70s-’80s contributes to my impression of that period. And having participated in Take Back the Night marches at the time.