In recent years, “True Crime” media has seen a resurgence in interest thanks in no small part to the success of podcasts like “Serial” and shows like Netflix’s “Mind Hunter.” While there has always been a market for tales about the grizzly acts of murderers and the law enforcement effort to catch them, it’s safe to say America has shifted its posture toward the very concept of serial killers as of late. Where the phrase could once elicit fear, it now tends to spark little more than interest. Our modern fears have changed along with our culture, and today, Americans are far more worried about being the victim of a mass shooting or terror attack than falling prey to a man-eater like Jeffrey Dahmer… But just because we like to think of serial killers as a thing of the past doesn’t mean they actually are.
We may tend to discount the topic as a crime-ridden facet of the 70s and 80s, but serial killers are invariably a product of their time, and modern killers would have adjusted their practices to suit the modern era. A killer that grew up on a steady supply of episodes of “CSI” and “The Forensic Files” would logically go about killing in a different way than a 1970s killer might, and importantly, jurors in any ensuing trial will also be affected by their own TV and movie based preconceived notions regarding evidence. In law enforcement communities, they tend to call this the “CSI Effect” — where criminals take great care to limit the evidence they leave behind and jurors increasingly demand irrefutable scientific evidence in order to convict, both as a result of watching crime-based television programs.
While there remains a lively debate about the CSI Effect, it’s important to point it out as a part of the larger discussion regarding serial killers, because despite our commonly held belief that America has left its serial killing past behind (perhaps in favor of spree killers instead), crime statistics suggest that it’s not only possible that serial killers are continuing to operate in the United States, it seems likely that some could be doing an excellent job of getting away with it too.
Although we like to think that it would be next to impossible to get away with murder in this era of cameras in every pocket and high-tech crime solving methods, the truth is, nearly 40% of all murders in the United States go unsolved. And rape, which is often a precursor to murder in a serial killer’s development, has an even more upsetting solvency rate at just about 34.5%. That means more than 65% of reported rapes don’t result in an arrest and conviction. So, while America pats itself on the back for getting past its serial killer history, the truth is more likely that any serial killers operating today have simply gotten much better at avoiding arrest.