People living in the western region of the United States may be the most likely to become victims of a serial killer, while those living in the Northeast may be the least likely, according to a new study led by James DeFronzo, professor emeritus of sociology.
The study, published in the February issue of the journal Homicide Studies, also found that someone living in California may be almost three times more likely to become the victim of a male serial killer than a person living in the state of New York.
| James DeFronzo, emeritus professor of sociology, led a team of researchers studying the incidence of serial killings.
|Photo by Peter Morenus
The study is available on the journal's website.
The research examined male serial killers in the United States from 1970 to 1992, using sociological perspectives long used to understand other crimes. It is the first to offer explanations for the considerable interstate and regional differences in male serial killer activity.
The study found that social structural factors, such as the percentage of a state's population living in urban areas, the percentage of divorced residents, the percentage of one-person households, and the percentage of unemployed residents, helped explain why some states and some regions as a whole are home to more male serial killers.
It also found that cultural factors, such as a high ratio of executions to homicides per state and classification as a southern state, correlated with a higher rate of male serial killers.
"Experts traditionally have used psychiatric analyses to understand male serial killer activity, but the approach has not been able to explain the considerable geographic differences that exist with serial killings," says De Fronzo, who led a team of researchers from UConn, Northeastern University, Villanova University, and Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand.
"This appears to be the first study to show that both cultural and social structural
factors play a role in serial killings."
Existing research suggests that the large majority of male serial killers are psychopathic sexual sadists, while female serial killers have more diverse motives.
A major explanation for the development of both psychopathic and sadistic mental disorders in male serial killers is mistreatment during childhood.
For this study, the researchers focused on male serial killers.
They sought to identify sociological factors that promote predatory inclinations in those at greater risk of becoming serial killers and enable them to act on their sadistic fantasies, in order to explain the considerable interstate and regional differences associated with serial homicides.
The analysis considered 151 male serial killers active in the United States between 1970 and 1992.
The researchers applied two sociological theories traditionally used to explain other crimes in their analysis of the regional differences in male serial homicide - subcultural theory and routine activity theory.
When applied to serial homicide, the subcultural perspective predicts that even if the percentage of males with sexually sadistic urges were the same from place to place, the number of serial killers would vary significantly between communities if one community has norms that promote violence more than another community.
Routine activity theory, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of victims, and predicts that serial killers will strike most often where there are large populations of vulnerable residents.
The researchers found three social structural factors had significant positive relationships with the rates of male serial killers, as calculated by where they killed their largest number of victims: the percentage of the population living in urban areas, the percentage of state population divorced, and the percentage of one-person households.
They also found a significant positive relationship between the execution ratio and rates of male serial killers across states.
When they analyzed the variation in rate of male serial killers by state of early childhood socialization, the researchers found percentage of population living in urban areas, percentage of state population divorced, and percentage of one-person households all had significant positive relationships to the rates.
They also found that the unemployment rate and southern region indicator had significant positive relationships to the rates of male serial killers, but they did not find the positive relationship between execution ratio and rate of serial killers repeated in their second analysis.
"Our most significant finding is that more than half of the interstate variation in the rate of male serial killers can apparently be explained by cultural and social structural variables," DeFronzo said.
"The most surprising finding is that these two types of factors seemed to be about equally important whether rates were calculated on the basis of where serial killers killed their largest number of victims or on the basis of where they were socialized."
Connecticut ranked 30th in the number of male serial killers per 10 million residents, based on the 1980 Census, with a rate of 3.2 during the period 1970-1992.