Thursday, January 2, 2014

Researching Serial Murder

I have been keeping track of cases of serial homicide for the past thirteen years. Researching serial murder requires not only psychological fortitude but a daily commitment to ensure that offenders that are not labeled as serial killers by the media are captured in the data rolls. As opposed to conducting a Lexis Nexis search when you need information for a publication that spans several years, daily searches help to attribute a measure of validity to the data since the likelihood of missing a case is greatly diminished.

There are a few sources that I utilize to locate the names of offenders who are otherwise not identified as serial killers in my daily Google Alert. Twitter is a valuable resource in that it allows the researcher to search for keywords amongst thousands of user generated updates. Unfortunately, most users (like the majority of media outlets) do not label offenders who murder two victims serial killers. A work around to this problem is searching for keywords such as "two victims" or "two homicides". Although Twitter does a fairly good job in searching for variations of words, researchers should search for as many variations as possible. This method, however, can contribute to repetitive results, information overload and search fatigue.

I also search the Innocence Project website and the National Registry of Exonerations website once a month since some serial killers have been responsible for the murder that an innocent individual was accused and incarcerated. Once the court system acknowledges this error, the guilty party is typically identified. Since these cases are usually very old when the true killer is identified, they infrequently make the news. This requires the researcher to read each case to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the offender's background and if they were responsible for any additional homicides.

Law enforcement agencies are beginning to address their backlogs of untested evidence in the search for perpetrators of violence. As such, cold case blogs are another great source of information on the status of cases that had been placed on the shelf until advancements in DNA technology could catch up to law enforcement's needs. Researchers should be aware that, although new instances of serial homicides are in decline, there has been an influx of cases involving killers responsible for murders that occurred in prior decades. When these killers are uncovered, they are rarely included in the data rolls of new editions of the books that catalog serial killers.

We may begin to see an uptick in unsolved homicides due to the dwindling numbers of seasoned detectives dedicated to the investigation of major felonies, the reprioritization of the FBI's primary function from law enforcement to national security, the amount of time that DNA evidence takes to be processed (from 97 days in 2009 to 161 days in 2013 in NY) and the massive backlogs of uncompleted autopsies at medical examiner's offices.