Of Course There Are Black Serial Killers

The case of the "Grim Sleeper" inspires a second look at the popular perception that serial killing is the province of clever white men.

Lonnie Franklin Jr (Getty Images)
Lonnie Franklin Jr (Getty Images)

“Everyone thought he was a master of disguise and a genius,” he said of Ridgeway. “Nothing could be further from the truth. He painted trucks. His IQ was something like 83. These guys are not smart at all. As a matter of fact, most of them are idiots.”

But there is an element of racism involved in the stereotyping of serial killers, said Paul Ciolino, a longtime Chicago-area private investigator who works as a homicide consultant and most recently helped out on the Dennis Lynn Rader case near Wichita, Kan. (Rader, a white man who was known as the BTK killer — short for “bind, torture and kill” — killed 10 people over a 17-year stretch of time ending in 1991.)

“People still think serial killers as a bunch of white guys who have the bodies stacked up in the basement and strewn all over the countryside, not black guys,” Ciolino said. “They think African Americans are off killing each other. I don’t mean to be brutal here, and it’s gonna come off harsh because I’m a white guy, but the media don’t [see] blacks as being smart enough to be serial killers.”

Actually, serial killers of all hues get away with their crimes for so long because there is no connection between the offender and victim, Schlesinger explained. In most homicides, people kill those with whom they are closely connected, such as a spouse or friend. In serial sexual homicide cases killers often target strangers, and they are usually prostitutes and drug abusers, he said. Prostitutes and drug abusers are easy targets because they have high-risk jobs and they are less likely to be missed by anyone.

In Franklin’s case, the former police mechanic bewildered detectives for more than two decades as they tried to solve the deaths of 10 people, mostly young black women and one man with whom he little to no connection, according to news reports. He was arrested last week after police used DNA swabs from his son to nail him, police said. In some news reports, neighbors described the alleged serial killer as a model citizen. He fixed flats for neighbors and always was willing to lend a helping hand. It’s typical behavior for serial killers, blending into the community so their misdeeds will go undetected.

It’s sad, but there certainly have been a number of black serial killers. Go here for 6 snapshots of some of the nation’s most prolific.

Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.

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