The reason that we don’t hear more about Black serial killers is not because they don’t exist. Rather, it’s because their victims are rarely newsworthy enough to get the same amount of coverage as white victims.
Charles Manson is finally dead. Good. A cult leader with a cult following, he inspired various fan clubs and Tumblr blogs, and had several hybristophiliacs fall “in love” with him during his time behind bars. The same is true of the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. White serial killers (I don’t care that Manson is “technically not a serial killer,” I did not come to argue with y’all) achieve notoriety and fandoms, even the most depraved and gruesome of them, like Albert Fish and Andrei Chikatilo.
We get to learn intimate details about their motivations for killing and how their childhood may or may not have contributed to their eventual murder sprees. We talk at length about their “human side.” The same is not true of serial killers of color, especially Black serial killers. They are so neglected that there is a widely accepted myth that they don’t even exist.
The Atlanta Child Murders will reportedly play a significant part in the second season of the recent Netflix hit, Mindhunter. These murders were committed by one of the very few Black serial killers that some people do know of, but those who know of Wayne Williams tend to be true crime junkies like myself or from the Atlanta area and old enough to remember the terror that he caused or at least its aftermath.
Black serial killers exist. There have been many more like Wayne Williams, just as there have been many more like Ed Kemper and Jerry Brudos. Yet, we do not know their names as well as we know those of the white men, or even white women like Aileen Wuornos, who dominated headlines once upon a time and continue to be intimately, and sometimes even fondly, explored through television, film, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment. The cultural obsession with Ed Gein changed the entire horror genre as we know it, as his crimes became the inspiration for Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre among various other productions.
Most crime is intraracial, but especially murder. Black serial killers tend to have Black victims, as white killers tend to have white victims. The reason that we don’t hear more about Black serial killers is not because they don’t exist. Rather, it’s because their victims are rarely newsworthy enough to get the same amount of coverage as white victims.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. Derek Todd Lee, Coral Watts, and Kendall Francois primarily killed white women, just as Gary Ridgway and Jeffrey Dahmer predominantly killed people of color.
The reality is that white victims get more attention. Even the film Prisoners spends more time focusing on the white family than it does on their Black neighbors whose daughter has also been abducted, because we are obsessed with white women and girls in peril.
There is proven bias in news coverage of missing people of color and Missing White Woman Syndrome is real and apparent. It’s evident in the creepy fixation with JonBenet Ramsey all these years later while that same level of shock is not granted to missing and murdered Black girls, in part because Black girls are always-already seen as less innocent than white girls, and this lack of concern for Black girls extends to Black women.
Black serial killers often target Black women, especially sex workers and drug addicts. Near where I grew up and still have family living, a serial killer claimed the lives of at least 7 Black women in Rocky Mount, NC. They were drug-addicted sex workers, as well as mothers, daughters, and friends to many. They were people whose lives mattered, but there was little urgency in solving their murders.
“By the early summer of 2009, three poor black women of the Rocky Mount streets were missing and another six were dead—with three of the bodies found along or near Seven Bridges Road—and the authorities had not deemed it important to notify the community that a serial killer was likely in their midst… Destitute black women in a hopeless pocket of America meeting violence and rape and murder with no one to stop it—it is an infuriating constant.”
Wayne Williams killed 28 children, adolescents, and adults. Henry Louis Wallace brutally ripped 10 women from this world. Chester Turner is suspected to have ended the lives of over 100 women. Shelley Andre Brooks killed at least seven sex workers. Maury Travis tortured and killed as many as 20. The Grim Sleeper had at least 11 victims. There are many more and the vast majority of their crimes include sexual violence.
This is not a call for Black serial killers to be heralded in the same light and celebrity as H. H. Holmes and his ilk. Rather, it is a plea to recognize the devastation that they caused for the families and others surrounding their victims. I want us to mourn these stolen lives as much as we mourn the JonBenet Ramseys of the world.