The reason we don't hear more about Black serial killers is not because they don't exist. It's because their victims are rarely newsworthy enough to get the same amount of coverage as white victims.
This essay contains discussion of serial murder and r/pe. Please use discretion.
Even the most depraved and gruesome of the white serial killers who dominated headlines once upon a time continue to be intimately and sometimes even fondly explored through television, film, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment. The most prominent of these killers, who continues to dwell in the social imagination long after his execution, is Ted Bundy—idealized in a way that frames his crimes as more sophisticated than they really were and his acumen as more impressive than it really was.
Our culture’s framing of white serial killers like Bundy as tortured geniuses only serves to memorialize them while allowing their celebrity to overshadow the lives they stole. It’s irresponsible. As is this same culture’s neglect for the crimes committed by Black serial killers, so much so that many people continue to say they’ve “never heard of a Black serial killer” and the myth they don’t exist is regularly perpetuated. I bring these two things into conversation with one another because I believe their connection is significant. These two phenomena—both the glamorizing of white serial killers and the obscurity of Black serial killers—are so prevalent because white men are continually afforded humanity and individualism while Black men are pathologized as inherently violent and animalistic, and because society devalues the victims that Black serial killers primarily target.
The documentary “Unseen” (2016) focuses on the crimes of Anthony Sowell, a man who served fifteen years for a rape he committed in 1989. In early 2009, a woman named Gladys Wade filed a police report against him, stating that he had sexually assaulted her and tried to kill her. Despite there being visible bruises and blood on her neck, police called her claim “unfounded” and determined that there was “insufficient evidence” to make an arrest. In their report, Wade was described as “not credible” as a victim. That same year, Vanessa Gay was held hostage and raped by Sowell. She also found a decapitated body decomposing in his home. Gay managed to convince Sowell that she wouldn’t tell anyone about what he’d done if he let her go. She called the police to inform them about what had happened and what she had seen, but because she never filed an official police report, the incident was never investigated.
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