| The Imperceptible Phenomenon of Black Sexual Serial Killers
Vernon J. Geberth, M.S., M.P.S
Copyright © 2012
See Data Spreadsheet
The term Black instead of African-American is used because not all persons who are Black are African-American. Also in Law Enforcement as well as in clinical studies we use the terms White, Black, Hispanic Asian and Native American as descriptors for clarity.
There exists a myth that there are hardly any Black serial killers and/or that Black serial killers are a rarity. This perception most likely is based on the media coverage on Television and/or the Hollywood movies like Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal which exclusively focused on White serial killers. The impression that serial killers are usually white is further solidified based upon the research that had been done by the FBI’s Behavioral Science unit that examined 36 convicted serial murderers 90% of whom were white. In fact, most FBI profiles describe the unknown serial murderers as UNSUB, white Male within age ranges from 20 to 40 years of age. Statistically speaking, most serial murderers in the United States are predominantly white but current research indicates that the overall percentage of Black serial killers has almost doubled since the 1980’s with a significant increase during the last 20 years. This article will address the perception and reality of sexual serial murder based upon an historical analysis of sexual serial killings committed by 155 Black serial offenders, who represent 37.2% of all sexual serial murders in the U.S. as of April, 2012.
Keywords: homicide investigation, serial murder, signature, modus operandi, linkage blindness,
sexual assault, rape, sodomy
Serial killers can be White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and/or Native American. In fact, serial killers can be from any ethnic grouping. Serial killers can come from all races, cultures, nationalities, educational level, economic level, gender and sexual orientation. Statistically speaking, most serial murderers in the United States are predominantly white. However, there has been an increase in male Black serial killers, most of whom had a history of rape and/or other sexual assault, who kill to prevent identification. (Geberth, 2010) (1)
The media has either ignored Black sexual serial killers or opted not to focus on the race of the serial killer due to some illogical interpretation of political correctness. Only recently has the media reported on Black sexual serial killers with the arrest and conviction of Anthony Sowell, “The Cleveland Strangler”, who had killed 11 women between 2005 and 2009 and more recently the arrest of “The Grim Sleeper” in Los Angeles who killed 10 women between1985 and 2007. Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. a Black Male was finally identified after all these years through a Familial DNA Analysis. Franklin’s DNA matched the forensic evidence from all of the crime scenes.
The obsessive media attention on some of the infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, William Bonin (The Freeway Killers) Kenneth Bianci and Angelo Bouno (The Hillside Stranglers), David Berkowitz (The Son of Sam), Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker), Gary Ridgeway (The Green River Murders), Dennis Rader, (The BTK Killer) and Jeffrey Dahmer created the perception that all serial killers are White males.
In fact, most of the FBI profiles for serial murder described the unknown serial murderers with the term UNSUB and that the offender would be a White male, 20 to 30 or 25 to 35 or 20 to 40 years of age who resided in the area. Furthermore, the FBI research concluded that serial murders were committed intra-racially (within the same race) as opposed to interracially.
When the Atlanta Child Killings of 1979 into 1981 were initially recognized as a pattern it was suggested that the offender would be a White male based upon the research that had been done by the FBI’s Behavioral Science unit that examined thirty-six convicted incarcerated sexual murderers. It wasn’t until The FBI Behavioral Science Unit agents went to the area where these killings occurred in Atlanta that they realized a white male couldn’t have perpetrated these murders in such a predominantly Black area. (Michaud & Hazelwood, 1998). (2)
The arrest of Wayne Williams, as a Black serial killer, was considered an anomaly. The media covered this event as though there had never been any Black serial killers prior to 1980. Yet this paper identified 29 Black sexual serial killers, which included Wayne Williams prior to 1981.
However, even after the Wayne Williams case the standard FBI profiles still focused on the UNSUB, White male and that serial offenders usually target victims within their own race.
The Law Enforcement Perception
Investigatively speaking, the general public and possibly even some folks in law enforcement and criminal justice community are under the false perception that Black sexual serial killers are a rarity. The consequences of this mindset are that it makes it easier for Black serial murderers to go undetected for a longer period of time. In addition, an agency may find themselves the subject to a wrongful death investigation based upon law enforcement error in not linking a case to a Black serial killer in time which resulted in the death of an additional victim due to linkage blindness.
This resulted in linkage blindness (Geberth, 2006) (3) and a major embarrassment for the law enforcement authorities in the Timothy Wilson Spencer case in Virginia, George Waterfield Russell case in Washington State, and Derrick Todd Lee in Louisiana. The FBI profile in these three cases described the offenders as an UNSUB White Male 20 to 30 who resided in the area. Spencer, Russell and Lee were Black.
Furthermore, all of the victims in these cases were white females, which did not correspond with the theory that serial murderers killed their victims intra-racially (within the same race) as opposed to interracially. The following case histories illustrate this dilemma.
Timothy Spencer, a Black, Male was linked by DNA to five sex-related serial murders in Virginia in 1987. Timothy Wilson Spencer was a “Cat” Burglar and rapist, who would select and stalk his victims waiting until they were alone. He entered their homes while they were asleep and then sexually attacked and killed them to prevent identification. He killed in three different jurisdictions to avoid detection. (Geberth, 2006) (4) (Mones, 1995) (5) (Case File)(6)
The first victim was Carolyn Jean Hamm, 32-years-old, who lived by herself in a house in Arlington, Virginia. However, Spencer was not linked to this case until after his arrest as a serial killer in 1987 when his DNA matched the evidence from Carolyn Hamm.
On January 25, 1984, the body of Carolyn Jean Hamm was discovered in the basement of her home when co-workers became concerned about her absence. She had been raped, sodomized and strangled to death with a piece of Venetian blind cord. The F.B.I.’s Behavioral Science Unit surmised that the killer was a White male in his late twenties to early thirties who resided in the area.
The senior profilers pointed out that on one hand the killer’s actions were immature. But on the other hand they stated that the bindings and control elements were a sign of maturity. According to the profilers this indicated two different personalities or two people involved in murder. On February 6, 1984 police announced the arrest of David Vasquez, who matched the F.B.I. profile of the killer. Pubic hair found at the scene matched Vasquez but the blood type did not suggesting two persons.
David Vasquez’s attorney realizing that his client who was identified in the FBI Profile, would face the Death Penalty decided to plea him out. David Vasquez was sent to State Prison as a convicted murderer.
On September 19, 1987 at 9:45 A.M., thirty-five year-old Debbie Dudley Davis was found dead in the bedroom of her first floor apartment in The Westover Hills District of Richmond, Virginia by her husband, who had returned from a business trip. The woman had been strangled to death with a sock, which had been tightened around her neck with a pipe from a vacuum cleaner and there was evidence of sexual activity at the scene. Biological fluid was recovered from the body and bedding in the crime scene and submitted to Lifecodes Corporation for DNA analysis. Richmond detectives determined that the victim’s apartment had been entered through an open rear window, where a screen had been cut to allow the window to be raised to allow the offender access to the apartment.
On October 3, 1987, two weeks later, a thirty-two year Susan Elizabeth Hellams, a medical doctor in Residence at Medical College of Virginia was found dead in her apartment in the Westover Hills District of Richmond, Virginia by her husband. Her husband, who was also a doctor in Residence, discovered his wife’s naked body in a bedroom closet in their second floor apartment at approximately 2:00 A.M. when he returned from work. She also had raped, sodomized and strangled to death with a belt, which had been tightened around her neck. Biological fluid was recovered from the body and the woman’s slip as well as the crime scene and submitted to Lifecodes Corporation for DNA analysis. Richmond detectives determined that the victim’s apartment had been entered through a second story window where a screen had been cut out.
Richmond authorities immediately linked these two cases based on the similar “Modus Operandi” as well as the “Signature” components. The Modus Operandi suggested a stalker who knew that both victims were alone in their homes at the time of their assault. The fact that both victims lived with a male, who was absent at the time of the assault further supported the stalker theory. Both crimes occurred with a one mile radius and both victims were strangled with ligature. The “Signature” component was in the presentation of the victims in the scene. Both victims were nude and bound with their hands behind their backs in similar fashion and the killer left the ligatures intact.
This linkage was solidified through the DNA analysis from Lifecodes Corporation, which revealed that the rape-murders of Debbie Dudley Davis and Susan Elizabeth Hellums were a positive match. A serial killer was now biologically and molecularly identified and linked to these two murders cases.
The F.B.I.’s Behavioral Science Unit was requested to analyze the two Richmond cases for authorities. Their opinion of the case was that the murders were committed by a White, male twenties to thirties, who resided in the area. This was further affirmed by their forensic psychiatrist, who acted as a consultant to the F.B.I. He was quoted in the Richmond News Leader as stating that the offender wouldn’t be Black. These profiles were based on the logical probabilities that most serial killers statistically were White and that their crimes were intra-racially oriented.
The Richmond police concentrated their investigation on White suspects resulting in Linkage Blindness.