How to avoid serial killers and other bad guys – tips for your kids and yourself about trusting your gut, tricky people, social media, and more

(Part two of a three part series)

Many years ago my best friend Sandie, age 9, was riding her bike on a sidewalk in Salem, Virginia when she noticed a man sitting in his car on the other side of the road, motioning with his arm for her to come over. She heard him saying something about being “lost” and “needing help.” She stopped her bike and was about to cross the street to go see what this man wanted when all the sudden a huge wave of fear washed over her.  She heard something in her spirit say “do not cross the road.”  She immediately got back on her bike and pedaled away.  She took one last look behind her and noticed that the man in the parked car was now driving away as another car had pulled up behind him.  In her young heart, she had a thought that the man was a bad guy and that the other car came up behind the bad guy’s car and forced him to leave.

She felt God’s protection that day.

And she trusted her gut.

And by the way, the guy who was asking for help was a “Tricky Person.”

These are all things (and many more) I will be discussing in today’s blog post as well as in Part III.

Sandie, at the age she was approached by a tricky person on her bike.

First a qualifier: the information I am about to share is not rocket science, and maybe you know some or all of it, but hopefully it will be useful to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of a violent crime in general or a serial killer specifically.

Serial killers in brief:

If you missed part I, please click here, but here are the cliff notes:

  • Although serial killers are less common than they once were, there are still approximately 50 of them trolling for victims at any given time.
  • They typically choose young women as their victims, but they also can choose a wide variety of victims including young men, prostitutes, and the elderly.  They tend to choose people who are in a vulnerable situation or those who won’t be missed. Sometimes the victim is what they are ‘looking for,’ other times it’s just a case of wrong place/wrong time, and finally, sometimes the serial killer sees an opportunity and decides to “go for it.”
  • Serial killers trick or lure their victims, sometimes by asking for help or pretending to be an authority figure (like a police officer).  Sometimes they target their victims.  Sometimes they act suddenly if an opportunity presents itself.
  • Serial killings have changed over the decades: first, there are statistically less of them; second, they now use social media as a tool; and finally, they are more apt to use other methods of “mass killings” such as using mass gun violence or using vehicles that plow into a greater number of people (as just happened in New York City and Texas).
  • I tell my three creepy men stories; two of the stories were about men who followed me, and if you just want to quickly read my own stories, click my three stories.
  • Ever wonder how serial killers are made?  I found this article and it supports what I have read elsewhere: here.  Ted Bundy admits that pornogrpahy played a huge role in his eventual murder of so many women; you can watch a short video clip here: Ted Bundy’s final interview right before he is executed.
  • And to be super well-researched, to read an official FBI report about serial killers, click here.

So how do we protect our kids from serial killers (although less common) and other bad guys (way more common than we realize)?  I think it first starts with an awareness, and then it moves to education.  First we educate ourselves and then pass that onto our kids in an age-appropriate way.  The awesome thing about the list below is that it applies to serial killers but you can also apply it across the board to other situations.  So without further delay, here is the Top Ten list.

1. Trust Your Gut (As mentioned in Part I):  If something feels off, it probably is, so back away, or run.  

I read Gavin De Becker’s book The Gift of Fear years ago and I still remember the bottom line of the book is to trust your gut.  When dealing with a potential bad guy, here are four tricks he might use: forced teaming, too many details, unsolicited promises, and feminine references. Let me give you a short paragraph that encompasses all four qualities at the same time (I got this idea from watching the end of the The Lovely Bones (a movie about a serial killer):

At the end of the movie, the serial killer sees a young woman out alone on a cold winter night smoking a cigarette and he says to her: “Wow, it sure is cold out here for the both of us tonight  Brrrr.  Do you need a ride? I have to go pick up my wife.  I can take you where you want to go.  It’s not good for us to be stuck out in this cold weather. Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything. I was once out in the cold for a whole night and I almost froze to death.”  The bad guy used four deceptive tactics to reassure the girl that he is safe.  The problem is that he tried too hard and thus gave himself away.  But you would only know this if you know what to look for.

Tell your kids:  Trust your gut, and if something feels off, then run and don’t care what the other person thinks of you.  And if someone is trying too hard to convince you to trust them, they could be a bad guy, and you should leave.

2. Never get into a car with someone you do not know, and NEVER hitchhike. 

Since my blog is all about complete and utter honesty, I must confess to you that I have broken this rule a few times in my life.  One incident occurred in my early 20s. My car had broken down on the side of the highway and I started walking towards a pay phone (about a mile up the road, at a toll booth), when all of the sudden, a man in pick up truck pulled over and asked me if I needed a ride.  He was smiling and had long brown hair pulled back into a ponytail.  I hesitated a moment and then said yes.  I got in his truck.  As I entered his truck I blurted out: “I truly hope you are a good guy and not a serial killer.”  🙂

He laughed and said “nope, not a serial killer.  Where do you need to go?”  I told him “just after the toll road there are pay phones on the right, please stop there.”  After he paid the toll I held my breath, and for a moment in time I thought: “this is it — if he is bad guy — I’m toast.”

Thankfully, he pulled right over and dropped me off at the pay phones. Looking back, I should have walked the mile or five miles or whatever it was and NOT accepted a ride from a stranger.

So many serial killers hunt hitchhikers or offer people rides.  A study of serial homicides states that in 78 percent of the cases, the bad guy used a vehicle directly or indirectly in the murder, and that 50 percent of the bad guys who did use a vehicle used it to offer their prey a ride.  (source: Catching Serial Killers, James, p. 196).  Wow!!!

Here is a direct quote from David Gore, who killed up to twenty or more young women:

“Our favorite target was hitchhikers. We used to laugh and call them FREEBIES because there was basically no risk involved and they were easy to catch.”

Tell your kids: when we were growing up, a lot of people hitchhiked and a lot of bad guys would do bad things to them.  Do not get into a car with someone you do not know.  If you are stranded with no phone (we don’t allow our girls to have a phone yet, but they have an iPod with apps on it), find a store clerk or police officer and ask for help. Keep walking until you find help.  And be aware of Tricky People who may use their car to lure you over to them.

The car that Ted Bundy used to kidnap and murder perhaps over a 100 young women (exact number was never admitted to). Never get into a car with someone you don’t know.

3. Beware of Tricky People.

Tricky People are bad adults who act like they need help from kids or teenagers, in an attempt to lure them, like in Sandie’s story above. Tricky people are also adults who are not known to your kids, who are unusually interested in them and try to communicate with them (or try to befriend them or gain their trust) for a bad agenda.

Since when do grown adults EVER need help from kids or teens or want to show them something cool inside their home?  They usually don’t.  Unless it’s a super frail elderly couple lost in your neighborhood, don’t let people lure you over to their car because they need “help with directions” or “hey, I lost my puppy.”  Nope.

Tell your kids: Adults are adults and don’t need kids to help them with ANYTHING, and most adults are not really that interested in other people’s kids, anyway. 90 percent of the adult and teen population have smart phones and can google almost anything, including directions.  Never go with an adult who “needs” you to assist them with anything.

To watch a slightly dated but still relevant two minute video of Oprah Winfrey explaining how easy it is to lure young children away, click here.

For more information on tricky people, click here.

4. Use social media very wisely.

As parents, it’s our job to help our kids wisely manage their social media interactions.  I will be doing a separate blog post on this topic later, but serial killers and other bad guys often use social media to both find/identify, “follow”, and then later meet up with a potential young victim.  Please be aware of how much information is getting out to the public about you and your kids.  Be especially on the lookout for “location services” on your phone.  Make sure it’s turned off on the pictures you (or they) post.  My girls have private Instagram and Snapchat accounts and they are only followed by people they know. Social media use is a privilege and can be taken away any time.  We as parents need to check in on their accounts from time to time.  For example, we found out one of our daughters had 300 Instagram followers on her account, almost all of whom she did not know.  We went through and deleted 297 of them.

She was not happy, but she is safe.

Serial killers have used the internet and social media and I suspect that, for some of them, this is the new easy way of locating victims (here and here).

Tell your kids: (now this is just my opinion) please be careful about who you are following and who is following you, do not post provocative things on social media, and keep your accounts private.  Sometime gross older grown men who are overweight and in their 40s or 50s pretend to be a young teenagers on Instagram or Kik or Snapchat etc., because they want to trick you, meet up with you, and then do bad things to you.  Other times a kid you don’t know that well might be a “go between” between you and people who want to do bad things to you.  If you are not sure about someone or get a weird vibe about someone, tell mom or dad. And if someone uses social media to try to meet up with you, you freaking better tell mom and dad and absolutely don’t meet up with them.

To read an article that talks about how sex traffickers use social media to target girls, please click here.

4.  Never open the front door to a person you don’t know.  

Whenever the doorbell rings, I always hesitate to even go to the door.  But I do, because it could be a neighborhood kid asking my kids to play.  Which I love.  But I always tell my kids to NEVER open the door for a person they don’t know when mom and dad are not home.  It’s probably a person trying to sell them something or getting information or sharing information, but my kids can’t do anything about that anyway, so why have them even open the door?

I can’t tell you the number of stories I read about serial killers who, in my opinion, took the ‘easy way out’ and just went up to the front door and smooth-talked their way inside the house (Bobby Joe Long for one, as found in the book My Life Among the Serial Killers, Helen Morrison, p. 152).  One young girl was targeted after school and followed home.  Bobby Joe Long waited a few minutes, rang the front door, and the naive girl let him in. He very easily killed her a few minutes later.

Tell your kids: keep the doors and windows locked while we are gone, and don’t open up the front door.  Don’t even go to the door if someone knocks.  If it’s an emergency and police officers are at the door, tell them to call mom and dad (on our cell phones) first to get permission.  A lot of serial killers pretended to be police officers and fire fighters.  Stay in the house.

5.  Be alert to your surroundings and walk with your head up, looking around, and with confidence.  Don’t get caught just ‘sitting in the car’ and ‘looking at your phone.’

There are so many people out in public walking with their head down, looking at their phones, or just sitting in their cars, looking at their phones.

Bad guys look for people who are vulnerable and distracted and busy and won’t notice them launching a sneak attack.  If you do need a moment or two to respond to a text in your car after you are safely pulled over, always keep your door locked and windows up.

From David Gore: “I could sit in a parking lot and watch and observe women and I could tell you how alert they were.”

Tell your kids: keep your head up, looking around, walk with self-confidence, and stay off your phones.  And, if possible, walk with someone else. Notice what seems good and what seems “off.”

6.  If you see something, say something.

If you see a random car just hanging out at your school, like watching the kids at recess for example, get the license plate number if possible.  If there is a man you’ve never seen walking at an odd time through your neighborhood, pay attention and observe him. It could be absolutely nothing.  But it’s good to be on the lookout just in case.  Credible eye witnesses make the law enforcement world go ’round.

One time I went to my local library (lots of kids everywhere plus across the street from a school) and noticed a man sitting next to me in his car, with his pants down, doing something that men should only do in private. I called 9-11 and reported him.  Maybe doing what he did was as far as he will ever go with his sexual issue, but what if it’s not?  What if he is practicing up to be a bad guy?  Call 9-11 or your local area’s non-emergency number if you see suspicious activity.

Tell your kids: pay attention to things that seem “off.”  Stay away from men just sitting in their car, or from people watching you closely whom you do not know.  Watch out for a ruse or a scam from a bad guy (more on that in Part I).

7. Don’t go out alone at night.

This goes without saying but please, for the love of so many things, do not go out alone at night, on a nice long jog with your headphones on, all alone on a back country road.  I read a story of one lovely young 19 year old out jogging on a MARINE BASE one night who was brutally murdered.  Go jogging or walking with a friend or go during the light of day. If you are a woman who frequents bars and clubs, please find someone to walk you to where you are going.

Tell your kids: have a plan and don’t be out alone at night.  And if you are at a party, and there are things going on there that you know aren’t good, or if you get stranded somewhere, call us and we will come get you and you will not be in trouble.  If you don’t have your phone with you, try finding a store clerk, a pregnant woman, a bus driver, or someone else that seems safe and ask them for help (as a last resort).

9. Have a plan of where you will sleep.

Years ago Sandie (all grown up) took off spontaneously for a quick beach trip with a friend.  They ‘assumed’ they would find a cheap hotel on the beach. They assumed wrong as there was ‘no room for them at the Inn.’  They decided to buy some blankets and camping gear and thought it would be fun to ‘sleep on the beach’ that night. Bad idea. Sandie woke up the middle of the night with a creepy man wearing all black watching them from a distance.  She tried to stay awake but then fell back asleep.  About an hour later she felt something brush her leg and she woke up with a start.  She noticed the creepy man in black not five feet away just staring at her. Not a great thing to wake up to.  They abandoned their “beach sleepover” and got the heck out of dodge.

Tell your older kids (and tell yourself!): If you decide on a spontaneous road trip, make sure you plan ahead for where you will end up sleeping for the night and don’t try to wing it.  You may not find a hotel or they all may be full.  Make a plan before you go.

10. If the worst case scenerio happens, and you find yourself taken in a car by a bad guy:

Obviously, if you have a cell phone, use it. Call 9-11 and just let the operator pick up and don’t say anything.  I did some research and apparently there’s an app for kidnapping victims here.

If you have no phone or your phone gets taken, then let’s use the above example of how I was picked up and given a ride by a stranger.  Lets say the worst case scenario happened and instead of pulling over at the pay phone, the guy with a ponytail gunned the engine and took off a high speed, intending to take me to a secondary location.  What would I do?  I first would fasten my seatbelt.  Secondly, I would say a silent prayer for safety.  Third, I would either do the following: attempt to crash his car (when he reached a slower speed), or attempt to talk to him about God. If you want to be really inspired, listen the testimony of Margie Mayfield who was taken and later released by a serial killer, Stephan Morin.  How?  She spent several hours talking to him about God’s love. By the end of her day long captivity, they actually became friends.  He became a Christian that day and said that all the rage and hate he had inside of him his whole life was gone in that moment.  Later, he was captured and spent the remainder of his years in prison being a witness for God.

Margie’s amazing story is here.

Le’t get back to talking as a diversion tactic. Ted Bundy stated that he avoided getting into any extended conversations with his victims because that might remind him of their personal characteristics.  The FBI suggests that talking is probably the most effective and promising way to diffuse a violent situation.  (Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky, p. 376). Talking to the bad guy helped a young woman go free when her potential killer found out her father was dying of cancer.  Another bad guy let his victim go free when he learned she was sexually abused as a child. (source: ibid, p. 377.)

Tell your kids: First, of course, try to escape and do not go anywhere with him!  If taken, call 9-11, or try to talk to the bad guy to get him to see you as human. And because we are a Christian family: pray silently for God to protect you, pray aloud that God will protect you with his Angels, even pray aloud for the bad guy.  If your hands are free, try to make him take the car off the road, and if you get away, and if he has a gun, run anyway (it’s very hard to hit a moving target) and try to escape.

I know talking about these 10 things could alarm our kids.  I get that.  And talking to your kids about worst case scenarios are difficult at best, and possibly wholly inadequate in the moment.  I get that too.  My advice isn’t perfect. The way my husband and I approach our safety talks is that we tell our kids that God is their ultimate protector and, generally speaking, God protects His children.  We tell them that we pray regularly for God’s protection over them.  But we also tell them that bad things can happen to good kids, and we want to prepare them for something ‘just in case’ it happens.  We tell them that there are many things that they can do to avoid bad guys, and it’s our job as parents to equip and educate them. The culture of our family has always been complete honesty and talking about grown-up things in an age-appropriate way, so my kids are not overly surprised or scared about anything.  I don’t know what your family’s culture is, but consider telling them a few items on the Top Ten list if you think it could help them.  Just my two cents.

The other day I went over a few items on the Top Ten list with my own kids and started talking about the Tricky Person when my son interrupted me and said “yeah, yeah mom. Tricky people are bad adults who pretend to want or need something from kids.  But adult are adults and don’t need help from kids.  Can we stop at McDonalds on the way home from school?”

‘Nuff said.  The kids now roll their eyes at mom when I go over safety items with them, but I would rather them roll their eyes at me in annoyance than to be tricked our lured (or targeted) by a bad guy. I love them too much to avoid this topic.

Above all, I pray God’s protection over them, and tell them to pray, too. Because at the end of the day, my words and warnings may not be enough. I am grateful that their lives are in the hand of the Lord, and He is their ultimate protector, and He watches over them.

I wil close with two verses which bring me comfort:

Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked; protect me from the violent, who devise ways to trip my feet. Psalm 140:4

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber, indeed, He who watches over you will neither slumber or sleep.  Psalm 121:2-4


Please feel free to share other safety tips with me (or any other comments) in the comment section!

If you missed Part I, here it is: Protecting our Girls from Serial Killers – Part I

And Part III, the conclusion of this series, is here: The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

5 thoughts on “How to avoid serial killers and other bad guys – tips for your kids and yourself about trusting your gut, tricky people, social media, and more

  1. Pingback: Missing Cats, Dogs, People (and Socks). Where do they go? Do they ever come home? – Permission 2 Speak Freely

  2. Pingback: Protecting our Girls from Serial Killers – Part I – Permission 2 Speak Freely

  3. Pingback: The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (And Other Bad Guys) – Permission 2 Speak Freely

  4. sandie

    I love the book Gift of Fear! It changed my perspective many years ago when I read it. It is basic common sense things that a trusting person doesn’t expect from a person bent on doing evil. I want to say that I was lucky because when I think of the victims of random violent crimes as wrong time wrong place, it makes me so grateful that it wasn’t my time to be a victim. I don’t know why some kids get away and some don’t. It just totally sucks that we have evil in this world. But I do know that experience as a 9 year old, makes me tell my own boys don’t talk to any adult who asks for help or directions. I say this to them EVERY time they take off on their bikes around our “safe” little neighborhood. Like Logan, they too say…yeah yeah…Heather, I hope your blog enlightens others and give pointers for talking to our children. Some times, you gotta keep it real, when you have experienced the ugly side of human nature in your own life.

    Liked by 1 person

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