The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

On July 26, 2015, Neal Falls (a serial killer) responded to an online ad for an escort service and arrived at the home of a woman named Heather in Charleston, West Virginia.  When the unsuspecting woman opened up the door, he stood there with a gun pointed at her face and said these chilling words: “Live or die?” He then proceeded to start choking her to death.  The fiesty woman grabbed a rake and smashed him in the side of the head, which distracted him long enough for her to grab his gun and fire behind her, killing him instantly. The woman ran from her home and sought refuge at her neighbors’ home. When the police arrived, they found a chilling discovery: the bad guy had a ‘serial killer tool kit’ in his car (consisting of a bullet proof vest, axes, and hand-cuffs, etc.) and a list of the names and ages of 10 women in different states.  The police believe that this serial killer was potentially responsible for the deaths of nine women across three states.

This hero woman basically knocked off a serial killer in one fatal blow, thus saving many other lives. (full story here.)

Is it possible to survive a serial killer?  And what can we learn from the ones who got away and lived to tell?

The short answer is yes, it is possible to survive a serial killer, however, it’s not very likely. 

But first, two somewhat depressing statistics about serial killers: only approximately 7.5 percent of victims survive a serial killer attack, and 75 percent of the victims of serial killers simply had the bad luck of being targeted by them at random and were not able to evade or disengage from them. (source, Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky, p. 371. and also here.)

But please remember this: your best bet is to not become a victim in the first place, and there are definitely things you can do to avoid these bad guys, which I discussed in part II (here).

In this final post on protecting our kids (and ourselves) from serial killers, I will share the following:

  • Research on how the victims actually survived a serial killer (there are five ways);
  • Compelling survival stories;
  • Things we can learn from these survivors, including if my Top Ten list was applicable (or not);
  • God’s protection and the serial killer;
  • Closing (deep) thoughts to wrap up this series.

After spending several hours studying this topic and identifying over 40 serial killer survival stories (using books and the Internet), here are the Top Five Ways a person can actually survive a serial killer attack:

45% survived by using their SKILLS.  These were the heroes who fought off their attacker, were kidnapped and locked in a bedroom but escaped out a window, or they talked to the serial killer in such a way that he let them go, etc.  They used their physical and intellectual abilities and skill to escape their attacker.

20% were LEFT for DEAD but lived to tell.  The bad guy thought they were actually dead (but they were barely alive) when he left them to die.  These were the stories of victims who were stabbed, run over, strangled, shot, beaten over the head with a pipe, thrown into a well…you name it, they went through it.  But the common thread is that by some miracle, they survived their harrowing ordeal.

18% were saved by DIVINE INTERVENTION. The way these women and men survived can ONLY be described as completely miraculous, with even the victims and the serial killers themselves admitting as much (at times).

12% were saved by LUCK.  First of all, I don’t really believe in luck and was super tempted to lump this all into the “divine intervention” category.  However, I hesitated because the common thread of these men and women is that they had a random turn of events break in their favor for no apparent reason.  They didn’t use much of their own skill (sorry to say) and I’m not sure if their escape was a direct miracle of God or not (although to me the fact that they got away was God’s intervention, in my opinion), but either way, God allowed them to be super lucky.  🙂

5% were saved by the POLICE.  There were two stories where the cops burst in literally in the knick of time to save the life of the victim who was very close to death.  This category deserves a mention as I strongly support the men and women of law enforcement.

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Two more final statistics for you.  First, I wanted to see how many victims were innocently targeted and taken completely by surprise by the bad guy, and here is what I found:

The victims that were targeted at random and were subject to a sneak attack by the bad guy for which they had no control accounted for 50% of the cases.

The second group were the ones who were either a. Tricked or lured by the serial killer b. Were in a vulnerable situation (drunk and alone late at night, for example), or c. In a vulnerable demographic (for example, a prostitute) or d. Did not use the best judgment.

The ones who were tricked, lured, or became vulnerable to an attack of a bad guy accounted for, you guessed it, 50% of the cases.

  • So, by studying the survival stories, I learned that about half of the time there is nothing you can do to avoid a serial killer if you are targeted by them in the first place. 
  • However, the other half of the time there are still things you can absolutely do to reduce your chances of encountering these killers.

So without further delay, here are some Serial Killer Survival Stories.  I have to be honest with you and admit that I was able to keep my emotions pretty much in check until I read a lot of these stories.

My deepest admiration goes out to these amazing, bad-ass men and women for surviving these horrible monsters.

Skill stories:

I will start with a story involving the infamous Ted Bundy.  One day, a young woman named Rhonda innocently accepted a ride from him and he ended up taking her to a canyon, where he strangled and raped her for several hours.  She woke up in pitch blackness and noticed that he was in his car with the dome light on (that was the only light in the canyon, she said) most likely looking over his serial killer toolkit that he kept in his car. Rhonda managed to stand up and began running away from him and fell into a swiftly moving river.  She was stopped by a dam grate, crawled up out of the rive, and was able to get help.

She wrote a book about her experience here: I Survived Ted Bundy: The Attack, Escape, And PTSD That Changed My Life. Her on-line story is found here.

In 1991, Tracy Edwards (a man) made the fateful decision to accept an invitation to go home with a man he had just met at a bar named Jeffrey. When he arrived at the man’s apartment, he noticed that it smelled strange and was very cluttered, and that his date began to act strangely as well. He didn’t realize that his new friend Jeffrey was actually the serial-killer-cannible Jeffrey Dahmer.  At one point during their evening, Jeffrey put his head on Tracy’s chest and declared that he would cut his heart out.  Edwards remained calm, and kept talking to Dahmer, and essentially stalled him from carrying out his sick plan.  Edwards punched him in the nose and ran from the apartment, found the police, and they arrived to discover 17 dismembered bodies scattered throughout the apartment.

There were many other stories of survivors who used the skills the Good Lord gave them to sneak out of windows, escape out of cars, fight off their attackers, quietly call 9-11, or just plain trick them into thinking they liked the bad guy.  One lady even kissed the killer and gave him her number for later.  He left without killing her.

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Left for dead stories:

One day I received a Facebook message of a friend who told me that she just read Serial Killers part I and relayed the following true horror story (YES, this really happened to my friend):

Are you sitting down? When I was fourteen years old I had a job as a paper carrier.  One morning around 5 am, a man drove past me while I was loading my papers at the spot where the carriers met. The boys on my route hadn’t arrived yet. He parked his car down the street and came walking up to me. A few days prior a neighbor had walked over to to me to get his paper, so that’s who I thought it was. When I realized it wasn’t the neighbor I got a bad feeling, but I kept loading the papers.  A voice inside told me to run and when I turned to do it he grabbed me from behind. He told me he had a gun and a knife.  He put his hand over my mouth and put me in his car.  The first thing I noticed was there were no door handles on the doors in the back seat of his car. He then proceeded to tell me about “all the other girls” he had raped in our local area, which made me very afraid. He drove me to the desert and brutally beat me with his boot — crushing my collar bone — and raped me.  During the rape, I tried to talk to him both to make a connection with him (so that he wouldn’t kill me), but also to get details about him so I could give them to the police.  When he was done with me, he rolled me up in a sleeping bag and ran over me with his car and left me for dead.  But I didn’t die. I got up and hobbled about a quarter mile to a canal, where I was able to call for help when I heard the voices of men and women on horseback.  Later, I was able to identify this man in a line-up and, because of my testimony, he went to prison for five years. 

Yes, it’s hard to write that. It’s only been recently that I can talk about it. I was terrified. By the grace of God I lived and He has blessed me with a beautiful life.

I’m so glad my friend was able to share her story with me.  God has done so much in her life to heal her and set her free. Today she is a happily married mother and grandmother and has a very blessed life.

A waitressing friend of mine shared a similar story years ago: she was riding her bike alone one night coming home from work when she was grabbed by a man who took her to another location.  She was beaten and raped for hours.  When the man was done with my friend, he attempted to kill her by drowning her multiple times in a nearby body of water.  The only problem for him was that my friend was a lifeguard and very adept at holding her breath under water.  He kept shoving her head down – down – down, holding her under for about two minutes, and then would bring her back up to see if she was still  living.  This went on for several minutes until the bad guy just gave up.  By some miracle, he decided not to kill her and drove her back to the place where he kidnapped her by dumping her limp (but still alive) body on the side of the road, near her bike.

In 1978, Ted Bundy was near the end of his killing season so he was more crazy, more bold, more reckless, and more violent than ever.  One night he broke into a Florida State University sorority house (he let himself in the unlocked front door) and assaulted three women living inside in the most horrific ways (several of them died), but one of the victims — Kathleen Kleiner — miraculously survived.  You can read her story here.

Divine intervention stories: 

On July 5, 1986, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker) broke into Whitney Bennett’s home and brutally attacked her with a metal iron. He pulled out a telephone cord to strangle her to death, but sparks began flying. Ramirez took it as a sign from God that the young woman wasn’t intended to die that day, so he left her alive and fled the scene. (story here.)

David Gore would often develop a very strong “urge” to kill that would not be satisfied unless he found someone’s life to take.  One day, the urge came over him very strongly but he was unable to find a “fresh” victim, and he grew frustrated.  He remembered that he had a back-up plan— his sister’s best friend — so he drove over to her house and small talked his way inside.  After a few minutes of chatting, he was waiting for just the right moment to grab her or smash her when the phone rang.

Guess who was on the line?  His own sister, calling her friend on the phone!

In his own words: “While I was waiting for that moment (to grab her) my sister called her and she was telling my sister that I was there visiting and when that happened I had no choice but to abort because I’d of been the first prime suspect…I mean, I was just seconds away from getting her friend.” (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)

He went on to write about other near misses:

“These girls don’t know how close they came to being a statistic…some of them were no more than 30 seconds away from being put down. (Source, The Serial Killer Whisperer.)

The woman who got away from serial killer Fred West explained there there were two groups of men who picked up hitchhikers back in the day when hitchhiking was more socially acceptable. The first group were the slightly perverted or flirtatious but otherwise harmless men.  The second group were the fatherly types that were concerned about her and tried to warn her to stop hitchhiking. The ones that  probably thought “if I don’t stop to pick her up, the bad guys will.”

Unfortunately, this young lady didn’t listen to those fatherly types and was instead picked up by a third group that she didn’t know existed: sadistic serial killers.  Fred West and his wife murdered at least 12 women.  One day, Fred actually picked her up and then dropped her off later safely, but they made plans that he would pick her up later on the other side of the highway.  In her own words:

“Later I started going over the details in my head and it suddenly struck me – Oh my God! – he (Fred West) promised to come back and pick me up on the other side of the motorway. The lorry driver who stopped so instantly, and as if out of nowhere, seems like my guardian angel – if he hadn’t been there I would have had to get back in West’s van.”

You can read her account here.

Finally, Margy Palm was kidnapped by one of the country’s worst and most notorious serial killers  – Stephen Morin – but talked to him for several hours non-stop about God.  Stephan ended up beaming a Christian that day, let Margy go, and then peaceably surrendered to the authorities.  He spent the rest of his life in prison sharing his story and God’s love with other prisoners.

I actually found a youtube video about her amazing experience, and I encourage you to watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZUTtUAy5E8.

To read a New York Times article on this story, click here.

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Luck stories:

(Heather’s note: Erik, my editor husband, when reading the Divine Intervention and Luck stories, blurted out: “hon, some of these divine intervention stories are luck stories.  And some of the luck stories are Divine Intervention stories!” Welcome to my world.  There is definitely cross over with a few of the categories.)

Probably my favorite luck stories involved the women who used conversation with the bad guy to (unknowingly to her, and without necessarily trying on purpose) get him to change his mind. A victim of Bobby Joe Long confided to him that she was abused as a child and then he let her go.  A victim of Monte Risell let her go because she confided to him that her father had cancer, because his own father had died of cancer.

Another great “luck” story occurred back in the early 1970s in Houston, TX, where a serial killer named Dean Corll (better known as the Candy Man) tricked and lured about 29 young men into his home where he proceeded to murder them.  Dean Corll and his family had owned and operated a candy factory and he had been known to give free candy to local children.  The only known survivor of Dean Corll was named Rhonda Williams.  She was good friends with one of the Candy Man’s co-conspirators named Henley.  Henley had actually helped Rhonda escape her abusive home life, so she thought he was a good guy.  When Henley brought Rhonda to Corll’s house of torture, the Candy Man became very angry. Henley assured Rhonda that he would help her escape and eventually shot the infamous serial killer to save Rhonda’s life.

In other words, the serial killer’s bad-guy-accomplice actually shot and killed the serial killer in order to protect the innocent victim.  That’s pretty darn lucky if you ask me.

Police-rescue Stories:

While walking down Sunset Boulevard one morning, Rodney Alcala approached a young girl named Tali Shapiro in his vehicle and asked her if she wanted a ride. She refused, saying that she was not allowed to talk to strangers. He assured her that he knew her family and told her that he had a beautiful picture to show her. Though hesitant, she approached his car and was kidnapped by Alcala.

Luckily, another man saw the abduction take place and called the police.

When the police arrived at his door, Alcala tried to stall them but they kicked the door in. Alcala escaped out the back door and the officers found young Tali on the floor of his apartment in a state of near death, as if Alcala had just been pinning her down when they arrived. She was rushed to the hospital and, thankfully, survived her attack.

Tali Shapiro later testified against her assailant, helping to convict him. He was sentenced to death for this and many other crimes, including the murders of four other victims. (this story is taken from: http://listverse.com/2014/05/25/10-survivors-of-serial-killers/)

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So what can we do to avoid serial killers (based on the survivors themselves)?

Since I wrote the Top Ten List before even studying the survivor stories, I was worried that perhaps I got it wrong, and none of my Top Ten would apply.  I was grateful to see that much of what I wrote was reiterated by the stories of the survivors themselves.

Here are the some ways to avoid serial killers and other bad guys that showed up in my research and also on my Top Ten list:

  1. Trust your gut and don’t get tricked
  2. Don’t get into a car with someone you don’t know
  3. Talk to the bad guy, let him see you are a human being; it could help
  4. If taken, call 9-11 (very quietly) if you can
  5. Use any amount of intelligence or skill that you can
  6. Don’t open up the front door if it’s someone you don’t know
  7. Don’t be lured by a Tricky Person
  8. Don’t go out alone at night
  9. If you see something, say something (or call the cops)
  10. Serial killers use social media just like the rest of us do, so be careful
  11. Lock your windows and doors at night
  12. I go into greater detail on all of the above in my previous post: here.

But listen up: the two common threads I saw again and again, in addition to a vulnerable situation or a risky lifestyle, were:

So many victims unknowingly got into the car of the serial killer, so don’t get into the car of someone you don’t know or trust;

So many victims were lured by a ruse or a scam, so trust your gut and don’t get scammed by a Tricky Person.

If these two points are the only points your remember of this entire series, I will have done my job.

God’s Protection and the Serial Killer:

I am a Christian who is very intellectually honest. As I read story after story of these men brutally raping and torturing and killing so many young girls and men and other victims, I started to wonder: “Where were you, God?  Why did you not protect these girls?”

But then I remembered that my husband Erik (a statistician) always tells me that in order to figure something out, you have to first ask the right questions.  So I decided that the question I was asking was wrong, and instead asked: “God, did you protect these girls or not?” And the answer I got back was yes, I did.

Once I started looking, I actually saw God’s hand of protection all over the place.  From the divine encounter stories, to the stories where something changed and within thirty seconds the girl was saved (by a random phone call, for example), from father figures picking up hitchhikers and warning them to stop, to someone being left for dead but surviving, to the guy who saw the girl get snatched and then he called the cops, to my own friend who heard a voice inside her head telling her to run…I saw God’s hand of help and protection in a variety of different ways.

I also saw God’s hand in my own stories of being watched and followed by creepy men, yet I was able to take notice and evade them.

What about the ones He didn’t seem to protect? What about the very existence of evil? I am not really sure I will have a good answer for this, but as a Christian I believe that someday God will make everything right.  There is a verse in the Bible which gives me great hope for all of those who have suffered unjustly:

“He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4, NIV

Right now we are living in the “old order” of things where evil is allowed to prevail to some degree.  God does give boundary lines for evil, but sometimes young girls get snatched and murdered by these bad guys as they are caught up in the crosshairs of these boundary lines.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to live through an attack of a serial killer or to have someone close to you murdered by one.  The only comfort I can offer you is that God sees, God cares, and someday, God will bring justice to your situation.  And, someday, He will wipe away every tear.

And, I am so sorry.

Closing Deep Thoughts:

I will leave you with the top 8 thoughts that went through my mind as I studied serial killers on and off over the last few months.

First, I am convinced that many, if not all of them, are influenced by evil spiritual forces.  A few serial killers even admitted as much.

  • “I actually think I may be possessed with demons.” Dennis Rader. (source: here)
  • Joe Methany stated the following: “Do you demons ever tell you or make you feel like want to murder or hurt someone?  Mine does!  And I used to act on it when I was out there on those streets.”  (source: The Serial Killer Whisperer.)
  • Ted Bundy would often go into a “trance” in the middle of his murders (as would Arthur Shawcross).  Some serial killers themselves admit to being controlled by evil forces: Sean Sellers, the Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Daniel Rolling, for example.  And finally, David Gore admitted to slipping into a dark side and being controlled by an evil force.

The methods of serial killers seem to be changing, at least to a degree: Take the recent serial killer caught in Tampa, Florida.  His method was not to trick or to lure, but to shoot people randomly.  That exact method recently happened in Las Vegas and happens all to often in our schools.  However, the story I shared in the beginning about the woman who shot and killed her serial killer only happened two years ago, so both methods are still operational today.

There are definitely threads and connections between serial killers and other things that threaten our kids such as the use of social media, being targeted, tricked or lured, and putting yourself in a vulnerable situation or lifestyle.  I will be doing some more posts on other topics in the future including protecting our kids from sex trafficking, which will be my next post in this series.

The serial killer often had a bad childhood himself: One serial killer was raped by his own mother and that profoundly impacted him in terrible ways. Another confessed that he was a lonely little child whom “nobody cared about…who made up personalities to hide behind whenever he felt threatened or insecure.”  Many other were emotionally abused by their parents who called them “stupid” many times a day year in, and year out.  Many were psychologically and physically abused and many experienced severe head trauma.

Many serial killers later regretted their actions: From the worlds of Joe Methany: “Christmas is the one time of the year that makes me realize that I am truly alone. And I have no one to blame but myself and the bad decisions I have made in my life. If I have learned nothing else during my incarceration, I have learned to appreciate every little good thing that comes my way.  I also never forget there are a lot of people out there that will not be able to enjoy life’s little pleasures or holidays because I put them in the ground.” (The Serial Killer Whisperer, pg. 117)

(I need to be intellectually honest and admit that many researchers would disagree with me and say that serial killers are hardened criminals with no conscience and no morals (think psychopath).  I think this is partially to mostly true.  But I did read many testimonies of very lonely and very sad and remorseful serial killers who were very honest with themselves near the end of their life on earth and regretted much of what they had done to their victims.)

Some of them became Christians in prison: It is only fitting that I use the last words of David Gore before he was executed: “I would like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Elliott that I am truly sorry for my part in the death of your daughter. I wish above all else my death could bring her back. I am not the same man today that I was 28 years ago. When I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior I become a New Creature in Christ and I know God has truly forgiven me for my past sins…I just want to say I have had a tremendous amount of remorse and pray you and your family can forgive me.

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Last words of David Gore, quoted heavily in this series.  (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alan_Gore)

They all deserve justice: What they did to these women and men is despicable, horrifying, and deserving to be severely punished.  If they are not caught and incarcerated (and put to death) here on the face of the earth, God will judge and punish them when they die and stand before Him. There is no escaping God’s judgment.

Finally, I am approaching the serial killer and other bad guys both from an educational standpoint (what can we learn? how can we avoid them? how can we survive them?) as well as from a spiritual perspective.  Since these men are being influenced by evil, you have to consider that as you consider them.  As for me?  I will continue to pray for God’s protection and wisdom so that I don’t need to come across them in the first place, and then use the authority God has given me, and all the skill I can muster up, to deal with them should something bad ever happen.

Last closing story:

The other night I picked up my daughter from basketball practice, right outside of an elementary school.  It was dark and she was standing with another young girl.  Both girls were alone.  When my daughter bounded into the car I asked about the other girl.  “Oh don’t worry mom.  She has a phone and her mom just texted her.  Her mom will be here in four minutes.  So we can go.”

As I circled around the lot, debating on whether to stay with the young girl who was standing completely alone now, I noticed a man walking his dog near the school about fifty feet away from her.

I said to Khloe: “A lot can happen in four minutes.  Let’s go hang out with her until her mom comes.”

We pulled up to the girl and chatted with her for a few minutes until her mom came so she wouldn’t have to wait alone.  She was such a cute little 13 year old girl and was super glad that we stayed with her.

In some ways it really does take a village to protect a child.

Albert Einstein said the following quote: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Although I partially disagree with this quote as there are a lot of evil men and women in this world, I do believe we all have a part to play to help keep ourselves and our kids safe.  This three part post is my way of “doing something about it.”

I will leave you with two main points.  First, trust your gut and don’t get lured or tricked by a bad guy (and don’t get into his car!).  Secondly, pray!  Pray that the God of heaven will protect you and your children from serial killers and all other forms of evil.

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  • If you missed part I, where I share my own creepy men stories and give you the bottom line of serial killers throughout the decades as well as currently, click here.
  • I talk about ways you can avoid serial killers specifically and bad guys generally, in part II, found here.
  • Finally, I am now DONE with researching serial killers.  As I started my research on this topic way back in the late summer, I found there was just too much to learn about and chew on when thinking about these twisted men and women.  I am happy to now move on to other (less depressing and scary) topics.
  • My next post in the Protecting Our Kids series will be about child and teen sex trafficking, especially combined with social media.  Stay tuned!
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The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II

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.

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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.

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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 on their iPods 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

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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)

Protecting our Girls from Serial Killers – Part I

“It places the lotion in the basket.”

These seven words immediately send a shiver down my spine as I recall the famous scene from Jodie Foster’s classic movie, “The Silence of the Lambs.”

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The Silence of the Lambs, more than any other movie, shaped my view of serial killers. So are they still around and what do we need to know about them in the year 2017?  I am writing this post from a protective mom’s perspective, so I did a bunch of research to figure this out.

I’m a child of the 70’s and 80’s, so I vividly remember what I call the “outbreak of the serial killers” that spiked in this time period.  It seemed like every other week there was another serial killer on the loose.  These creepy, deranged men were lurking behind every corner, just waiting to kidnap our kids or steal young girls from college campuses.

But here we are in 2017. Are serial killers a thing of the past or still a threat?  And why this post?

I am writing this post because I am a mom and I have two girls who are young teenagers and I want to prepare them to face many different threats.  God is their ultimate protector, but I am their mother and it’s my responsibility to educate them as much as possible so that they can make wise decisions and safely grow up to be young women whom God can use to make this world a much better place.

This post actually started two months ago in August when our family took a vacation to Jackson Hole, WY (you can read about it here), and the place where we stayed for the first two nights did not have a room available for all of us to fit in, therefore we were given two adjacent cabins.  For just those two nights, we let the kids have one cabin, while we had the other (our two cabins were five feet apart). When we tucked them in at night, we stressed the following: “do NOT, under any circumstance, open this door for anyone; keep the door locked at all times.  Call or text us if you need anything.  We will be right next door. Stay in your room. We love you.  Go to sleep.”

And because I’m a child of the 80s and watched one too many scary movies (you can read about that lovely period of my life here:  One, two….Freddy’s coming for you) I had a schizophrenic conversation with myself that went something like this: “Heather, what if there is a serial killer in this small mountain town, who noticed that you left your kids in a cabin next to yours….and what if???  You are a terrible mother, putting your kids at a huge risk like this.”  A moment later another voice would chime in: “Heather, this is a small adventure for the kids.  It’s a quiet mountain town.  The chances of a serial killer being here are slim to none. Pray for God’s protection and trust in the Lord.”

The “pray and trust in the Lord” side prevailed and all was completely well.  There was nothing to it.

But it got me thinking…what’s the deal with serial killers?

And then I thought a bit more deeply about it and a bunch of other questions surfaced as well….

Are serial killers a relic of the past or a current threat to my kids?

Haven’t serial killings gone down over the decades?

How have serial killers changed their methods over the years?

What types of victims do serial killers target?  How often do serial killers kill?

Why do they kill?

Are serial killers just waiting to kidnap our daughters from the local mall, grab them as they walk to school, or steal them from their comfortable beds?  

What about girls from suburbia with doting/loving/protective parents (umm, like me and my husband), are they at risk?

How can I prepare my girls (and my son) for serial killers?  What can I tell them to do/not do, in order to protect them?  And not freak them out?

Oh and by the way, did any girls ever get away from serial killers?  What can we learn from them?

And while I’m at it (for some future posts) what are the other top threats and dangers that this demographic (young, teenage girls and young women) might come face to face with?

Before I get into the nitty gritty of my research, I have three stories to share with you.  I call these my “perhaps/perhaps not serial killer stories.”

(Mom, I’m so sorry if you are reading these for the first time….)

The first one occurred when I was only 22 years old, on an a trip to Europe as a part of a large student tour group.  I was alone in Rome one day when I was approached by an Italian man who invited me, in broken English, to join him for a coke. I politely declined and headed for the underground subway system.  Unfortunately, the Italian dude followed me into the subway (in a very sneeky, creepy manner) but I pretended I didn’t notice him following me.  When the subway pulled to a stop, I entered one of the cars right in front of me while he (sneakily) entered into the next car attached, but hid behind people so I wouldn’t know. I pulled a fast one on him — and at the very last moment — I quickly exited my car right before the door closed.  He was trapped in his car.  When he went past me, we both stared at each other.  His was a look of surprise and frustration, almost anger; mine was a smirk and a “ha ha” — while I laughed at him.  I’m so glad I was hyper-vigilant based on all of the 80s horror movies I watched growing up, but why the heck was he following me in the first place?

Se La Vie, creepy European dude.  

Another time, Erik and I went to a mall to shop, and while Erik was in a store, I decided to do some people watching; I was on the second floor, looking down at the ground floor. That’s when I noticed a man watching me, partially hidden behind a column.  Several minutes went by where it appeared that I must be completely alone at the mall.  Occasionally I glanced over the man.  He never stopped starting at me. There was something eerie about him and the way he was watching me; almost like he was targeting me.  When Erik came over to me I immediately looked over at him to see his reaction.  His eyes grew big, he ducked completely behind the pillar, and turned and left the mall in a hurry.

I Saw You, Creepy Mall Dude.

The last story occurred in PERFECT serial killer demographic form (more on that in a second).  First of all, this story takes place in CALIFORNIA in the 1990s.  As much as I love California, it has the largest number of victims of serial killers (source here). (Hello, there was even a MOVIE, set in the 1990’s, called Kalifornia, that took place in California, that dealt with…you guessed it….serial killings that occurred in California.)

So in my mid-twenties I flew out to visit one of my friends who lived in California named Marla (I actually interviewed her here) and we decided to drive up the famous Route 1— California’s beautiful coastline — doing some tent camping along the way.  Everything was going well until we ran out of camping fuel and had to stop at a K-Mart in Monterey, right off of Route 1.  We walked into the store and went directly to the camping aisle.

So there we were, two young girls, with little make-up on so we looked extra young, both of us attractive (if I do say so), standing in the camping aisle, looking at camping fuel, alone.

We were easy targets.  

Out of nowhere a man in his 40s approached us and said “hey girls, I am new to the area and was wondering if you knew of a good camp-site or state park that I can go to.  I’m camping like you are, and I would love a recommendation.” Sensing a creeper, I told him, quite bluntly, “sir, you can go down to the Chamber of Commerce and get recommendations for state parks.”

He then proceeded to tell me that he already knew he could do that, but that he wanted to hear our opinion of where we had already gone, and where we were planning to go to, because he needed a good recommendation.

Ummm, no.

I told him of a State Park we had just visited (and had no plans of returning to) and he said thank you and left. Or so we thought.

Unfortunately, Creepy Kmart Dude did not in fact leave but followed us around the store, always staying just out of sight from us.  Marla and I furtively got into the check out line (always looking out for him), and at the last second he was right behind me in line (he came out of nowhere), so we pretended like we had to return the camping fuel, dashed all around the perimeter of the  store, and quickly left.

The last time I saw him he was standing in the middle of Kmart, turning in circles, looking for us.

We Tricked You, Creepy KMart Dude.

Were these three men serial killers?  Probably not.  But you never know. However, these three stories just confirmed to me that I always need to keep my head held high and be alert to my surrounding, and not put myself in foolish situations.

Now onto the questions I asked at the beginning of this post. I am a research nerd and love knowledge and information, so I will put a bunch of interesting research stats in the P.S. section if you are interested.

For the rest of you, I will briefly answer the above questions and then close with a couple of good stories.  After all, my blog’s theme is story-telling.

The Bottom line of Serial Killers today:

Serial killers are still a current threat, but a smaller one.  But before you relax in your easy chair and watch the new Netflix series about serial killers and think “well, that’s from the 80s,” just remember that approximately 50 of them are still out there at any given time, trolling for victims. Serial killings peaked in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The stat you need to remember is this: somewhere between 3,500 and 5000 persons are killed each year by a serial killer.  (Source: Serial Killers, Peter Vronsky)

But even if serial killings are less common, it seems Americans are still fascinated by them. I guess it’s because of the brutality and sadistic nature of their crimes.  Or maybe it raises up a primal fear in all of us of a worse case scenario happening to perhaps our own teen daughter as she rides her bike home after work or school one afternoon.  Americans like to be in control.  Serial killers make us all feel nervous and out of control.

As far as the victim profile of serial killers, let’s take a look at the girl in the movie the Silence of the Lambs, as she pretty much sums up both the demographic and the method serial killers use.  First, she was in a vulnerable situation (out walking alone at night), she got tricked by a scam of Buffalo Bill, and she was what he was looking for, specifically he was looking for a larger young lady, (although statistically larger-boned or bigger girls are less likely to be targeted).  So the movie got that pretty much right.

Sadly, prostitutes seem to be the number one target of serial killers. Other vulnerable demographics include runaways, hitchhikers, the homeless, and mentally ill.  Basically people that authorities won’t miss for awhile and/or that the killer feels “safe” to exterminate.

Vulnerable situations include, as mentioned, being out alone at night, kids outside with no adult around, hitchhiking (as touched on above), and just plain old super unlucky people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.   And yes, they choose a wide variety of victims including men and boys and the elderly.  For more information on who they target and why, click here and here.

What about choosing kids?  Certainly, children can be the victims of these killers, but the reality is that the abduction and murder of children by stranger is a very rare crime (approximately 43-147 children are kidnapped by strangers every year).  Most kids who disappear are runaways and most return home. (source: Serial Killers by Peter Vronsky.)  If you teach your kids how to use their intuition and avoid tricky people (I will cover this in part II), you will help your child to be safe.

These killers will most likely not snatch your beautiful 12 year old daughter (or your freshman home from college) from their bed, as long as you lock your doors and windows (and as long as they were not targeted beforehand).  In all my research, if a serial killer broke into a home, it was usually through an unlocked door or window.  They also have preferred “hunting grounds” which are rarely private homes as the chances of being detected and engaged or killed by the residents or neighbors is exceptionally high.

As far as where they kidnap their victims, I would say mainly from public places, and yes, even the mall or just outside (like on the side of the road).  However, I would say your kids and mine are most likely fairly safe as long as they do certain things which I will outline in Part II, but most importantly not being tricked our lured by a bad guy.

Serial killers have changed over the decades in that they use social media a lot more and mass gun violence or gun killings seem to be the new “method” of serial murdering.  (here)

I can speak directly to this as years ago, in October of 2002, the Beltway Snipers paralyzed the greater DC metro area where I live (and in fact, several shootings took place just miles from our home).  I vividly recall passing FBI agents on the side of the road, toting huge assault rifles, inspecting vehicles, looking for the mysterious “white box truck,” while Erik and I nervously drove past.  These two modern day serial killers (John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo) basically paralyzed our entire area for weeks.  I was afraid to go to the store, sit on a bench, or put gas in my car. These two serial killers were later apprehended due to the quick thinking of a truck driver.

The question of why serial killers kill is a matter of much debate, but in a nutshell many believe the following factors could contribute: trauma/abuse/brain injury/social isolation as a child, mental illness, a personality disorder such as psychopathology, and I would add another: demonic possession or oppression.

And now to the one thing I hope you will remember after reading this post:

Most victims of serial killers were lured away by a ruse or a scam by the serial killer.  In fact, 65 percent of serial killers attracted their victims this way. (stat: here.) Many serial killers then took their victim away with their vehicle.

Ted Bundy was a prime example of a serial killers who lured or used a scam.  In addition to being very handsome, smart, and volunteering as a suicide hotline counselor (and a very good one at that, according to his friend Ann Rule who wrote a book about him), he was charming and friendly and caring and had “normal” relationships.  However, he had a super dark side.  If an opportunity presented itself and he saw the “right looking” young woman at the right time, he either a. pretended like he had a hurt arm and then asked these girls to help him with something or b. pretended to be a cop/security guard at a mall and lured girls that way, and then he committed the unspeakable, up to 100 plus times. (His exact victim count is unknown.)

There were at least three young women who did not become a victim of Ted Bundy.  How?   In April of 1974, when Ted Bundy was literally snatching young girls off of college campuses, there were two curious reports that came in.  One girl reported that she was approached by a young, handsome, neatly dressed man with his left arm in a cast who approached her in front of the school library.  He asked her to help him carry his books for him to his car.  She reported that as she approached his car, she noticed that that front passenger seat was missing.  For some reason that she could not explain, she felt suddenly afraid and placed the books on the hood of the car and hurried off, feeling embarrassed by her “irrational” fear.  The second young woman reported that Bundy asked her to help him start his car while he fiddled with the engine in the back (he drove a VW Bug, with the engine in the rear) but she, too, became fearful and suddenly left, saying she was in a hurry and she had to go.

Based on those two stories above, here is my first piece of advice for everyone out there:

TRUST YOUR GUT.

If something feels off, it probably is.  It often takes a minute or two (or sometimes longer) for your conscious thought to catch up to what your subconscious is trying to tell you.  If you’re not sure about something, and you get that weird feeling, run.  Who cares what the other person may think of you.  It might just save your life.

(Gavin De Becker calls trusting your guy “the gift of fear” and writes two books about this, and one is oriented to protecting children and teens: here.)

Our kids and teens can also be tricked especially through social media.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google “To Catch a Predator” (or click herefor just one way that older men are trolling for your younger daughters.  It’s disgusting.

We all want to protect our girls from various threats and dangers, and while serial killings may be statistically less than they used to be, (and yes other threats may be more prevalent), it’s still good to know how you can avoid them.  I will also be looking for common threads between serial killers and many other dangers that face our daughters and sons today.  For example, I have already shown the connection between serial killers and sex trafficking.  Are there other connections between all of these threats?  If so, what are they? Stay tuned for future posts addressing other threats facing our daughters and sons, such as sex trafficking, gangs, bullying, etc.

In part II, I will tell you what you can do (or teach your kids) to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a serial killer, and what we can learn from women who got away from them.  

In closing, as I was debating writing a post about this topic, I was channel surfing one night when I caught the very end of the movie called The Lovely Bones about a fourteen year old girl who is lured by a serial killer into his underground bunker and murdered (her body was never found).  The part that got to me the most is when her mom finally went into her bedroom for the first time since she vanished.  Her mom looked around her bedroom, which was untouched since the day she had disappeared, and then tears welled up in her eyes.  She felt her daughter’s presence and said to her:

“I love you, Susie.”

I cannot even imagine what it must be like to lose a child to a serial murderer.

That’s when I decided to write this post, if only to educate myself and my kids.

The movie closes with the following lines:

When my mother came into my room, I realized that all this time I had been waiting for her. I had been waiting so long. I was afraid she wouldn’t come.  Nobody notices when you leave.  I mean, really leave, when you choose to go.  At best, you might feel a whisper, or a wave of a whisper, undulating down. 

My name is Salmon, like the fish. First name: Susie. I was fourteen years old when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

I was here for a moment, and then I was gone.

I wish you all a long and happy life.

________________________________________________________

To read Part II in this series: The Top Ten Ways we can protect our kids from serial killers and other bad guys — Part II

To read Part III in this series: The Five Ways to Survive a Serial Killer (part III – protecting our kids)

P.S for all the research nerds, and those who are secretly fascinated with this subject, here are some more interesting serial killers stats:

  • A serial killer may be on the loose in New York City as we speak (click here.)  Also, the person or people responsible for the recent deaths of six women in Ohio remain at large (read the story here).
  • Concerning the number of victims: there are more than 185,000 unsolved homicides committed since 1980.  I can almost bet that a significant number of those homicides were the work of serial killers.  So between that and the fact that known serial killers do not always admit to all of their victims, and that many of them have never been caught, the stats, in my view, are off.
  • Women accounted for 70 percent of the 1,398 known victims of serial killers since 1985. By comparison, women represented only 22 percent of total homicide victims. (please see this article).
  • U.S. serial murder cases with prostitute victims accounted for 32% and/or 35% of all U.S. serial murder cases involving female victims only, 1970-2009, according to these sources: here  and here.
  • And as for the age that they target, the average age of a serial killers victims was 34 years, with the median age was 29 years and mode being 22 years. (here)
  • After peaking at age 29, the chances of being murdered by a serial killer dramatically decrease in one’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. (source here)
  • Serial killers sometimes choose a wide variety of victims.  It’s hard to completely peg the victims of serial killers, as sometimes serial killers choose unique demographics, such as a straight serial killer choosing gay men as his victims, or hospital-staff-turned-serial-killers choosing elderly patients. And yes, there are women serial killers too.
  • And yes, they sometimes target men and boys.  There were many young men that died at the hands of John Wayne Gacy and others.  Again, these boys were out walking alone at night and/or lured because Gacy pretended to be a police officer or wanted to hire them for a job.  He tricked a lot of young men in different ways. Male victims tend to be young men either hitchhiking or seeking work. (To read about this, click here for about 40 different serial killers who targeted men or boys.)
  • However, in the course of doing research I found this: the most common circumstance surrounding serial murders in the U.S., however is a home invasion. Roughly 1,500 Americans have been killed by a serial killer during a home invasion since 1900. (source here). However, in a book I read called Serial Killers – The Method and Madness of Monsters by Peter Vronsky, only 10 percent of serial killers invaded their victims homes (page 307).
  • There were cases of kids walking to school, or going to the mall, or just outside riding a bike or walking to the store, who just disappeared and were later murdered by a serial killer.  In fact, in my local area, they just closed a 40 year old case where two little girls walked to the mall in the mid 70s and were never seen again. (you can read about the Lyon sisters here).
  • There are several theories as to the decline in serial killings but it boils down to better police work, technological advances, they-can’t-get-away-with-it-as much-as-they-used-to (due to Internet and surveillance cameras), lack of the celebrity status and air time serial killers used to receive.
  • There are three theories of why serial killers kill: some type of childhood abuse or neglect, mental illness or personality disorder (such as sociopath, psychopath) and brain injury (source here.) In my research, it also seemed to extensive bed wetting, cruelty to animals, being bullied or excluded by other kids, etc. that were factors to them becoming future serial killers.
  • After the serial killer has tricked and distracted his victim, oftentimes he will quickly smash them over the head with a heavy object. Once they are unconscious, they are moved to another location.
  • Serial killers are generally thought to be very approachable and friendly and are able to mimic decent and kind human behavior.  Most of them don’t “look” or “act” like a killer.  They are charming, handsome, community leaders, and suicide hotline volunteers.  They can live next door to us and we’d never know.
  • An example of serial killers who targeted: there were serial killer cousins who would troll Florida’s coastline looking for women sunbathing on a beach all alone.  They would disable her car in some way and then patiently wait.  When the woman came back to her car and it wouldn’t start, there the sadistic cousins would be, being super nice, and offering her a ride. If the woman took their offer for a free ride, it ended up being the last ride of her life.  (To read more about David Gore and Fred Waterfield, click here.)
  • The source for the first point about serial killings being statistically less came from the FBI’s report Serial Murder: Pathways for Investigations and Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database. Updated 9/4/2016.
  • Some serial killers pretended to be men in authority.  David Allan Gore used his auxiliary sheriff’s badge to trick girls into obeying him. (see source above.) And finally, John Wayne Gacy and the Hillside Stranglers also used a police badge, among many others.