Webinar presenter Dr. Michael Aamodt answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Serial Murder: Discerning Fact from Fiction. Here are some of his responses.
Audience Question: When looking at the frequency of killers across the world, how have you accounted for countries who have different cultural beliefs such as those countries that practice voodoo, or have medicine healer that require human sacrifices?
Dr. Aamodt: They won't show up as a serial killer in our database as they wouldn't be identified as such by the media or law enforcement. They will not show up for us and that is a great example of why a lot of these countries are way underestimated.
Audience Question: Do cartel killings in Mexico, Central and South America come into play in these statistics?
Dr. Aamodt: They could if they're identified. The murder rate in Mexico is very high due to cartels and there are certainly cartel members that qualify as serial murderers. Often, however, these individuals don't show up in the media by name. If we find them and they're identified, they'll be included, but that is another example of an underrepresented group.
Audience Question: How much do you attribute the numbers to inaccurate reporting by agencies in other countries?
Dr. Aamodt: A lot. It's either inaccurate reporting or an unwillingness to report.
Audience Question: When looking at how many each year do these numbers account for the time period when the FBI was looking for funding and used stranger kills versus actual serial murders?
Dr. Aamodt: It does not. Our numbers are independent of the FBI's numbers.
Audience Question: Does the database track or recognize possible serial killers meaning that there's a pattern of similar murders that can be somewhat connected but has no known suspect or may not be officially labeled as a serial kill yet?
Dr. Aamodt: It doesn't, but there is an organization called the Murder Accountability Project that Tom Hargrove heads up that does exactly that and they do a phenomenal job. He's a person who'll be happy to talk to you about his project. He loves helping law enforcement. For law enforcement agencies out there, he is a great resource.
Audience Question: How do you distinguish gang murders and hits from serial killers? Are they considered serial killers?
Dr. Aamodt: If an individual gang member killed two or more people we would include them in our database. But it is important to distinguish between a gang member who kills because they are in a gang and are sanctioned by the gang, as opposed to a gang member who may kill two or more people but not necessarily for gang purposes. It could be because of anger. At some point, when researchers use our database and they want to pull out these organizational serial killers, my only caution to them would be if you have somebody who may be a gang member, but it doesn't mean all of their killings are gang-related.
Audience Question: How do you get to that differentiation? Is it somewhere in the transcripts, is it somewhere in the records, case notes? How do you get to that?
Dr. Aamodt: You look at the whole story and you make a call. If somebody said there's a rivalry between two gangs and the leader of the gang ordered gang members to kill, that you know that would be an organization-related kill. Whereas imagine a person is walking down the street and someone looks at them the wrong way, and they shoot him. Yeah, they're in a gang but that shooting wasn't gang-related. You can't always tell with certainty. That's the problem when you don't have the police reports, you don't have a lot of the information that you need.
Audience Question: When the killer is a child, is it possible that they're actually being coached by an adult?
Dr. Aamodt: It could be. A great example of that is the serial killer in Nigeria who was 6 years old. There was an adult who is a part of that cult. And although the six-year-old supposedly killed all these people, it's very possible that it is due to the adult’s influence. It is interesting though that the adult has been charged and released. It could be the adult's influence, or you could just have a strange six-year-old.
Click here to see a recording of "Serial Murder: Discerning Fact from Fiction."