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Criminologist Answers True Crime Questions From Twitter

Criminologist and former investigator Jillian Peterson answers the internet's thrilling questions about true crime. Director: Lisandro Perez-Rey Director of Photography: Constantine Economides Editor: Louville Moore Line Producer: Joseph Buscemi Associate Producer: Brandon White Production Manager: D. Eric Martinez Production Coordinator: Fernando Davila Casting Producer: Nick Sawyer Camera Operator: Cloud Sound Mixer: Brett Van Deusen Production Assistant: Albie Smith Post Production Supervisor: Alexa Deutsch Post Production Coordinator: Ian Bryant Supervising Editor: Doug Larsen Additional Editor: Paul Tael Assistant Editor: Andy Morell

Released on 10/31/2023


I'm Jillian Peterson.

I'm a criminologist and former investigator.

Let's answer some questions from the internet.

This is True Crime Support.

[upbeat music]

@BecomingJill asks, Isn't the spouse

always the first suspect?

When it comes to women being murdered, yes.

35 to 50% of them are murdered

by either a current spouse or partner

or a former spouse or partner.

So if you can rule out things like a robbery gone bad,

a drug deal gone bad, a fight that escalated, gang violence,

if you can rule all those things out,

definitely your next most likely suspect

is going to be the spouse.

@jojishii asked, Did you know

that 1% of cold cases are solved?

Our current clearance rate for murder

in this country is only about 50%.

If you commit a murder, it's kind of flip of the coin

whether or not you get arrested for it.

Our clearance weights are way down.

I think it has to do with we've seen such an increase

in homicide the last few years,

and with that we've had a decrease

just in the number of police officers we have.

It's a lot more than 1% of cases that are unsolved.

@BrotherGrimmBo asked, Did Jack the Ripper exist

or was Victorian England just kind of stabby?

Jack the River did exist,

committed a series of really violent gruesome murders.

So as an example, just to show what it was like

during that period of time, this is a news report from 1888.

I think it really shows that Victorian England

was a rather stabby place during this period of time.

There's actually another serial killer

who was operating at the time named Thomas Cream.

He was convicted of poisoning 9 or 10 people

during the exact same period of time.

During his execution,

his final words are rumored to be I am Jack...

Although he was actually in prison

at the time of some of the murders,

so it really couldn't have been him,

and we still don't know exactly who Jack the Ripper is.

@Ms_L_Simpson asked, My sister just sent me a message

to say that she listened to a podcast

and is going off to try to solve a murder.

Who needs the police?

Yes, this is a thing,

where individuals listen to podcasts

and they think, I can solve this.

It's known as Citizen Sleuths.

The January 6th riots,

a lot of the individuals

who ended up being criminally charged or identified

by citizen sleuths on social media trying to identify them.

In the case of the Gabby Petito murder,

who was killed by Brian Laundrie, her fiance,

she was missing for a long period of time.

It was really a group of young people

on TikTok that started uploading videos

of the park where she went missing.

The van was spotted.

And they were really able to locate her body

and isolate where she was located.

However, if you talk to most police officers,

they will say they do not like this movement

of citizen sleuths, that oftentimes

they can go down rabbit holes

and end up accusing people who are truly innocent,

and that can really destroy lives.

@NerminMans46302 asked, Why do serial killers kill?

I wanna study their brain so badly.

Generally, we can say there's three big categories.

One being power and control.

I think one example of a power and control serial killer

might be somebody like the Zodiac Killer

who was attacking primarily young couples.

It was really about murdering people

who were kind of in the prime of their life.

One is a sexual motivation, sexual fantasy.

The sexual fantasy category is often people

who are sexually aroused by violence

or sexually aroused by having sex with bodies

after they've killed them.

One example of somebody motivated

by sexual fantasy would be Ted Bundy.

The third category would be a serial killer

motivated by hallucinations.

Good example of that would be like the Son of Sam killer

who was motivated by delusions.

There has been some studies of, mostly murderer's brains.

We do see some differences,

particularly in an area called the amygdala,

which is a part of the brain that controls things

like fear and aggression.

It's hard to say that that's causal.

It's the brain that causes the behavior,

the behavior that causes changes in the brain.

But there does seem to be something there

in some of these early studies.

@codesmithio asked, Why have murders increased

during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We saw a massive spike in homicide during COVID-19.

The biggest year-on-year increase

in homicide we've ever seen since we started tracking this.

It was about a third increase or a 30% jump.

Other forms of crime went down,

but homicides specifically spiked.

Could be because people weren't working.

There was financial strain, there was stress.

There's also this thing that happened

where George Floyd was murdered.

A lot of cities started pulling back their policing,

that's sometimes referred to as de-policing,

so it's really hard to pull apart

which of these factors was the main driver.

It was likely all of it at once.

@LiPerezRey asked,

Is #Merica the best at murder in the whole world?

We are a standout when it comes to murder.

If you look at other countries similar to ours,

so places in Europe, Canada, Australia,

most countries are under 1 homicide per 100,000 residents.

The United States is at 4.382.

We aren't the worst in the entire world.

There are other countries per capita

in Latin America who do have a higher rate than us.

Places like Honduras, Mexico, Jamaica.

But when it comes to sort of similarly developed countries,

America really stands out.

@TriciaMcKeown13 asked, Could a psychopath

go through life without giving any sign

or will there always be something that is a giveaway,

some wee trait?

Yes, you can go through life

and not know that someone is a psychopath.

You see high rates of psychopathy in industries

like the entertainment industry,

law enforcement, law, politics.

Being a serial killer, being violent,

committing crime is actually not one of the symptoms.

It's what we tend to think of when we think of psychopaths.

There really isn't anything

like killing animals or setting fires

that's gonna be a tell.

If I was going to name one thing that might be a giveaway,

it would be a trouble reading other people's emotions

and maybe mimicking back emotions

without really feeling those emotions.

@thackerayarty says, Okay, can someone please tell me

the difference between a sociopath

and a psychopath, please?

There's really no clear distinction.

Sociopath is a word that was used more in the '80s

and the '90s.

It's used less today.

It's used maybe by the media and in pop culture,

but as the criminology field,

we've really moved towards psychopathy

being the thing that we look for,

that we can define,

clinically, that we know how to test for.

And so the field has just gone more in the direction

of using psychopath as opposed to sociopath.

@David75983862 asks, So, since the early '90s,

why have gun murder rate gone down

while the number of guns has significantly increased?

I might disagree on this one.

Our murder rate in the '90s was extremely high.

Then we did see a big dip in the 2000, 2010.

So it was sort of high in the '90s,

it went down, and then the last five years,

and particularly the last two years,

we've really seen it spark back up again.

During that period of time,

gun ownership increased in this country over time,

particularly the last couple of years.

So we now have more guns than people in this country.

About 120 Americans are killed by guns every day.

That would include homicides, suicides,

accidents, police shootings, but about 120 people total.

@TheFlyingnipple asks, Terrifying!

I wonder how many unexplained missing persons there are.

It's about half a million people a year go missing.

That is down from maybe a million a year

back in the '90s.

But estimates are about 90% of them are found.

Most of them are young people running away from home,

but 10% of that half million missing

still leaves 50,000 people who are missing

and unaccounted for every year.

Csiegs01 asks, Real question,

what percentage of mass shooters are male?

The answer is 98% of mass shooters are male.

@_truth_orDARe asks, My question about these mass shooters

is this, why schools?

Whether it's an elementary, middle, or high school,

what attracts you to kill children?

About 91, 92% of them are actually students at that school.

So this is people targeting their own school

or they might be former students,

but most likely they're current students.

They're 15, 16 years old.

My own research shows that these perpetrators

come from homes with lots of violence and abuse.

They tend to study other perpetrators

who are like them and feel like they're a part of them,

and then they target their own school

because that's where they have the grievance against.

Those are the people that they blame for their misery.

School shootings are designed to be final acts.

So perpetrators go in

knowing they're not gonna come out of it, and in fact,

they want to be known for this.

They're craving that notoriety.

They want their name

in the history books.

@_SnackTime asks, 'Murdoch Murders'

is such a crazy series on Netflix.

Like how in the world did these people

get away with all of this?

Alex Murdoch has been convicted of killing his wife

and his child, and there's also other murders

that he may or may not be guilty of,

including a housekeeper.

I think this is a good example

of how in these small communities,

it can be really hard to have

an independent criminal investigation,

especially if somebody who has a lot of status and power

in the town.

And it's really important

that who's ever investigating a crime

has absolutely no relationship with any of the suspects

because once that starts getting mixed,

you see mistakes getting made,

and it could be a conscious bias

but oftentimes it's just unconscious

because of the preconceived notions

that you have about people.

@Bookmarkquinn asked, Do you not worry

that all the criminology television programs

that are on these days,

that the criminals will learn from it and avoid detection?

We've seen television programs having an effect

on the everyday public.

We refer to this as the CSI Effect,

in the criminal justice system,

where people sitting on juries have this expectation

that there'll be, you know, carpet fiber

from some foreign place that will help them

identify the body, and if that doesn't exist,

then they're more likely to acquit.

Because there's been one study that looked at this,

and they did not find a similar CSI Effect for criminals.

It did not seem like they were learning

from these programs and getting smarter

at committing crimes.

Likely because a lot of crimes may be impulsive

and not that well planned out.

So far we are not seeing that.

Next question.

Who was America's most prolific serial killer?

America's most prolific serial killer

was named Samuel Little.

He confessed to killing over 90 people.

This is a series of mugshots of Samuel Little.

He was arrested by the police for various crimes,

but it was never put together

that he was the one murdering all of these women.

He committed murder from about 1970 until 2005.

His victims tended to be sex workers,

women addicted to drugs, women living on the streets.

And his method was he tended to strangle these women.

It wasn't until they eventually pulled

Samuel Little's DNA that they were able to go back

and connect him to all these previous crimes,

and then he confessed to all of them.

He can be connected to for sure, 50 or 60 or so of them

but they think that all 90 of his confessions are legit.

Puppet Combo asks, What kind of job

would a serial killer have?

And if we look at patterns in the data

there are some jobs that emerge as maybe overrepresented.

Things like mechanics, machinists.

You see a number of truck drivers and police officers

where it's maybe easier to get away with the crime.

The data on serial killers

is not great generally across the board

just 'cause there's so few of them and it's hard to study.

@tabzahs asks, In light of the recent case of the nurse,

are female serial killers

more likely to be in caring professions than not?

There's not that many female serial killers, but of them,

there have been quite a few nurses.

A study recently published

that looked at 16 different nurses

who had committed serial murder

across the globe and across centuries,

and they did find that it tended to be poisoning

and it tended to go undetected

for a long period of time

because of the profession that they had.

This recent case,

I believe is referring to the British nurse

who was just sentenced for killing of seven newborn babies.

Another example of a serial killer nurse is Kristen Gilbert,

who was an American nurse who was convicted

of murdering four of her patients that were in her care.

I would not extend that to other caring professions.

I don't think there's a lot of social work serial killers,

but certainly when it comes to nurses, we see it.

@PatDoc05 asked, What age do serial killers

typically start killing people?

It's actually older than other forms of violence.

When it comes to serial killing,

they start mid to late 20s,

so it tends to be a bit of a later onset.

@dlowther715 asks two questions.

Who was the Zodiac Killer

and why wasn't Ted Cruz ever caught?

There's a lot of people who have been accused

of being the Zodiac Killer over time.

Ted Cruz is not one of them.

The Zodiac Killer committed a series of murders

in Northern California in than the 1960s,

at least five that they know of.

There may have been more.

This is a composite sketch of what they think

the Zodiac Killer looked like

based on a couple of the victims who actually survived.

There was one suspect that was named.

Arthur Leigh Allen was a school teacher,

but there was never enough evidence

to actually link him to the crimes.

It was all circumstantial.

He did several years in prison for molesting children

and then died in the early '90s,

so nobody was ever convicted of these crimes.

There was a number of unique things about the Zodiac Killer.

He sent letters that he demanded be printed

in the newspaper.

He created these mathematical ciphers,

which were like these coded puzzles

that he wanted people to spend time on trying to unravel.

One was cracked about a week after it was published.

Two are still unsolved.

And one was actually only cracked a few years ago.

60 years after the crime,

a team of mathematicians cracked it.

The ciphers didn't give away his identity.

They basically just said,

I like killing.

All my victims will become my slaves in an afterlife.

It didn't give any additional clues.

He was interested in making the public

a part of these murders.

Drawing people in, forcing them to sort of play

with these codes that he was publishing.

@BigBall01790335 asks, Why do serial killers

in prison gets tons of marriage proposals from women?

This is a phenomenon.

I have worked on capital murder cases

with people facing the death penalty,

and the more media coverage the case got,

the more letters those individuals would receive.

I think women who write these letters

are romantically drawn towards this very dangerous person

who has done these scary, dangerous things.

I don't think these women

are looking to themselves to get harmed,

but they are drawn to the fact that this person

is capable of doing that level of harm.

@colleen_benn asks, Does it seem like family annihilators

are happening more often?

There was a spike of family annihilations

in 2019 where we saw record levels

and then it's come back town.

I think we hear about them

more often through media and through social media

and our exposure

so it can feel like they're happening more often.

Family annihilation is when a man kills typically his wife,

his children, and then usually himself, all in one act.

We have about 10 to 20 of those per year.

Family annihilations, unfortunately,

are always something that has happened in history.

Family annihilators are typically men.

They're a bit older, 40s, maybe 50s.

Elementary school aged children,

they tend to have a history

of domestic violence and suicidality.

They are suicides in addition to being homicides,

but they're these kind of angry suicides

where it's, I'm not just gonna kill myself.

I'm gonna make sure my wife and children

come with me so they don't get to exist without me.

So there's a level of, I think,

control that comes with committing that sort of violence.

@danablankenhorn asked,

Why did Jeffrey Dahmer eat people?

He was a serial killer who, after he had killed someone,

he would take apart their bodies, body parts were found

in the freezer in various states of decay,

and then he would actually admitted to eating their bodies.

Jeffrey Dahmer has been asked about this

on a few different occasions,

and I think there's one theory that this is really about

complete dominance and control over your victims.

You can't be more dominant over something

than to consume it.

Then there's been some recent reports lately

that said it was maybe more about actually connecting

with the victims,

that he was very lonely and consuming his victims

allowed him to kind of be a part of those victims.

@mlmarkotanova asked, If Ted Bundy were killing

in this gen, he wouldn't make it too far.

Everyone has phones that have emergency features.

Drones and satellites could track him.

Cars are traceable.

Today's forensics and DNA tracing is incredible, et cetera.

Serial killing really peaked in the '70, '80s,

and early '90s.

Then we've seen just this massive fall

where there are now very few serial killers today.

That's because of advances

in all sorts of technology, primarily DNA.

Also, we just changed our behavior.

Not a lot of people are going hitchhiking these days

and getting in cars with strangers, and if you did,

you'd certainly text someone to say you were there.

So I agree that Ted Bundy

would not get away with serial killing these days.

@metal_dad asks, Who else thinks missing hikers

isn't just a series of unfortunate accidents.

Most of those cases are people who fall

or there's accidents,

but a number of people are not recovered.

And there is actually a number of serial killers,

of murders, where it took place while somebody was hiking.

It makes me think of the Gabby Petito murder

who was killed by her fiance, Brian Laundrie

when they were out hiking.

And this makes me think about this theory of crime.

It's called Routine Activities,

and it's where you have a motivated offender,

a suitable target,

and then a lack of capable guardianship.

And so hiking is kind of your perfect example

of a total lack of guardianship.

There's nobody around for miles, there's no cameras.

Oftentime there's no cell coverage.

You can easily dispose of a body.

You can make it look like an accident.

Those were all the questions for today.

Those were some great questions.

Thanks so much for watching True Crime Support.

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