Serial killers: increasingly their targets are prostitutes

It’s been called a victimless crime but the cases of three women murdered last year by a serial killer dubbed “the Kensington Strangler” proved that prostitution is anything but.

Criminologists have long known that prostitutes are especially vulnerable to being victimized: raped, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed.

Now, a new study by a professor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs has found that the victims of serial killers are increasingly likely to be female prostitutes.

In an article, “Prostitutes as Victims of Serial Homicide,” published in April in the Sage Publication’s journal “Homicide Studies,” Kenna Quinet wrote that from 1970 through 2009 the proportion of victims of serial killers who were female prostitutes went from 16 percent to 69 percent.

 “Despite an observed dramatic decline in the total number of serial murder cases from the 1980s to the 1990s, the likelihood that the victim was a female prostitute increased,” Quinet added.

Quinet based her conclusions on a database created from information about 3,228 victims of 502 solved U.S. serial murder cases from 1970 through 2009.

That serial killers target prostitutes has been known since the days of “Jack the Ripper,” that infamous killer of late-19th Century London. More recently, Gary Leon Ridgway, the “Green River Killer” who confessed to killing 48 women, all prostitutes, in an around Seattle, told his sentencing judge in 2003: “I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reporting missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”

Quinet speculates that there could be several reasons for the increase in prostitute homicides. One might be “burgeoning high-risk behaviors among drug-addicted prostitutes during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.” Quinet also suggested that the economic recession may have resulted in more people becoming homeless and getting involved in drugs, prostitution and other high-risk living.

Not surprisingly, Quinet’s study noted, 46 percent of prostitute killings are unsolved.

Police in New Jersey are still trying to solve the cases of four women who worked as prostitutes, whose bodies were discovered in November 2006 buried in a marshy area behind an Atlantic City motel. And investigators in Long Island, N.Y. are still looking at the cases of 10 people whose bodies have been found since December on beaches along Ocean Parkway. Police say at least four were prostitutes – escorts who advertised on Craigslist.

As for the Kensington Strangler – 22-year-old Antonio Rodriguez has been charged in the three killings – the case is gradually wending its way to trial. Rodriguez has pleaded not guilty to the crimes. Police say he was arrested when his DNA matched that on the bodies of the victims and that Rodriguez confessed. Police say he may also be responsible for attacks on four other women.