Why were so many serial killers active in 1974?

Josie Klakström
6 min readFeb 10, 2020
Photo by David East on Unsplash

Dubbed “the year of fear”, this specific year saw the birth of numerous serial killers, but why did this happen, and why 1974?

John Wayne Gacy (Killer Clown) was already two deep, and Ted Bundy, Dennis Rader (BTK), Coral Watts (The Sunday Morning Slasher), and Paul Knowles (The Casanova Killer) all started their new vocations in this year, and as a decade there were over 450 active serial killers in the US alone. Compared to the 67 active serial killers marked on the Radford University website in the last decade, are we more titillated than scared these days?

The FBI’s definition of a serial killer: “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”

What went wrong?

Looking back it makes perfect sense that this era birthed a swarm of offenders. While the nation’s attention was on the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, and the Watergate Scandal, no one noticed that crime was rising. Killers were running riot, notably with three, separate “Freeway Killers” in California, all operating around the same time from 1972 to 1983.

Communication was also far more localized back then, so the news of the missing turning up dead wasn’t national, and even the police weren’t sharing their cases yet. There was no national database where law enforcement could compare their cases and work together, there was a stigma about asking for help and information was kept under wraps.

The story of survivor Mary Vincent and her horrifying ordeal was one of the most widely-publicized cases, due to no county wanting her paroled attacker as a resident. Mary was trying to hitchhike from Las Vegas to California in the late ’70s.

Picked up by Lawrence Singleton in Berkeley, he proceeded to assault her, cut off her arms and throw her over a cliff, left for dead. Despite her story, people were still thumbing rides from strangers.

By 1974 FBI Special Agent Howard Teten had already established the Behaviour Science Unit (BSU) at Quantico. Originating as a teaching course, Teten and his colleagues were finding that their fieldwork was producing some interesting…

Josie Klakström

Josie is a freelance journo who writes about writing, true crime, culture and marketing. www.truecrimeedition.com