One of the problems with publicizing a serial killer, is it’s hard to know when a serial killer is operating. Part of this is because they often choose marginalized victims (prostitutes, drug addicts, the homeless, runaways, and other people society has forgotten). Second, police forces don’t talk to each other very well in the US. Even moving a body from a city setting to a county setting can stymie an investigation even if the city is located in that specific county. When you move from a city to a different county, it can be an even bigger problem. And finally, the press and public are usually very quick to jump to the conclusion there’s a serial killer. There are actually two cases that highlight these issues quite well: the Missing Women of Chillicothe (Ohio) and the Jeff Davis 8.
The first one we’ll discuss is The Missing Women of Chillicothe. Six women went missing from Chillicothe, Ohio between 2014 and 2015. To date, 4 have been found dead, 2 are still missing and 3 of the 4 found dead have been declared homicides. Most of them were involved with sex work and or had drug problems. However, it hasn’t been declared that it’s the work of a serial killer. Having said that, in 2015 after the death of Neal Falls, police did investigate when he was in Ohio and for how long. Falls is thought to be a serial killer who was killed when he attacked a victim and she fought back, managing to get his gun and shooting him. While six women are a pattern, it isn’t enough of a pattern, especially considering not all the victims are the same race and there’s questions about whether one of the victims was indeed an escort/prostitute or if she had truly left that life behind and was now sober as well. If all the women had been killed in the exact same way (they weren’t), and disposed of in the same way (they weren’t), then we’d have more to support the statement “this is a serial killer.” It would have also helped if the killer had had a signature that he used to sign all his kills. But that hasn’t been found either.
Like the majority of the general public, I haven’t been privy to the police files on the case. So, like the public I can say it looks like a serial killer, but without access to all the crime scene pictures, and investigative files, it’s just an uneducated guess. Now, I admit, my educated guess is that they are the victims of a serial killer. But I have little to support that except to say Chillicothe, Ohio has a population of 21,000 people and 6 missing women seems like a lot, especially since 4 were found dead and 3 of those were murdered. In a city five times as big, I’d be less quick to jump to that idea, even if we could prove all six were working prostitutes with drug problems. Or if it was Chicago, I would also have more reservations that it’s a serial killer. As it stands, I don’t know why Neal Falls was ruled out as the killer of these women, but I felt at the time that he was a strong suspect and I still feel that way to some degree. Especially knowing that if Falls is indeed the killer we think he is, then these women would be his victim type.
The Jeff Davis 8 is even more complicated, because there is a whole lot going on in Jefferson Davis parish and some of it is kind of hinky. The eight missing and dead women from Jefferson Davis parish in Louisiana were also involved in prostitution and drugs. Like the Chillicothe, Ohio women, if this is a serial killer, he is taking the unusual step of crossing ethnic lines. It is indeed rare for a serial killer to kill people outside their own ethnicity. White serial killers tend to kill white people. Black serial killers tend to kill black people. The majority of the Jeff Davis 8 are African-American females. Where as the majority of the 6 women from Chillicothe are white. The conclusion that I draw from this, is if either of these cases involves a serial killer, then the killer in Louisiana is probably African-American, while the killer in Chillicothe is probably white.
In the Jeff Davis 8, the majority of the bodies have been too decomposed to determine a cause of death, which is a problem. We know some of them were murdered, but we can’t say that all of them have been or even the majority of them have been. And drugs have hit Louisiana harder than a lot of other places in the US. I’ve heard it theorized that some of the Jeff Davis 8 may in fact have been overdoses where the bodies were dumped and since there were a few murders as well and the bodies were too decomposed to do determine cause of death, everyone automatically decided all of them had been murdered. There could be some truth behind it. I also read the book (Murder in the Bayou by Ethan Brown) by the investigative reporter that broke the story of the Jeff Davis 8 and exposed some police corruption in the area (which is why some of it is hinky). I am not as convinced that the police covered up the murders as the author of the book was.
In both cases, there isn’t enough evidence to support claims that there is a serial killer involved. Since, I firmly believe that lots of serial killers go undetected when they prey on marginalised victims, I tend to think both cases probably do. But that could be a symptom of “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I research serial killers enough that I may be biased blind by it; seeing serial killers where there aren’t any.