Things You Should Know But Don’t: Revisiting the Golden Age of Serial Killers

Posted January 22, 2024

In 2023, there were an unsettling number of missing persons cases that went unanswered and strange murders left unsolved. Between the mysterious deaths surrounding Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas or the suspected serial killer in Portland, Oregon, there has been a recent spike in concerns surrounding another rise in serial murderers. While there has always been some fear of this phenomenon, there is a heightened awareness from the past decade as the True Crime genre has grown in popularity. And these worries are not unfounded— in fact, Thomas Hargrove, who created a widely used algorithm that helps police connect homicide cases to find serial killers, estimates that there could be as many as 2,000 serial killers at large at any given moment in the U.S.

Despite this statistic, we are well outside the timeframe of the so-called “golden age” of serial killers, wherein the U.S. had a large increase in serial killings during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some of the most recognizable killers such as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer were active during this period. If you’ve tuned into any true crime podcast or documentary, it’s likely that you’d recognize a handful of names from this time period. The “golden age” is mostly a term used within the true crime community. While most understand that the term is not meant to glorify, it is true that it’s commonly used to refer to an idyllic time in the past. However, it can also simply refer to a time when something hit its peak. Either way, the phrase seems to be widely accepted without much thought in the true crime fandom. It seems to be an unfortunate name given the frequency of these killings and that there are still victims of serial killers in today’s world. Does using the term “golden age” inherently diminish the importance and gravity of contemporary murders by making it seem as though serial killers are largely a thing of the past?

True crime often targets a younger audience, especially when formatted as podcasts, YouTube series, or even TikTok videos. The most famous cases that are covered are often from this “golden age,” a time period that might seem very distant to today’s teenagers and young adults. When modern cases are reported on in the true crime community it often leads to armchair detectives—an issue that can cause a whole slew of other problems within our globalized world.

With concerns around serial killers still being a reality for many people in the U.S., it might be seen as disingenuous at best and cruel at worst to refer to the past peak of serial killings a “golden age.” There are some people who speculate that we may even see a second “golden age” of serial killers in the not-so-distant future. It’s impossible to know for sure what caused the first spike in serial murders but it’s important to not glorify it. After all, if this second wave does come, studies have suggest that media coverage might be a strong motivator for serial killers.  The language used in media coverage is crucial and “golden age” has a lingering ring of positivity that we might not want to associate with such heinous acts. Stay informed, stay safe, and stay considerate.

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