The popular image of a serial killer is a creepy, deranged loner with limited social skills and a spotty work history—if he even has a regular job at all.
In reality, however, serial killers often live fairly ordinary lives with normal employment, enabling them to blend in with colleagues. Their legitimate jobs also offer them one more key perk: an opportunity to help carry out or conceal their crimes, according to experts.
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Cops speculate such a scenario played out in the case of alleged serial killer Bruce McArthur, a self-employed landscaper in Toronto. McArthur has been charged with the first-degree murders of six men and is suspected in a seventh. Police accuse him of burying the dismembered bodies of his victims in large planters on the properties where he worked.
In addition to scouring through numerous planters, investigators are also looking for evidence by excavating lawns, another setting where it wouldn’t be suspicious to see a landscaper. Indeed, one former tenant of a building where McArthur worked recalls him digging up a flooded patch and replacing the grass.
McArthur has not yet entered a plea; his next court date is scheduled for April 11.
Long-Haul Truckers Have ‘Ideal’ Job
While a landscaper can benefit from the tools of his trade, a long-haul truck driver might just have the “best” job, according to the FBI.
“They’re extremely difficult to track down and the mobility of their occupation allows them access to so many different areas of victim selection and then victim release locations,” says FBI Crime Analyst Christie Palazzolo.
Michael Arntfield, a criminologist at Western University in Ontario and expert on serial killers, agrees with the FBI’s truck-driver theory. Arntfield says a sizable proportion of uncaught serial killers are most likely people traveling the roads extensively for work.
A long-haul truck driver provides anonymity, a perfect excuse for being out at all hours, limited supervision and “access to a stocked pond of victims in every city,” he tells A&E True Crime. “You can operate in ways that wouldn’t be inherently suspicious.”
Adam Leroy Lane, the “Highway Killer,” was one such driver who plied his sinister trade in 2007 at stops near the highways he traveled for work. Police said he randomly targeted victims, including a 38-year-old woman he happened upon after parking at a New Jersey truck stop and prowling a nearby neighborhood in search of unlocked doors. After the slaying, he returned to his truck and took off unnoticed. Lane was later captured and convicted of murder and assault in several cases. He’s currently in prison and will not be eligible for parole until he’s 111 years old.
Killers Are Typically Blue-Collar Workers
While trucking has built-in plusses, serial killers aren’t necessarily drawn to a particular job because they know it will be useful, says Enzo Yaksic, a founder of the Atypical Homicide Research Group at Northeastern University in Boston. Rather, they take unremarkable jobs, he says, mostly in blue-collar fields, and figure out ways to use them in their favor.
“Those that punch a clock can fade into the background,” Yaksic says. And performing routine tasks that don’t require excessive concentration helps them save mental energy. “Their emotional intelligence is reserved for learning how best to exploit others for their own gain rather than for the good of the company’s bottom line,” he says.
Serial killers can be found among all industries but other top occupations include aircraft assembler, shoemaker, forestry worker, general laborer and security guard, says Arntfield, adding that some of these jobs enable them to fulfill their sexually deviant proclivities or more easily ensnare their prey.
Jobs that Paid Off For ‘Killer Clown,’ ‘BTK Killer’
John Wayne Gacy, for example, discovered convenient victims from among his own employees.
Gacy, who murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 in the Chicago area, became infamous as the “Killer Clown” for the red-and-white striped costume he donned for fund-raising events and parties. But that’s not how he earned a paycheck.
For employment, he worked as a mortuary attendant, cook and Kentucky Fried Chicken manager. In 1974 he opened a painting and contracting company, and ended up killing five of the young men he hired, according to Mike Aamodt, a professor emeritus of psychology at Radford University in Virginia, where he helped create a serial-killer database.
Gacy didn’t specifically start the business just to pick his next target, but he did take advantage of the circumstances. “He just realized what were some easy victims,” Aamodt says.
Another man whose job played a role in his crimes was Dennis Rader, the self-named BTK Killer (Bind, Torture, Kill) who murdered 10 people between 1974 and 1991 in Kansas. Among his jobs were ADT alarm-system installer, census field-operations supervisor and city-compliance officer, which afforded Rader the opportunity to be out on the streets, without bosses constantly watching him. That element proved to be a handy way to scope out potential victims, have time to fuel his sexual fantasies and gain insight into people’s patterns, Arntfield says.
“Several of the victims he came across during his jobs, and he also no doubt built on his experience with ADT to identify vulnerabilities of homes,” he says. “At least one victim’s home he broke into undetected.”
Bosses Say Jeffrey Dahmer Was a Good Worker
Despite such instances, a “vast majority” of serial killers work an everyday job as a seemingly run-of-the-mill employee, Aamodt says.
Jeffrey Dahmer, for one, worked as a chocolate maker. “The Milwaukee Cannibal,” who killed 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991 and ate some of their remains, was a mixer at the Ambrosia Chocolate Company in Milwaukee.
His bosses found him courteous and cooperative.
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