Why Smaller Cities?

After releasing the jacket copy (the blurb) for Cannibal Dreams, I got email from a reader who asked why I kept putting serial killers in small towns or small cities?  Why wasn’t the team travelling to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or even Kansas City, where they are based?

There is a good answer… check out the crime stats.  Sure, Chicago has a lot of murders, although I currently believe New Orleans has the dubious honor of being the Murder Capitol of the US, but on a per capita basis, well, let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to live in Flint, Michigan… a town roughly close to Columbia, Missouri in size and demographics.  Or Washington, D.C. for that matter.

I haven’t a clue how many murders there have been in Columbia in 2014 or 2013 for that matter.  I do know that in June and July, there was a sudden, very serious increase in gun violence.  For the space of a couple of weeks, it seemed we had shootings every night or every other night.  Last year, the same thing happened.  My hometown, for all it’s great things, has a high crime rate.  Violent crimes and property crimes are both on the rise.  For the most part, it isn’t murder.  It’s other violent crimes – rape, armed robbery, assault, gun violence, etc.

As a child, I remember having a classmate that was arrested for arson.  He was about my age and I was in seventh grade, so approximately 12 years old and already an arsonist… that’s sort of scary when you think about it.  In ninth grade, one of my classmates was arrested for rape.  These are the ones that stand out.  Several other classmates went to juvenile detention centers for other crimes; drugs (dealing and/or using), theft, burglary, vandalism, and who knows what else.  I do remember thinking that there seemed to be a revolving door for juvenile offenders.  They’d disappear for a few months and then return, then disappear again and then return.

Does this mean you’re going to get raped, robbed, and have your teeth kicked down your throat if you visit?  Probably not.  Also, it isn’t likely that a stray bullet is going to hit you in the back of the head.  However, the reality remains that for those of us who live in this pretty little city with an emphasis on education and arts, the seedier side is always there.

So why do I like to put serial killers in small cities like Palmyra, Missouri or even my own hometown?  It’s because crime happens here more than you think.  And as much as we would love to hide it, Columbia has had a serial killer or two or six.  The most recent serial killer was before I was born, in theory.  Sometimes, it’s hard to know if a serial killer is working in your town.  A great example of this is the former senator who lived north of town and liked to feed farmhands to his hogs instead of pay them for their hard work.  It took a while to catch onto his dastardly deeds.  Also when I was a child, a pedophile kidnapped a little girl from Marceline, Missouri.  He returned her body, nude, strung up from a tree with a barbed wire noose.  Hard to believe the boyhood home of Walt Disney could have such a brutal murder, especially since the town has a population of roughly 2,000 people.  I know the story because my parents were friends with the little girl’s grandparents.  They never caught the guy and I have been led to believe that she was not his first or his last, although she was the only one from Marceline.  You want a way to teach your children about the dangers of the world, pass along information like that.  My parents hadn’t intended for me to know about it, but like most children, I was very curious when my parents whispered.

Back on point, no, small towns don’t have the high murder rates of larger towns.  For starters, there’s less people to kill and fewer people to do the killing.  However, in some cases, it is easier to hide a serial killer in a small town.  There’s more places to hide the bodies, fewer people to catch you in the act, rural areas to use as lairs, and reputations are pretty powerful, even today.  No one wanted to believe that a church president could be BTK, but alas, that was the case.  He’d been hiding in plain sight for decades and still would be if he had known a few things about computers.  Wichita has a population of almost 400,000 people, no where near the 2.7 million living in Chicago… Although, I’m sure Chicago has had more serial killers over the course of decades, it is these smaller town killers that bring the most fear.


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1 Comment

  1. Maria D.

     /  August 20, 2014

    I agree with you – I think it’s easier for a “serial” type killer to hide in plain sight in a smaller town. Where I live is about 30 minutes from a large town but we are far enough away that a brutal murder (beheading) occurred at a local college. We’ve had numerous kids go missing, a serial killer that roamed the highways around here and has not been caught. I think a serial killer can hunt in a big city but come home to “roost” so to speak in a smaller city



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