How Could 100 Children Be Murdered and No One Raise the Alarm?
How Killers Find Their Targets, and Why They Often Get Away with It
I recently wrote about Willy Suarez Maceo, a 25-year-old Miami resident, upscale realtor, and, based on his tweets and Instagram posts, a lover of women, money, and fancy cars. He is also a suspected serial killer, charged with fatally shooting 56-year-old Jerome Antonio Price on December 21, 2021. A few hours earlier, he had tried to kill Jorge Jardines, who survived despite a gunshot wound to the head. Police also believe he stabbed to death 59-year-old Manuel Perez on October 16.
Maceo chose easy victims. They were homeless. They were asleep. And they were living in an atmosphere increasingly hostile to the unhoused. New vagrancy laws made walking, camping, standing, or sleeping in certain areas crimes that could get you thrown in jail. A 2020 analysis by the National Coalition of the Homeless found 1,852 incidences of violence against homeless individuals between 1999 and 2019. Over a quarter of these were deadly.
And they’re increasing. I was astonished at some of the comments I read underneath some of these news reports. “He (Maceo) should get a medal for taking out the trash.” “Thank God. Someone is finally cleaning up the neighborhood.” “At least property value will go up.”
This is not how most people felt. But it got me thinking about the interplay between the victims predators target and how society views them. It’s not that, if guilty, Willy Suarez isn’t 100 percent responsible for what he did. But is it also possible that the beacon of societal judgment can shine the light on certain groups or individuals when predators look for the most vulnerable prey?
No One Sells Murder for Money
If you’ve watched a handful of true- crime shows, you know how often sexual predators target sex workers. The percentage of sex worker victims has dramatically increased each decade. But did you know how bad it really is? Murder is the second-leading cause of death among sex workers. Many perpetrators get away with it; over two-thirds of sex worker murders remainl unsolved after 10 years. Of the 65 percent of serial killers’ victims who are women, 76 percent are sex workers.
Most of the reasons are obvious. When you are engaged in illegal activity, the police aren’t usually your first stop when something bad happens. Struggling with addiction and needing money to stave off cravings or withdrawal can lead to risky behavior or lapses in judgment. If you’re estranged from your family, it might take longer for them to know you’re missing.
But there’s another factor: Since the 1970s, other vulnerable groups have disappeared. No one hitchhikes anymore. The days of “be home when the streetlight turns on” have gone the way of CDs and Blockbuster video. Women are more situationally aware and armed with MACE and pepper spray. making it a riskier proposition to try to snatch someone off the street.
Not your problem? It could be. More than half of serial killers who target sex workers also kill other women. Some start with a sex worker and then branch out to more “challenging” prey.
“I Could Have Killed 500.”
There are vulnerable groups in every country. Who they are mirrors the times and places in which they live. And, of course, there are always predators ready to pounce on those they perceive as weak.
Can you imagine a hundred children disappearing without a trace — and no one raising the alarm? It happened in Pakistan. There are currently 2 million children living on Pakistani streets, most of whom live a life filled with poverty, sexual abuse, and disease. Some ran away from abusive homes. Others are forced to spend their days scrounging for food to feed themselves or their impoverished families. Out of desperation, some resort to petty crime to survive, perpetuating common perceptions of them as throwaways and thieves. It also reinforces a general sense of apathy toward their plight. It’s a predator’s playground. And Javed Iqbal was a predator.
In 2009, Pakistani serial killer Javed Iqbal confessed to raping and murdering 100 young boys before turning himself in. He kept detailed notes of each of his murders. “I could have killed 500; this was not a problem,” he said during his confession.
Desperate for a Dowry in India
If you’re from the U.S., it can be hard to fathom what it would be like to think your entire being hinged on whether you could get married and how much your dowry was worth. But that’s not true everywhere. And Indian serial killer Mohan Kumar Vivekanand, aka Cyanide Mohan, knew how to take advantage of the situation.
To Anitha Mulya, he was Sudhakar Kulal. To Sunanda Poojary, he was Shashidhar Poojary. To Kaveri, he was Sudhakar Acharya. Mohan spent a lot of time pretending to be people he was not. He also pretended to look for love but was really looking for money. And he thought he’d found his perfect game.
Eventually convicted of murdering 20 women between 2004 and 2009, Mohan met his victims by hanging around bus stands. He looked for single women from low-income families. He especially loved targeting women who looked past “the perfect age of marriage,” women whose families couldn’t afford a dowry and were ashamed and humiliated at the thought of their daughters growing old alone.
Amid this social milieu stepped Mohan Kumar. He would introduce himself as a respected government official and member of his victim’s caste and start the wooing process. He would eventually persuade his victim to elope with him, reassuring her he wanted no dowry but insisting they bring their finest clothes and jewelry for their wedding.
After eloping, he would check the two of them into a hotel and persuade his bride-to-be to have sex with him; after all, they would be married the next day. The following morning, he would express concern about a possible pregnancy and press her to a “contraceptive pill.” It was cyanide. After his victim died an excruciating death, Mohan would scoop up her valuables and get ready for his next victim.
The Bottom Line
Desperation is so often the underbelly of vulnerability. There will always be people losing their battles with their inner demons. There will be those born into poverty who can’t find their way out and those ostracized because they can’t meet their culture’s narrow definition of who they should be.
It’s hard to protect everyone. But we’ve got to try.
Originally published at https://www.psychologytoday.com.