Last night the A&E series The Killing Season, produced by Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills, premiered. Together Josh and Rachel team up to research a serial killer (or killers) and, with the help of our friends over at Websleuths, follow potential leads in hopes that some of these tips may help find justice for at least 10 unsolved murders.
Since 2010 bodies, some of which remain unidentified, have been uncovered along Long Island’s Gilgo Beach, giving rise to the theory that the area had been the dumping ground for a serial killer. It wouldn’t be long before Josh and Rachel discovered that Ocean Parkway wasn’t home to just one serial killer, but at least two killers engaged in an active turf war.
On the surface the docuseries appears to be a “who done it” murder mystery series, but serves to reveal so much more about the harsh underbelly of society and the sad reality that some lives are valued more than others.
Sex workers and addicts are seen as some of society’s most deplorable citizens, and as a result they are also the most marginalized when it comes to serving justice.
Here in Ohio, we witnessed this phenomena firsthand when seven women in Chillicothe – all of which had been involved in prostitution, were actively addicted to drugs, or both – died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. With the exception of the murder of Timberly Claytor, no one has been prosecuted in any of these cases.
Initially law enforcement failed to give these cases the attention they deserved, or were quick to report them as overdoses or suicides. It wasn’t until the media reported that there may be an active serial killer working within the area that the public learned that this cluster of cold cases had ever existed.
This revelation started a domino effect within the community. Key officials within the police force were forced to step down, and a special task force was developed to solve these cases for good. In spite of their best efforts, it would seem that their actions came too little, too late. The cases remain cold.
The unsolved cases in Ohio and Gilgo Beach aren’t unique. Right here on this site, both Mike and I have covered the case of the Jennings eight. Like the cases in Chillicothe and Gilgo Beach, the cases went cold, leaving the victims’ stories open for speculation and rumors. Some believe it was the police behind these murders, while others believe it had been a result of police actively protecting a valuable informant. The true nature of these murders may never really be known for certain, particularly when law enforcement remains complacent in letting sleeping dogs lie, so to speak.
We would like to think with our modern technology that it would be easy to spot these clusters of unsolved murders that occur across the US, and it can be if someone took an interest in detecting them. The unfortunate truth is that prostitutes are often not considered victims, and the violence they face is typically viewed as an occupational hazard, even if that violence results in their murder.
Laws that exist for rape victims, specifically in New York and Ohio, exclude prostitutes from prosecuting rapists. One Philadelphia sex worker who was brutally raped at gunpoint took her rapist to court. A judge ruled that the man had not been guilty of rape, but rather, “theft of services.”
Most cases of violence against sex workers never see their day in court. Reports are taken without any followup, or even result in the victim becoming further victimized by being placed under arrest or assaulted by the police. As a result, many sex workers are reluctant to report incidents of violence to law enforcement and it is this culture of silence that allows violent people to walk free completely undetected.
Serial killer Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, specifically targeted prostitutes. According to his own admission,
“I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
While we shudder at the thought that our own feelings could ever parallel that of a serial killer’s, Ridgway reveals the cold, hard truth. Very few people will notice a prostitute is missing, if they are even reported as missing at all. If the story happens to make the news, many will feel that the victim somehow got what was coming to them.
One of the most prominently suggested solutions to this issue is the decriminalization of prostitution. Some studies have shown that instances of violence against sex workers have dramatically decreased in areas where prostitution had been decriminalized or legalized outright. Proponents of this solution claim that it not only promotes safer working conditions for those who chose to become involved in sex work, but also fosters a working relationship with law enforcement, where victims are willing to alert police to dangerous individuals.
Whether you agree with this solution or not, we must ensure that these victims are seen in the same light as any other victim. In all of the cases that were discussed in this story, the victims were brutally murdered and dumped like trash. These women may have been prostitutes, but they were once someone’s mother, daughter, sister, or friend. They were important to someone and more than just the work they chose to partake in. In spite of where your own morals lie on the issue of prostitution, we should all agree that everyone deserves to die with dignity and should have people behind them fighting for justice in instances where they did not die with the dignity they deserved.
You can check out The Killing Season on A&E Saturday at 9/8c or stream online.