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In 1973, teenage girls began disappearing from Folly Beach, a small town on a barrier island in South Carolina. Initially thought by police to be a spate of runaways, the real story emerged when a police officer on patrol heard a cry for help and found three girls bound and gagged in an abandoned beach cottage. Further investigation turned up bodies buried in the dunes nearby. The police reacted quickly and closed off the only bridge to the mainland, thereby trapping the townspeople with the certain knowledge that one among them was a serial killer. Everyone became a suspect, as neighbor turned against neighbor in an atmosphere of rapidly growing hysteria.
What effects does the presence of a serial killer have on the collective health of a community? What strategies do people adopt to manage the fear and anxiety that accompany news of a serial killer’s predations? And why do citizens and the media respond as they do to serial killers, who usually account for only a small portion of the homicides in the communities in which they are active? Killer Among Us: Public Reactions to Serial Murder examines serial murder from this fresh perspective: an exploration of the ways people react when a killer is at large in their community. Drawing on 19th-century tabloid accounts of the predations of Jack the Ripper and on 20th-century media coverage of such villains as The Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, the author constructs vivid and provocative retellings of many of the most infamous cases of serial murder.