Numbers Guy Thinks He Can Spot Serial Killers

Thomas Hargrove has an algorithm on murderers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 13, 2017 4:44 PM CST
Updated Feb 19, 2017 7:03 AM CST
Numbers Guy Thinks He Can Spot Serial Killers

When he worked as a reporter, Thomas Hargrove was known as a numbers guy, a data cruncher. Now in retirement at 61, that's even more true. Hargrove has made a national database on murders, using data from the FBI and police departments, and he's created a system to spot connections that mere humans may miss. The result? "Serial killers should fear this algorithm," declares the headline on a Bloomberg story about his mission. Hargrove has created the Murder Accountability Project, a nonprofit whose goal is make national data on murders accessible to everyone, police and citizens alike. “I think there are a great many uncaught serial killers out there,” he explains. “I think most cities have at least a few.”

To create his algorithm, Hargrove reverse-engineered it with details from the slayings of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, in mind. He fine-tuned it over and over, finally settling on four characteristics: geography, sex, age group, and method of killing. Now he spends his time showing investigators across the country how it can be done. The story recounts one jarring anecdote: Back in 2010, Hargrove sent emails to police officials in Gary, Indiana, informing them that his numbers pointed to a serial killer in their midst. He got no response. Four years later, police arrested a man in nearby Hammond, who confessed to multiple murders going back decades. "There are at least seven women who died after I tried to convince the Gary police that they had a serial killer,” says Hargrove. Officials in Gary are under a gag order and cannot address the matter, notes the story. Click to read the full piece. (Read more Longform stories.)

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