The Facts behind True Crime: Is Murder Really a Threat?

Written by | Updated October 8, 2019
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Last Updated: 2 months ago
This story was updated after we realized there was an tyop in one of the statistics originally quoted. We erroneously stated that the rate for Missouri was 61%. It is 6.1%

From your grandmother’s collection of cheesy mysteries to podcasts that make you afraid to walk home alone, accounts of murder follow us everywhere. But is the world really as dangerous as these stories make it out to be?

Who are the victims and who are the killers, really? Where does fiction end and fact begin?

To find out, we compared our State of Safety report to five years of FBI statistics. Turns out murder is a lot less common than people think it is.

From 2013 through 2017, the US averaged 4.9 homicides per every 100,000 people. Compared to homicide rates in other countries, this rate is extremely low. For example, Honduras loses 74.6 lives per every 100,000 while El Salvador loses 64.2.

But with the popularity of crime stories, it’s easy to feel like there’s a threat around every corner. Get the facts by finding out which states actually rank highest and lowest for murder.

These 10 states have the highest and lowest murder rates in the US. The averages in parentheses represent the number of people per 100K murdered in each state.

States with Highest Murder Rates

  1. Louisiana (11.1)
  2. Mississippi (8.0)
  3. Missouri (7.9)
  4. Maryland (7.6)
  5. Alabama (7.4)

States with Lowest Murder Rates

  1. New Hampshire (1.2)
  2. Maine (1.7)
  3. Vermont (1.8)
  4. Hawaii (2.0)
  5. Minnesota (2.0)

Interesting Findings

  • Four of the metro areas with the highest murder rates were in Louisiana: New Orleans-Metairie (17.6), Baton Rouge (11.6), Lafayette (7.7), and Shreveport-Bossier City (9.6). Each of these cities has a murder rate twice the national average (4.9).
  • Missouri’s murder rate rose 6.1% over the last five years from 6.1 in 2013 to 9.8 in 2017.
  • Iowa saw a 136% increase in murder from 1.4 in 2013 to 3.3 in 2017. But the state’s overall average is still much lower than the national average (2.2 vs. 4.9).
  • New Hampshire and North Dakota saw the highest reduction in murder rates of all the states. Both states saw a 41% drop in their murder rate from 2013 to 2017.
  • In 2017, young men between ages 20 and 29 were murdered at the highest rates.

Murder Victims by Gender 2013-2017

FBI DataMenWomenUnknownTotal
201711,8623,2224515,129
201611,8213,2084115,070
201510,6082,8182913,455
20149,2462,6813411,961
20139,5232,7072312,253

The Context behind the Crimes

Our State of Safety survey highlights the safety and security concerns of average Americans. According to our data, young women were most worried about being murdered. Of those we surveyed, 50% were afraid of being killed by a stranger, and 26% were concerned about being killed by someone they know.

And while a fear of strangers is reasonable, the FBI data for 2017 showed that only 9.7% of murder victims were killed by strangers. A majority of murder victims knew their killers through family and social circles.

  • 40.3% of murder victims in 2017 were killed by family or “other known” relations, 12.3% were murdered by family members, and 28% were murdered by other familiar relations.
  • Of the over 15,000 murder victims in 2017, about a third were murdered while also violating the law. Murders involving robbery and narcotic drug activity claimed over 500 lives, respectively.
  • A total of 2,999 people were killed by acquaintances in 2017.
  • There were only 23 workplace murders in 2017: 17 employers murdered their employees, and 6 employees murdered their employers.

Tips for Staying Safe in Your Neighborhood

Remember, prevention over paranoia. 

For many in the United States, bad health habits like smoking or unsafe driving are more likely threats than murder. While heart disease, cancer, and traffic crashes are the leading causes of death in the US, you’re more likely to live a long healthy life than you are to die early.

As of 2017, the average life expectancy for Americans is 78.6 years. Our country also has over 70,000 centenarians. The best way to live this longis to stay in safe and familiar environments, get regular exercise, follow a healthy diet, and avoid stress.

Be aware of your surroundings. 

When traveling throughout your city, keep your destination in mind and how you got there. Watch for suspicious activity on public transit, on the street, or in your neighborhood.

Paying attention to dangerous situations can be your first line of defense and help you escape a bad situation before it gets worse.

Avoid associating with dangerous, illegal activities. 

The FBI reported over 2,000 homicides in 2017 in conjunction with unlawful activity. Like we mentioned before, murder victims are more likely to know their killer, so it’s best to avoid interacting with those who participate in criminal activity.

Listen to your intuition. 

If a situation feels dangerous, get out. You can take a walk, call a trusted friend or relative to pick you up, or just get away the best way you can.

If you are in an abusive relationship and fear serious injury or death, you can get help through an organization like National Coalition Against Domestic Violence +1-800-799-7233. Organizations like these can provide guidance and resources to get you out of a bad situation with a friend, partner, or relative.

Participate in your community. 

For years, studies have shown strong links between poverty and crime. For example, Arlington, Virginia, and Garland, Texas, have similar populations. But the median household income for Garland is half of Arlington’s. The crime rate of Garland is 34.75 homicides (per 100,000 residents) compared to Arlington’s 17.58 homicides (per 100,000 residents).

If you live in an area with a high crime rate and want to make a difference, volunteer or donate to organizations that help lift people out of poverty. Homeless shelters, youth outreach organizations, food drives, and other nonprofits can connect you with those in need.

Safer Than You Think

New podcasts, TV shows, and books highlighting murder cases pop up every day. And that’s to say nothing about what we read in the news. Americans may always be fascinated with violent crime—especially homicide—because it can feel so close to home.

But the reality is murder is tragic but still uncommon in our country. You’re more likely to live a long life than run into the next Jack the Ripper.

Written by Katie McEntire

Since 2013, Katie has written marketing copy, long-form posts, reviews, and blogs. She began her career as a writer and reviewer with the mission to recommend only the best products for her readers. She’s designed tests, evaluated products, and written reviews on a range of subjects such as appliances, power tools, and software. Today, she applies these research and writing skills on the SafeWise team to explore the world of home, auto, and internet security. Learn more

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