There is at present a good deal of alarm, both in government and the community generally, concerning the level of violence in Australian society. Although the incidence of murder has in fact remained quite stable for many years, it remains the subject of widespread public anxiety and persistent media coverage. Serial murder in particular, because of its savagery and apparently random nature, causes enormous fear in a community. The kind of fear it can engender was illustrated in Sydney by the series of `granny murders'. These murders of elderly women in Sydney's North Shore district generated great apprehension in that community, which resulted in many who perceived themselves as potential victims living in fear and isolation for many months.
This Trends and Issues observes the characteristics of the disturbing phenomenon of serial murder in Australia and dispels some of the misinformation which has surrounded it. The publicity accorded to serial murder has created the impression that it predominates, whereas in fact it accounts for only a very small proportion of all known homicides.
Nevertheless, the authors argue that there is a need for law enforcement agencies to approach serial murder differently from other forms of homicide. Serial murder causes great fear and it is clearly crucial for prompt and co-ordinated action to be taken by the various law enforcement agencies, often in several jurisdictions, who may be involved in each case. In addition, the authors observe that the establishment of a National Homicide Monitoring Program, which will record the characteristics of every homicide occurring in Australia, on an ongoing basis, will assist in the identification of serial murders, and also in the tracking of serial murderers.