Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Obscure Streetwalker Strangler

He Kills, We Shrug

Map of Missouri with Kansas City locator
Map of Missouri with Kansas City locator

On a spring night in 1977, an unremarkable, 26-year-old Kansas City, MO., man named Lorenzo Gilyard began strangling prostitutes in his hometown.

By the time he stopped, in 1993 at age 42, Gilyard had killed at least 13 women.

He was caught in 2004 when DNA evidence dropped into the lap of the city's homicide detectives—a "fortunate fluke," one forensic expert called it.

Three years later, at age 56, Gilyard, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

It is an unusual case, but not because Gilyard targeted prostitutes.

The world's violent psychopaths have long favored streetwalkers as victims, dating to even before London's Jack the Ripper went on his infamous spree in the 1880s. The women work in an edgy business, and their clients are not expected to produce references.

The case is unusual in that few Americans outside metropolitan Kansas City have ever heard of Lorenzo Gilyard.

He murdered more women than Jack the Ripper, and we shrugged.

But since Gilyard began his crimes, other serial murderers have targeted prostitutes in places like New Orleans, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Detroit, Rochester, N.Y., Daytona Beach, Fla., Atlantic City, N.J., and Ipswich, England.

"Prostitutes are fantastic targets for crazy people," said Eliyanna Kaiser, executive editor of Spread, a New York-based magazine that focuses on the sex industry. "You have easy access to them. They will willingly go away with strangers while no one is watching. When they disappear, few people will notice. It couldn't be easier."

The sheer volume of these easy murders has pushed America into serial-killer overload. There are so many, in so many places, that we simply can't keep up—or don't want to.

"What's happened is that we've become used to this sort of thing," said Thomas Carroll, a retired sociology professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who studied homicide patterns. "It used to be that you'd murder two or three people, and everyone in the country would know your name. You were a famous killer. Now, a guy kills 13, and nobody's ever heard of him.

Dr. Thomas Carroll
Dr. Thomas Carroll

"Someone like this knocks off women from the dark sides of life, from the margins, and in our society he's hardly worth mentioning," Carroll, 73, told the Crime Library. "Our sensitivities have become blunted. It no longer shocks us. To make big news, you have to kill a famous person or a lot of people in a place where homicide is not expected, like Virginia Tech."


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