Self Defense from Serial Killers?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
29 Jul 2009


As you know we here at do not shy away from the tough questions. My first experience with the concept of a modern serial killer was when I was basically homeless and living in my instructor’s karate studio. My instructor, Dick Willett, let my broken down car live in his parking lot and allowed me to “watch over the place” in the evenings. Why he even suggested and loaned me a book entitled, “The Michigan Murders.”


My routine was simple, after a day of teaching karate lessons, I walked down to Lavicios Delli and bought my favorite sandwich – a British Submarine! I’d walk back to the school and turn on the desk lamp to save money and start reading. The book was fairly scary because the sociopath, John Collins, was the boy next door – a real clean cut college student. Before long I had all of the lights on in the school and word got back to Dick that his studio was lit up all night!


It was not that I wanted to be an ungracious tenant but rather I was not thinking and was kind of freaked out! Mind you that I was a brown belt at the time and already a fairly good fighter. I quickly apologised and mended my ways.


In this post I will examine serial killers and I will concentrate on how women can try and stay safe. No promises here but I have some ideas that make sense. Also I have a treat as my wife, Sylvia has written a good overview of Ted Bundy and how some women were able to avoid or get away from that monster. Here is a overview video of the Michigan Murders that scared me 33 years ago.


Scary huh? At the time I was having a hard time with the fact John Collins look like a clean cut guy. Bad guys were supposed to look like bad guys. Or how would one know who to trust?

First off I do not want anyone to think I am an expert in serial killers. I am only claiming to have expertise in one flavor of karate. Looking at serial killers, one would have to conclude a few common traits.

  • The have no regard for their victims
  • Many make efforts to appear normal
  • They are capable of murder and do according to their trigger
  • Most are men
  • Only a very small percentage of men are serial killers
  • Women have a low percentage chance of meeting a serial killer

As far as a type of crime women should worry about – this probably has a far less chance than a women getting into a car wreak… If I had to guess maybe about the same chance as getting into an airplane crash? Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think there are that many serial killers out there – at least I hope not.

What women do have to watch out for is peeping toms and rapist’s! Unfortunately my guess is that most serial killers have been a peeping tom or at least a rapist before they became a serial killer. So following my logic – women should learn how to defend themselves against sexual predators as an unacceptable high percentage of women will have to deal with a sexual attack of some kind in their life.

Lets talk statistics, I’ve heard recently in another post comments here, that only 20% of the rapes were by strangers. From the same source also mention that only 30% of the rapes were by an intimate partner (one that the women had already had relations), so extrapolating that would seem to suggest that the other 50% were known to the women but had not been an old flame.

Do you know what is scary? Many times a serial killer might be known to the women! In the case of the Michigan Murders, John Collins was a college student and was seen with at least two of the victims.

Staying on the serial killer track here, my wife, Syliva wrote a good overview article of  Ted Bundy entitled, “The Eerie, and Disturbing Case of Ted Bundy.”  If you read this article you will start to get a picture of how serial killers operate.

In a nut shell they lure women by a trick. One lucky woman that got away noticed a guy dropping his books on the way to his car. She volunteered to assist but when she got close to the car a eerie feeling came over her – she got scared, dropped the books and ran. That woman experienced what many call women’s intuition and who knows how she knew.

The point before I go into ways to reduce your risk – is girls and women should always trust their instincts! If something seems amiss – don’t talk yourself out of the feeling!

Another woman was asked by Ted Bundy to help unload a sail boat at a lake. She followed him to his VW and notice there was no sailboat. She was almost going to leave with him to get the boat but experienced a feeling of foreboding and walked away. Was this the sixth sense? A warning from beyond or a women’s intuition? Whatever the case if a woman is feeling something is not right – she might not get a second chance to get away!

In each of these cases one young woman got away and another met her fate by the hand of Ted Bundy! If you get a chance, please read the article over at

Now here is what I suggest for women to try and stay safe. Don’t worry about serial killers per se but rather put us a uniform defensive strategy with the likely types of attacks women often see. Unfortunately this includes rapists. Remember that while stranger rape might only be 20%, the other 50% of rapists are someone known and about 30% are known intimately to women.

Dealing with the 70% that are acquaintances and strangers one would have to make some assumptions to be safe.

  • Don’t trust everyone that you know
  • Trust only vetted friends and no strangers
  • Do not help strangers directly but rather call the cops for them
  • Learn at least a short-term self-defense class (ideally a martial art)

Firstly many young women are taught to be accommodating to everyone for some reason. They are taught to respect authority and not talk back to adults. Lots of young women have a tough time saying no if someone is persistent.

I would hope that parents try to amend this tendency of teaching your children how to be polite and point out to them not to trust friends and strangers beyond certain boundaries! One could still have nice and polite children but give them a fighting chance for survival if any bad person ever tried to take advantage of them.

On a tangent for a moment, here in San Diego we had a case of a highway patrol officer that routinely pulled young women off the freeway to deserted off-ramps. He got kind of scary but the complaints that did come in were ignored. When one young lady was killed – this officer, Craig Peyer was even driving the news anchor lady around giving tips how women could keep safe! He was later convected of Kara Knott’s murder.

The second point is to trust only vetted friends and no strangers. To this day I will not let any repair men into my home unless I am there. I don’t care about promises of professional behavior or women’s lib – I just want my wife and step-daughter to be safe.

I think young women should go into situations with their eyes open. In a work place – everyone you know is not your friend. Take your time and let friendships develop before you even begin to trust! Trust initially with verification. Take no one at their word but look to see what they do.

When I was young I used to believe what people told me. After I got older I listen politely to what people tell me but discount it all! I only look at what people do to see what kind of people they are. Not fool proof but one needs to develop some kime of vetting process if you are ever going to trust anyone. Trust your instincts about people if you get a funny feeling about someone. It is better to lose a fish than to get food poisoning. Plenty more fish in the sea.

If you see someone in need or even a neighbor that you don’t have much contact with but seems friendly enough and are a women home alone – don’t answer the door or if you have a security door – offer to call someone for them. Do not open the door and let them in.

I remember the case of a neighbor down stairs that lived there with his wife. He was friendly with everyone in the apartments. There was a PSA flight attendant that lived up stairs that was friendly with all of her neighbors. She came to us one day and told us that she had a scary encounter with our neighbor guy that had just moved out. Apparently he came back to try and gain entrance to the PSA gals apartment but she did not let him in. He tried to sweet talk her for 10 minutes and took off when people started coming out to water their plants. My guess is she would have had some variation of a date rape if she had relented… but she was spooked by the sudden attention and did not let him in.

If someone needs assistance – that is the oldest trick in the book. A women should not offer a male assistance but rather offer to call someone from a safe distance. It is not rude to do that but prudent.

My last point is every women should have at a minimum a short-term self-defense class so she can start to realize what she would be up against if she were to have to mount a defense! Ideally I would suggest some type of striking self-defense or even jiu-jitsu, judo, or aikido type of martial arts. I would think that boxing, karate or kung fu might be quicker in the short run to learn an effective defense but please take whatever type of martial art that agrees with you!

There are a ton of things women can do to mitigate risk  and I have a couple of websites I suggest that women visit for ideas. Both of these sources give great ideas of how to avoid the common types of sexual predators:

I hope this overview of serial killers, rapists and mitigation strategies did not scare you off too much. I think women can and I know they do avoid and escape attacks every day. I try to highlight some of the success stories here so people can take the steps to be one of those success stories!


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7 Responses to “Self Defense from Serial Killers?”

  1. SueC Says:

    Hi John, Another thought provoking post! I’ve clearly led a more sheltered life than you – you seem to have had a lot of scary moments in yours, or know people that have. I agree pretty much with everything you say, particularly the point about relying on intuition. It’s a strange feeling when you instinctively know something is wrong – but it’s a useful early warning system! However, like you said, serial killings, rapes and attacks on women are relatively rare events so I think it is important for women to get a balance between remaining cautious and not getting completely paranoid and ending up fearing fear itself.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Sue, Yes – keeping a balance between being safe and living life is good!

  3. Cheri Arbuckle Says:

    Hi John —

    Thanks for posting this. I particularly like the way you stress that you have a very low chance being attacked by a serial killer. Thank you for reaffirming that women are more likely to suffer violence at the hands of someone they know, rather than from a stranger off the street.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about listening to your intuition and then *follow through* with what it tells you to do.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Cheri,

    This is a scary situation if one ever finds him/herself in but those of us who proactively learn some self-defense have a better chance.

    I think intuition is one of those early warning systems that women have that can help them. I am happy to say my own intuition has saved my bacon a few times in my life so I am a believer! :)

  5. David Harvey Says:

    Personally, I do and love Aikido (a form of JuJitsu) but it takes several years of hard work to become proficient at Aikido. For self-defense that you can learn quickly, I would strongly recommend a system called Target Focus Training that is taught by a guy named Tim Larkin. It is nasty stuff, but you can get the basics into you in around 20 hours – and you will never forget them.

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi David, I am a fan of short-term self defense as not everyone will take the time to learn a fighting system.

  7. David Harvey Says:

    That’s the whole point, John. We both agree on that, I think. Certainly twenty hours learning TFT is a very cheap insurance policy. In some ways it’s like owning a firearm; if you choose to use it on someone, you can expect to have to justify your actions in a court of law afterwards – or go to jail.