Brainstorming an Idea– My initial thought process while beginning to attack this project was to stick with something simple that I can already find an organized public data set on. However I also wanted to delve into a very specific topic that happens to be a genuine interest of mines. In the end the latter turned out to be a bit more pertinent to me. I’m sure I might be getting a few raised eyebrows over what I chose but I assure you it’s nothing more than a fascination. In college l I took a particular interest in serial killers after researching a few for a project I was working on for a speech class. The intrigue carried on ever since and my engrossment in these rather vile individuals has not changed. In fact one of my favorite past times include reading wiki pages dedicated to them and watching a Youtube video based on them right after (before going to sleep for added thrill).
I knew I could find an adequate amount of information to make this visually come to life on a map but at the same time I knew it would be very ambitious. As this is my first time using a mapping tool I wanted something manageable within my limited abilities, this meant I had to narrow down on the specifics of what I wanted to visualize. Instead of doing all 50 states I went with just the east coast and as far as data is concerned, I went with what I thought would be the four most vital pieces of information- gender, state they are from, the number of victims they had and the years that they were active killers.
Creating a Data Set– I will admit googling public data sets on serial killers did turn up quite a few searches but nonetheless nothing as specific as what I was attempting to do, this lead to me essentially creating my own data set on Microsoft Excel.
Finding the names of the killers I wanted was the easy part. A quick google search brought me to a list of the most notable serial killers by state. All I had to do from here is cherry pick the ones from the east coast . The particular list I used was compiled by Frank Olita published on Insider.com (https://www.insider.com/serial-killers-from-every-state-in-america-2018-5) Once I had my list of 14 names it was time do my research on each one, because they are notorious figures finding the information I needed on them wasn’t very difficult. However I did encounter a bit of a grey area when looking into the number of victims portion of my research. Some of the killers on my list do not have a definite number of cases. For example one killer could have 100 speculated cases but only be convicted on record for 2. In order to save space on my map I decided to just put a guesstimate total sum with both convicted and speculated which is why I advise those looking at my map to take that portion with a grain of salt. These are not 100% accurate numbers.
Mapping– Once I had all my info compiled on an excel spread sheet it was time to input it into my mapping software, the one I decided to go with was Tableau Desktop. When going down the list of mapping tools, this was described as the easiest to use which honestly is the sole reason I went with it. With that being said I still struggled immensely with operating it in the beginning. For one it took about 3 hours to fully download onto my laptop. Once I got the application finally set up I was unfamiliar with virtually everything I saw in front of me. A few clicks here and there and I managed to figure out how to import my excel sheet. The cool thing about Tableau is that all you have to do is import a file of a data set and the mapping is done for you in less than a second. Although, the suggested visualization it comes up with may not be what you envisioned. This was another problem I faced when using Tableau, the original suggestion they designed was not to my liking. I wanted all of my data to be presented in one singular image of a map, Tableau put all the points on to separate images of maps for each of the serial killers data sets. I couldn’t figure out what I had to do to manipulate the image to do what I wanted, this is when Youtube came to save the day. I looked up a variety of tutorials on tableau and figured out the basics of how to shift around your data on the software to get your map to look the way you want. Basically Tableau has a click and drag feature that allows you to change the physical appearance of your map. In the columns and rows section I input the longitude and latitude (auto-generated by Tableau) to give me a singular image of the United States Map. I dragged my gender data into the color feature which differentiate male and female (male-green female-purple). The name data into the label feature which allows the viewers to see the names correlated with each state and then the number of victims, time active and state name into the detail feature which created a box that shows all this info when you hover over a state with your mouse.
Unfortunately Tableau does not allow you to share interactive maps without uploading it on to Tableau public first. I was not exactly comfortable with sharing my project on a public site due to my slightly inaccurate info so instead I recorded a video on my phone showing the hover feature in effect.
(Note- Craig Price from Rhode Island was included but due to the small size of the state it’s hard to visualize on the map. He was active from 1987-1989 and had a total of 4 victims)
Future Improvements– I’m not completely disappointed with how my map turned out but I do accept the fact that it could of been a lot better if I had taken the time to organize my data sets more. In the future I want to be more specific with how I choose to showcase the number of victims. Instead of combining suspected with convicted I should of made two separate columns for each, maybe even play around with the color tool to help differentiate it on the map. I also think it would be interesting to add more personal details about the killers apart from the statistics. Perhaps the hover over feature can display a short bio on each one and/or the notable crimes they committed. In all I see my map as a beginner level attempt, I have a few of the fundamentals down for the software I used but with more practice and organization I’m sure this map can really flourish.
I would have never thought about mapping something like this…and it’s super interesting! Many of my friends are into true crime and they would really love this map. I liked how you described your process, without omitting any of the challenges. I think that it could be cool to create a map with points instead of areas, so you could show where the serial killers were based or where the murders took place, or how vast was the area each serial killer covered. Great job!