In Killers Amidst Killers: Hunting Serial Killers Operating Under the Cloak of America’s Opiod Epidemic (Morrow, July), journalist Jensen investigates the cases of 30 women who were murdered in Ohio in the 2010s.
How did this book evolve?
It started off as a murder mystery. There were two women who were best friends. They both lived together, they both went missing, and their bodies were found outside of South Columbus, Ohio. And when I went to do that story, I learned of another girl who looked just like those two, who had gone missing a couple of years before. And then I started asking, “What’s going on in this town?”
What did you find?
I started seeing a trend, and as I got deeper into these women’s lives, there was this vicious cycle that was going on, where they had been caught in the opioid epidemic, and had, for one reason or another, started taking pills. The pills got taken away. Usually, a boyfriend would introduce them to heroin. Then they would have to pay for the heroin somehow, and then they would have to engage in sex work, the most dangerous job in the world, and ended up being taken off the streets, but no one was writing about them.
What surprised you the most?
On top of these sex workers disappearing, you had a vice squad which had police officers who literally were picking up women on the street who were sex workers, and telling them either you can have sex with me—which is rape—or you can go to jail. And they were raping these women, and then one of them fought back, and a cop, Andrew Mitchell, was charged by the local prosecutor with murdering her, though Mitchell claimed self-defense. Oftentimes, vice squads are one of the places in the police where things go awry, but this was beyond the pale.
You refer to the lack of information sharing among law-enforcement agencies playing a part in how these murders were mishandled—can you expand on that?
There’s no national unsolved murders database that could be used to investigate; the closest thing is the Murder Accountability Project, but there are no names of victims attached to the information there. There’s no missing persons database—think about that. There’s a government-funded clearinghouse, NamUs, but law enforcement agencies aren’t forced to enter that information in there, just as with the Murder Accountability Project, which is also voluntary. So there’s no effective centralizing of information. It used to be that you could rely on the press, but the press is so shorthanded now.