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Trucker Serial Killers: The Facts You Probably Haven’t Heard

Frank Figliuzzi talks about trucker serial killers and what the FBI is doing about them.

The FBI is hunting the long haul trucker serial killers behind at least 850 murders along America’s highways. Sound like an episode of your favorite crime drama? It’s real, and it’s happening right now. These serial killers are out there, mostly targeting female sex trafficking victims. And the FBI is trying to track their behavior and hunt them down.


See Sex Trafficking and Murder on the Road with Frank Figliuzzi for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Frank Figliuzzi served as an FBI Special Agent for twenty-five years, retiring as an assistant director and Head of Counterintelligence. He managed all espionage investigations in the United States, briefed the While House, Congress, the DNI, and the attorney general, and ran the Joint Terrorism Task Force righta fter 9/11. After retiring from the FBI, he became an executive with a global company working on corporate security. But news organizations kept calling him to ask about the Russia threat and other security issues. So after five years in the corporate world, he became a national security analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

Frank is also a speaker and author. He wrote the national bestselling book The FBI Way, which takes life and management lessons from how the FBI operates under intense pressure and gets it right most of the time. And he just recently released his second book, Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers.

Learning About the Highway Serial Killers

Frank’s book Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers is a true crime account of the FBI’s Highway Serial Killers Initiative. It’s not something that he was involved in while working at the FBI. In fact, he only found out about the initiative two years ago. He was floored, and decided to dig more into it.

He managed to get an opportunity to talk to the head of the initiative. She told him that there are 850 confirmed homicides along American highways that the FBI is investigating. Most of the victims are sex trafficked women, and the FBI suspects long haul trucker serial killers are the culprits. And this is still going on. They have already put twenty-five long haul truckers in prison for multiple murders, but there are still around 200 active unsolved cases that can’t be linked to those killers. And the FBI currently has about 450 suspects.

The book is a journey into a dark underbelly of society that not many people know about. The FBI initiative has been around about twenty years, but they investigate highway killings going back to the late 1980s. Sometimes the victims don’t get identified for decades, usually from DNA matches. Many of these are true cold cases.

The Book Explores it All

If you’re into true crime, this book is for you. If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on in that big rig beside you on the highway, this book is for you, too. The book is a deep dive into three different cultures – trucking, trafficking, and criminal analysis. If you are interested in any of those things, you’ll be interested in this book.

[It’s] a deep dive into three cultures: Trucking, trafficking, and criminal analysis.

Frank Figliuzzi

Frank learned a lot in the process of writing the book. Modern trucking adds tens of billions of dollars in value to the economy. If trucking stops, grocery stores will run out of food in three days. He rode over 2,000 miles in a big rig to learn about trucker culture. He also learned how to be safer on the road and about different kinds of truckers, as well as different kinds of trafficking victims, who’s more likely to be a victim, and which truckers are more likely to be serial killers.

In addition, he learned a lot about the FBI’s initiative and how they work to connect the dots to stop trucker serial killers. They do a lot of profiling and behavior analysis. It mirrors a lot of what goes on in TV crime shows. And the unit that works these cases mostly aren’t the gun-and-badge type of agent. The crime analysts are the heroes in this story. They collect data from state, county, and local police and connect the dots to find patterns.

It’s crime analysts who are the heroes in this story, who connect those dots.

Frank Figliuzzi

How the FBI Knows These Serial Killers are Truckers

The FBI Highway Serial Killers Initiative works on cases out of a particular database of cases that are likely to be committed by a trucker. For a case to get in that database, it has to meet certain criteria. The body has to be found within a certain distance of an interstate highway. It has to involve a female victim – that’s typically who trucker serial killers target. And the last known location of that victim has to be at or near a highway or truck stop.

Once you have that criteria, they can get more detailed. If the last known location of the victim was a truck stop in Oklahoma, but the body is recovered near a highway in Tennessee, for example, the killer is highly likely to be a long haul trucker. Those details are what make the FBI so confident that these serial killers are truckers.

The Victims of Trucker Serial Killers

To learn more about the victims that these trucker serial killers go after, Frank talked to two experts in sex trafficking. They both teach, one at the University of Toledo and one at Arizona State University, but they also do street-level work and help women escape trafficking. So they have both the academic background and the hands-on knowledge.

In talking with them, Frank learned that there are generally three types of trafficked women. The first is pimp-controlled women. The second is renegades, who decide to abandon their pimps and go out on their own. The third is outlaws, who decided sex is no longer part of the transaction, and their goal is to rip off or steal from the person who tried to hire them.

Many people think the pimp-controlled victim is more likely to fall to a serial killer because of the abuse in the pimp-victim relationship. But actually, pimp-controlled women are monitored constantly, if not by the pimp himself then by another of his victims who serves as a kind of “deputy” helping the pimp keep the other girls in line. Ironically, that makes the pimp-controlled victim safer from serial killing. The outlaw, too, isn’t very likely to be killed. Since she is already ripping them off, she’s more likely to fight back and make the killer decide she isn’t worth the hassle. It’s actually renegades who are at the most risk. Even if a renegade has recruited a friend to work with, there’s not really any backup. If something goes wrong in the truck cab or motel room, there’s no one there to help.

How Women Get Into Sex Trafficking

About a third of Frank’s book focuses on how sex trafficking happens, who it happens to, and how there’s hope to get out of it. If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to anyone you know, think again. One victim he interviewed was a white woman from a decent family in the Midwest; she went to college, went to church on Sundays, and had relatives in law enforcement. Another was a preacher’s kid. It can happen to anybody.

Trucker serial killers mostly target sex trafficked women - and sex trafficking can happen to anyone.

When Frank talked to the experts, they gave him a list of commonalities to look in women’s stories. These commonalities make it much more likely that someone will get involved in sex trafficking. The first is early trauma in their life, often involving molestation or unwanted touching. Another is other early traumas – it’s generally not just one, but a series of traumas that stack on top of each other. Maybe the victim experienced a broken family, the death of a loved one, domestic violence, or a series of bad boyfriends. Multiple traumas stack up and make them more vulnerable. There’s almost always early drug use involved, too. That includes marijuana, which many of Frank’s interview subjects called their gateway drug.

People often think trafficking happens when a stranger abducts you off the street. But that’s extremely rare. Recruitment generally happens through someone on the edge of their network – a friend-of-a-friend, a friend’s boyfriend, or similar. It’s someone they don’t know well but tend to trust because someone they do know trusts them. At that point, they’re already having sex at a young age, so they decide they might as well get paid for it. Then the recruiter introduces them to harder drugs and their judgment goes out the window. It’s not exactly a formula, but it’s a recipe for vulnerability.

What Loved Ones Can Do

Get rid of the notion that this can’t happen to your family.

Frank Figliuzzi

The first step to protecting your loved ones from trafficking is to recognize that it could happen to them. If you assume it will never happen to your family, you won’t see it coming. It’s also essential to engage with your child, especially about their online activity. If you don’t know what your child is doing online, get online with them. That may mean sharing an account or using a parental control software. But you need to know – for every child, not just girls.

You need to know who they’re talking to so you can spot someone coming in from the fringe. Kids use all kinds of emojis and slang to communicate. You may not understand it immediately, but get up to speed. Have a conversation about it when it’s age-appropriate and in an age-appropriate way. Many parents feel equipped to have the drug conversation, but not many feel equipped to have the trafficking conversation. But it’s essential to have the conversation first and foremost.

Hope for Victims

There are a lot of initiatives designed to help women get out of sex trafficking. In Phoenix, Arizona, there’s a place called Starfish Place. It’s a residential place for women coming out of trafficking who have young children themselves. It equips them with certifications, education, and a resume, and helps them build life skills. Another program in Ohio isn’t residential, but puts women trying to get out in a community so they can be surrounded by people who can help them get what they need to get out and stay out.

When it comes to sex trafficking victims, law enforcement has to change their model. Handcuffing them and treating them like criminals isn’t the answer. They’re victims and need to be viewed as such. There has to be trust. If you ask them what they need to get out and give them support, eventually they’ll start talking about who their pimp is and how many girls are involved. But if you handcuff them and send them to jail, the pimp shows up to bail them now. Now the pimp is the hero for getting them out and it reinforces the cycle.

What Frank Learned from 2,000 Miles in a Cab

When Frank decided he was going to write about trucker serial killers, he realized he would have to learn about trucking. He knew next to nothing about long haul trucking. He thought it might be boring and mindless. It turned out that there were times when it was, but definitely not all the time. Much of it is surprisingly high-tech. The electronic log book knows all and sees all. You can cheat, but the log will catch you.

I was shocked at the high-tech nature of trucking.

Frank Figliuzzi

Frank rode with a trucker in his 20s who drove a flatbed truck. The nature of the job surprised him. Truckers actually needed a lot of brains to understand load distribution. And there was a lot of physicality in the job. They were getting a good workout daily or several times a day, depending on how long the routes were. He came away thinking that if all truckers are like the one he rode with, we’d be in good shape. This trucker was sharp, liked what he was doing, and was very social.

He also learned some not-so-nice things about trucking. Truckers spend a lot of time watching movies while driving. It’s another reason to stay far away from trucks on the road. They also had some near-misses that were troubling. They were almost always some oblivious car driver on their phone. Frank could look down and see that they were just talking on their phone, not aware that the truck next to them was 80,000 pounds of steel that can’t stop. That’s one of the biggest takeaways Frank had from the experience: Trucks just can’t stop on a dime. They don’t want to hurt you, they just physically cannot stop. Use caution around big rigs on the road!

Which Truckers are More Likely to be Serial Killers

The pay structure for truckers varies widely depending on the type. Frank rode in a flatbed rig, which carried dangerous loads like “suicide coils” – heavy rolls of steel that, if not secured properly, could come loose and crush your cab or a vehicle behind you. Flatbed truckers also have a lot more physical engagement with the load. They have to distribute the weight and properly secure the load. And they have social engagement with people at the pickup and delivery. Because of the engagement and the risk, they get paid well. Heavy or wide loads get paid more, too. The ones who just have to open and close their trailer doors don’t get paid as much.

The trucker that concerns me is the guy who’s driving a load of salsa or Kleenex across the country and his only engagement is opening that back door to the trailer.

Frank Figliuzzi

Frank suspects when the work is more complicated, it doesn’t attract as many criminals. Those with less engagement with their load are probably more likely to be trucker serial killers. Drivers for big corporate companies are less likely to be killers, as well. The big companies monitor trucks through geopositioning, they have cameras in the cab and looking out the windshield, and they have the electronic log that knows all. It’s much harder to kill while working for one of these big companies. It’s not impossible, and there are cases of it happening. But a potential killer would have to work hard to evade that monitoring.

Not all truckers become serial killers, but the ones who are determined can find a way.

The most likely truckers are the owner-operators who have just their own truck or theirs and three or four more. There is much less monitoring and a lot more freedom, which means a lot more opportunities for a trucker to be a serial killer.

Does the Job Make the Killer or the Killer Prefer the Job?

The top profession for serial killers is trucker. So does the job make people into killers, or do killers gravitate towards the job? It’s a nature or nurture question. And like all such questions, there’s no binary answer. It’s probably some of both. But it’s important to remember that trucker serial killers share a lot of commonalities with other serial killers. There’s nothing particularly special about a serial killer who happens to be a trucker.

The number one profession for serial killers is trucker.

Frank Figliuzzi

One interesting study out of Canada looked at the health of long-haul truckers, and it’s terrible. Unless they’re driving flatbeds, the job is extremely sedentary. Their diet is horrible – it’s almost impossible to find healthy food at a truck stop. And the numbers on drinking and drugs aren’t good, either. An anonymous survey asking truckers if they’d used drugs or alcohol in the past day had 70% report they had. And it’s not just marijuana – it’s all kinds of drugs.

There’s a degree of boredom, especially in the low-complexity loads. And trucking is a lonely job. There’s not a lot of time to socialize with each other. And even in truck stop restaurants, the truckers may be physhically near each other but they’re still alone, drinking a lot of alcohol and talking to loved ones on their headsets. Truckers do tend to be loners, but it’s still a rough life and not for everyone.

Commonalities of Trucker Serial Killers

The experts at the FBI have uncovered some commonalities between truck driver serial killers. One big one is drug and/or alcohol abuse. Another is that they are almost always acting alone. Though there are some rare cases where they had a partner, usually a girlfriend, it’s extremely rare.

The FBI has also identified two different types of serial killers. One kills because they want power and control. They like having power over the victim’s life and death. They’re going to take their time torturing, raping, and eventually killing the victim, and they will enjoy the sense of power from it. And this type almost always has sex with the victims after they die. The other type just enjoys the killing. They’re going to just kill the victim, usually fast. There might be some sexual arousal from the act of killing, but generally they won’t have sex with the victim.

There are really two kinds of serial killers. One is into the power and control … [the other] is just about killing.

Frank Figliuzzi

Serial killers don’t generally change their methods of death between victims. If they’re a shooter, they generally shoot future victims. If they strangle the victim with a rope or the victim’s clothing, they stick with that method. Their dump sites don’t usually change, either. If they dump the bodies in water, they generally keep dumping them in water. This consistency in methods and where they leave the bodies is what helps the FBI determine when victims were likely killed by the same trucker serial killer.

The FBI Needs the Data to Solve These Murders

Frank’s top takeaway on the FBI initiative is that not enough police departments are providing data to help the FBI track down these trucker serial killers. The success of the initiative is directly tied to state, county, and local police departments loading unsolved cases that meet the criteria into the HSK (Highway Serial Killer) Database.

Lots of departments say they don’t have the time to answer all the additional questions about the case the database asks. But those questions are how the FBI connects the dots. Providing those answers gives them more data. They can use that data to connect it to other cases and maybe even pin it to a known trucker serial killer.

That 850 number of unsolved cases are just the ones that are in the database for the FBI to work on. That’s the number that they know about. The actual number could be double, triple, or even more. The FBI is confident that there are many more than 850 cases of highway murders, and also that there are multiple trucker serial killers that are active right now.

What Can Be Done

Only a tiny fraction of truckers are serial killers. There’s a great nonprofit called Truckers Against Trafficking that trains long haul truckers to spot and report trafficking. It’s a phenomenal program that can help truckers protect victims. There are also organizations that ask truckers to pledge to not be on the demand side of supply and demand for trafficking. These are great initiatives that truckers can be part of to help keep potential victims away from trucker serial killers.

Another things the FBI is doing is going around the country, meeting with police departments, and asking what they can do to get relevant cases into the database. Getting those cases into the database is what’s really going to help solve these trucker serial killer cases. Word is getting out, and that’s something Frank hopes comes out of the book. If an officer reads it and decides they need to get better about loading data, or if the family of a victim reads it and asks the detective if it’s been loaded into the HSK database, that can make a difference.

Awareness is half the battle.

Frank Figliuzzi

It’s a dark story, but there’s light at the end of the journey. Work is being done and good things are happening. If you read the book and come away more alert and educated, that’s a great thing.

You can get Frank Figliuzzi’s book Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers wherever books are sold. You can also learn more on his website, frankfigliuzzi.com, on X @frankfigliuzzi1, on Instagram @frank.figliuzzi, and on Threads @frank.figliuzzi.

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