Dear Dumb Runner,
I've been running for 15-plus years, often on trails that are not highly trafficked. If I believe what I have seen on TV, I should have found a dead body by now. I haven't. Are there real statistics out there on how often runners stumble onto a crime scene? Have I just been really lucky?—Cara H.J., Pullman, Washington
Well, that's television, isn't it? The same place where even the toughest cases can be cracked in 43 minutes and detectives are paired to maximize sexual tension?
However! It is true that runners—well, joggers, to be precise—do indeed seem to discover an inordinate number of bodies. This phenomenon is well documented—including by me—to the point that it's literally become a joke.
It makes sense. While precise numbers are elusive, it's safe to say that there are tens of millions of runners in the United States; this source pegs the number around 60 million. That's an awful lot of humans running an awful lot of miles. Sooner or later, we're bound to find something... awful.
(In fairness, sometimes we find good things, right? Like money? I know I have.)
So, yeah, on any given run there is a tiny chance that any of us could stumble across a body. How tiny? Nobody knows. Not even the people who track this stuff for a living.
"There are not any statistics on how many times runners find bodies that I am aware of," Kevin T. Wolff, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice said in an email.
"It would take going into the case notes of each homicide to see how/where the body was discovered to find that answer," he continued. "Unfortunately, that is not something that a police department is likely to turn over. I had a hard time just getting an XY coordinate of killing, much less any information about it."
I'm going to guess, Cara, that you're much more likely to be struck by lightning than to find a body during a run. Of course, if you are struck by lighting you just might become a dead body yourself, waiting to be discovered by the next runner. Circle of life.
In closing, let me leave you with a few questions of my own: Do you run with headphones? Ever "zone out" and get tunnel vision? If so, over 15-plus years of trail runs, isn't it possible that you've run past a dead body... without even noticing?