A subtrope of Death by Sex which specifically guns after ladies of the night. Want to stress how depraved and vicious your killer is? Have him—it's almost always a man—target and/or kill a few sex workers—and they are nearly always women—to drive home the fact. Maybe it's because walking the streets is a dangerous occupation and the ladies involved tend to make easier targets for weirdos. Maybe it's because sex workers are an Acceptable Target. Maybe the prostitutes are killed because they know something they shouldn't, or a villain thinks they do. Or maybe it's just easy short-hand to let people know there's a Serial Killer loose out there, but the sex industry tends to have a high percentage of casualties when it comes to this kind of thing. And they will nearly always be forgotten by the story eventually.
This is, in some ways, a Truth in Television. Prostitution (especially of the street-walking variety) carries with it a certain amount of danger by its nature, as the ladies occupy a gray area in society outside of the law, often being ignored both by the law and society at large as a result, and must by necessity place their trust in strangers whose intentions may not be benign. In all too many cases, women in the sex industry may be a Real LifeSerial Killer's first/only victims.*
Indeed, it's not uncommon for the Serial Killer to specifically target prostitutes, and actually believe that he's doing society a favor by killing them.
In many cases regarding their depiction, however, there is an unfortunate sense that the ladies in question are being somewhat... dehumanized in the process. The unfortunate ladies who fall victim to the killer are rarely given any kind of character outside of their profession. If they are lucky, we'll learn their name(s), and if the producers really want to hammer it home how far they're fallen we'll probably get some sense of their home life (which will no doubt contain some kind of drug-addiction, abuse, or even a child raised in poverty). They will usually be a vaguely formed Hooker with a Heart of Gold at best, someone with a conveniently tragic reason to be targeted by a serial killer.
Sometimes we don't even get that; we just get a string of nameless dead hookers. There can also be a sense that these women have it coming or somehow deserve what happens to them because of their circumstances; the detectives involved may be dismissive or or even contemptuous towards the victims and the other women in the same position because of their profession. This can be especially glaring if the killer then targets a woman who is not a prostitute. Whereas the victims from the sex industry may be casually dismissed as victims who "had it coming," the non-sex worker victim will be treated as an innocent whose death is a tragedy and must be avenged. Similarly, if a dead woman is mistaken for a sex worker, then her death might be initially dismissed, only for everyone to pick up and work their damned hardest to solve the case once it's revealed that she's actually an 'innocent'.
The Disposable Sex Worker has an odd mixed relationship with Missing White Woman Syndrome. On one hand, they're mutually exclusive due to sex-worker victims not being "wholesome" ladies (especially if they're minorities compared to a white "normal" victim). But on the other hand, male and transgender female sex workers are almost never given mention in fiction or real life, despite being just as likely to be victims of violent crime, but with authorities even less likely to care.
Compare to Disposable Vagrant. Contrast like hell with Platonic Prostitution.
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Anime and Manga
Yumi teamed up with Big Bad Makoto Shishio in Rurouni Kenshin because the Meiji government declared that geishas and courtesans like herself were worth little more than cattle. Shishio, in his own warped way, was one of the only people who valued Yumi as a human being.
The Reverend Kasuga hires three prostitutes as part of a gambit in Ooku and has them all killed to keep it a secret.
Played straight and subverted by the first Sin City story "The Hard Goodbye," in which the death of a prostitute in the opening pages kicks off the plot. It turns out that the killers targeted prostitutes because nobody cared about them, but Marv decides to bring down the entire operation to avenge the murdered call girl who showed him a little kindness.
The rest of the series mainly averts this. The girls of Old Town can typically take care of themselves often carry very large firearms. It's also implied the cops don't investigate cases where the victim was a prostitute, precisely because they know the girls of Old Town will do it instead.
In Supreme Power, a whole bunch of prostitutes are killed, and have their arms ripped off as trophies, by Redstone. After a certain point, he started specifically going after prostitutes at the end of their rope, crack addicts turning tricks for $20 in the roughest part of town — girls whose disappearances wouldn't be noticed and who were expected to die soon anyway.
The Corinthian's first onscreen kill (so to speak) is a teenaged male prostitute of unknown origins, played for terror and sympathy. It's somewhat fanonical that these are his usual choice of victims, as he seems otherwise fairly indiscriminate about who he takes eyes from.
Although the Corinthian will take eyes from just about anyone, given the chance, he only seems to target young boys. The only victims he goes after are male prostitutes and Jed.
In one Batman story Lex Luthor artificially inseminated a prostitute with a perfect copy of the reproductive DNA of a senator that was in the way of his latest scheme. He then waited until she had given birth to her daughter and murdered her in order to frame the senator of it. If things had gone Luthor's way, the people would come to the conclusion that the senator had relations with a prostitute which produced a daughter and had the mother killed to hide them — completely discrediting him in the process. Batman of course manages to find a measure of justice for the murdered woman and clears the senator's name. The senator also earns Batman's respect when he decides to adopt the child despite her bizarre origin. Batman notably gets pissed off when Gordon refers to the woman as a "hooker" instead of her name.
In an issue of Catwoman, Selina finds out that prostitutes in Gotham are being killed, but because they're only hookers, no one is investigating. She starts to investigate and even convinces Batman to join in, knowing he cares about justice for everybody, including prostitutes.
Wonder Woman: Hiketeia deals with this, but from the prostitute's perspective instead. The female lead's sister was tricked into the sex trade, raped and hooked onto drugs. Her eventual death due to overdose is ignored by the police due the trope.
Averted in Alan Moore's From Hell, in which the Ripper's victims are explored and fleshed out. One issue even directly compares the life of the Ripper and the life of one of his victims in the day before the two cross paths.
From Hell is something of a Deconstruction of this trope - it is made very plain that Victorian society doesn't regard the lives of sex workers very highly, and the comic explores the consequences of this.
In the movie Heat, there is a scene where Waingro, who betrays Neil's crew, kills a prostitute by smashing her head in. Later, there is a scene where Hanna is called away from a party to investigate the discovery of a different prostitute stuffed into a garbage can, revealing that Waingro is a serial killer of prostitutes. This is apparently to establish him as a villain amongst villains. It also makes you feel that he had it coming when Neil kills him at the hotel.
This is one of the purest examples of the trope: the killings have precisely zero bearing on the plot, existing solely to establish Waingro's bona fides as a grade-A bastard (gratuitously, at that, given that in the armored car robbery, he shoots one guard in the face at point-blank range with a pistol for no good reason other than to bring heat down on the gang).
In Interview With A Vampire, Lestat kills a prostitute and torments a second one to force Louis to kill her and accept his role as a murderer. However, his preferred victims are nobles.
Parodied in Norm Macdonald's Dirty Work, in which he hires a bunch of prostitutes to stuff themselves into the trunks of cars in a lot to humiliate the owner. Macdonald shouts, "I've never seen so many dead hookers in my life!"
Creepy Guy: Lord knows I have...
In Natural Born Killers, the cop played by Tom Sizemore strangles a young prostitute to death to show that he's no better than the main antiheroes.
Subverted by John Carpenters Vampires, in which the Big Bad feeds on a disposable sex worker, but doesn't finish her off, and she becomes the heroes' main connection to tracking him down.
From Hell attempts to avert this by giving the doomed prostitutes a fair amount of screen time and fleshed-out personalities. The graphic novel does this as well.
But also makes it perfectly clear that no one is bothered if the prostitute dies at the hands of a violent john or a street thug.
The premise of Very Bad Things is that the main characters accidentally kill a hooker and try cover it up.
The TV-movie Stag also features a group of men trying to cover up the accidental death of a prostitute, though it plays it for drama rather than black comedy.
In Dark City, the Strangers attempt to make John Murdock a serial killer of prostitutes by implanting fake memories of the murders in his head. They themselves kill a woman to serve as his latest victim, though if she had been a prostitute, it was only because the Strangers put her in that role.
In Dead Man, the former prostitute Thel barely makes it to five minutes of screen time before she's murdered by an ex-lover, creating a I Let Gwen Stacy Die situation.
In Perfume, Grenouille tests his new scent-capturing process on a prostitute. She doesn't cooperate, so he simply kills her and finishes the process. Once he's perfected the technique, he discards her scent as unworthy and focuses on his real targets: virgins.
In the "peyote western" Blueberry (AKA Renegade), the hero's prostitute sweetheart is killed by him by accident while trying to save her from the Big Bad, though we only learn this in the end. She is basically a prostitute Gwen Stacy.
Total Recall 1990 (1990). The triple-breasted whore gets unceremoniously shot in the back while covering for the heroes. The rest of the brothel whips out guns for a shootout, resulting in several dead sex workers by the end.
In The Godfather Part II, a U.S. Senator who refused a deal with Michael Corleone, and insulted his family and the Italian people, is set up by the family to awaken in the whorehouse he frequents next to a dead prostitute, in order to make him think he killed her and needs the Corleones' protection. No one mentions the fact that someone apparently had to kill a prostitute to execute the charade. (It is implied that Al Neri did the deed. He is shown in the next room with a towel in his hands).
After spending several years in the hospital's burn ward, The Burning's main antagonist Cropsy leaves it with only one thing on his mind: Murder. And he is glad to show it to the prostitute he meets on the streets.
The vicious rape-murder of a prostitute is what precipitates the action in Strange Days.
Rising Sun is about the investigation of the murder of a white woman who served as a mistress for Yakuza.
To be fair, the book on which the film was based does humanise her to a great extent: we meet her mother, talk to her about her motivations for being in the job she was in.
In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman abuses and eventually murders prostitutes. Fitting this trope, there's never any suggestion that these murders were investigated or taken seriously by the police. However, this may be because he didn't actually kill any of them.
In Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back: "No sir, a 10-82 is disappearing a dead hooker from Ben Affleck's trailer." The amused reply: "Oh, that Affleck! Backup on the way..."
Behind the scenes of Office Space: In the tenth anniversary of the film, actor Diedrich Bader told a story of fellow actor Stephen Root playing a joke on him by knocking on his door, quietly asking "Are you my friend?" Bader replied "Of course, Stephen." "Are you really my friend?" "Of course, what's wrong?" Root's reply was "I just killed a prostitute."
A party early on in Boogie Nights features a girl — implied to be both underage and either a porn star or one of the Colonel's regular girls — who suffers a drug overdose as she's getting ready to have sex with a guy. The guy himself freaks out, although that's in part because it was his cocaine that caused the problem, and everyone else who gets involved seems to view the matter as a minor inconvenience at best, and the last we see of her is her being carried away from the party as if she were garbage to be disposed of.
In Tropic Thunder Ben Stiller's character accidentally kills a panda (long story) and rings up his agent, telling him: "I've killed the thing I love most!" His agent immediately assumes that he's killed a hooker and starts giving him tips on how to safely dispose of the body.
Reynolds: You know what I've seen? I've seen killers walk free, because the eyewitness was an alcoholic. I've seen sex offenders that couldn't be touched, because the victim was a call girl. Credibility. It's the only currency that means anything on this kind of playing field.
Pusher 2 has Kurt trick Tonny into being an accomplice in the murder of a prostitute. However, when Tonny is given the job to kill another prostitute, he decides not to go through with it.
In American Psycho, the main character hires and brutally murders prostitutes after having sex with them. He does this several times, once in the apartment of another man he killed. He also preys on a homeless man, another convenient victim that society isn't very interested in.
Jayne Ann Krentz favors this trope in many of her romance novels.
Averted by Harry Bosch, the homicide detective from Michael Connelly's series of crime novels. One of his personal mottos is "Either everyone matters, or no one matters".
America (The Book) has an itinerary for a Republican Nation Convention that includes being woken up in the middle of the night by the screams of a congressman who thinks he must have killed a hooker.
In the Matthew Hawkwood novel Resurrectionist, when the body snatchers are paid to secure Colonel Hyde a fresh body, the victim they chose is young streetwalker Molly Finn.
Drefan Rahl in The Sword Of Truth. A Sense Freak whose most common type of crime was to come to a prostitute in a brothel, get to know her, sever her spine to paralyze her legs, gag her, tie her hands, take a knife and... well, a combat hardened general stated he saw many corpses, but he can't remember the last time one made him throw up.
In Without Remorse, while the detectives assigned to investigating her murder did care, once word got out that the brutally murdered Pamela Madden was a prostitute, they found themselves without the resources needed to properly investigate her death. Her boyfriend's more unorthodox form of investigation forms half the plot of the book.
In Dead or Alive, a prostitute hired to service The Emir is killed because she was too nosy for her own good, and kept asking personal questions that could have lead to his identity leaking to others.
Averted multiple times in The Dresden Files, where murdered prostitutes tend to provoke impressive degrees of vengeful violence. The first case involves a prostitute who was an employee of a Red Court vampire named Bianca who was killed by said vampire after a visit by Harry Dresden sent her into a violent rage. Bianca was so enraged by this that her hunt for revenge spanned multiple books and a nasty Evil Plan that ends with an open war between the Red Court and the White Council of Wizards. Later on in the novel White Night a prostitute named Jessica Blanche is killed by a White Court vampire. Her murder is treated as just as bad as the murder of several other women in the book, but more importantly, she was an employee of a business owned by gentleman Johnnie Marcone, the undisputed mob boss of Chicago, and Marcone takes an exceptionally dim view of anyone harming his employees.
Some of the pornography actors/crew in Blood Rites lampshade this trope, and it's briefly considered as a pattern for the Entropy Curse. Turns out it was, but driven by the fact that Arturo Genosa was in love with one of them, so it was a subversion.
The In Death series: Some of the murder victims are this. Naked in Death, Imitation in Death, Indulgence in Death and New York to Dallas are examples in the series of this trope occurring.
But his first, secret victim was a male prostitute.
The majority of victims sacrificed by the Dark Ones and their minions in Simon Hawke's The Wizard Of _____ novels are prostitutes. Unusual in that, while some of the acolytes have a sexual motive, the Dark Ones themselves regard all human lives as equally-Disposable and only single out hookers because it's easy to coax them into dark alleys.
In When Gravity Fails, when prostitutes start turning up dead, Audran begins to suspect a Serial Killer, despite a complete lack of consistency in the methods of murder. It turns out that the killer is using personality implants, and killing each victim in the style of a different famous killer.
SVU often calls attention to this trope, but largely averts it in practice. Prostitute victims are treated with just as much respect and sympathy as other victims, if not more: Very young (often underage) prostitutes who have been coerced into the business are a common fixture on the show.
In one episode, they make specific note of how many regular cops view hookers this way. The SVU detectives are disgusted when the homicide detective who hands over the case of a murdered prostitute to them describes it as NHI or "No Humans Involved."
The first episode of the Dragnet remake focused on a killer of these women.
Criminal Minds, a show full of serial killers, has subverted it in a few episodes. Criminal Minds never forgets that victims are people too.
In "The Last Word" (episode 2x9), two serial killers are operating in the same city at the same time. One kills middle class women, the other prostitutes. In order to draw both out, the latter's case is stifled in the press. Equal screen time, however, is given to the families of both sets of victims. And after the killer is caught the prostitutes get a front page article about them, an article that never once mentions the killer. This is done to deliberately deny the killer fame.
It's also worth noting that a reporter wants to publish a story on the killer targeting prostitutes, citing that they are just as important. JJ talks him out of it by convincing him that not publishing the story will help them catch him.
In "Sex, Birth, Death" (episode 2x11), they spend a lot of time establishing some of the prostitutes as positive characters and even use them to stop the baddie in the end. Furthermore, there is another male character who has the same urges as the villain, to kill prostitutes, but he suppresses it, tries to get help, and eventually tries to kill himself rather than follow through on his urges; he is placed in a mental institution by the end of the episode.
In "52 Pickup" (episode 4x9), one serial killer killed prostitutes before taking one of those "Mystery" pick-up-women classes, then switched to girls in bars. The prostitute he didn't manage to kill changes occupations and helps the team to track him down.
"Jones" features a detective with this attitude; a rape he didn't believe happened ended up turning the raped into a Jack the Ripoff killer.
"To Hell.../...And Back", the season four finale featured a serial killer team based on the Real Life Robert Pickton, who went undetected for years in Vancouver by killing scores of prostitutes. The episode takes place in Sarnia, and has the killing team target vagrants in Detroit (not just prostitutes), something that allows them to escape detection Detroit police didn't take the matter seriously enough (something Morgan called them out on). The final kidnapping victim, Kelly Shane, featured prominently in the second part and rescued in the end, was a prostitute.
"Pleasure Is My Business" inverts this. The serial killer turns out to be a prostitute.
Subverted in Dexter in the episode "Popping Cherry". The eponymous victim is the Ice Truck Killer's latest, and Dexter is rather intrigued by the new move in the game. But Cherry was known to Debra from when she worked undercover in vice. She reveals her true identity to Cherry's (and her own) ex-colleagues, one of whom steps forward and makes herself very prominent throughout the rest of the episode. She accompanies Debra to the police station and is very outspoken there.
Ashes to Ashes has an episode which deals with the police not taking sex worker victims seriously, albeit when the crime in question is rape and not murder.
Averted in the first season of The Shield: we get a lot of information about Sally, a prostitute victim of a serial killer, and the detective investigating the case actually names her when cursing out a suspect for wasting police time.
Millennium. A demon who inspires a youth to become a Serial Killer is annoyed because he keeps targeting prostitutes. Although he convinces the youth to abduct a Satanist on one occasion, he quickly goes back to killing prostitutes in a bid to become the greatest serial killer in history ("Seeking quantity, not quality" as another demon puts it). Eventually the demon gets bored with him, and leaves evidence behind that leads Frank Black to the killer.
Happens a couple of times in Sanctuary, which is to be expected with Jack the Ripper as a main character.
In the second season, Francis Wolcott has a history of going hard on the merchandise. He turns a local bordello into a bloodbath, and it's apparently not the first time. The new Deadwood madame had actually planned on Wolcott murdering her star prostitute and then blackmailing him to stay silent. She apparently didn't realize that Mugging the Monster is a bad idea. In a bit of s subversion, the ruthless Hearst decides that Wolcott is too much of a liability for his hooker-killing ways, and fires him.
In the third season, Trixie bungles an assassination attempt on Hearst, causing him to insist that Swearengen kill her. Al can't bring himself to kill Trixie, but realizes that saying no is suicide, so he kills his other blonde prostitute instead and passes her corpse off as Trixie.
Arguably also a subversion since it's shown that Swearengen's #3 man, Johnnie Burns, is shown to have a relationship with the other girl and is made miserable by her death. Even the "disposable" hooker matters to someone.
Season 2 starts with one turning up in the harbor, and very quickly leads to the discovery of another two dozen suffocated in a shipping container. Hammered home by the fact that pretty much no-one cares about the case other than the female port cop and McNulty - and he just likes playing the Cowboy Cop.
A minor subplot in season 1, where one of the dancers at Orlando's strip club turns up dead after a drug-fueled party with Wee-Bay and the rest of the Barksdale soldiers. The soldiers' cavalier attitude about it is what drives fellow stripper Shardene to actively assisting the police.
In Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after Angel loses his soul his first target is assumed to be a prostitute, who was the first person he saw. (Of course, most unnamed characters who venture outdoors at night die in monster attacks, she's hardly alone.)
The Suffolk Murders (as mentioned below) were depicted in a BBC TV drama called Five Daughters, which focused on four of the women (one of the families hadn't consented to being portrayed) showing them as complex, loving, loved and beautiful women. Some of whom were getting treatment for their addiction. The killer wasn't explored at all.
Averted in Taggart, at least in that sex workers are not considered any more disposable than any other victims.
In the How I Met Your Mother episode "Bachelor Party" there's no hooker, just a stripper, and she doesn't die, just breaks her leg, but Barney seems to think this trope is in effect, and gets a little too enthusiastic about taking the "hooker" into the woods and burying her body.
In My Name Is Earl when a group of the main characters are in a situation where they have to decide who to have killed, Stewart suggests Patty, since hookers are disposable.
Averted in another episode, a particularly scary and horrific serial killer murders a prostitute to collect parts of her body. The FBI treats the case very seriously, probably due to the brutal nature of the murder, and Mulder advises the victim's friend (also a prostitute) to try and leave town.
In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spinoffs, rather infamously, though somewhat justified in the original show because prostitution is legal in Nevada. Sometimes, the Body of the Week disposable sex worker may turn out to be a different person entirely (eg a cop working deep undercover).
While prostitution is legal in some parts of Nevada, it is not in Clark County, where Las Vegas is. Legal sex workers would only be victims of the week if they were inside the county limits, making their occupation either incidental, tangential, or a case of writers not doing the research and putting a legal brothel inside their jurisdiction.
Referenced in The Big Bang Theory, where a neighbor takes a job acting as a murdered hooker on CSI.
One episode of Foyle's War has a murdered prostitute apparently tossed in for atmosphere; we never hear of the case again.
A male example happens in True Blood, when season 3's Big Bad Russell—during his Villainous Breakdown after his lover Talbot is murdered—hires a rentboy who looks like Talbot, then stakes him in the heart after they have sex.
Taxicab Confessions (a reality show where hidden cameras in taxicabs record their passengers) often had sex workers in their episodes. One particularly crushing segment featured a sweet, charming older lady who talked about her escape from a serial killer who tried to strangle her. A few sex workers had already turned up dead by him. She mentions that the cops will probably leave him alone as long as he doesn't start hurting "real" people.
Invoked in Arrested Development: George Sr. and Gob want to set someone up to think he killed a stripper at Gob's bachelor party, but Buster ruins it by drinking all their fake blood and, seeking more sugar, accidentally disturbing the narcoleptic stripper asleep in the giant cake, who punches him out. The trope is then turned on its head:
Narrator: Just then, the stripper woke up, saw Buster with what appeared to be blood around his mouth, and thought she had killed him for groping her. Stripper:[wearily climbing out of the cake] Ugh... not again.
Used often in Whitechapel, though justified considering it's heavily based on historical murders, most of which did involve dead prostitutes.
In Game Of Thrones, Tyrion decides to try to calm King Joffrey down by sending him a couple of prostitutes as a birthday present. Jofreey's immediate request is that they beat each other. He quickly loses interest in the playful spanking they engage in, and instead orders one to brutally beat the other with a club. A later episode reveals that he tied up Ros and shot her multiple times with a crossbow. Making it all even darker, Littlefinger sold Ros to Joffrey because he knew that would happen to her. She pissed him off, and that was him punishing her. In fact, Littlefinger in general shows no problem with letting customers kill or severely injure his employees.
The narrator in the Arctic Monkeys song "When The Sun Goes Down" expresses concern that the prostitute whose propositioning he politely declines might end up as one of these, whether at the hands of the "scummy man" (either her pimp or just a creepy weirdo) he notices hanging around near her or a guy who propositions her immediately after the narrator declines her.
"Brenda's Got A Baby" by 2Pac. The song is about a 12-year-old girl from the inner-city with an uncaring family who gets involved with and pregnant by her 20-something cousin. (Who abandons her sometime during the pregnancy.) Shortly after she gives birth, her mother throws her out of the house, and she's out on the street. When selling drugs fails, she is driven to prostitution, and killed (presumably by one of her clients.)
A murdered male prostitute in the Sting song "Tomorrow We'll See," who is described as just another victim on that road, carted away by the police and replaced by someone else the next day.
Implied to be the fate of the Narrator (seemingly an Eastern European sex worker) in Maybe There's A Road by Karine Polwart: "Now somewhere someoneís saying I was in the wrong / And that I never should have travelled where I donít belong / Maybe there's a road that's not this hard"
"The (Peek-A-Boo) Game" by Sir Mix-A-Lot, tells the story of "Coco" an abused runaway who turned to stripping, then prostitution. The song ends with Coco dead, strongly suggesting she ended up one of the Green River Killer's victims.
One of the Templar Agent missions in Assassins Creed Brotherhood sends Ezio after Malfatto, a street doctor targeting Ezio's courtesan allies like a 15th century Jack the Ripper.
On the other hand, Ezio actually has courtesan allies, and three major supporting characters are madames who do not react well at all to anyone killing their charges. That such women are seen as the dregs of society, somehow less human than the middle-class or nobles, forms a minor subplot.
Inverted in the Godfather video game. A major part of the plot revolves around protecting the sex workers. Outside of that, flirting with them gets the charcter bonuses.
Want to get your health up for free in Grand Theft Auto? Hire a prostitute, engage in her services, then kill her to get the money back. However, the media attention given to this tactic goes contrary to the trope. The game rewards almost nonstop violence against every kind of character, but the tactic of killing prostitutes has become its most infamous feature.
Lampshaded in Chinatown Wars with Cherie's mission. She thinks that Huang is going to hire her, then turns violent, thinking that Huang is "one of those guys who hires a hooker and kills them afterward." Chinatown Wars does not have the "hire a hooker to regain health" system, though.
Apparently the serial killer in Still Life 2 used this tactic to rise to public prominence.
Panthera uses this too. The Big Bad kidnapped "addicts, whores, vagrants, criminals... the scum on the boots of society" and proceded to stick a needle into them and inject them with Serum 43. All of one page is spent dwelling on them specifically instead of an abstract "people", and it wasn't even in the original script.
While played straight in the Manimal comic, averted in Linkara and Brad Jones' review of it, Linkara refers to the murdered prostitute as "Innocent women getting gunned down"
Spoony has several times made references to killing hookers in throw away lines. Mostly right before yelling at the cameraman for filming it.
Brad Jones seems to love playing with this trope, as evidenced in his films Hooker With A Heart of Gold and, so much more so, Midnight Heat.
Played straight and then subverted by The Nostalgia Critic. He took his grief over Kickassia out on a Reno hooker and accidentally killed her, but felt guilty and tried to make up for it by calling out Milk Money for its "family-friendly" portrayal of hookers.
Peter: "...but I'll tell you what's not cool—killing strippers. Strippers are people too; naked people who may be willing to pleasure you for a price you negotiate later behind the curtain of a VIP room. Besides, there's no reason to kill them, 'cause most of them are already dead inside...Good night, folks!"
Peter: "Whoa, it's okay, it's okay, Senator. This girl didn't have a family. It'll be like she never existed. Now grab a hold of yourself. All right. Now, listen. You may have killed her when you shoved those dollar bills down her throat. You may have killed her when you hit her with the stool. I don't know. I'm not a doctor."
Jack the Ripper is a proto-example of a Serial Killer targeting prostitutes. Most murders of common victims such as prostitutes and laborers were ignored by the media, but serial killers were a fairly new phenomenon, and the Ripper murders horrified the city. Backlash against the inept handling of the investigation by the police caused numerous social reform movements and changes within the Metropolitan Police.
Gary Ridgway, the 'Green River Killer', who is convicted of murdering 48 women, all but one of them a prostitute. He confessed to 71, and likely killed 90+. He spent 21 years killing women until he was found, including several in a day at various times.
Stewart Lee incorporated Littlejohn's reaction into a routine about political correctness imagining Littlejohn travelling around the UK chiselling "Prostitute... not someone who works as a prostitute... I hate women. Obviously." onto the graves of such victims.
The BBC drama about this (Five Daughers) is 100% an inversion, as it focuses entirely on the women and Steve Wright is just a shadowy menace in the background. It also showed how the huge focus on the case stretched the local police force to the limit.
Robert William Pickton. Suspected of killing 46 women abducted from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (he is convicted for the murder of 6 of the women, and charged for the death of another 20), Pickton was eventually caught and tried, but not until the families of the many women he murdered raised an uproar over the fact that the police just didn't seem interested in investigating the disappearances of people who were all women, mostly sex workers and disproportionately First Nations.
Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Not all of his victims were prostitutes, but most were. What's even more disturbing is the reaction to the crimes. Upon hearing of another attack, some men would shout things like "Twelve - nil" and "There's only one Yorkshire Ripper" in the style of a football chant. Some of the controversy stemmed from the media's tendency to distinguish Sutcliffe's non-prostitute targets as "innocent victims", with the implication being that the prostitutes deserved their fate.
Joel Rifkin, believed to have killed 17 prostitutes, was actually caught with a dead hooker in the trunk of his car.
Arthur Shawcross, convicted of killing 11 women, mostly prostitutes, in the Rochester, NY area in the late 1980s.(He had been paroled from prison in 1987 after serving time for the deaths of two young children in 1972.)
In late 2010/early 2011, at least 9 bodies have been found in Long Island, NY, some of which have been identified as prostitutes. Police believe it to be the work of at least one serial killer (details here).