Serial killers have, for various reasons, always captured the public’s imagination.
Most recently, Charles Manson, at age 83, died in prison. He was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment in 1972. Manson orchestrated 9 deaths, including that of actress Sharon Tate. All of the victims were found at a gruesome scene at Tate’s rented house in southern California in August, 1969. The murders became highly sensational due to the violence, the blood scrawling of “Pig” and “Healther Skelter” (misspelled reference to the Beatles song Helter Skelter) on walls and doors, and then-President Nixon’s “Manson is Guilty” publicized quote seen by jurors prior to their verdict.
Following are summaries of some of history’s and current most horrible serial killings.
In ancient Rome, in 331 BC, over 170 women, “matrons,” admitted to preparing liquid concoctions and giving them to their husbands. They claimed the mixtures were medicinal, but upon drinking to prove their innocence they all died instantly.
From 1432-1440, French “nobleman” Gilles de Rais tortured, raped and murdered over 140 children. He was hanged.
From 1568-1581 German “bandit” Christman Genipperteinga’s diary detailed the killing of 964 people. Admitting this, he stated he was dissatisfied he had not reached 1000. He was executed on a “breaking wheel” that he was bound to, surviving on it for 9 days.
Catherin Movoisin, in the 1660’s to 1679, known as “La Voisin”, a self professed sorceress, fortune-teller, cult leader, and “poisoner for hire,” she confessed to the ritual murder of over 1000 infants in “Black Masses” (church-like rituals).
She was burned at the stake.
From 1790-1840, Thug Behram led a cult of murders and robbers in central India, and is responsible for killing or orchestrating the death of 931 victims, all of whom were travellers that tried to befriend the group. Victims were strangled with a handkerchief. Behram was executed by hanging, by officers of the East India Company.
In 1843 John Johnson is said to have killed over 300 Crow warriors in the western United States, as revenge for the death of his pregnant wife. He murdered, scalped and ate the livers of his victims. He died of natural causes in 1900.
From 1869-1878 in the western U.S., racist gunfighter “Wild” Bill Longley killed 32 people, most of whom were unarmed blacks and Mexicans. He was hanged for the murder of a childhood friend.
Amelia Dyer, of the United Kingdom, from 1879-1896, strangled approximately 400 babies in her care. She was hanged.
Francisco Guerrero, known as El Chalequero, an open misogynist, between 1880-1908, raped and killed 21 women by cutting their throats in Mexico City, claiming they were prostitutes. He was tried numerous times and convicted with two death sentence penalties. The first was changed to 20 years in prison. The second was unable to be carried out as he died in prison before the execution date.
H.H. Holmes carried out torture, killing, dissection and incineration of people who had come to visit the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in a “murder castle.” He cashed in on his victim’s life insurance. He confessed to 27 murders including an accomplice’s children. Chicago police estimate he killed 230 people in Chicago alone. He was hanged in 1896.
Serial killers of “our time” have equaled or surpassed history’s psychopaths.
Theodore Robert Bundy (born Theodore Robert Cowell) confessed to 30 homicides of young women in seven states between 1974-1978. He was a true psychopath, kidnapper, rapist and necrophile who performed sexual acts on his corpses, many of whom he first decapitated. Some of the heads were found in his apartment, ostensibly as mementos. Twice incarcerated in Colorado facing murder charges, he escaped, committed three more murders and ultimately was recaptured in Florida. He was electrocuted in Florida in 1989.
Dennis Lynn Rader, known as the BTK Killer (for Bind, Torture, Kill), killed 10 people in Kansas between 1974-1991. He sent letters to police and local news outlets describing the details of his murders and signed them all BTK. Rader is still alive; he is serving ten consecutive life sentences.
Aileen Carol Wuornos murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 by shooting them at close range. She claimed they either raped her or had attempted to do so. She was executed by lethal injection in 2002.
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer raped, murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys between 1978-1991. Many of his later murders included necrophilia, cannibalism and the permanent preservation of body parts. Convicted of 15 murders in Wisconsin, he was given 15 terms of life imprisonment. He was then given another life sentence for an Ohio murder. Dahmer died as he lived, when a fellow inmate beat him to death in 1994.
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys between 1972-1978 in Chicago, all inside of his ranch house. He got all of these young men there by force or deception. He was convicted of all of the murders and sentenced to death. After spending 14 years on death row, he was executed by lethal injection in 1994.
“Son of Sam” David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco) pled guilty to eight shooting attacks in New York City during the summer of 1976. His efforts to elude the police marked the biggest police manhunt in the city’s history. His letters promising further crimes and mocking the police were highly publicized by the press and achieved worldwide attention. Berkowitz confessed to all of his crimes and claimed he was obeying the orders of a demon, in the form of a neighbor’s dog “Harvey.” The moniker “Son of Sam” thus attached because the dog’s owner’s name was Sam. Berkowitz is still alive and serving six consecutive life sentences.
John Allen Muhammad (born John Allen Williams) and Lee Boyd Malvo carried out attacks on the west coast of the U.S., and then in the Washington, D.C. area in 2002, where they killed 17 people. The duo had a white van with holes in it and they shot and killed their victims from inside of the van. Muhammad was convicted of one murder in Virginia and then of six more in Maryland. At his execution by lethal injection in 2009 there were ten more murder charges pending.
Lee Boyd Malvo was a teenager during this spree with Muhammad and claimed he acted under Muhammad’s influence (having been sexually assaulted by Muhammad), among other things. Malvo pled guilty in both Maryland and Virginia and he received a total of ten life sentences. Malvo is currently in custody in Virginia. Both state’s life sentences are now the subject of appeals. The Supreme Court in 2012 said juveniles could not be given mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole, unless certain findings were made. Malvo’s attorneys are argued for a retroactive application of the Supreme Court’s rulings. A Federal Judge last May, persuaded by the defense arguments, vacated Malvo’s life sentences and called for new sentencings. Virginia’s Attorney General appealed that judge’s ruling.
Sickos. And our country’s lawmakers still refuse to act on gun control in any meaningful way. Whether violence or murders are “serial” or “only” victimize one or two people, the identification of these senseless tragedies is way too long to list here.