Only around 1 percent of murders are committed by serial killers. But, they loom exceedingly large in the public imagination. Since Jack the Ripper, we have a macabre fascination with the breed.
Think you know the profile of a serial killer? The “myth” is that they are often social misfits, loners, white males and sexual predators. Not so says the FBI. One of the reasons serial killers kill and get away with it is because they appear “normal”. Gary Ridgeway, who confessed to killing around 50 women in the Seattle, Washington, area over 20 years, was married (three times), employed and a church goer. And the FBI website tells us that serial killers aren’t primarily white males, but rather mirror the racial make up of the country. And, it’s not always about sex, either. In 2002, the Washington, DC area was terrorized by a series of apparently random shootings. It turned out that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo traveled the area in a modified white van, shooting people. Bizarrely, one theory holds that Muhammad began the shootings because he planned to murder his ex-wife, and killed in and around her neighborhood so that her killing (which never happened) would look like the act of a serial killer.
Here are some serial killers, from up to the minute to old, who have not been caught and who have gotten away with murder. Some of them are long since dead, but some of them are still out there somewhere.
12. Chillicothe Killer – Ohio
How many serial killers are actually out there at the moment? John Douglas, former chief of the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit, has estimated the number out there at any given time as between 35 and 50. That’s roughly one for each State. A current case involves six women who have gone missing in the Chillicothe, Ohio, area since 2014. The links? All the women have been fairly young with a history of drug abuse and sometimes prostitution. As a sure sign of the times, the talking head syndrome reared its head when the daughter of a serial killer (The Happy Face Killer) made a media splash when she (complete with a film crew) “joined” the investigation. After being hesitant to use the “s” word, Chillicothe police asked the FBI to get involved in the investigation in 2015.
11. Mexicali Ripper – Baja, California
Since 2008, around 44 women have been murdered in Baja, California. Only two of the 44 victims were not prostitutes or drug users, and in some cases, the killer has dismembered his victims and then thrown body parts into a canal or derelict lot of land. One prostitute has said that the rumor was that the man offers more than the asking price to entice women to go with him. The working girls are fighting back, sometimes taking cell phone pictures of license plates of customers. Most now refuse to leave the hotel that they work in. One theory that is floating around is that there are three killers who are related by family ties.
10. Jennings Louisiana 8
Between 2005 and 2009, some eight women from Jennings, Louisiana, were murdered. “You don’t know who you can trust anymore . . .”, reportedly were the chilling last words that Brittany Ann Gary said to her mother. Then she went missing and late in 2008, her decomposing body was found. It appears she had good reason to be worried. Her cousin and best friend had disappeared in 2007, and their bodies unceremoniously dumped. It turns out that all the victims knew each other and frequented the same low-rent motels. And they abused drugs together. One theory is that there is more than one killer and that the killers are connected in some way.
9. The Long Island Serial Killer – Long Island, New York
He is sometimes referred to as the Craigslist Ripper because some of his prostitute victims advertised in Craigslist, but his true identity remains a mystery. He is said to have murdered upwards of ten sex workers over a twenty year period. The first body (no more than skeletal remains) was found in 2010 by a policeman out walking his dog. Then in 2011, a further eight sets of remains were found. All had been dumped along Ocean Parkway near two Long Island beach towns. Many of the victims have yet to be identified. Why did the killings stop? Writing in Psychology Today in 2014, profiler Scott Bonn said the killer, an “organized” killer who carefully planned his killings, may have left the New York area.
8. The Rainbow Maniac of Brazil
Between February 2007 and August 2008, thirteen gay men were murdered in Carapicuiba, Brazil. Twelve of the men were shot, the last victim being shot twelve times. Jairo Francisco Franco, a retired policeman, was arrested and tried. He was declared not guilty and released. Halfway across the world in South Africa, in what police called a homophobic killing spree, nine gay men were murdered between 2010 and 2013. Some had met their killer on gay dating sites. The latest victim, Dr. Carl Miscke, was stabbed to death after inviting the killer to his home. The gay community has repeatedly complained about the delays in the investigation.
7. West Mesa Bone Collector – Albuquerque, New Mexico
Some in Albuquerque call it their “crime of the century”. In 2009, a woman out walking her dog discovered a bone and reported it to police. Eventually, eleven women were found buried in the same area on the high desert plateau of West Mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico. All the decomposing bodies were buried in shallow graves. It took the police some weeks to uncover all the bodies, which were buried over some ninety acres of land. The women had gone missing between 2001 and 2005. One of the victims had been four months pregnant. FBI profilers were brought in, but police still do not have official suspects.
6. Cleveland Torso Murderer – Cleveland, Ohio
In the world of serial killers, this is one of the most grotesquely gruesome. Also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, this unidentified serial killer murdered and dismembered around twelve victims in the Cleveland area between 1935 and 1938. Some believe the total to be as many as twenty. And Peter Merylo, a Cleveland Detective, believes the killer may have been killing into the 1950s. The victims were Depression Era drifters and many were never identified. The Torso murderer beheaded his victims and quite often dismembered them. The Cleveland Police Museum exhibits include death masks of some of the victims.
5. The Doodler – San Francisco, California
The Black Doodler? It was the 1970s in San Francisco, and he was dubbed The Black Doodler because this serial killer often sketched his victims prior to meeting them for sexual encounters and stabbing them, typically both in the front and back of their bodies. In addition to killing some fourteen gay men, he also assaulted three others between 1974 and 1975. Reportedly, the police questioned a young man, but could not charge him because the three gay assault victims would not “out” themselves by testifying in court. Although the police never named the man publicly, they strongly suspected that the man they questioned was The Black Doodler. But, while known to the police, he got away with murder.
4. Zodiac Killer
This Northern California serial killer is iconic. He killed four men and three women, all of them young, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He himself originated the “Zodiac” name in ‘catch me if you can’ letters he sent to the local press. He also sent puzzles and ciphers to the press. Reportedly, of the four ciphers (“cryptograms”) he sent with the letters, only one has been solved. Like the Jack the Ripper case, Zodiac attracted his fair share of amateur investigators who were only too happy to name various suspects. And, like Jack the Ripper, while speculation continues, he has never been definitively identified. At last report, the California Department of Justice still maintains an open case file on Zodiac.
3. The Freeway Phantom
One of his victims, a ten year old named Brenda Crockett, managed to make frantic phone calls home to say she was being held by a white man. He killed her and dumped her body near Interstate 295. In total, six African-American girls were murdered in a terrifying sixteen month period in the early 1970s. He abducted his victims, sexually assaulted them, and then strangled them and dumped their bodies along I-295. In 1977, Robert Askins was arrested and charged. But, he got off as there was no concrete evidence that linked him to the horrific murders. He died in 2011, still maintaining his innocence. Did he get away with murder? Police think so.
2. Servant Girl Annihilator
We travel back to the Victorian era for our last two dastardly entries. It’s Austin, Texas. Between 1884 and 1885, this serial killer dispatched some eight known victims by attacking them as they slept in their beds. Some of them were domestic servants. All told, some seven females and one black male were murdered and eight others were seriously injured. Some of his victims were mutilated. Reportedly, hundreds of men were arrested. One, a James Phillips, was convicted in the murder of his wife. But his conviction was subsequently overturned. The murders stopped in 1885 when citizens formed a vigilante committee. Popular speculation as to the identity of the killer continues to this day.
1. Jack the Ripper
The Servant Girl Annihilator got there first, but Jack the Ripper is an evil legend and still the subject of feverish speculation as to his identity. He operated in the Whitechapel district of London, in 1888. Someone wrote in to claim he was the murderer and signed his letter “Jack the Ripper”, and the name stuck. While the actual total may be higher, five women, all prostitutes, were viciously murdered by The Ripper. Every amateur investigator going has a theory, and books and documentaries are still being cranked out. But, the simple fact is that nobody knows for certain. He was not the first serial killer, but he was the first to garner international press coverage. Largely, the “reporting” was of the ‘make it up as we go along’ variety, but, it sold papers.