We encounter tens of thousands of people every year. They’re strangers we just pass by on the street, our favorite baristas at our local coffee shops, the co-workers we try to avoid, or the family members we love. People weave in and out of our lives every day, and we don’t think much of this fact, that is, until we open a newspaper or turn on the television and realize that the nice guy who stopped you for directions is actually a notorious killer.
When reporters share the details of what such killers do to their victims, it’s easy to think of them as these skulking individuals with beady eyes and hunchbacks lurking around every corner. The truth is these people are friends, neighbors, and people we encounter without knowing their diabolical lifestyles. Ted Bundy was described to be a charming, handsome man whom women were captivated by. John Wayne Gacy was an active member of his community and would dress as a clown and entertain children. We smile and wave at people all of the time, not knowing that one of them might have just taken the life of an innocent victim an hour before. Here are 15 chilling stories about infamous murderers told by people who personally knew them — stories which sometimes made the killers seem so ordinary that they slipped through the cracks.
15. Steven Pennell
He was known as the Route 40 Killer who took the lives of at least five women in Delaware. Steven Pennell’s crimes were so horrific, he was sentenced to death, and at the age of 34 in 1992, he died of lethal injection. According to someone who used to be his neighbor, Pennell wasn’t a man who particularly stood out.
“Steven Pennell was our neighbor. My mom worked with his son, and he is a wonderful young man. He didn’t change his last name, although I probably would have because everyone knows who his dad is. My mom also was friends with one of his victims. And there are a handful of other women he most likely killed but their bodies weren’t found. But yeah, everyone who actually knew Steve has little to say about HIM; rather, everything is about his family. He was so nondescript, in the background, not much of a personality.”
14. The Boston Bomber
In 2013, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planted bombs at the Boston Marathon. Six people died and 280 others suffered injuries, making it one of the worst tragedies in American history. Someone who went to high school with Dzhokhar (also known as Jahar) and even hung out with him occasionally described him as having a mellow temperament.
“If you’d asked me what he was like prior to the events of the marathon bombing, I would have told you that he was a relaxed, quiet, and decent guy. I remember getting a message from a friend of mine immediately after preliminary sketches were released along the lines of ‘Hey dude, doesn’t that kind of look like Jahar?’ but wrote it off. Once it was confirmed to be him, it did feel weird, but this was all during the manhunt, so I was more concerned about the wellbeing of those close to me than I was about him.”
13. Jeffrey Dahmer
The crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer made people question just who exactly was living down the hall in their apartment buildings. We’re sure Dahmer’s neighbors didn’t think he had severed heads and body parts in his refrigerator or that he was having sex with dead bodies for days.
“A good friend of mine used to live on the same block as Jeffrey Dahmer. She said they’d always wave and say hi when they were out and that his grandmother sometimes baked cookies for them. They said he just seemed like a normal guy, almost boring. They never had much of an impression of him, but his grandmother was very kind. Although her parents decided to move within a year or two because ‘the neighborhood was getting a little seedy.'”
12. James Holmes
Aurora, Colorado, wasn’t a major city that many people paid much attention to until 2012 when James Holmes walked into a movie theater and opened fire. When photos of Holmes were released to the public, you could tell through his maniacal eyes that something just wasn’t quite right. A person who knew him in college revealed that even then, it was obvious that Holmes was a little strange.
“I remember him being super paranoid. I remember filling out health questionnaires/medical clearance forms for a final that required in vivo work and access to the vivarium. He threw a fit in our lab, telling our TA he wasn’t going to fill it out. He finally did but put a disclaimer on the bottom of it. It was bizarre. I think that was around 08/09, I think he was already unraveling then.”
11. Willie Pickton
Canadian pig farmer Willie Pickton was a wealthy man who used his property to host events that included guests that were Hell’s Angels members and prostitutes. Some women that visited the farm were never seen from again, making some people suspicious. He is said to have as many as 49 victims who were strangled and dismembered. Authorities believed that he either fed the flesh of his victims to his pigs, or he mixed it up with pork and sold it to the public.
“Willie Pickton ran a fundraiser BBQ for a Scout Troop I was a part of. He brought all the pork and everything which we served up. Funny enough though, I had food poisoning the day earlier and wasn’t feeling well still, so I didn’t have anything at the BBQ.”
10. Ted Bundy
Over 30 women who crossed paths with serial killer Ted Bundy didn’t live through their harrowing ordeals to warn others of just how evil he was. Bundy would pretend to be a police officer, would fake injuries, and would use aliases in order to gain the trust of his victims before unleashing his terror. A late night tap on the door from a stranger could be an introduction to the last person you’ll ever meet.
“This isn’t about me, but my friend’s aunt. She heard a knock on the door and thought it was her boyfriend, so she wanted to scare him and got one of her kitchen knives and opened the door and yelled or something. Turns out it wasn’t her boyfriend but a man asking if she needed any plumbing work done, but when he saw the knife, he left. She looked out the window and saw a yellow VW bug. Ends up being Ted Bundy.”
9. Richard Ramirez
In San Francisco from 1984 to 1985, there was a man terrorizing the Bay Area. Richard Ramirez, dubbed the Night Stalker, assaulted, raped, and murdered his victims. The self-proclaimed satanist used a variety of weapons to act out his crimes as he broke into unsuspecting homes in the evening. This person found out that when their mother was just a teenager, she almost became Ramirez’s 15th victim but was saved by a badass grandma.
“When my mom was 16, she was sleeping and woke up to someone trying to open her bedroom window. She ran to my grandma’s room and told her someone was trying to break in. My grandma (being the crazy awesome lady she is) grabs a bat and runs outside and confronts this guy and starts swinging. The guy runs off, and they don’t think too much of it. Some time later, my Grandma sees the guy on the news and it’s Richard Ramirez. My mom told this story over and over when I was growing up. She easily could have been one of his victims, I’m so grateful she wasn’t, especially since she was pregnant with me at the time.”
8. Kyle Parker
One-year-old Shaylyn Ammerman disappeared from her father’s house in the middle of the night. A huge manhunt ensued, and soon, her tiny body was found near the bank of a river. Avoiding a lengthy trial, Kyle Parker pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping and received 60 years in prison. His former schoolmate gave details of his crime and shared why this sentence just wasn’t enough.
“[He was accused of] violently raping her while she was conscious. And then choking her to death and dumping her body. The thing about it was, he was seemingly in no way violent or prototyped as the sort who would do this. The only semi-morbid thing which he had done was an internship in a local funeral while in high school. He had some history of drug abuse, but absolutely nothing which would allude any of us to think he would go on to do something so horrific.”
7. Chris Porco
In 2004, Peter and Joan Porco were found in their home, battered and bloody. They had gruesome head injuries after being attacked with a fireman’s ax. Peter lost his life, but his wife survived. Their son, Chris Porco, was accused of the crime, but throughout the trial, Joan maintained he was innocent. Still, Chris was found guilty and was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. One of his classmates said that when they found out about the Porcos attack, they knew it had to be Chris.
“Chris was the kind of f*cked up sociopath who always had to have his hazing reigned in by the other seniors when he was on our team. He was the kind of kid who thought he was hot s–t and always took things too far. He was also really good at pulling the wool over adult’s eyes and presenting himself as ‘such a good kid.’ Many adults in our community stood up and said it was an outrage that Chris was being blamed, but I don’t know any young people who even gave him the benefit of the doubt when the trial was going on.”
6. Bobby Fry
It was Thanksgiving in 1996 when Bobby Fry robbed a head shop and, wanting to make sure there weren’t any witnesses, nearly decapitated two men after beating them. That wasn’t the only time Fry unleashed the killer inside of him. Two years later, he was at a bar and met a man. He offered him a ride home but instead took him to the backcountry on a Navajo reservation to rob and kill him. Fry is described as being a brutal individual and is currently sitting on death row.
“I grew up with Bobby Fry. He slept at my house and me his. My wife dated him in high school. When we were 17, he was accused of raping a girl in our social circle at a party one night. No one believed it. Yeah were we wrong. He had a bit of a temper, but to be honest, I never saw it coming. Just a couple of days before he was finally arrested (he was caught when his car got stuck trying to bury a body), I got into a pretty heated argument with him. I often wonder how close I was to being a victim.”
5. John Joseph Famalaro
One evening in 1991, Denise Huber’s car broke down on the side of the highway. John Famalaro saw her and took sick advantage of the opportunity to kidnap, sexually assault, and beat her to death. Investigators searched, but it would be three years before anyone would know what truly happened to Denise.
“Creepy dude lived near us, he was staying with his mom, I believe. Just showed up with a Ryder truck and it stayed in the driveway for several weeks, at least. I mowed the lawn for the family next door; I always caught him peeking through the blinds, spying on me while I mowed. I was about 12 or so, just figured it was some weird dude in our quiet little neighborhood, whatever. Everybody around talked about that damn Ryder truck sitting there looking out of place. Some had noticed an electrical cord running from the garage out to the truck.”
4. Dear Ol’ Dad
This person may have wanted to keep his father’s identity a secret, but he was more than willing to share his indiscretions.
“My dad was loosely involved with burying a kid alive before I was born. He got off. The other kid is on life without parole. It was a very publicized case so I won’t go into detail. He got off due to a lack of evidence, but trust me, he did it. Later on, I witnessed a guy OD from some bad shit my dad sold him. Dude died, and I don’t know what they did with the body. Not sure it was an accident, but it could have been. My dad didn’t like the guy. As shocking as that sounds, he was a violent pedophile so there were things that made me much more afraid of him. Murder was not even a blip on the radar. Everyone treated it like it was just a thing that happened.”
3. Frank Walls
If Florida serial killer Frank Walls’ victims could come back from the dead and describe their murderer, they’d probably call him a psychopath. He beat them, shot them, slit their throats — let’s just say their deaths were bloody and painful. A Florida native not only knew the man who inflicted such pain on people but also often played video games with him.
“I grew up in Fort Walton Beach Florida, and in the early 1980’s, my friend and I would bike to the Jr. Food Store [convenience store] to play Galaga every chance we could. There was a weird guy that would come harass us who was about 2 or 3 years older than us. [We were 11 or 12.] My friend liked to get into fights so he started calling him ‘Chahlee’ to fluster him. The dude had a huge knife in his boot every time we saw him, so I decided to just ignore him. That was pretty much how it went for the entire summer, and he’d even play Galaga with us occasionally. It turns out, the guy was Frank Walls.”
2. Derrick Todd Lee
There could have been more, but authorities say that Derrick Todd Lee took the lives of at least seven women. He would stalk his victims, break into their homes, sexually assault them, and then murder them violently. Not all the women he preyed upon became victims, just like this guy’s girlfriend who called him crying because someone was following her.
“My roommate and I jumped into his car and raced over. She described the vehicle as a white pickup truck, and when we got there, parked on the street, one house away from her aunt’s home was the vehicle. She was still crying and recounted being followed, the elaborate path, etc. I looked, and there was a man sitting in the vehicle. My roommate snuck up in the bushes to back me up, and I walked about 25 feet from the vehicle, standing up on the curb and shouted, ‘Something I can help you with?’ and they cranked up, turned on the headlights, and drove off, giving me a brief glance.”
1. Faryion Wardrip
Between 1984 and 1986, five women in Wichita Falls, Texas, were abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered. One woman was killed in her home and another was abducted from outside of a bar. The community may not have known who was behind the slayings, but they envisioned a dark, looming figure snatching up women in the shadows. The man behind the murders didn’t turn out to be someone who, at first glance, would make you want to lock your doors. In fact, you could find him down the street onstage at your local church.
“When I was a teenager, my church youth group visited another church in Olney, Texas. One of the worship leaders there greeted us and led us in some songs. His name was Faryion Wardrip. A few years later, he was proven to have killed at least 5 women in our small area of North Central Texas. He’s currently serving consecutive life sentences.”