Serial killers are the most feared people on the planet – and with good reason; being able to take the life of another human being – and possibly even enjoying it – is something that is incomprehensible to the majority of us. We all have the stereotypical view of who a serial killer is; the reclusive loner who lives on the fringes of society and kills as a way to seek revenge for their abusive mother. This model is usually backed up by the representations in film and TV and as a result we have come to expect all murderers to fit this mold.
However, as these 15 shocking stories prove, when it comes to real-life serial killers there is definitely not just one type of model. From young children and old ladies to doctors and priests, it seems that just about anyone can be capable of killing provided they lack the moral compass that the rest of us have. These people were all able to commit multiple murders in plain sight thanks to them being so different from the stereotypical serial killer. Would you have guessed that any of them were capable of such disturbing crimes?
15. Elderly Landlady
As she stood trial for the murder of nine people in October 1992, the prosecutor in Dorothea Helen Puente’s case told the jury to “Keep in mind things are not always as they seem.” Looking at the small, seemingly frail woman in her 60s, few would believe she was capable of such heinous crimes. Over the course of the trial it was revealed that Puente had killed up to 15 people, all residents of her boarding house, in order to pocket their cash and social security checks.
In one particularly gruesome case, Puente paid a handyman to build a storage box, which she then got him to dump in a river, telling him it was just filled with old junk. Six years later the box was found by fishermen, inside laid the decomposed body of an elderly man. A further seven bodies were uncovered on her property, and she was finally convicted to life in prison
14. Local Policeman
The idea of a policeman committing murder may seem like a movie plot — especially when that officer is then tasked with investigating his own killings — but the case of Tore Hedin is unfortunately very real.
Hedin robbed and murdered his friend John Allan Nilsson in 1951, then burned down the crime scene. As he was the local police representative he was tasked with investigating the crime and even speaking to the national media about the case.
In the summer of 1952, Hedin’s girlfriend broke off their engagement, and this lead to the already disturbed man becoming totally unhinged. He embarked on a brutal killing spree, bludgeoning his ex, along with her colleague, with an axe and burning five elderly people to death at the care home where she worked. He also murdered his parents, later writing in a suicide note that he didn’t want them to suffer for his crimes. His body was found later that night in a river where he had drowned himself.
13. Teenage Babysitter
When it comes to the disturbing world of serial killers, most people would assume a teenage babysitter to be a victim rather than the culprit. However, Helen Patricia Moore was definitely the latter. She was arrested in 1980 at the age of 18 after a killing spree that had begun the previous year.
In May 1979 she had smothered her 16 month old cousin while he was in her care, but the death was recorded as cot death. She clearly developed a taste for killing after this, and in January attempted to smother another baby she was babysitting; thankfully the child survived and Helen panicked and called an ambulance. A month later she tried again, this time on a two-year-old. The youngster survived, but was left blind and severely disabled after the attack. Two weeks later she killed another two-year-old girl.
She was finally caught in March of 1980 after her 7-year-old brother was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Not only did Helen confess to his murder, she also admitted to police that she ‘loved killing’. Despite the severity of her crimes she only served 13 years in prison, being released in 1993.
12. Award-Winning Professor
Lots of students don’t see eye to eye with their college professors, but can you imagine finding out that the person teaching you had brutally murdered three people? That was the case for students at Millikin University, a small Presbyterian university in Decatur, Illinois, when it came to light in 2013 that psychology professor James St. James had killed his mother, father and sister 46 years ago.
On August 4, 1967 15-year-old St. James returned from a rock show and, after sniffing glue, shot his family in the chest and face with a .22 rifle. Although he initially pretended he hadn’t known the killings had taken place, he eventually confessed to police, explaining that he hated his family. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and as a result found not guilty by reason of insanity. After several years in hospital he was set free, aged 21 in 1974. Despite the shocking revelation, Millikin University stood by St. James, saying in a statement:
“Millikin University has only recently been made aware of Dr. St. James’ past. Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James’ efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable.”
11. Ageing Farm Couple
Ray and Faye Copeland may have seemed like an unassuming elderly couple who were living a quiet life on their farm in Missouri, but in reality they were living with a very dark secret. Over a period of three years from 1986, the pair had murdered at least five drifters with a shot to the back of the head. The couple, both in their 70s, had lured the men to their farm under the guise of offering work, but had got them to pay for cattle with bad checks. Once they had fulfilled their role in the money-making scam the drifters were cold and disposed of.
They were eventually caught in 1989 after a human skull was found on their property, and both were sentenced to death (though Ray died before his execution date and Faye’s sentence was commuted to life in prison). Up until her death in 2003, Faye maintained that she had not been part of the killings, and her lawyers argued she was a victim of ‘battered woman syndrome’. However, police found a register she had made noting names of drifters who had worked on the farm, which had twelve of the names – including the five victims found – marked with a X. Even more disturbingly, she had also made a quilt using the dead men’s clothing.
10. Roman Catholic Priest
Religious authority figures are supposed to be a beacon of righteousness for their congregation, so when it was discovered that German Roman Catholic priest Hans Schmidt, had murdered a woman in cold blood in 1913, it understandably caused a sensation.
After being transferred to New York, Schmidt had begun a secret relationship with an Austrian woman who was working as a maid for the rectory. When he discovered she was pregnant, he slashed her throat, dismembered her body and threw it into the East River on the night of September 2, 1913.
The murderous priest was also suspected of killing a nine-year-old girl whose body was found in the basement of a church where he had previously worked. He was convicted of first-degree murder and executed by electric chair at Sing Sing prison on February 18th, making him the only priest to have been executed in United States history.
9. Old People’s Carer
Few people would suspect the female owner of an old folk’s home of being a serial killer; elderly people pass away all the time, right? Unfortunately for her victims, that’s exactly how Amy Archer-Gilligan managed to get away with it for a period of eight years. The Connecticut resident finally came under suspicion in 1916 when the sister of one of her victims brought her theory to the local papers, after the district attorney had refused to look into the case.
With the attention from the press, people finally started to look at the shocking increase in death rates at the care home — just 12 residents had died between 1907 and 1910, but 48 residents died between 1911 and 1916. The home was branded a ‘murder factory’, and it was found that Archer-Gilligan had been buying large quantities of arsenic, supposedly to kill rats. As for her motive for murdering up to 50 elderly people in her care, it was all financial; she had falsified wills and had also set up a scheme where residents could pay a one-off payment of 1,000 dollars for lifetime care; only those patients didn’t seem to stick around for too long afterwards…
8. The Queen’s Pilot
Russell Williams was seen as a model military officer. Over the course of his 23-year career he had been a decorated pilot, flying VIPs such as Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister of Canada, and most recently had been awarded the position of commander of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest and busiest air force base.
However, Williams had developed a chilling fetish for home invasions. He would target women home alone, tie them up, sexually assault them and then take photos at the scene. He took underwear from most of his break-ins, and photos later emerged showing him wearing the pieces and often masturbating while lying on the beds of his victims. He would even leave messages for his victims; after breaking into the bedroom of a 12-year-old girl he left a note in her computer saying “Merci”.
Williams’ crimes soon turned to r*pe and murder, and in 2010 he was found guilty of the deaths of two women in separate incidents. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, with the meticulous records he had kept, including the photos and videos, detailing his crimes proving very helpful to the authorities.
7. Baby ‘Rescuer’
Most people would assume that a professional child caretaker would be a kind and loving individual who would never dream of hurting their charges, let alone killing them, but unfortunately Dagmar Johanne Amalie Overbye was the complete opposite. The Danish serial killer murdered between 9 and 25 children – including one of her own – from 1913 to 1920. She was sentenced to death in 1921, though it was later commuted to life in prison.
Overbye took in babies born out of marriage for money. Little did their parents know that they were actually being strangled, drowned, or burned to death in a masonry heater, their bodies cremated, buried or hidden in the loft. Her downfall finally came about after one young mother who had given Overbye her baby changed her mind, and asked Overbye to have the child back. When Overbye told her that she had forgotten the address of the family who’d adopted her, she became suspicious and went to the police. After they searched the house they found the baby’s clothes and the remains of her bones and skull in the stove.
6. Respected Doctor
Who would guess that a doctor responsible for and respected by over 3,000 patients would turn out to be a cold-blooded serial killer. That was the case of British GP Harold Shipman, who is believed to have murdered up to 250 people before he was finally caught in 1998. The death count could have been even higher if it wasn’t for the owner of a funeral parlour who sounded the alarm, concerned with the unusually high numbers of elderly women being brought in by Shipman (around 80% of his victims were women).
After a two year investigation police found that Shipman had been administering fatal doses of the drug diamorphine and then editing their medical records to make it seem like they’d been in poor health. On the 31st of January 2000, he was found guilty of 15 murders and sentenced to life imprisonment, as well as earning the nicknames “Dr. Death” and “Angel of Death”. Shipman maintained his innocence until his suicide in prison in 2004, as did his wife Primrose.
No motive was ever found for the killing spree, although coroner John Pollard who had worked with Shipman said that: “The only valid possible explanation for it is that he simply enjoyed viewing the process of dying and enjoyed the feeling of control over life and death, literally over life and death.”
5. Middle-Class Family
Dentist Roman Podkopaev and his nursery school teacher wife Inessa Tarverdiyeva, may have seemed like an average middle-class couple, but the reality was much darker. The Russian couple murdered around 30 people, alongside their 25-year-old daughter Viktoria and, even more shockingly, their 13-year-old daughter Anastasia.
Their crimes were truly barbaric; in 2009 they wiped out a whole family, shooting the father, mother and son and stabbing the 11-year-old daughter a total of 37 times. On a separate occasion they tortured and killed a pair of teenage girls, gouging out their eyes in the process.
The family’s killing spree finally came to an end during a shoot-out with police on September 17, 2013, during which Roman Podkopaev was fatally wounded. Inessa Tarverdiyeva later told authorities that murder had simply been “a way to make money”, as they killed in order to steal their victims’ cash possessions. She also stated that she “is a gangster by nature.”
4. Children’s Nurse
It’s every parent’s nightmare — the person they believe to be caring for their sick child is actually intent on harming and even murdering them. Beverley Allitt was a 23-year-old nurse working on a children’s ward at a hospital in Lincolnshire, UK, when she embarked on a chilling 60-day poisoning spree in 1991 that left four children dead and at least nine others ill. It’s believed she gave large doses of insulin to her victims, who were aged between seven weeks and 11 years old.
Allitt’s terrible crimes were finally uncovered when medical staff at the hospital became concerned about the number of cardiac arrests on the children’s ward. The police then found that she had been the only nurse on duty at the time of each attack. She received 13 life sentences at trial, and though no definitive motive was ever found, it has been suggested that she was suffering from Münchausen syndrome, where someone purposely causes illness to someone in their care in order to gain attention for themselves.
3. Popular Teacher
Ronald Janssen was a quiet but well-liked teacher at a Belgian school who doted on his two young daughters… so no one would suspect that he was leading a chilling double life, committing up to 15 murders and many more r*pes of young women. Janssen, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011, after admitting to the murders of his neighbors, a young couple whose bodies were found in their burned out car. They had both been shot.
He then also confessed to a previously unsolved murder – that of an 18 year old girl named Annick whom he had abducted, r*ped and then beaten to death. Police now believe that Janssen could have committed another 12 murders over a number of years, and have subsequently reopened several cases. The teacher’s ex-wife was especially stunned by the news that she had been married to a serial killer, she said: “I always thought he was a kind and gentle man. This killer is not the husband I knew.”
2. Cake-Baking Housewife
Hazel ‘Dulcie’ Bodsworth was a much-loved member of the community in 1950s Wilcannia, Southeastern Australia. Little did the town’s residents know that the middle-aged woman they thought of as kind and generous was actually a serial killer, having murdered three men in cold blood by the time she was arrested in 1964.
The killings began with her first husband (and father of her four children), Ted Baron, whom she drowned with the help of her young lover so that they would be able to get married. Then, in 1956 she poisoned the local station manager with arsenic so that she and her new husband, who also worked at the station, could move into the main house there. Even as the man laid on his deathbed he had no idea that Dulcie was behind his demise — he told her daughter, also named Hazel, “You have the kindest mother in the world, you are lucky to have her.”
The third murder took place in 1958, when Dulcie coldly set an elderly local man on fire — he had made the mistake of leaving her $600 in his will. It was her daughter Hazel who finally brought an end to the killings when she went to the police with details of her mother’s crimes. She served 14 years in prison then moved to a nursing home where she died in 2008, aged 99.
1. 10-Year-Old Girl
The case of Mary Bell is probably one of the most shocking serial killer cases in history; she committed her first murder aged just 10 when she strangled a 4-year-old boy in an abandoned house in 1968. She then enlisted the help of her friend Norma Bell (no relation) to murder a 3-year-old boy in a wasteland. Mary later returned to his dead body to cut some of his hair, mutilate his penis and carve an ‘M’ into his stomach. In her eventual trial she was described as a “very grave risk to other children” who displayed “classic symptoms of psychopathy”.
Though it might be easy to brandish Mary simply as evil, clues from her upbringing explain how she went on to become such a disturbed young child. Her mother Betty was a prostitute who, according to other family members, had tried to kill Mary on more than one occasion and make her death look like an accident, including giving her sleeping pills as sweets. She had also been routinely sexually abused, her mother forcing her to engage in sexual acts with men from the age of four.
After 12 years in prison Mary was released at the age of 23. She was granted anonymity and as of 2009, is reportedly a mother and grandmother.