In ancient times, the concept of law and order was innovated by a Mesopotamian ruler named King Hammurabi of Babylon and his legendary code of honor. While not everyone is familiar with the name Hammurabi, chances are, most of the world has indeed heard of his legal system or at least the maxim that defines it — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Basically, Hammurabi felt criminals should be punished on a scale determined by the nature of their misdeeds. For example, were a man to blind another man, he would then be blinded himself in retaliation, and the same concept held true for pretty much any other offense one could imagine.
Almost four thousand years after Hammurabi’s time came and went, modern society has pretty much decided this so-called code of honor was extremely flawed, to say the least. Detractors came up with their own phrase, claiming that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, and such forms of capital punishment have largely fallen out of favor. At least officially speaking, that is. Unofficially, the modern prison system means criminals are still punished in ways some may find cruel and unusual, despite what the law says.
Typically, the prison guards and staff aren’t necessarily at fault when a criminal dies in state custody, but they usually allowed for the conditions that made a shanking possible. Nine times out of ten, people murdered in prison were pretty horrible and deserving of incarceration, yet that hardly justifies the callous actions that took their lives. Then again, few people tend to feel pity when a murderer comes face to face with the horrors they caused to complete innocents. Keep reading and decide where you stand on the issue by learning about 15 terrible criminals you never knew were murdered in prison.
15. Donald Leroy Evans
Should an accused murderer who escaped from prison demand the court allow him to wear his KKK outfit to his trial, the jury probably won’t have much time deliberating his guilt. Donald Leroy Evans learned this lesson firsthand after he sexually assaulted and then murdered a 10-year old girl, already having escaped from prison to commit the deed. Once he was caught for the second time, Evans received a death sentence by a Mississippi jury. Perhaps to prolong his execution, Evans then claimed responsibility for dozens of other murders, though he later also confessed some were intentional attempts at annoying the police. At least one of them was real, though, as Evans was also found guilty of murdering an earlier victim in 1985. Despite a second escape attempt, Evans was returned to custody where fellow inmate Jimmie Mack ultimately stabbed him to death.
14. José Antonio Rodríguez Vega
Creatively succinct names are often created to describe the particular brand of horror individual serial killers have caused. For José Antonio Rodríguez Vega, the nom de plum “El Mataviejas” (translation: “The Old Lady Killer”) definitely does the trick. In less than a single year, Vega sexually assaulted and murdered at least 16 women ranging from their early 60s all the way up to their 90s. Vega also sexually assaulted over a dozen women closer to his own age roughly a decade earlier. Somehow, Vega managed to reduce his sentence by charming his past victims into forgiveness. Vega’s elderly victims were given no such chance to forgive him, ensured the moment he took their lives without any remorse. That same lack of remorse was shown by the three inmates who later attacked Vega in the prison yard with makeshift weapons like bags filled with rocks. While one may assume the guards present during Vega’s murder considered his crimes so heinous he wasn’t worth saving, the official story is that they worried intervention would make things worse.
13. Charles Schmid
Charm is one of the scariest qualities a serial killer can have, and “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” Charles Schmid, was definitely charismatic, if bizarrely so. Of course, the fact he mostly attempted to gain the favor of impressionable teenagers certainly made the task easier, although the word predatory also comes to mind as well. Suspicions this mysterious stranger may be more than meets the eye came true when he was convicted of killing sisters Gretchen and Wendy Fitz. Schmid’s friend, Richard Burns, turned him in to police, who soon connected him with the earlier murder of Alleen Rowe and also suspected him of a few others. Initially, an Arizona jury sentenced Schmid to death for his crimes, but when the state temporarily abolished the death penalty, his sentence was commuted to 50 years. Not that it mattered as two fellow prisoners stabbed him 47 times 10 years into his sentence, soon leading to his death.
12. Gerard John Schaefer
Given how loose the law is these days on cops taking lives in the course of crimes, for officers to truly earn reputations as “killer cops,” they have to do something seriously bad. Former Martin County, Florida’s sheriff, deputy Gerard John Schaefer, definitely fit the bill as a serial murderer who took the lives of anywhere from 2 to 30 female victims from 1969-1973. Despite losing a teaching job for what was called “totally inappropriate behavior” and then getting turned down by the priesthood, Schaefer somehow became a cop in 1971. Of course, he never would have gotten the job had his fellow officers known about the murders he had already committed, and he lost the job immediately when his next potential victims escaped and called for his arrest. Between his firing and arrest, he kidnapped and murdered another two women. Trophies of past victims were found at his home, implicating him in countless other crimes. For reasons that remain disputed, Schaefer was later murdered in prison by cellmate Vincent Rivera.
11. Donald Harvey
Plenty of serial killers have god complexes, with many claiming taking another’s life makes them feel all-powerful and divine. Some are even delusional enough to consider themselves amongst the seraphim like the self-professed “Angel of Death” Donald Harvey. From the early age of 18, Harvey worked as an orderly at the Marymount Hospital in Kentucky. After developing a hatred for doctors and some of the patients they cared for, Harvey began injecting terminally ill patients with arsenic, cyanide, and other poisons. Initially, he claimed to be easing their pain, but it wasn’t long until Harvey enjoyed the thrill of the kill as evidenced when he murdered a neighbor and his former lover’s father. Once his crimes came to light, Harvey was convicted of at least 57 killings and sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences. Three decades into serving his time, Harvey was found severely beaten to death in his cell. The exact circumstances of his murder remain unclear.
10. Lee Roy Martin
When serial killers genuinely suffer from split personalities, the one upside is that it’s pretty easy for police to catch them. In cases like that of Lee Roy Martin, one of his personas allegedly felt horrible about the crimes his other side was committing, more than once confessing his crimes to reporters at The Gaffney Ledger, a local newspaper in his small South Carolina town. Unfortunately, Martin didn’t turn himself into police and thus was able to also warn the press more murders were to come, one of which he managed to commit before getting caught. Despite in-depth, accurate descriptions of his crimes, authorities chose not to seek the death penalty when Martin argued he wasn’t given adequate right to council. Instead, Martin was sentenced to four life sentences, though it was only four years later when fellow inmate Kenneth Rumsey took Martin’s life while in prison. Rumsey later committed suicide while still incarcerated.
9. Thor Nis Christiansen
There’s nothing wrong with a lonely person creating a rich fantasy life for himself — unless said alternate reality includes murdering random women and having sex with their corpses. Given the nature of this list, it should be obvious that using that segue means Thor Nis Christian often imagined doing just that, and horrifically, he would get to live out his dream at least four times in his life. After emigrating from Denmark to California at a young age, Christiansen got in the habit of picking up young female hitchhikers. Of course, he never intended on bringing them to their destination, rather choosing to shoot them with a shotgun and have his way with their corpses. The fifth time Christiansen attempted to fulfill his morbid fantasy, his victim escaped and alerted authorities to his crimes, leading to a sentence of life imprisonment. Less than a year into his sentence, however, Christiansen was stabbed to death in Folsom Prison by an unidentified attacker.
8. Daniel Camargo Barbosa
It’s terrifying when a serial killer keeps his crimes going across state lines, and this was the type of unspeakable horror caused by Daniel Camargo Barbosa. Barbosa murdered and sexually assaulted up to 150 young girls across South America, mostly in his native Colombia or Ecuador, where he escaped to after his first prison sentence. Authorities believe Barbosa had 80 victims in Colombia alone, followed by an additional 72 in Ecuador, all of which he calmly confessed to when finally caught. Despite his confession, it was hard for police to confirm exact numbers, as Barbosa generally left his victims’ bodies to decompose in abandoned woods after hacking them to pieces with a machete. Given the horrible nature of Barbosa’s crimes, there was no surprise when an Ecuadorian jury sentenced him to the maximum sentence the country’s law allowed. Unfortunately for Barbosa, he was incarcerated at the same prison as a man named Luis Masache Narvaez, a cousin of one of his victims. Feeling the years weren’t enough of a sentence, Narvaez chose to personally execute Barbosa for his crimes.
7. Mitchell Harrison
Regardless of how one feels about the whole “eye for an eye” thing, most people agree that cruel and unusual punishment is off-limits for criminals of any kind. Compared to the other men on this list, 23-year-old Mitchell Harrison was a relatively small-time criminal, serving a sentence related to the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. There’s no defending a crime like that, but it’s also fair to say having his liver cut out of his body and then eaten is a particularly outrageous way to punish him for it. That was the plan of Michael Parr and Nathan Mann, two fellow inmates who enacted their plan by first luring Harrison into their cell and murdering him. Neither inmate showed any remorse for the killing, though they did ultimately change their mind about eating his liver. The full story reveals Harrison himself was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time, as psychiatrists had long feared that both Mann and Parr were capable of such a feat.
6. Carl Williams
When people think about gang violence, they probably think about inner city America or the Italian gangsters they see in movies and on TV. The truth is, gangs exist everywhere, and the ones in Australia haven’t been particularly active from the late ’90s to the present. One of the key figures in Australian crime was Carl Williams, who started a war media dubbed the Melbourne gangland killings. While it was actually Jason Moran shooting Williams that triggered the crime spree, Williams retaliated by killing Moran, Moran’s brother Jason, and father Lewis, followed by two more murders related to the Australian crime scene. Killing the Morans indirectly made Williams himself the top drug lord in his country, although it also led to his downfall when police became aware of his crimes and got him to confess. Still ingrained in the gang scene, Williams was murdered in prison three years into his sentence, bludgeoned to death with an exercise bike by Matthew Charles Johnson.
5. Albert DeSalvo
Anytime media gets wind of serial killers before police are able to catch them, things are bound to get out of control fast. When some 13 women were sexually assaulted and murdered in Boston throughout the early 1960s and cops couldn’t figure out who was responsible, it was inevitable that the news would start covering the subject. Due to his method of murder, this mysterious killer was dubbed the Boston Strangler, though it was later revealed his name was Albert DeSalvo. While DeSalvo avoided police for about two years with the media hot on his case, he eventually made the huge mistake of attempting to invade the home of Brockton Police Chief Richard Sproles, who quickly arrested him. DeSalvo was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he soon attempted to escape. After getting caught a second time, DeSalvo was transferred to a harsher prison, where he was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant.
4. Richard Albert Loeb
Even people with little interest in true crime have probably heard the tale of Leopold and Loeb. For the few who haven’t, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were wealthy friends and students at the University of Chicago, who felt their superior intellect would allow them to pull off “the perfect crime.” Apparently, their combined intellect decided the kidnapping and murder of a young boy fit that bill, and they went about committing the deadly deed in May of 1924. The plan called for convincing their victim’s parents there was a separate kidnapper demanding a ransom, though this was exposed within hours when a body was found. Days later, police connected Leopold and Loeb to the crime, and both confessed, attempting to pin the fatal blow on one another. While the world may never know who actually killed the boy, both were sentenced to life in prison for their crimes. Because of their notoriety and wealth, Leopold and Loeb were both constantly harassed in prison, with Loeb paying off cellmate James E. Day as protection. When the payment stopped, Day stabbed Loeb to death with a razor.
3. John Geoghan
Thanks to the many Academy Awards won by Spotlight, the story of John Geoghan is probably the most well known on our list. Even before that film was released, Geoghan was making international headlines as the face of the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal that ripped through America circa 2002. Geoghan was one of the most serial and unrepentant of the many accused priests, apparently having sexually abused upwards of 150 young boys across at least eight parishes. Whenever others grew suspicious of Geoghan’s behavior or the parents of his victims complained, church officials would cover up his crimes by transferring him to a different church. When the media exposed Geoghan’s crimes, the church finally defrocked and laicized him, and authorities were able to send him to prison for at least one of his assaults. Almost instantly, Geoghan’s fellow inmates made trouble with him, a man named Joseph Druce, in particular, trying to get him to show remorse. When Geoghan instead “arrogantly brushed off” these attempts, Druce took matters into his own hands by ending Geoghan’s life.
2. Leslie Bailey
The only thing more terrifying than a serial killer is a person who makes it his goal to train others to become one. Referred to by media as Hissing Sid and described by some as the most notorious pedophile in Britain, Sidney Cooke was one of these vicious criminals, and Leslie Bailey helped Cooke commit some of his earliest crimes. Along with two others, Cooke and Bailey murdered 14-year-old Jason Swift and 6-year-old Barry Lewis, and there may have been additional victims as well. When arrested, Cooke and Bailey tried to paint one another as the ringleader of their gang, an argument Cooke won after Bailey was murdered in prison by two cellmates for reasons that remain unclear. Initially, prison officials even believed it may have been a suicide, though it was ultimately classified as murder. In any event, Bailey’s demise unfortunately allowed Cooke to convince authorities of his story and gain parole, though he soon got re-arrested and served a life sentence.
1. Jeffrey Dahmer
Every criminal on this list is horrible in his own right, and yet, Jeffrey Dahmer has transcended them all in popular culture for the horrific nature of his actions. Though a body count of 17 is lower than some others on this list, the way Dahmer dismembered his victims’ bodies and then repeatedly had sex with the remains more than justified his nickname as the Milwaukee Monster. Dahmer’s crime spree mostly took place throughout the late 1980s into the early ‘90s and saw him primarily focus on young men. When Dahmer was finally caught, he instantly confessed to all his crimes, accepting his fate and repeatedly acknowledging that what he had done was atrocious and beyond redemption. Dahmer seemed to believe he deserved a death sentence, yet Milwaukee courts merely gave him life imprisonment as punishment. Not that it mattered, as two years into his sentence, in 1994, fellow inmate Christopher Scarver murdered Dahmer. A third inmate, Jesse Anderson, was also present, and Scarver went on to murder him as well moments later.