People are evil. Maybe not all of the time, maybe not everyone, maybe being evil is something that only affects one in a hundred or a thousand people. But the truth is that they still are. All you have to do is pick up any daily newspaper or tune into any nightly news show to see my point. There’s always a crime being committed by someone where your only response is to just shake your head and think “Wow, what an evil person.”
Part of the real history of America acknowledges this too. Hiding inside our stories of wars and presidents, westward expansion, Prohibition, jazz, hippies and moon landings are the darker, grimier, unhappy moments when a terrible crime reared its ugly head and became national news. This is the sort of stuff that might get glossed over in the history books or made passing mention of but is real nonetheless and is always remembered. Just think about it; who would remember who Sharon Tate was if she hadn’t had her fatal encounter with Charles Manson. And everyone knows who Manson is. Or how about another Charles, this time Charles Starkweather, a seemingly innocuous teenager from Nebraska who went on a murder spree in 1958 that ended with 11 people dead. Ever seen the infamous movie Natural Born Killers? It’s based on Starkweather. We all keep the stories and legends of our most criminal fellow citizens alive and well in our memories, in the pages of a book or on the silver screen.
But even more chilling is that we keep the actual sites where our most infamous criminals committed their acts of mayhem or died trying fresh in our collective memories. All I have to do is say “the Biograph Theatre” and everybody knows I’m talking about the spot where Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger, was gunned down by the FBI. There are dozens of places like that scattered across the country- they are our most chilling crime sites. Here are 15 of the worst.
15. University Of Texas Clock Tower
We keep it in Texas for this next chilling murder site. Just as Lee Harvey Oswald was an ex-marine and a crack shot, so was Charles Whitman, a decorated former Marine sharpshooter who seemingly snapped on August 1, 1966 and took to the observation deck of the clock tower at the University of Texas-Austin loaded for bear. For no good reason he then spent the next two hours shooting people, wounding dozens of innocents and killing fourteen of them. He had already murdered his wife and his mother earlier that morning- nah, no Oedipal issues there, for the “Texas Tower Sniper,” not at all. I hate to make light of chilling crimes like this but first of all, why do so many of these crimes happen in the summer? People seriously need to learn how to beat the heat. And maybe the Marines could possibly vet outgoing soldiers a tiny bit better? It’s just a thought.
14. H. Holmes Murder Castle
This might be the most chilling murder site in America, simply because the guy who designed it and had it built might be the greatest serial killer of them all. H.H. Holmes was a wealthy Chicago druggist (and almost certain long-time murderer) who built a giant hotel for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1889. His purpose wasn’t to lure fair-attendees as guest to his premises though. His purpose was to murder as many people as he could in his crazy, Escher-esque “Murder Castle.” The building had rooms with no doors, stairs that went nowhere, doors that opened on brick walls, soundproof rooms, secret rooms, rooms with gas pipes opening into them- you name it, Holmes had a room for killing unsuspecting guests. There was even a “hanging room.” While good old H.H. only confessed to 27 murders (only!), evidence and missing persons records from the time his castle was “active” indicate he may have killed as many as 200. What a guy.
13. Jeffrey Dahmer’s Home
We move north from an old-time Chicago serial killer to a Milwaukee one of more recent vintage. That’s right, I’m talking about the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer, who not only preyed upon young, destitute men, but also ate them. Dahmer is possibly the most famous serial killer of all time; cannibalism will do that for a guy. He lived in an apartment in Milwaukee (924 North 25th Street, for all of you thrill seekers out there) where he would “entertain” his victims before killing them and then do all sorts of chillingly horrible things to them- along with cannibalism he was charged with necrophilia. He also liked to dismember his victims and keep trophies. I’m telling ya, what a fun guy to have around- I just can’t believe he was beaten to death in prison! Dahmer was finally caught in 1991 after years of killing (his first victim was all the way back in 1978 when Dahmer himself was only 18-years-old). Not many people shed a tear when he was killed in prison in 1994. Good.
12. The Amityville Horror Home
We start with a true crime site that is so chilling that it’s become the stuff of legend, inspiring both a book and a classic movie. I should give you fair warning- the sequels are not anywhere near as classic, even though there are 16 (16!) of them. I’m talking about the house where the original, true, real-life “Amityville Horror” took place. Way back in November of 1974 a guy by the name of Ronald Defeo Jr. decided to brutally murder his entire family. The 23-year-old killed both his parents and all four of his younger siblings by shooting everyone. That’s right- he murdered his entire family inside their home, then ran to the neighborhood bar to tell everybody he had just discovered his dead family. His story held up for about five minutes before he was arrested and later convicted of the brutal crime. The home itself was sold as recently as 2010.
11. JonBenet Ramsay’s Home
The death of a child is always a chilling example of the unfairness and injustice of life. The death of a child that becomes a mainstream media spectacle is ten times worse. Such was the case in 1996 when JonBenet Ramsey, a budding beauty pageant queen, was horribly murdered inside her own home. The precious little six-year-old was found dead from strangulation and blunt trauma in the basement of the home. Because she had been in beauty pageants there were many cute photos of JonBenet available which allowed the media to juxtapose images of the little girl with the awful information about the case. The whole thing became, of course, a frenzied circus. Ramsay’s parents and older brother were, at different times, major suspects but the case remains unsolved to this day. You won’t find me paying a ghoulish visit to their old home in Boulder, Colorado, but I bet there are plenty of people who do.
10. Nicole Brown’s Condo
OK, if you haven’t heard of this case then you might need to check yourself for a pulse because by now everybody in the whole world has heard of O.J. Simpson and the Nicole Brown murder. It was called the “Trial of the Century” for a reason people! O.J., as we all know was the former NFL all-world running back (and the funnyman in those ultimately ironic Hertz commercials of him racing through airports). Nicole Brown, his ex-wife was found murdered outside her Brentwood, California condo on June 13, 1994. Now we all know the story from there: the bloody gloves (“If the gloves don’t fit you must acquit!”), the world’s slowest car chase, the supposed suicide note, the “Dream Team” of O.J.’s defense lawyers (including one Robert Kardashian’s first brush with fame), the acquittal. O.J. going free? That’s pretty chilling stuff when you think about it.
9. Sharon Tate’s House
She was well on her way to maybe being a big-time Hollywood star when actress Sharon Tate had the worst possible run-in with Charles Manson’s “Family.” Tate was an up and comer of the silver screen, having been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the midnight-classic Valley of the Dolls. She was married to the director Roman Polanski. She was even a fashion model. And then it was all gone in an instant. The Manson Family, that stupidly evil cult that worshipped Charles Manson and believed the world would end in a race war, murdered her in her own home in Beverly Crest, California (a very fancy suburb of Beverly Hills) on August 9, 1969. Four other people on the property were also killed by the family but the most chilling part of this account is that Tate was over eight months pregnant. You have to be seriously psycho to murder a pregnant woman. The Manson family was.
8. Biograph Theater
Remember John Dillinger? He was once America’s most notorious and romanticized criminal, a man who robbed dozens of banks during his criminal career and even had the stones to rob not one, but four police stations! He’s also the man who was shot to death by FBI agents outside the Chicago Theater on July 22, 1934 as he was exiting the theater. The best part is that Dillinger had been watching a gangster movie, so hey, at least the guy was consistent. Dillinger was shot by agents under the command of Melvin Purvis, who would become famous, himself, after the fact. He tried to flee through the theater crowd but was gunned down anyway- photographers and newspapers of the time reveled in the gory details of his death scene. I’ve been to the Chicago Theater many times so I’m sorry to report the bloodstains are long gone. And it doesn’t show movies anymore either, although it did for a long time. The whole building was converted to a live theater some years ago and puts on stage productions. But Dillinger’s violent legacy lives on.
7. Columbine High School
This was the school shooting that “started” the cycle of school shootings we’ve all become so accustomed to both at public grade schools like Sandy Hook and at our universities (Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, etc.). It’s been the subject of intense scrutiny both for its social aspects and by law enforcement and education agencies trying to figure out emergency action plans for future incidents. With good reason too, as the Columbine Massacre was a terrible and chilling example of what can happen when crazy people get their hands on weapons. Two students of the school, located in an unincorporated part of Jefferson County, Colorado, decided that they wanted to take down the school in a way to rival other terrorist acts like the Oklahoma City bombing. To that end they worked together as an awful murdering machine, bringing multiple guns, explosives and firebombs to their school on April 20, 1999. The two killed multiple other students before committing mutual suicide by shooting themselves. That’s the out these a**holes always leave for themselves, isn’t it?
6. Aurora Theater
And here’s another mass shooting by another crazy A-hole. The only difference is that this time the senseless and chilling act of violence was committed in a movie theater, not a school. It happened in the same state though, which is just a weird coincidence. On July 20, 2012, psycho and all-around bad guy James Eagan Holmes, walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. His intent was not to grab some popcorn and enjoy a movie. Nope. His much more sinister motive was to carry out an attack against “society.” Lots of people have tried to say he is mentally ill. His own lawyers tried to argue that he was insane or had a “psychotic episode” that triggered his attack. I say to that “whatever.” This guy shot 82 people, killing 12 of them. And he didn’t even have the decency to turn his gun on himself when he was done. What a horrible loser.
5. Texas School Book Depository
This is another extraordinary incident which, like the O.J. murders, is notorious worldwide, perhaps even more so than those ones. I’m talking about the assassination of JFK, the President of the United States of America. Now, whether you believe all of the crazy conspiracy theories or not (“The Grassy Knoll,” the Zapruder Film, the magic bullet and second shooter, etc.) the fact of the matter is that one guy definitely shot JFK. That would be the infamous Lee Harvey Oswald, a sorta communist with a sad agenda. He shot the president from his hiding place on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building in downtown Dallas, Texas. I shouldn’t have to tell you (everybody who was alive at the time knows where they were when they heard the news) but it happened on November 22, 1963 and has never, ever been forgotten. Oswald always said he was a patsy, giving credence to all of those conspiracy theories but all the evidence points to him alone. I’m fine with him taking the blame, as also, apparently, was Jack Ruby, who murdered him live on national TV.
4. Lizzie Borden’s Home
Let’s take a trip back a little bit further in time for this one, shall we? Lizzie Borden was, by all accounts, a fairly quiet gal in public. In private, it seems, she had a long-running feud going on with both her father and stepmother, primarily over money. We’ll never know if that contributed to the violent murders of those two, or indeed, whether Lizzie was the murderess- she was acquitted of all charges. But the fact is that on August 4, 1892, somebody in the Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts, took an axe to both of them. Again, I ask you, what is up with all these summer murders??? Moving on…just like O.J.’s case over a century later, Lizzie Borden’s trial was a huge media circus. Everybody wanted to see, hear and read about the sweet, innocent girl who supposedly viciously murdered her parents with an axe. And just like O.J.’s trial, pretty much everybody seems to believe that she did it. If anybody remembers the full nursery school rhyme “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks…” you can skip to our final entry. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
3. The Dakota
On the other hand, just about everybody shed a tear when former Beatle, Rock & Roll royalty and universally regarded icon John Lennon was killed outside his apartment building, The Dakota, in New York City on December 8, 1980. He was with his wife Yoko Ono at the time and had just signed a copy of his new album (the excellent Double Fantasy) for his murderer earlier that evening. Mark David Chapman was the name of the murderer and, if you still want to be angry at him for murdering the greatest Beatle, be my guest- I won’t stop you. Chapman shot Lennon four times outside his home, then sat down and read a freaking book until the cops arrived. I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like he was particularly repentant, does it? Maybe that’s why the guy is denied parole every time it comes up.
2. Ariel Castro’s House
So we’ve heard about serial killers in Chicago and Milwaukee, how about we go visit another psycho in another Midwestern town. This time the venue is Cleveland and the place is Ariel Castro’s home in a residential neighborhood of the city (2207 Seymour Avenue, you ghouls!). Castro is, of course, the seriously unhinged guy who thought it would be a great idea to kidnap three neighborhood women (two of them just teens) and keep them captive in his house. For over a decade. One of the women was finally able to escape and warn the police after Castro accidentally left a door unlocked. Before that the three had been subjected to a terror regime by Castro that included rape, beatings and torture. What is certainly most chilling about this is that the woman who escaped did so with her six-year-old daughter. Castro was the father. This monster committed suicide after serving a month in prison- apparently he couldn’t take what he dished out. Big surprise.
1. Branch Davidian Compound
Well, we’ve talked about chilling crime sites of serial killers, kidnappers, terrorists, and crazy gunmen. How about we finish off with the mass killing of an entire cult? That’s right; Waco, Texas is best known nationally for the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound, the “Mount Carmel Center.” The Branch Davidians, in case you’ve forgotten, were a cult that were preparing for the end times (aren’t they all?). They were also involved in meth production, the illegal sale and possession of firearms and many other criminal activities. Their “prophet,” David Koresh, was being investigated for sexual abuse of both of-age and minor women. So the ATF, FBI and Texas National Guard decided to conduct a little raid. The Davidians didn’t like that so much, a two-month siege ensued and then, on April 19, 1993, the agencies converged on the compound. No one really knows what happened after that but the whole place went up in flames and at the end of the assault 82 people were dead. A lot of people blame the FBI for the disastrous assault but, really, the cultists literally dug their own graves with their behavior.