The very concept of a serial killer is terrifying enough without looking too hard into the details of each one. Without just belching up a dictionary definition, a serial killer is generally someone who kills at the very least two or three people, usually in separate events, generally for their own personal satisfaction. Sometimes killings are s*xual, other times, they are simply for excitement. But other times, there is some kind of psychological edge to a killer’s mentality.
While in an ideal world it would be great to avoid all instances of humans killing other humans, that isn’t realistic. There are plenty of reasons people “off” each other. Heat of the moment rage is one of them, revenge is another, and self defense is yet another, and one that usually helps a person defend their act. These are all somewhat understandable. Most definitely not all forgivable, with the exception of self-defense. But killing for fun or satisfaction is something that very few of us can even imagine. This is exactly what makes serial killers so terrifying.
One element of any serial killer is disguise. Many of them disguise their sick minds with relatively normal lives. Plenty of them raise families and hold respectable jobs, but bubbling underneath their pleasant exteriors is the most revolting kind of evil our species knows. A few killers, however, dress up as part of their lure; more still, wear clothing of their victims or do even more sinister things with regard to their appearance. Here are fifteen terrifying shots of killers in costumes or disguises.
15. James Holmes
While it is unclear whether we can classify James Holmes as a “serial” killer, as his many kills took place during one event, we’ll call him a mass murderer, and he definitely deserves to be on this list. The Aurora, Colorado shooter from July 2012, he was inspired by the Joker from the Batman franchise and killed twelve during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. There has been some speculation to suggest that he carried out his shooting in a full Joker costume, but this has not been confirmed. His hair, however, was dyed and styled in such a way as to imitate that character.
About two years ago, Holmes was sentenced to over three thousand years in prison. While it isn’t a full costume, committing this heinous act with Joker-inspired hair earns him a spot on our list for sure.
14. Dennis Rader In A Grave
There will be a few shots of Dennis Rader, better known as the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) strangler, as he had a certain habit in between his murders. His nickname comes from his method, which was to bind his victim, do whatever he wanted to them, and then murder them after this hellish ordeal. His killings took place between 1974 and 1991 and he had ten confirmed victims. He was not arrested until 2005. The police found a series of pictures he had taken of himself, usually in clothing that belonged to his victims, and often bound, and either hanging or tied to something. In this shot, he’s in women’s clothing, has bound himself, wrapped himself in plastic, and laid down in a shallow grave he had dug himself.
13. John Wayne Gacy
Like a couple of other murderers we’ll see on this list, John Wayne Gacy was never quite right, but he did not start off murdering. His early offenses were s*xual harassment, and he would often hire young men to work for his companies and then make s*xual advances toward them. From there, he went to full on s*xual assaults. In 1972, he killed for the first time.
Throughout the 1960’s and early 1970’s, he went to prison and was frequently in trouble with the law. Nonetheless, he was able to make a life for himself. He was a decent businessman, and could turn a profit. He was also an active member of the community, frequently dressing as Pogo the Clown. Working in his community and running his business, which primarily employed teenage males, Gacy went on to kill over 30 young men in the late 1970’s. Most of them were lured into Gacy’s home or ambushed in their own. His primary method of killing was strangulation. He was put to death in 1994, after almost 15 years on death row.
12. Russell Williams
Quite a few of these killers seemed like very normal people to those around them. Gacy was a respected guy in his neighborhood, and Dennis Rader was a leading member of a local church group. In similar fashion to those two monsters, Russell Williams was a Colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but held a dark secret. Throughout his military career, he was described as an outstanding officer and pilot.
His crimes started out as simple break-and-enter into the rooms of adolescent girls, stealing panties, and sometimes playing with himself on their beds while they were absent. His behavior spiraled out of control and he ended up murdering two women. Police eventually noticed that the tires on his SUV matched a set of prints left at one of the woman’s homes. He confessed and police found hundreds of pictures of him like this in his computer.
11. Mark Twitchell
Another Canadian, Mark Twitchell of Edmonton, Alberta, was fascinated by the character Dexter Morgan, the serial killer/blood pattern analyst, and is considered to be a copycat killer. He was an amateur filmmaker and found his victim (and another man he tried to kill) on Plenty of Fish, the dating website, on which he posed as a woman.
His first would-be victim was Gilles Tetreault, who was able to escape. Unfortunately, Johnny Altinger was lured to Twitchell’s rented garage, and killed. Twitchell wrote about his experience becoming a serial killer after killing Altinger, and his fictionalized version of this first murder was found by police just a couple of weeks after the fact. Twitchell is now in prison serving 25 years to life. In this picture he, a lifelong and dedicated Star Wars fanatic, is standing next to a former friend dressed as Han Solo. Twitchell himself appears to have dressed himself as Star Wars creator, George Lucas, in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt, the quintessential George Lucas outfit. Of course, he was missing the beard.
10. Josef Branis In A Wig
We started with a few Americans, then two Canadians. Now we’ll take a trip to Europe, where Austrian Josef Branis killed his two siblings (a brother and sister) and their spouses back in 2008. The five of them had been in a lengthy feud over money, after he had been evicted from an apartment owned by his sister. That incident eventually hit a tipping point for Branis himself, as he shot and killed the four of them before trying to make his escape. He spent about a month on the run from the law before having been caught by police. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison back in 2009. We know he doesn’t exactly fit the bill for a serial killer, given that the killings took place during one event and that he was motivated by hatred, not personal gratification. But he killed people and wore a dopey-looking wig during his escape, so we’ll count it.
9. Gacy Outside His Home
It would be impossible to write about killers in costumes and just have one picture of Gacy. That clown costume is one reason that he is such a horrifying killer. This shot was taken back in 1976 outside his home. Like other pictures of these murderers, Gacy looks like a normal guy in this picture. He’s done up in his clown costume with a matching handful of balloons. While we might be skeptical of anyone dressing up like a clown these days, back in the 1970’s, he would have been a welcome addition to any neighborhood kid’s birthday party and like we said before, he was a well-liked member of his community. Of course, behind the guy smiling on this porch and ready to entertain kids, there is one of the worst monsters the world has ever known.
8. Dennis Rader In Basement
Here’s another picture of BTK strangler, Dennis Rader. This time, he is once again bound. He’s wearing women’s clothing and appears to have a bag over his head. He staged these shots and took them with a Polaroid set to a timer. This shot was believed to have been taken in his parents’ basement.
Part of the reason Rader is so famous…errrr, infamous…is that he was one of the most prominent killers to have basically terrorized his entire community beyond his killings. He gained notoriety first in the 1970’s for contacting local news outlets after each of his kills. He took a lengthy break after his last kill in 1991, but started to communicate with media outlets again in 2004. Finally, he was ultimately arrested due to his carelessness in 2005.
7. Russell Williams
This is another shot of former Canadian Air Force Colonel, Russell Williams. Yet again, this was taken when he had broken into a family’s house and was trying on their daughter’s clothing. During one of his home invasions, he tried on and stole some of a young girl’s undergarments before leaving a message in her computer that read simply “Merci,” which meant “Thank you” in French.
His arrest and conviction for multiple murders, s*xual assaults, and his confession to all of these break-and-enter incidents was a further black eye for the Canadian Armed Forces who had been dealing with negative publicity due to rampant s*xual harassment and s*xual assault; something that the Canadian military is still dealing with to this day.
6. Fabian Kramer
Fabian Kramer was sentenced to ten years in a “secure psychiatric unit” back in late 2012, after he was found guilty of stabbing his 82-year-old landlady dozens of times in an attack that occurred after he saw the movie Saw. He wore a mask inspired by the movie (pictured above) during this crime and used a long kitchen knife. The judge in charge of sentencing ensured that if Kramer was determined to still be a threat at the end of his sentence, he would be held indefinitely. Nobody was able to determine a “why” in this case, but the prosecution made a good case that Kramer just killed because he felt like killing. After the crime, he called police and pretended to be a paramedic when they arrived, but with that mask and a yellow-handled, bloody knife next to him, the story wasn’t exactly believable.
5. Dennis Rader “Hanging”
We can’t imagine that any of these pictures Dennis Rader took of himself were pleasant in any way. In each shot, he looks like he’s done a brilliant job of binding himself and in this one, he appears to be semi-hanging himself. However, experts who have looked at these shots have said that whenever he bound or hanged himself, he always kept the ropes and tape just loose enough that he could wiggle free.
Look closer, by the way. Look at his face. He wore a very visible mask in this shot as he said the face on the mask reminded him of one of his victims. If this doesn’t terrify you (it really should), we still have some more interesting tales that just might.
4. Ed Gein
Ed Gein has served as the inspiration for several serial killers in pop culture, including Buffalo Bill, Leatherface, and Norman Bates. While Gein was always a little bit “off,” the deaths of his father, brother, and then mother (his mother being the person with whom he was closest) really put his mind off the rails.
While his number of kills is somewhat low compared to many we’ve listed here, there are other terrifying aspects to his crimes. Apart from his two murders, he also dug up numerous bodies as he was crafting a “woman-suit”—an obsession that spiraled out of his inability to deal with the death of his mother. Pictured above is a mask he made from a face. Among other things found in his home when he was investigated, were leggings made of skin, other masks, lampshades made of skin, and numerous other body parts. He was considered not guilty by reason of insanity. Therefore, he spent the last years of his life in a mental health institution until his death in 1984.
3. Jerry Brudos
Jerry Brudos was abused by his mother as a child, developed a shoe fetish early on in life and became obsessed with feet from as early as age five. By his late teen years, his actions had escalated from stealing shoes and underwear to assaults and stalking. He got married and had two kids, but behind his somewhat normal existence was an ongoing lust that drove him to murder four women. He kept pieces of his victims and even their entire bodies as trophies along with their shoes and underwear, which he would frequently try on for added thrill. He was arrested in 1969 and confessed to four murders, but it has been suggested that he had more victims whose bodies were never found. He spent 37 years in prison and died in 2006 of liver cancer.
This is a sketch because the Zodiac Killer was never found. His identity was never uncovered but he is widely believed to have worn some sort of costume (like the one pictured) while committing his crimes. There is no definite number of victims and despite how much publicity the case got, nobody was ever arrested.
The Zodiac Killer sent letters and cryptograms to California news outlets between the late 1960’s and 1970’s. He sometimes sent pieces of victims’ clothing along with these letters to prove. Of the four he cryptograms he sent, only one was ever solved. This case is still open in several districts in California. However, after over forty years, it seems certain that we will never know who the Zodiac Killer really is.
1. Dennis Rader Tied To Chair
This picture of Dennis Rader (BTK) tied to a chair, while wearing women’s clothing and either a mask or a ton of makeup is beyond haunting. If the details we’ve already discussed about BTK’s life haven’t scarred you enough, there’s still more. We already mentioned his involvement with a local church group, but his status as a Boy Scout leader is amplified by the fact that he admitted to having bound himself for pleasure while camping in the woods with his Scouts.
He also spent some time working in the security industry and actually installed security systems for people in his neighborhood, many of whom were terrified of being victimized by the BTK Strangler. He also sought employment that would let him be in control of people, such as working as a compliance officer. During this period, he treated people in his neighborhood terribly and is known to have killed dogs in his area of Park City for no reason whatsoever while on the job.