If you watch as much TV as we do, you probably know how many bad stereotypes are associated with killers. In movies, the murderers are usually deeply troubled or society-hating recluses, operating from woodland cabins or parents’ basements, perhaps deranged by a history of childhood abuse. Alternatively, they might be depicted as psychopaths in camouflage, badly pretending to have the normal range of emotions to disguise their true nature.
The truth is that most murders are committed by ordinary and otherwise harmless-seeming people—the kinds of people who take care of their pets and have boring arguments on the lawn. Sometimes those ordinary people crack, or become violent, and it’s only afterwards that their friends and neighbors realize that “the signs were there all along.”
You can’t always spot a murderer by looking for creepy personality or a weird glint in their eye. Almost anyone has what it takes to kill someone—from gentle elderly ministers to small children, and from pregnant women to quadriplegics. Here are fourteen murders from the people you’d least expect—and one attempted murder, because nobody’s perfect. This list goes to show that no one is immune to anger and cruelty, and literally anyone could become a killer in the right—or wrong—circumstances.
15. A Retired Pastor
We’ve all had nasty arguments about religion, but most of us can avoid coming to blows about it. That was not the case for pastor Ted Merchant, a retiree in a Chicago senior home, who spent most of his evenings talking scripture with retired Baptist Minister Allen Smith. “They’d talk about Bible passages and ideas about God,” a fellow resident recalled. “They always had little arguments going on about things like that.”
The little arguments got a little heated one Sunday evening, when Merchant pulled a gun and shot Smith twice in the head. After attempting to flee, Merchant was charged with first-degree murderer. There’s no account yet of what passage the two clergymen were arguing about, or whether it pertained to Biblical injunctions on violence and turning cheeks.
14. A Woman Who Was Pregnant
The idea of pregnant women as hormone-wracked storms of emotion may be a sexist stereotype, but that doesn’t mean it lacks the occasional crumb of truth. That could explain why 24-year-old Miata Phelan flew into a deadly rage because she did not receive a gift.
The incident occurred after Phelan’s boyfriend, Larry Martin, took a trip to the mall but forgot to bring her a gift. Instead of doing her own shopping, or browsing the latest deals on Amazon, the seven-month-pregnant mother-to-be resolved the argument like a grownup. She stabbed Martin repeatedly in front of his cousin and eight-year old son, reportedly while screaming “This is what you get for messing with me. I hope you die mother f–—.” Martin died of his injuries, and Phelan was charged with first-degree murder. It is not known if Phelan had requested a gift, or merely expected one as a matter of course.
13. A Woman Who Wasn’t Pregnant (But Pretended To Be)
Speaking of pregnancy, there are some women who really want a baby. One of them was Mirian Aparecida Soares Siqueira, a 25-year-old Brazilian woman. Soares Siquera wanted a baby so much that she pretended to be pregnant for months, even posing for photos with a fake baby bump.
But, apparently unwilling to endure the nine-month wait for an actual baby, she settled on a shortcut: stealing one from a pregnant girl. After luring 15-year-old Valissia Fernandes de Jesus into her home, Soares Siquera stabbed the pregnant teenager repeatedly and tried to cut the unborn child from her womb. Unsurprisingly, neither Valissia nor her fetus survived. The story caused so much outrage that police had to resort to riot techniques to control the crowd after the wannabe mom was arrested.
12. A Prostitute
When sex workers find themselves in lists like these, they are usually the unlucky victims rather than the perpetrators. Prostitution is risky, scary work, and conducted far away from the police protection.
That is, for most women. Aileen Wuornos has the distinction of inverting the old serial killer cliche, where prostitutes are usually the easy victims. Wuornos posed as a working girl to meet, murder, and rob unwary johns. Her career, dramatized by Charlize Theron in Monster back in 2003, spanned seven murders, six of which ultimately led to convictions. Wuornos later claimed that she had killed the men in self-defense, because they had tried to rape her. The jury was unconvinced, and Wuornos was executed in 2002.
11. A Pair Of Adult Stars
On the subject of sex workers, 41-year-old Dennis Abrahamsen probably felt safe when he hired Amanda Logue, a porn star cum prostitute (get it?) to perform at a decadent sex party at his house. Logue, whose porn name was “Sunny Dae,” plotted with her boyfriend, gay porn star Jason Andrews, to kill Abrahamsen and rob his house after the party.
As the party died down, the two lovers exchanged dozens of text messages as they awaited the night’s climax. “Keep eyes for a knife, etc., for me!” Andrews texted from a hiding place outside, and Logue excitedly suggested they have sex after the deed was done. Abrahamsen was killed on a massage table with a sledgehammer, and the two made off with $6000 in cash and valuables.
However, foresight was not their strong suit. The text messages provided unambiguous proof of the two porn stars’ murderous plans. Logue was sentenced to 40 years in prison, and Andrews got a life sentence.
10. A Charity Clown
In addition to being an activist for the local Democratic party and a pillar of the business community, John Wayne Gacy was known for his charitable work, often volunteering as a clown at fundraising events. Under the stage name “Pogo the Clown,” Gacy made regular appearances at parties, children’s hospitals, and community fundraising events.
However, Gacy had a secret even darker than juggling and makeup: over a six-year period, he raped and strangled at least 33 boys and young men before burying the bodies in his crawl space. To make things even creepier, Gacy frequently used clown magic tricks to snare his victims, who he promised to show his “handcuff trick” and “rope trick.”
9. A Pair Of Adorable Ten-Year-Old Boys
It was a typical day of mischief for Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, doing the kinds of things naughty kids usually do: skipping school, shoplifting candy, and kidnapping a small toddler to abuse.
The two boys had been talking about kidnapping a younger child for some time, and planned to push him into traffic. They spotted their chance when the mother of two-year-old James Bulger turned away to pay a butcher. The moment’s distraction was enough for the two boys to grab the younger child by the hand and lead him to a railroad track three miles away.
The kidnapping was initially assumed to be the work of an adult psychopath, so police were taken aback when CCTV footage revealed the two children leading the crying infant away. After a meandering route to a nearby village, the children sprayed paint in the toddler’s eye, shoved batteries in his mouth, dropped iron bars and bricks on his head and kicked him, before leaving the corpse to be run over by a passing train. James Bulger died of 42 separate injuries, including ten skull fractures.
8. A Successful Crime Novelist
Anne Perry has built a career with her gripping detective stories. If you’ve ever wondered if her depictions of crime and punishment were a touch too realistic for pure fiction, you’d be right. In a plot twist worthy even of her own novels, the celebrated writer has firsthand knowledge of the prison system, thanks to her five year sentence for murder.
Perry was actually born with the name Juliet Hulmes, and as a teenager in New Zealand shared an intense friendship with another girl, Pauline Parker. Juliet and Pauline were inseparable, as young BFFs often are, and shared a rich fantasy life together. Until, that is, Juliet’s mother announced that the family was moving away.
The news devastated the two girls, who would stop at nothing to stick together. This was before Skype and email, so the two friends found another way keep in contact: killing Pauline’s mom. On an isolated walk in the woods, the two girls attacked the older woman with a brick and struck her more than twenty times.
However, even murder couldn’t keep the girls together. Despite their efforts, the two friends were separated in prison and lost contact. The story of Juliet Hulmes/Anne Perry is portrayed by Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures.
7. A Double-Amputated Paralympian
Oscar Pistorius had his first brush with fame in 2012, when he became the first double-leg amputee to participate in the Olympics. Only the eleventh athlete to compete in both Olympic and Paralympic games, Pistorius was nicknamed “Blade Runner” for his unique prosthetics and became an icon for athletic determination and unrelenting courage.
However, the following year he became famous for something else: on Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in their Pretoria home. Although Pistorius says he believed there was an intruder in the house, a jury found him guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced him to six years in prison.
6. A Quadruple Amputee
If Oscar Pistorius doesn’t impress you, Sean Petrozzino certainly should: the thirty-year-old gun collector managed to kill his parents, spend a week on the run, and later commit suicide, despite having neither hands nor feet.
Police say Petrozzino was an “avid gun collector” who had modified his weapons so that he could fire them. By sticking a shoulder stock onto a Glock and removing its trigger guard, he had created a weapon that he could shoot without fingers.
While getting a divorce, Petrozzino had moved back in with his parents and took solace with drinking and shooting. Evidently, he got along with his parents about as well as he did with his ex-wife. After shooting his parents, Petrozzino fled and shot himself at a traffic stop a week later to avoid capture .
5. A Wheelchair-Bound Quadriplegic
James Burns is proof of the creativity and resourcefulness of the differently-abled. In 1987, he managed to kill his wife at a local bar—despite lacking the use of either his arms or legs.
Burns was only two weeks into his second marriage and already fighting with his new wife, police say. Witnesses saw the couple having a tense conversation in a local bar, when Burns shot his wife three times. He had suspected her of infidelity, he said, after she announced her intention to live in California.
Police say the murder weapon was a pistol attached to a wooden board, mounted to his wheelchair with a string wound from the trigger to Burns’ mouth. Burns later explained that he wanted his wife to kill him but “she talked me into killing her.” He later claimed that that he had fired the gun accidentally, but could not explain why he shot two more times. Burns died of natural causes before he could be tried.
4. A Candy Maker
If you’ve ever wondered about the phrase “don’t take candy from strangers,” the story of Dean Corll provides a disturbing answer. In the 1960s, Corll served as Vice President of his family’s highly successful candy company and was known for giving free candy to local kids.
Corll was popular with local youngsters, and introduced several of them to alcohol, drugs, and his hobby of torturing and raping teenage boys. Corll paid two young accomplices $200 for each victim they helped lure to his house, each of whom would be tied to a plywood “torture board” to be beaten, raped, and – sometimes after several days -killed. Corll killed at least 28 boys.
But the murder spree ended when one of his young henchboys, Elmer Wayne Henley, met a girl. What followed was like the climax of the cheesiest of horror flicks: Henley brought the 15-year-old girl, Rhonda Williams, to Corll’s basement, along with another intended victim, Timothy Kerley. The older man was outraged that Henley had brought a girl to his home, and, rather than politely asking her to leave, he drugged the three teenagers and strapped them to his torture board. Henley tricked Corll into releasing him and shot him in mid-rape.
3. Bachelor Number One From the Dating Game.
If you’ve never seen The Dating Game, it was one of the earliest reality TV contests, in which an attractive single woman chooses one of three unseen suitors. After much goofy humor and cheesy lines, the winning bachelor is rewarded with a blind date in company with the bachelorette.
At least, that’s the way it was supposed to go. But in one episode, in 1978, the bachelorette refused to go on the date because she thought the winner, Rodney Alcala, was a creep. Other contestants shared their unease, and they were right: Alcala was in the middle of a murder spree that may have claimed up to 130 victims. Alcala was fond of strangling his victims until they lost consciousness, and then reviving them to do it all over again. He was arrested in 1979, and convicted of five murders.
2. A Nice Old Landlady
Dorothea Puente seemed like a model of grandmotherly hospitality. The kind pensioner ran a boarding home in Sacramento for the elderly and disabled, frequently warming their homes with gifts and home-cooked meals.
However, hospitality is an expensive business and Puente needed to make ends meet. She got her first side hustle in the 1970s, when she was caught drugging and stealing from her residents. After three years in prison, she reopened her boarding house with a new source of income. Instead of stealing, she began killing her mentally-disabled tenants and cashing their social security checks. Police found seven bodies in her backyard, but Puente may have killed several more. She was ultimately convicted of three murders and died in prison in 2011.
As a creepy afterword to her story, Puente’s aura of grandmotherly kindness survived even in prison. She kept up a brisk correspondence, eventually contributing nearly 50 recipes and an interview to one of her fans. The result, Cooking with a Serial Killer: Recipes from Dorothea Puente, is available on Amazon. We haven’t tried any of them, but we hear they’re to die for.
1. A NASA Space Explorer
Astronauts get a lot of admiration, and for good reason. Besides extraordinary intelligence, the job requires impeccable judgement, strong nerves, and a high level of determination. So it can come as a shock to learn that that astronauts are made of the same frail emotional tissue as the rest of us.
Captain Lisa Nowak is not a murderer, but that’s not for lack of trying. The NASA Astronaut and roboticist had an unhealthy relationship with a fellow astronaut, and she became deeply jealous when her crush broke it off to pursue another woman, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman.
Distraught, Captain Nowak used her NASA problem solving skills to find the best possible resolution. Which, in this case, meant driving more than 950 miles to stalk Shipman, wearing diapers so she wouldn’t have to stop along the way. Police found her car stocked with latex gloves, a black wig, a BB gun, pepper spray, trench coat, hammer, and plastic garbage bags, as well as a map to Shipman’s house. Nowak was charged with attempted kidnapping and attempted murder, along with several other crimes.