The law is supposed to protect us, but it’s far from a perfect system. Various high-profile murder mysteries left unsolved and contentious murder trials throughout history have proven that the law can be manipulated and abused, and punishment can be avoided. Some terrifying killers have not just avoided justice – they’ve made it look incredibly easy.
There are many killers throughout history who were never identified, and have become infamous since. Jack the Ripper was long held up as an example of a killer who was never caught, who had even become mythologised. He operated in London in the late 19th century and was thought to be behind the murders of eleven people, mostly female prostitutes. For over a century, a suspect was never identified or arrested, but in September 2014 new research into DNA evidence suggested the killer was a mentally ill, Polish immigrant. Jack the Ripper was never apprehended in his lifetime, of course, so the new evidence is purely academic and will probably never eclipse the many fictionalised, even glamorized, version of the elusive psychopath of books and film.
The following are a few of the most terrifying, notorious killers who got away with their heinous crimes; they are some of history’s most cunning criminals. In some cases, the murderer managed to remain anonymous, even to this day. In others, the authorities had all the evidence they needed, but were unable to pin down the bad guy due to their cunning antics or loopholes in the law.
A warning for sensitive readers: Some graphic descriptions follow.
6. The West Mesa Bone Collector
The Bone Collector was the name given to a killer who operated in Albuquerque, New Mexico during the last ten years. A woman walking her dog through the Albuquerque desert discovered a human bone and reported it to police. When the police came and examined the area, they were horrified to uncover a large grave in the dirt where bodies had been dumped. In total, the authorities unearthed the bodies of eleven women and a foetus, bodies which had been dumped one on top of one another over a period of time.
The women were all identified: the majority of them were Hispanic and had been working as prostitutes in the Albuquerque area. Although all of the women were identified, no clues or consistencies could be found amongst their disappearances. The women were aged between 15 and 32 years old. Due to the fact that many of the women had been similar in appearance, with a couple of exceptions, police are convinced that one serial killer is behind the deaths. Today, the police have yet to link anyone to the murders and the case remains open. A $100,000 reward is currently on offer for anyone with information that could lead to an arrest, but so far nobody has come forward.
5. The Angel of Death
The horror that was the holocaust is difficult to comprehend: The unspeakable cruelty executed by Nazi killer Josef Mengele, nicknamed ‘The Angel of Death’, is emblematic of that horror. Mengele worked as a doctor in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. Mengele had a huge interest in the human body, but unfortunately for his patients, he also had a complete disregard for health and safety. The doctor experimented on the camps’ prisoners, mainly on children. He would often “rescue” people from the gas chambers, only to conduct horrific experiments on them – without an anaesthetic.
Mengele amputated limbs and removed organs from his victims. He also conducted bizarre and cruel experiments such as removing blood from a twin and giving it to the other twin, or infecting one twin with a deadly disease. If one of the twins died, Mengele would kill the other so he could perform an autopsy on both bodies and compare the healthy twin to the sick one. Perhaps his most horrific experiment was his attempt to make conjoined twins by sewing twin children together. The children suffered from gangrene before dying a painful death. However, after the war, Mengele escaped arrest and spent the rest of his life living in Argentina and Brazil, where he died aged 67.
4. Isaac Turnbaugh
One of the oddest cases of a killer getting away with murder has to be that of Isaac Turnbaugh, a young American man accused of killing Declan Lyons. Lyons was murdered in 2002, when he was shot in the head outside the pizza restaurant where he worked. The attack was completely unprovoked, and officers could find no evidence to point them to the killer. Soon after the murder, however, a young man named Isaac Turnbaugh admitted to friends that he had shot Lyons. His friends reported this to the police, and Isaac was tried for murder. However, Turnbaugh was found not guilty by the judge, as it turned out that he had been high, having taken mushrooms, at the time of his confession, and he had also confessed to other murders that he was not involved in. This combined with a lack of physical evidence cleared Turnbaugh.
However, in 2011, Turnbaugh came clean to police and admitted that he truly had killed Declan Lyons. Incredibly, it is against the law for Turnbaugh to be charged. This is due to a loophole in US law called “double jeopardy”, which states that an individual cannot be tried for the same crime twice. So, despite Turnbaugh’s confession, he is essentially untouchable and can never be arrested and charged for the murder, as he was already officially cleared.
3. Al Capone
Al Capone was an underground figure in Chicago who became a household name due to his shady dealings and notoriety as a gangster. Despite being arrested and charged for tax evasion by police in 1931, the police were never able to pin down Capone for the numerous murders he is suspected to have either committed or orchestrated.
The most famous of these murders was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. On the 14th of February 1929, eight mobsters were massacred in Chicago. Despite the fact that Capone is believed to have organised and ordered this massacre, he could not be tried as he was in hospital in Florida at the time. Capone was never tried for any murders due to the tight reign he held over his associates: Capone was so feared that nobody ever ratted him out or confessed anything. Even when Frank Gusenberg, one of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, was found alive by police, all he would say was that “nobody shot me” until he died three hours later.
2. The Zodiac
The Zodiac is regarded as one of the most dangerous, cunning and wicked serial killers in history. Active in California in the 1960s and 1970s, it is thought that the Zodiac may have been responsible for the deaths of over 30 people. The Zodiac became famous due to his frequent interaction with the authorities: the killer sent taunting letters to the press, citing the inability of the authorities to catch him. The Zodiac (a name the killer gave himself via the letters) also sent cryptograms, word puzzles containing information about his killings. The Zodiac sent four cryptograms, but they were so complex that to this day experts have been able to solve just one of them.
1. O. J. Simpson
There is little doubt as to why O. J. Simpson tops this list. In 1994, Simpson found himself at the centre of what would become one of the most famous court cases in history. After being accused of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a waiter named Ronald Lyle Godman, Simpson was tried but subsequently acquitted after almost one year.
Dubbed “the Trial of the Century”, Simpson’s defence team proved to be one of the strongest the world has ever seen. His defence team, which included Kim Kardashian’s late father Robert Kardashian, made a strong argument and managed to make the jury believe that Simpson’s guilt was beyond reasonable doubt. The case has been examined and reexamined hundreds of times since. It is widely suspected that Simpson was guilty, but poor planning on the prosecution’s side gave Simpson the upper hand. O. J. Simpson went down in history as being the one that truly got away with murder.
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