Looks can be deceiving. Appearances rarely match expectations, especially when we’re talking about that mysterious creature known as the human being. Disheveled nerds are often the smartest people around, jittery youths with camera phones are turning into modern-day historians, and sometimes, a dashing stranger in the corner might secretly be a devil in disguise. There’s nothing particularly unsettling about those first two examples, but the last one can pose a terrifying threat to everyone fooled by the façade, such as the dozen-plus victims of the American spree murderer popularly known as “The Casanova Killer,” Paul John Knowles.
People will do just about anything to please an attractive face. For career criminal Knowles, this meant finding a woman who would pay for his legal defense after winding up behind bars for a petty crime. So impressive were Knowles’s charms that he also got this woman to agree to marriage, although their plans fell apart the second she actually met him and realized that something about her fiancé was supernaturally disturbing. Conventional wisdom has it that her choice to call things off is what started Knowles’s worst instincts to take over, leading to the murder of anywhere from 18 to 35 people over a four-month span in 1974.
Obviously, this would-be bride isn’t at all responsible for anything Knowles did after she broke up with him, yet the story is nonetheless integral to what made him tick as a monster. As is often the case with vicious criminals of his ilk, much of Knowles’s life suggested something terrible could happen involving the man if his escalating behavior kept getting worse. Unfortunately, it did, bringing tragedy to his victims and their families. For all the warning signs and more, keep reading to learn 15 chilling facts about “The Casanova Killer,” Paul John Knowles.
15 He Committed His First Crime At Age 7
Like virtually every violent criminal in recorded history, Paul John Knowles started his illegal activities rather young. From the very beginning, Knowles only seemed to have one true inspiration for his many crimes, that being the fame and attention it would bring him. It should go without saying that the vast majority of this attention was negative, but this hardly mattered to Knowles, who had the laughs of a few like-minded juvenile-delinquent friends who would praise him for causing chaos as early as the age of 7. At this point, Knowles’s crimes were all relatively minor, amounting mostly to petty theft, fighting, and portraying a rampant disrespect for authority so severe it could actually get him in serious trouble. Knowles's problems with authority would get significantly worse when his father virtually abandoned him, giving up Paul to foster care when the budding crook’s actions proved too much for him to deal with any longer.
14 He Was Abused In A Juvenile Detention Center
Rejected by his own father and sent to foster care before hitting the double digits in age, Paul John Knowles’s petty crimes soon escalated to larger thefts, and he started spending lots of time at the Florida School for Boys. Though theoretically similar to a modern-day juvenile detention center, back in the 1950s and ‘60s, reform schools in Florida were highly overcrowded and frighteningly corrupt. In this sense, Knowles, too, was a victim, subjected to constant abuse at the hands of older inmates and the guards who were supposed to be preventing such acts. Believe it or not, at the Florida School for Boys, mere abuse was practically getting off lucky, as the system was later accused of causing the deaths of countless inmates. Knowles's time at the school definitely contributed to his warped mind, intensified his hatred of authority, and may well have been a key piece of the puzzle in how he came to kill.
13 He Had Strange And Dangerous Literary Influences
There’s a certain cliché amongst violent criminals that they can’t be cultured or well read, when, in fact, the opposite is often true. In the case of Paul John Knowles, the future Casanova Killer was, in fact, a huge fan of literature, and one book, in particular, may have played a role in his crime spree. Oddly, that novel happens to be Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, the coming-of-age tale of a bored bird who just wants to be free. More in tune with his character, Knowles also idolized the biographies of people he affectionately called “outlaws,” meaning career crooks like Babyface Nelson, John Dillinger, and the famous bank-robbing couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Those who knew Knowles as a youth would later state he made claims his ultimate goal was to become one of these outlaws, once gleefully predicting to a friend that he would one day earn fame for being a bad guy.
12 He Kidnapped A Police Officer At 19
Before Paul John Knowles would begin the most infamous crime spree of his life, there were plenty of smaller crimes as already mentioned. While Knowles's illicit activities gradually escalated in severity at times, there were also a few massive leaps along the way, such as what happened in 1965. Aged 19, Knowles committed his first crime in which he could be tried as an adult, and he made sure to make it a memorable one. Pulled over after stealing a car in an apparently nonviolent crime, Knowles saw the threat of jail time, and he doubled-down on the law-breaking, stealing the arresting officer’s gun and holding him as a hostage for several hours. There’s no doubt his earlier disrespect for authority also played a role, as his past time behind bars easily could've made him terrified at the prospect of further incarceration. For whatever reason, though, Knowles eventually let the officer go and soon found himself arrested, serving his most significant sentence yet. Of course, it was far from his last.
11 He Got Engaged To Two Women While In Prison
Starting with the time he served for kidnapping a police officer, Paul John Knowles would spend approximately six months out of every year in prison until the day he died. Amazingly, this in no way impeded the man’s love life, though his nickname does help to explain this a little. Like Casanova, Knowles was smooth and charming with the ladies in person or in pen, twice convincing women to become his wife from behind bars. The first was a woman named Jackie, a divorcee with three kids who Knowles thought could set his life straight. However, Jackie didn’t stick with Knowles for long, leaving him for her ex-husband. Knowles wound up back in jail and began a correspondence with a new love named Anna Covics, who quickly proved instrumental in getting him released by hiring an expensive lawyer to plead his case. Unfortunately, Covics wouldn’t calm Knowles either, in fact, doing quite the opposite…
10 His Bride-To-Be Called Off The Wedding, Triggering His Crime Spree
It’s pretty easy to assume Anna Covics was fascinated with Paul John Knowles for the same reason many women write to men in prison. The sense of danger can be exciting, the thought of potentially proving innocence brings out caring instincts, and let’s face it, some prisoners like Knowles have their rugged good looks going for them, as well. On top of all that, Covics and Knowles, in particular, shared a powerful love of the supernatural, specifically psychics and horoscopes. Ironically, it was this same shared interest that drove them apart, as Covics immediately broke things off with Knowles after a fortune teller informed her of a dark presence that was about to enter her life shortly after his release. During his confession, Knowles would claim he killed three random people that very night in a violent rage, though this was never confirmed. However, the mere fact he would claim this strongly suggests the breakup nonetheless triggered his crimes in one way or another.
9 His Killing Spree Began After He Escaped From Prison
When things fell apart between Paul John Knowles and Anna Covic, the serial killer known for his heartbreaking good looks was broken-hearted himself. It hasn’t even been mentioned yet that Knowles was in a Florida jail when his correspondence with the Californian Covic began, and he had moved across the country to be with her only to hear the news she was done with him before their life together had truly begun. Lost and with nowhere to go, Knowles returned to Florida, getting into a bar fight the very night he arrived. Because the fight ended with Knowles stabbing the bouncer, he found himself right back in prison, although not for long. By this point an expert at the ins and outs of Florida jails, Knowles was able to easily pick the lock on his cell and make his escape. This is where the Casanova Killer’s claim to infamy truly began.
8 He Murdered Several People While Evading Capture
On the lam and with nothing left to lose, Paul John Knowles decided the months after his escape from prison would be the time he finally made true on his promise to become famous for being bad. Knowles later claimed to have murdered at least three people already by this point, though those kills remained unconfirmed. What police do know is that days after Knowles escaped, he was involved in the death of a 65-year-old woman named Alice Curtis. Next were two young girls, aged 7 and 11, and this extreme disparity in how his victims were chosen would continue throughout the spree. Never showing an M.O. of any kind, Knowles killed men and women of all ages, the one link between them all seemingly being that he initially used his charms to lull them into a sense of security. This includes the men, some of whom Knowles allegedly met at gay bars. Whether he was actually gay or bisexual himself remains unconfirmed, as he just as well could have simply been using his good looks to lure as many diverse victims as possible into his hands.
7 His Killing Spree Lasted Four Months And Spanned Most Of The US
Already wanted in Florida for assault and subsequently escaping from prison, Paul John Knowles couldn’t stick around for long after his crime spree began. After racking up his first four confirmed victims in the Sunshine State, Knowles took his murder streak on the road, ultimately claiming victims in anywhere from 9 to 37 of America's states. Knowles ventured from Florida to Nevada to Connecticut, terrorizing people in virtually every state he crossed. In most cases, Knowles would only stick around in a given town or state long enough for his crimes to hit the media, at which point he would cut out newspaper stories about his actions as trophies and proof of his “fame.” Having made his mark, Knowles then moved on to the next unsuspecting victim. When the heat was really on, Knowles also began to hold people as hostages in case he needed a bargaining chip when authorities inevitably caught up with him, though he was ultimately alone when captured.
6 He Robbed Or Sexually Assaulted Most Of His Victims
Based on everything Paul John Knowles said about himself, the horrible crimes committed by the Casanova Killer were almost entirely a darkly misguided effort at becoming famous. With heroes like Bonnie and Clyde, there’s a good chance Knowles was telling the truth when he said that, but the statement becomes suspect when looking at the specifics of his actions. Were Knowles truly concerned only with infamy, killing and torturing people would've been enough to get his name in the papers. However, Knowles also sexually assaulted a large portion of his female victims, and many others had their money, cars, and even TVs stolen, thus presenting both sexual and financial secondary motives. In fact, some profilers suggest Knowles may have suffered sexual problems related to impotency throughout his life, which could have influenced the rage that inspired him to kill. Of course, this is merely speculation.
5 He Was Caught After Crashing A Stolen Car Into A Tree
Not that we’re condoning the behavior in any way, but if someone is going to spend his entire life stealing cars, he should probably learn how to drive one. Instability behind the wheel was ultimately what stopped Paul John Knowles’s four-month murder spree when he lost control of a stolen car and crashed it into a tree. As seen in the above picture, Knowles really did a number on the vehicle, showing this was no minor fender bender. Knowles likely hit the tree because he was spooked by a police roadblock, and were that the case, his fears were soon justified by a massive manhunt undertaken by those same police officers looking to bring him to justice. With more than 200 cops on Knowles’s tail, it was ultimately a random hunter wandering the woods with a shotgun who brought Knowles down, holding him at gunpoint until the police were able to detain him.
4 He Confessed To More Murders Than Were Ever Proven
Were someone to write an unofficial serial killer handbook, one element that would definitely be included is for all captured criminals to dramatically inflate their kill count during confession. Paul John Knowles is like countless others in this regard, claiming to have murdered 35 people in his lifetime, though police could only prove 20 of them. While most killers probably do this simply out of a desire to look evil, knowing Knowles's primary motivation was fame, there should be no surprise in his decision to pad the numbers. The cops had reason to deny his claims from the start, as Knowles showed no guilt or remorse in describing his various murders, instead beaming with pride and clearly enjoying the attention. Granted, while this could cast doubt about some serial murderers, knowing the full profile on the Casanova Killer, there’s a good chance his pride at being a villain was entirely earnest.
3 He Was Killed In Police Custody
For all his murders, Paul John Knowles was never officially tried in a court of law for any of them despite getting captured. There simply wasn’t time, as Knowles died a mere month after his capture, still in police captivity. At the time of his death, Knowles claimed to be leading two officers to a spot where he had hidden one of his murder weapons. It all proved to be a ruse, however, when Knowles picked the lock on his handcuffs while still in the car, attempting to flee from the moving vehicle. Knowles then reached for one of the officer’s weapons, causing the other to show no hesitation in shooting him in the chest. Though the officers can hardly be blamed for their actions in this case, killing Knowles ultimately meant none of his victims would have true closure. More than that, it also means a large number of those victims may never be known to the public, let alone their families and loved ones.
2 A Reporter Unwittingly Escaped His Clutches
In retrospect, it feels easy to say every single person who met a serial killer and lived to tell the tale is lucky for having survived the ordeal. There’s definitely some reality to such a claim, and yet the story of how a journalist named Sandy Fawkes met, had a brief fling with, and then walked away from Paul John Knowles without a scratch is nonetheless an extreme case. Everything about Fawkes fits in with Knowles's other victims—she drank a lot, was fascinated by the man’s looks (she later called him a cross between Robert Redford and Ryan O’Neal), and, as a reporter, found his life story just as interesting—not so interesting they could stay together for more than a few days, however, as she dumped him with little fanfare shortly after they had met. Unlike with Anna Covics years earlier, this rejection didn’t seem to bother Knowles much. Some have since speculated he specifically sought out the affections of a reporter as one of his girlfriends, knowing she would later write about the experience. Indeed, Fawkes later wrote about their brief dalliance together in a book titled Killing Time.
1 He Used Multiple Fake Aliases And Had A Stunning Nickname
When on the run and in the midst of an international manhunt, an escaped convict needs to switch things up constantly in order to avoid capture. Paul John Knowles knew all the tricks of the trade to stay away from police during his four-month spree. In addition to the basics, like always changing up his look and clothing, Knowles also took on several aliases, the name "Daryl" apparently becoming one of his favorites. Sandy Fawkes knew him as Daryl Golden, for example, and the pseudonym Lester Daryl Gates also earned some infamy. To the media, however, Knowles was always the Casanova Killer, named so after history’s most infamous womanizer, Giacomo Casanova. The real Casanova was world-renowned for his autobiography Histoire de ma vie, although it was his affairs with countless women that truly cast his legacy. Of course, this Casanova also never killed anybody, so to say he was anything like Paul John Knowles is almost an insult to his name.
Sources: New York Daily News, Murderpedia, The Line-Up