They stalk the night like a beast searching for its prey. Sometimes they spend days or even weeks stalking a person. Sometimes they act in the moment with little to no preparation. Their weapon of choice varies – some use knives, others guns. Some like to take their time, playing with their victim while others make the kill quick.
And while they have existed for as long as mankind has been living in caves, they only gained their name relatively recently. These are the men and women who haunt our world, who appear from the darkness and strike fast. No one knows how many are out there, but we know they are likely nearby at any given time. You can spend days reading about them on the Internet and not even make a dent in the stories that exist. They are serial killers, and they are terrifying.
We tend to focus on the serial killers who were caught – the H.H. Holmes’, Ted Bundys and Aileen Wuornos’. We like those stories because while they creep us out, there is something of a happy ending – the bad guy was caught, the evil is locked away, and we are safe again.
In reality, the majority of serial killers will never be caught. In many cases, we’ll never know they even exist. John Douglas, a former chief of the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, believed that at any given time, there are upwards of fifty serial killers working in the United States alone. That is a number that puts a chill down the bravest of spines.
So turn off the lights, get under the covers and check out these twenty serial killers who have never been caught. But before you do, you may want to make sure the doors are locked. You never know who’s around.
20. Jack The Ripper
The most famous serial killer of them all, Jack the Ripper’s story is known even to children. Terrorizing East End slums of London in 1888, Jack and his five victims became front page news around the world.
Along with being credited as the first serial killer – though there were untold numbers before him – part of why Jack the Ripper originally captured the attention of the world was his letter, which started with two terrifying words: From Hell.
If he had been caught, Jack the Ripper would likely never have become a cultural icon, but his existence would still be felt. The Jack the Ripper murders helped launch a new style of reporting – the tabloid. The story of the murders captured readers, and papers with less integrity began to run endless stories on the killer, often making up fake letters or positing outlandish theories about who the killer really was.
19. The Zodiac Killer
In many ways, the Zodiac Killer is a modern-day version of Jack the Ripper. Terrorizing the people of San Francisco and the surrounding area for close to a decade, the Zodiac took Jack the Ripper’s letter to the next level by including four ciphers that, when decoded, would supposedly give the police his real name.
Only one of the ciphers has ever been solved.
The legend of the Zodiac is constantly argued. No one is sure just how many people the man killed, or how long he was active. While, through a series of letters, the Zodiac claimed to have killed 37 people, there are only 7 confirmed victims, with two of them surviving their assaults. Even the amount of letters the Zodiac sent to the papers and police are questioned, with many believing to be faked. The final possible letter was sent in 1990, but sat unopened and undiscovered in a filing cabinet at the San Francisco Chronicle until 2007.
18. Phantom Killer
Also known as the Moonlight Murderer, the Phantom Killer came and went in less than three months, leaving the people of Texarkana devastated. Over the course of ten weeks in the summer of 1946, the Phantom Killer took the lives of five people and leaving three others wounded.
The Texarkana community was so frightened by the events that a county-wide curfew was put in place, and citizens began carrying weapons with them, even as they walked around their own homes. Some of the people of Texarkana even tried to set up traps for the Phantom Killer, but they were never able to catch the killer.
In the decades since the murders, Texarkana has turned the horrific events into something of a tourist attraction. Every October, since 2003, the Texarkana Department of Parks and Recreation puts on a free screening of The Town that Dreaded Sundown, the 1976 horror film based on the murders.
17. The Bone Collector
In February 2009, a woman walking her dog on the West Mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico found a human bone and quickly alerted the police. Over the course of a few days, authorities found the remains of eleven women, with two of the victims being just fifteen years old.
Each of the women had gone missing between 2001 and 2005, and all but one were residents of New Mexico. Almost two years after the remains were discovered, police released photos of seven women who they believed could be linked to the West Mesa murders, though at least three of those women have since been proven to have no connection.
16. The Atlanta Ripper
On May 28, 1911, Belle Walker’s mutilated body was found just twenty-five yards from her home on Garibaldi Street in Atlanta, Georgia. Because Belle was a young black woman, and it was 1911, her murder garnered little attention. When a second victim was found a few weeks later, local papers took notice, mainly because they could compare the style of the killings to the infamous Jack the Ripper murders just twenty-three years earlier.
Over the next year, the Atlanta Ripper would take upwards of twenty-one lives, all of them young black women. There is some disagreement on the exact number – while fifteen of the deaths are agreed on, some believe the other six were done by a different person. However many victims the Atlanta Ripper did have, he was never brought to justice for his crimes. While the police had many suspects, no one was ever arrested for the murders.
15. The Stoneman
The life of a homeless person is hard enough, but add in a serial killer targeting beggars, and you can only imagine the terror that these poor souls must have felt.
The details of the Stoneman murders are few and far between. Because the killer focused on the homeless, it took police far longer than usual to pick up the pattern. While the Stoneman would be credited with thirteen murders in Calcutta during the summer of 1989, many believe the same person is responsible for a series of murders that occurred in Bombay from 1985 to 1987. The similarities in the Bombay and Calcutta murders is hard to ignore – in both cases, the victims were alone with no family, homeless, and killed while sleeping. The Stoneman would use a stone to crush their victim’s skull. Only one person was ever able to escape death by the hands of this vicious killer and while many suspects were brought in for questioning, no one was ever arrested for the murders, which stopped six months after they began in Calcutta.
14. Axeman Of New Orleans
Starting in May 1918, New Orleans, Louisiana was terrorized by a brutal murderer who left seven dead, and seven more horribly wounded.
The Axeman of New Orleans had already attacked 10 people, killing five of them – including a two-year-old girl – when he sent a letter to local newspapers. The letter opened with a somewhat familiar line – “Hell, March 13, 1919” – reminding people of Jack the Ripper. In the letter, the Axeman claimed that he would take his next victim at 12:15 A.M. on March 19th, but would spare anyone who was in a location that had a jazz band playing.
On the night of March 18th, 1919, leading into the 19th, the dance halls of New Orleans were filled to capacity and hundreds of private homes hosted their neighbors while jazz bands played in the living rooms. The Axeman did not take any lives on that night, but he would return two more times.
13. Honolulu Strangler
On May 29, 1985, Hawaii’s first known serial killer would strike, taking the life of twenty-five-year-old Vicky Gail Purdy. Over the next year, the Honolulu Strangler would take the lives of four more women, each of them discovered with their hands bound behind their backs and with signs that they had been sexually assaulted before they were strangled.
The Honolulu police set up a twenty-seven man team to find the killer, but they were unable to ever make an arrest. On May 3rd, 1986, a Caucasian male went to the police claiming that a psychic had told him where to find a body on Sand Island. While nothing was found at the location the man brought the police to, the body of Linda Pesce, the fifth and final victim, was found on the island. The police centered their investigation on this unnamed informant, but could never get enough evidence to arrest him.
12. The Babysitter
Also known as the Oakland County Child Killer, the Babysitter took the lives of four innocent teens in Oakland County, Michigan between 1976 and 1977. Three of the killer’s victims were found laid out in the snow, positioned as if they were making snow angels. Two other cases of abducted teens – one of whom survived – may have been committed by the Babysitter, but due to variances in the cases, police were cautious to say there was a connection.
The Babysitter committed his first murder in February of 1976, and waited until December to strike again. The final victim, Timothy King, went missing on March 16, 1977. His parents begged for Timothy’s safe return – his mother, crying, said that all she wanted was to give her son his favorite meal again, Kentucky Fried Chicken.
When Timothy’s body was found on the 22nd, the autopsy showed that his last meal was fried chicken.
11. Cleveland Torso Murderer
From 1935 to 1938, Cleveland, Ohio was traumatized by a man the papers would call “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” but today is best known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer.
While the official number of murders is set at twelve, there is evidence that suggests this maniac took the lives of twenty people before disappearing into thin air. Only two of the killer’s victims have ever been identified. The other ten have sadly gone unnamed after all these years.
The Cleveland Torso Murderer dismembered his victims – part of what made it so difficult to find the identities of those he killed is that many of the heads were never found – and appeared to taunt the police with his killings. Remains for two of the victims were found near city hall – the dismembered bodies were able to be seen from the office window of the Public Safety Director of Cleveland who happened to be famed lawman Elliot Ness. While Ness had little to do with the case, he did take part in the interrogation of one suspect.
10. Jack The Stripper
From June 1964 to January 1965, eight sex workers were murdered in London, England. Each body was discovered undressed by the River Thames, and the press quickly jumped on the similarities to the Jack the Ripper murders, giving this killer the title of Jack the Stripper.
Chief Superintendent John Du Rose interviewed over seven thousand suspects before whittling his list down to three men. After a press conference where the police revealed that they had evidence that the killer was connected to a paint spraying shop close to the murders, the killings stopped. The paint shop lead ended up being a dead end, but it appeared to be close enough to the killer that it made them stop their murderous ways before getting caught. Or perhaps they simply changed their method and continued with their horrible hobby. Whatever the case, Jack the Stripper was never caught.
9. Servant Girl Annihilator
In an article, the New York Times would call the killer “some cunning madman, who is insane on the subject of killing women.” That description of the Servant Girl Annihilator is about as good as any given by witnesses at the time.
Starting four years before Jack the Ripper became a serial killing star, this murderer took the lives of seven women and one man while severely injuring six more women and two more men. From December 1884 to December 1885, the people of Austin, Texas lived in fear as the killer came into their homes while they slept. He would attack his victims in their beds, knocking them unconscious before dragging them from their homes and killing them in the street. Six of the eight murdered were found with a sharp metallic object inserted into their ear.
Perhaps the killer was never captured because no one could agree on what he looked like. Some witnesses claimed he was a white man while other claimed he was black. One witness claimed that the killer was an Asian man in blackface. There were claims that the killer wore a dress. Word in the African American community spread that the killer used voodoo to make himself invisible.
8. The Doodler
In terms of cool serial killer names, “The Doodler” (sometimes called “The Black Doodler”) falls pretty far down the list, but the reason for the name sure is creepy.
Committing the murders in San Francisco between 1974 and 1975, the Doodler murdered 14 gay men and assaulted three others. The killer would meet his victims at local bars, often drawing caricatures of them before they would leave the public place for someplace more secluded. The victims were found in nearby parks stabbed to death.
Based on things that he said to the three survivors, it is believed that the killer, who witnesses described as a black man standing six feet tall, was sexually confused and took out his anger on the homosexual community. These killings happened just a year after the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees ceased classifying homosexuality as a disorder, and the gay community was still treated as something “wrong” by many. It is believed that the killer may have attacked many more men, but those men, fearing to come out to the public about their sexuality, never came forward.
7. Rainbow Maniac
While the name would be awesome for a wrestler, the Rainbow Maniac is anything but awesome. From February 2007 to August 2008, this murder took the lives of thirteen gay men in Parque dos Paturis in Carapicuíba, Brazil. Twelve of them were shot to death, with one of them being shot twelve times. The other was bludgeoned to death with a rock.
In December of 2008, Jairo Francisco Franco, a retired police sergeant, was arrested for the murders based on a witness claiming to have seen Franco shoot an unidentified black man twelve times. In 2011, Franco was released after a jury found him not guilty.
6. Highway Of Tears Murders
Over the course of forty-two years, over forty women were murdered along the 450-mile section of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. While not all of these murders were committed by the same person, authorities – who argue that the actual number is much lower – believe that more than a fair share were.
In 2015, it was discovered that members of the B.C. government were deleting emails and destroying files with information on the murders. The authorities, it is believed, paid little attention to the Highway of Tears murders because the victims were mainly aboriginal women from low-income families. In recent years, a number of documentaries, as well as the VICE produced the mini-series Searchers: The Highway of Tears has helped bring attention to the murders. DNA of the American serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler has been discovered on at least two victims, and it is believed that he may have been responsible for more of the murders, possibly as many as twenty. Still, there are at least three murders that occurred after Fowler was captured in 1996.
5. The I-70 Killer
In the spring of 1992, a man drove down Interstate 70 killing six store clerks across the Midwest of the United States, starting in Indianapolis, Indiana and ending in Raytown, Missouri. All but one of the killer’s victims were petite women, each one shot with a .22-caliber firearm. Unlike most other serial killers, the I-70 Killer usually struck during the day, often in the afternoon or evening when there would be a greater chance of being seen.
Some Midwest authorities believe that the killer struck again, this time in Texas where, between 1993 and 1994, he killed two and seriously wounding a third. Because the ballistics test of the I-70 killings and the killings in Texas don’t match up, there is reason to believe that these are two separate killers.
4. The Connecticut River Valley Killer
On August 6, 1988, Jane Boroski was seven months pregnant when she was pulled out of her car and stabbed twenty-seven times. Jane drove herself to a friends house and both she and her unborn child miraculously survived. Jane was the only person to ever survive an attack by the Connecticut River Valley Killer.
From 1978 to 1987, a lone figure murdered seven women in and around Claremont, New Hampshire and the Connecticut River Valley. Five other murders, four women and one man, may also have been committed by the same killer. Despite two composite sketches and a segment on Unsolved Mysteries, the police have never been able to track down the killer.
On his deathbed in 1997, Gary Westover confessed to his uncle Howard Minnon, a retired sheriff’s deputy, that he and three of his friends killed Barbara Agnew, the final victim of the Connecticut River Valley Killer. Minnon gave the names of his nephew’s friends to the authorities, but the police appeared to not take the confession seriously.
3. The Monster Of Florence
Over the course of seventeen years, eight couples were brutally murdered by a person or persons that the press titled “The Monster of Florence.” The victims were attacked either in their cars while parked at a lovers’ lane or while camping near the city. Each murder was done with both a .22 caliber gun and a knife, and in each case, the genitalia of the woman had been cut out of the body.
While multiple arrests were made over the years, with four men being convicted for the murders, many believe that the true killer or killers were never captured. Even after the fourth man had been apprehended, the murders continued.
In 2001, Michele Giuttari, chief inspector for the Serial Crimes Unit announced that the murders were connected to a Satanic cult. Of course, by 2001, the whole Satanic Panic thing of the 1980s was long over, so pretty much everyone laughed at this idea.
2. Long Island Serial Killer
In December 2010, Officer John Mallia and his police dog, Blue, were on a routine training exercise in Oak Beach when they came across the skeletal remains of a woman hidden inside a burlap sack. By April 2011, police would find nine more bodies in the surrounding areas of Oak Park, Gilgo Beach, and Jones Beach.
It is believed that the Long Island Serial Killer, also called the Craigslist Ripper, has killed fifteen women, one man, and a child no older than two. At least four of the women murdered were sex workers who advertised their services on Craigslist. The murders appear to have begun in 1996 and may continue to this day.
1. The Smiley Face Killer
Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, retired New York City detectives, believe that they have come across a serial killer responsible for up to forty murders in a number of US states. Each case that Gannon and Duarte have marked as a murder has two things in common – the victim was found in a body of water, and a smiley face was spray painted nearby.
The victims, if the two men are correct, have all been white college-aged men who were last seen at a bar or party. The victims, who are all from Northern states, all died by drowning during the winter months when the water would be near freezing. Gannon and Duarte believe the murders go back to at least 1997 and haven’t ruled out the possibility that the killings are the work of a group of people.
The theory has a fair number of detractors who point out that Gannon and Duarte’s evidence is lacking – smiley faces are one of the most common forms of graffiti after all, but there are some who believe that the two men may be onto something. Noted criminologist Lee Gilbertson originally scoffed at the theory, but upon examining the cases, came to believe that the statistical chances of so many men of a similar age and build dying in the same way in only a handful of states was very low.
Is there a secret cabal of smiley face killers? We may never know.
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