Murder she wrote, and we avidly read. The killing of a human being by another, for reasons financial, immoral, illegal or just for a thrill, gives us all vicarious shudders. The gorier the crime, the more attention it receives, from the authorities, media and the readers.
The depths of hell that a human being can stoop to, to hurt, harm and kill a fellow human is a shockingly astounding one. Here are 15 such instances where killing became art and the killer/artist decided to copy his hero – be it a serial killer, a shocking murder or even - wait for it - a TV or movie character. See how these killers took another murderer’s work and made it their own.
A new kind of plagiarism is in town, and isn’t just about bylines or signatures – these are the world’s most shocking copycat killings – sure to leave you with nightmares and a sense of impending doom...
15 Daniel Bartlam: Nightmare, on Coronation Street
Coronation Street is a rather popular (we don’t know why, don’t ask us!) British soap opera. One of the characters in this series is John Stape, who later turns out to be a serial killer, fond of hammering his victims to death (yep, as in bashing them in the head with a hammer).
In 2011, Jacqueline Bartlam’s body was discovered at her Nottinghamshire home by fire personnel – she had been beaten with a hammer, before being doused in petrol and set alight. In fact, the body was too badly burned, and recognition happened via dental records.
Her apparently bereaved 14-year-old son, Daniel, first said that it was a masked intruder who did this. Later, he confessed to having killed his mother after a fight with her. But when the police searched his computer, the true and chilling story of a boy obsessed with the Corrie killer character John Stape emerged. Videos of John Stape butchering his victims with a hammer, and a search on how to get away with murder, did not help Daniel’s case in court. In February 2012, Daniel was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 16 years served.
14 Mark Twitchell: The Dexter Fan
For some inexplicable reason, we all like Dexter. We like the series, sure, but also idolize a man who’s a bit of a geek, lives a double life and is a serial killer, of serial killers.
Says a few things about us, doesn’t it…
Somehow, a bad guy killing more bad guys makes him a bit of a good guy (and they say it’s not a twisted world!). It takes a whole eight seasons of this for Dexter’s team at the LAPD to realize the true nature of their erstwhile colleague and friend.
However, it took Mark Twitchell from Edmonton, Canada only a little while to realize that in Dexter he had found his idol. In 2008, he posed as a woman on a dating site and entrapped two men to come to his “movie studio” where he was making a movie on a serial killer. One of them was killed, while the other escaped – and after a trial lasting a couple of years, Twitchell was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years.
13 Sarah & Ben: The Real Natural Born Killers
A grisly, fast-paced violent movie with no apparent message other than the fact that killers get killed, Natural Born Killers nonetheless was a visual masterpiece (but not for the faint-hearted) and became a cult hit for those with a taste for blood. More than 10 murders have been linked to this movie to date, and the numbers only seem to be growing.
The movie takes inspiration from the real-life teen spree killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1957-58. In the movie, it’s Mickey & Mallory Knox (played by Woody Harrelson & Juliette Lewis).
In 1995, teen lovers Sarah Edmondson (19) and Benjamin James Darras (18) stayed up all night watching this movie over and over again and then went off on a road trip packed with blankets and a .38, shooting two people along the way – one of whom died and the other was rendered quadriplegic.
The love didn’t last though with Sarah later claiming that it was all Ben’s doing; she served only 12 years of a 30-year sentence and is out on parole, while Darras is still serving out his life-without-parole sentence in Mississippi. Oh, and once, during the trial, he did try to strangle her!
12 Thierry Jaradin: Murder, He ‘Scream’ed
What we remember about the Scream movie is that the original was a bit scary because it was the first of its kind. It later turned into a horror franchise that got more laughs that jitters. However, as one judge remarked rather famously about this movie, it was a very good way to learn how to kill someone. The movie itself takes inspiration from Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s artwork titled, The Scream – equally creepy…
In 1996, truck driver Thierry Jaradin decided to get inspired by the movie too, though he waited five years to do something about it. In 2001, Jaradin’s 15-year-old neighbor Alisson Cambier dropped in for a chat. Jaradin made sexual advances and was rejected by Alisson. He could have simply shrugged it off and shown her the door – instead, he excused himself and went into the next room to don the signature Scream mask and black robes – and then stabbed Alisson 30 times, clamping his hand over her mouth to muffle the screams.
No surprise that he was sentenced to life without parole.
11 Allan Menzies: The Diary of a Vampire…
In 2002, Allan Menzies, known to be a man with a volatile temper and violent past, murdered his buddy Thomas McKendrick in a brutal manner. McKendrick was struck in the head with a hammer 10 times before being stabbed to death by Allan. Allan then went on to drink his by now dead friend’s blood, ate a part of his skull and then buried the body in a shallow grave. When the body was discovered several weeks later, Allan turned to the movie Queen of the Damned for his defense.
His copycat inspiration was that of a vampire – and that the central character Akasha (played by the late Aaliyah) had come to him in his dreams and commanded him to kill someone and drink their blood – and for that he’d be turned into a vampire and granted immortality. His defense plea of the movie as well as insanity did not sit well with the jury and he was jailed for life. In 2004, Daniel committed suicide in his cell – very mortal, despite the vampirical killing.
10 Stella Nickell: Murder By Pill
In 1982, seven unsuspecting victims in Chicago died when they bought and consumed the over the counter drug Tylenol, which had been laced with cyanide. The widespread panic and sheer terror of the American junta of open pills made the FDA pass a ruling that all pills were to be sold in tamper-proof packaging (though this took a while and a few more killings before finally being enforced). While one man was arrested for sending threatening letters to the Tylenol makers Johnson & Johnson, the actual poisoner was never found, identified or punished. Yep, another serial/spree killer mystery.
Four years later, Excedrin was targeted in a similar way – two people in Washington died after consuming cyanide-laced Excedrin. Bruce Nickell, 52, and Susan Snow, 40, both died in separate incidents after consuming Excedrin for a headache. The murderer here turned out to be Stella Nickell, Bruce’s wife, who wanted out of the by-now staid marriage and had taken out life insurance policies in his name. She was sentenced to 80 years in prison and saw not a cent of the money!
9 Joshua Cooke: I Was in the Matrix
That was actually a defense plea entered by more than one individual who thought killing was okay, since they weren’t really in the real world the time they did it!
The 1991 Keanu Reeves starrer The Matrix garnered quite the number of fans and a cult following – the Net was rife with discussions and debates, and many people started having delusions that the Matrix was real. And even years after the movie and its sequels were over and done with, Joshua Cooke seemed to believe that it was all very, very true.
In 2003, the then 19-year-old Joshua shot his adoptive parents in cold blood, and then had a Coke in his room while he waited for the police to arrive. He later told the media that he was in a dark place when he committed the murders and just wanted his life to end, and thinking that he was in The Matrix, trapped by everyone, he decided to kill his parents too. He was awarded a 40-year sentence for the murder and no Neo-like following.
8 Barry Loukaitis: The School Copycat Spree
School shootings are not limited to just a couple of incidents. Much has been made of America’s penchant for guns, and the American teen’s love for shooting off, literally, in their schools. From 1983 to 2008 – there were at least 50 school shootings throughout the US of A, resulting in many a death and far more tragedies.
There’s a scene in the movie The Basketball Diaries where a heroin-high Leonardo DiCaprio dreams of shooting his classmates in the classroom, dressed in a black trench coat. This became even more notorious when in 1996, shooter Barry Loukaitis, aged all of 14 years, barged into his classroom wearing a black trench coat and opened fire on his classmates with a pistol and a rifle – killing three in total, a teacher and two fellow students. Clinically depressed and also bullied in school, Barry is said to have thought that going on a spree would be fun. He was sentenced to serve two life sentences and an additional 205 years in prison.
An even darker incident happened in 1999 when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 and injured another 23 before they killed themselves in Columbine High School, Colorado. As Pink Floyd said it, ‘We don’t need no education…’
7 Eddie Seda: Hail the Zodiac
In the late 1960s, the San Francisco bay area was gripped by fear of the Zodiac killer who took the lives of at least seven people in a five-year span, using both a gun and a knife. His crimes were sensationalized further since he regularly contacted the media about his kills and left cryptic messages at his kill sites. The Zodiac killer was never found or identified – more reason to be scared…
20 years later, a new Zodiac killer emerged in New York in 1989 when similar kinds of taunting, cryptic messages began to yet again emerge in the media. During the next three years, three were killed by this copycat and there were five more attempted murders too – all shot with a homemade gun.
This killer was identified because of his fingerprints as Heriberto "Eddie" Seda; who was caught in an unrelated shootout with the police and finally sentenced to 238 years in prison. Unfettered with guilt, Eddie Seda kept muttering about how he had to kill those people for they were bad people. Now, he’s in jail, in a relationship with a pre-op transsexual, former-member of the Latin Kings – Synthia China-Blast. The bigger they are…
6 John Hinckley: I Shot the President
This has to be one of the strangest copycat killings in the history of all copycat killings. On March 30, 1981 – President Ronald Reagan narrowly avoided a trip to nirvana when the assassination attempt on him that lodged a bullet near his heart, went awry and only wounded him. Three more members of the president’s staff were wounded as well.
The perpetrator was John Hinckley Jr. Not that he had anything against Reagan at all. His motive for the shooting came from the 1976 movie, The Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. The plot of the movie is about a Vietnam veteran wanting to assassinate the President. Hinckley here, thought it was a great idea for he was stalking Jodie Foster, and thought that by playing out the movie plot in real life, he could get her attention and probably her love.
He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sentenced to spend his life in a mental institution.
5 Daniel Gonzalez: The Mummy’s Boy Killer
Inspired by Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street; Daniel Gonzalez went on a spree killing in September 2004 and managed to kill four victims, while injuring a few more. A paranoid schizophrenic, Daniel was in a drug-induced killing mood and later described as the kills as "orgasmic."
He was inspired by Freddy Krueger, the misshapen villain who is as vulnerable as anyone else in the real world, more so because of his disfigured face – but has immense power in the dream world. In the movie, Freddy kills people by attacking them in their dreams and causing their deaths in real life as well.
This real-life Freddy aka Daniel’s mother had even once written a letter to the MP, complaining about the fact that Daniel wasn’t receiving the elaborate mental care he needed, rhetorically adding, “Does my son have to commit murder to get help?”
Daniel was arrested and promptly tried to commit suicide by biting through an artery in his arm. He was saved, only to attempt suicide again successfully in 2007 where he died, after he slit his wrists with a broken CD case.
4 James Holmes: The Dark Night
On July 20, 2012 yet another shooting tragedy unfolded in America when a gunman threw teargas shells and shot at the audience inside a movie theater during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado.
12 people were killed and more than 70 injured in this completely unprovoked and insane attack by the gunman, James Eagan Holmes, who had no known record before this. A fan of mass killings and Batman, and often noted to have homicidal thoughts, Holmes managed to slip through convenient cracks in the system despite having friends and psychiatrists thinking of him as a future threat.
Holmes allegedly told the cops, “I’m the Joker,” hence the copycat part – he did what the villainous character The Joker is so often seen doing in the Batman films, spraying gunfire on unsuspecting victims, just for the fun of it. Despite his mental illness plea, the jury found him guilty on all counts of 12 murders and several other charges. He escaped the death penalty narrowly, but is serving a mammoth 3,318-year prison sentence, without parole.
3 Michael Hernandez: The Actual American Psycho
14-year-old Michael Hernandez believed in God. Somehow, he also believed that God had given him special powers and wanted to use those special powers to become a serial killer since he related to the characters in the movies The American Psycho and The Silence of The Lambs. In 2004, Michael realized dream and stabbed his classmate, a boy he described at his re-sentencing as "a good friend" with meticulous detail.
Jamie Gough, himself 14 when he was killed, was carefully lured to the school bathroom by Hernandez. Hernandez had already obtained his "serial killer" supplies – knife, rubber gloves and tape. Despite pleading for his life, Jamie died, bleeding to his death in a gory crime committed by a boy who idolized serial killers.
Hernandez got his five minutes of fame as a grotesque killer, and at his resentencing, was yet again denounced by the judge for having the same macabre interests in jail too – conversations of him joking about skin suits (Ed Gein) came to fore, as did his movie and music likes. He was not paroled.
2 Derek Brown: The Latest Jack the Ripper Franchisee
The original Jack the Ripper is an unsolved legend and arguably one of the greatest serial killer mysteries ever. He was never identified, found or punished and his legend only grew with time. Notably titled as one of the worst serial killers of all time, Jack the Ripper has a creepy fan following nonetheless.
120 years after his perpetrated murders, another Ripper wannabe gained the media spotlight. Derek Brown, a father of two, was convicted in 2008 of murdering two women Ripper-style, even though the bodies of his victims were never found.
The victims were chosen from the Ripper’s killing ground – East London’s rather infamous Whitechapel area; and just like the Ripper, both Derek Brown’s victims were women of easy virtue. Xiao Mei Guo, a 29-year-old street vendor and 26-year-old prostitute Bonnie Barrett were picked up separately by Brown and then murdered and dismembered at the bathroom in Derek Brown’s apartment.
The authorities believed him to be a budding serial killer and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison – giving Whitechapel another respite from its recurrent, ghostly slasher.
1 Robert & John: Evil Strikes the Young
They say the evil in your soul is probably present at the time of birth itself. None more so in the case of 10-year-olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables who till 1993 were ruddy-cheeked youngsters whose worst offence was to skip school and steal things.
1993 was not only a turning point in their lives but also for two-year-old James Bulgur. For James Bulgur died brutally that year, and the killers who took his life were none other than these 10-year-olds themselves. Thompson and Venables kidnapped the toddler from a shopping mall where they had been loitering – and took him for a 4km walk all around Liverpool, before finally taking him to a railway station where he was tortured, beaten, stripped and finally killed when the boys dropped a 10kg railway fishplate on his head. They then left him on the tracks – where his mutilated corpse was found cut into two because of a passing train, two days after he was kidnapped.
The inspiration behind these boys’ evil doing was the horror doll flick, Child's Play 3… They were the youngest to be sentenced in the 20th century and the judge decreed that they be kept incarcerated in a remand home at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, for a long, long time to come.
They both have since been released from prison under new identities, though Venables did go back to prison under child pornography charges. Thompson seems to have kept his nose clean to date.
Such is the story of 15 copycat killers and their inspirations – real or imaginary!