For some inexplicable reason, we are drawn to stories about murderers and serial killers. We all love a good mystery. Often, the stranger the circumstances and more horrifying the killings, the more engrossed we become. Few of us are murderers, yet our interest in their stories runs deep.
Just take the popularity of television shows and movies about serial killers, unsolved murder-mysteries, and crime. These forms of “entertainment” satisfy many of our needs to understand the motivations and mechanisms that lead to murder. Our fascination with murder is evidenced by our devotion to “Dexter,” “Making a Murderer,” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Here we have compiled a list of some of the strangest murder cases and killers out there. Some of these murders remain unsolved and a source of fascination for true fans of unsolved crimes.
1. Acid Bath Killer John George Haigh
In the late 1940s, John George Haigh, made himself into an iconic serial killer after being convicted of killing 6 people. He claimed to have actually murdered 9.
Haigh’s murders began after being convicted of fraud and spending time in jail. He decided while in prison that his money-swindling schemes failed because he left the victims of his crimes alive. Haigh also learned that you could dissolve bodies in acid and get rid of the victims entirely.
After getting out of jail Haigh, despite landing a lucrative engineering job, he killed an acquaintance to insert himself into the man’s lavish and successful life. After killing him with a blow to the head, Haigh dissolved the entire corpse in a barrel of sulphuric acid, pouring the sludge down a drain in a warehouse he acquired. When the victim’s family became suspicious of Haigh and his stories of the victim’s whereabouts, he killed them as well, also employing acid to eliminate their remains.
Haigh lost his money gambling, and sought out a wealthy couple to kill and rob. He dissolved them in acid as well after moving his operation into a larger warehouse.
Haigh was finally caught after murdering his final victim Olive Durand-Deacon, a wealthy widow who met with Haigh at his newest warehouse to discuss an idea she had for an invention. Unfortunately for Haigh, the new digs did not have an appropriate drainage system for his dissolved victims. He had to dispose of the corpse-sludge in a pile of rubble behind the warehouse where the police could easily find it.
Haigh quickly became known as the Acid Bath Killer. A jury convicted him of murder after just minutes of deliberation. Haigh was sentenced to death and executed shortly thereafter.
As 10-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were the youngest murderers ever convicted in the modern history of the United Kingdom.
As his mother shopped at the mall the boys abducted James Bulger, a two-year-old toddler. They took him and tortured him for what would be the remainder of his very short life. Thompson and Venables dropped the boy on his head causing facial injuries. They threw bricks at him, paint in his eyes, stuffed batteries in his mouth, kicked him, and dropped an iron bar on his head. Bulgar suffered at least 10 skull fractures and died from the impact of his 42 injuries. The boys then put the body on the train tracks hoping that his death would look accidental if it was run over by a train.
38 people saw the boys with Bulger before they killed him. No one could have imagined that such young children were about to become murderers. At their conviction, the judge told the boys that committed a crime of “unparalleled evil and barbarity.”
Katherine Knight was the first woman jailed for life in Australia without any opportunity for release. She murdered her boyfriend John Price in what can only be described as the most gruesome, sick, and twisted killings the police ever encountered.
In 2000, Knight, a mother of four, stabbed Price 37 times then skinned his corpse, hung him from meat hooks, and butchered his body. She did this expertly using the skills she learned at her job in a slaughterhouse, dismembering up to 600 animals a day.
Police found his head boiling in a pot on the stove. They also found plates of steak from his buttocks, vegetables, and gravy which she was planning to serve to his children for dinner.
Remarkably, Knight was determined sane enough to stand trial. She pled guilty and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of release.
Robert Berdella, known as the Kansas City Butcher and The Collector, kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed at least six men during the mid 1980s. Berdella kept his captives alive for days and sometimes weeks, torturing them and keeping records of the details.
Berdella killed his victims in various ways and for various reasons- needles, electric shocks, medication, suffocation, sexual assault and more.
When his final victim, Christopher Bryson, escaped, he led police to arrest Berdella for sexual assault. When police searched the house, they found the identification of some of Berdella’s murder victims, decomposed body parts, a human skull, bloodstained tools, the “torture logs,” and pictures of his victims in various stages of life and death.
It was 1983 when Diane Downs shot her children ages 3, 7, and 8. She arrived at the emergency room with the kids in the back seat covered in blood. One child was declared dead on arrival. The others faced life-threatening injuries including paralysis and a stroke.
When questioned, Downs told authorities she was flagged down by a “shaggy-haired” man who tried to carjack them, subsequently opening fire on all of them. Her story began to change as she did more interviews and media appearances. One of her children was alert enough to tell police that she did not remember anything about seeing a shaggy-haired man. Downs was eventually arrested for the murder and attempted murder of her children. Officers discovered journals written by Downs revealing her relationship with a married man who did not want children, and her feelings they were a burden to her.
Ultimately, it was her daughter’s testimony at the trial that put her in prison for 50 years.
In 1965, one murder was called the single worst crime perpetuated in Indiana’s history. Gertrude Baniszewski took in two young girls to live with her and her 7 children as a way to earn extra money since she was a destitute single mother. Silvia Likens and her sister Jenny moved in with the family and after a fairly peaceful start, things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Baniszewski abused Sylvia to no end and encouraged her children to do the same. She became a living plaything to them- constantly suffering humiliation, sexual abuse, filthy living conditions, burns, being tied up and dunked in water, pushed her down stairs, starved, kept naked, and forced to eat and drink her own waste. The children branded her repeatedly.
Sylvia eventually died from her injuries including brain hemorrhage, nearly severed lips, third degree burns, and shock. Gertrude and at least one of her children were sentenced to life in prison.
Dennis Nilsen terrorized Londoners during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and subsequently confessed to killing at least a dozen men. During a five- year period, Nilsen picked up young men from bars and took them home where he strangled or drowned them.
Nilsen kept the corpses under his floorboards of his home. He had many post-mortem sexual encounters with his victims and took some corpses out from time to time to engage in conversation. Eventually, Nilsen dismembered the bodies, stuffed some organs and limbs in bags to dispose of, bury, or burn on his property. When he moved into an apartment, he allegedly also boiled the body parts to remove the flesh for disposal and flushed small parts down the toilet.
The police caught Nilsen after a tenant called about a drain blockage and the technician found decomposing body parts as he entered a manhole on the property. Someone saw Nilsen trying to remove flesh from the drains that night and sent the police to his apartment. They promptly detected a foul odor and discovered body parts. Nilsen immediately confessed to killing 15 people.
The unsolved murder of JohnBenet Ramsay remains a subject of fascination for many crime aficionados around the world.
The six-year-old pageant queen was found in the basement of her Colorado home seven hours after her parents found a long ransom note and reported her missing from her bedroom. JonBenet sustained a broken skull and was killed by strangulation.
No one was charged with the murder and authorities argued about whether an intruder was the culprit or it was an “inside job.” Many people have suspected that one of JonBenet’s parents murdered her and tried to cover-up the crime.
In the late 80s and 1990s, Herbert Baumeister regularly brought men he met at local “gay bars” to his pool house and strangled them before dumping their bodies in the woods. To create the impression that they were having a party, Baumeister displayed mannequins around his pool.
Baumeister’s young son discovered one of the victims’ bones while playing in the garden. Responding to reports of several missing men in the area with similar descriptions the police investigated. They found someone who alleged that Baumeister killed his friend and tried to kill him.
Eventually, police searched Baumeister’s property and found the bodies of eleven murder victims. He fled to Canada where he killed himself before the police could reach him. Baumeister never confessed to the murders, instead leaving a note blaming his suicide on a failed marriage and ruined business.
In 1981, Issei Sagawa killed, dismembered and ate Renee Hartevelt.
Sagawa fought cannibalistic urges when he was a teenager and eventually decided to act on them. He was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris when he invited a friend for dinner. He shot her from behind. According to Sagawa, he “felt elated.”
He immediately raped her corpse and began dissecting her body and eating it. He ate what he could, freezing some for another time, and took what was left to dispose of in a nearby lake. Bystanders noticed blood dripping from the bag he was carrying and reported him to police. He confessed immediately.
Sagawa spent two years in a French prison before being declared mentally incompetent and relegated to a psychiatric hospital. When he was deported back to Japan, he used a loophole to gain his freedom. He has been a free man since 1986. Sagawa is alive, has authored more than a dozen books, and still speaks of his cannibalistic urges.
Donald Harvey is sometimes referred to as the “Angel of Death.” In 1987 he appeared to be an unassuming nurse’s aide who became an orderly after frequently visiting his dying grandfather in a Kentucky hospital.
Harvey began a killing spree in 1971 when he smothered a patient who was a stroke victim with a pillow. His spree continued for more than 15 years during which he fed his “god complex” by putting terminally ill patients “out of their misery.” Harvey thought he was doing god’s work by ending the lives of his patients. He killed using arsenic, cyanide, rat poison, and other chemicals. He let oxygen tanks run out of air, hooked up empty ones, smothered people with pillows, and even impaled a patient with a wire hanger in place of a catheter.
His “mercy killings” lasted until March, 1987 when an autopsy on John Powell revealed cyanide poisoning. It quickly became clear that Harvey was responsible for Powell’s murder as well as the murders of dozens of other patients in Ohio and Kentucky. Some estimate he was responsible for the death of close to 90 people.
In 2017, Harvey was beaten to death by inmates in the jail where he was serving consecutive life sentences.
The murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, nicknamed “Black Dahlia,” is one of the oldest unsolved murders in Los Angeles. In 1947, a local woman discovered her body, cut in half, mutilated, posed, and naked, in a park. The corpse was drained of all blood and wiped clean.
The murder took on legendary status as the police received false confessions, false witness reports, and widespread media coverage. At least one man thinks he knows who the murderer is. Former LAPD detective Steve Hodel firmly believes his father Dr. George Hodel killed The Black Dahlia-Elizabeth Short.
Between 1968 and 1969 Jerry Brudos murdered and tortured four women in Portland, OR. He became obsessed with women’s shoes as a young boy, a fetish that eventually became dark, murdering and torturing his victims to fulfil his fantasies.
Brudos chopped off the foot of at least one victim, keeping it in his freezer as a “model” for his collection of stolen footwear. He also had a collection of stolen women’s underwear and clothing.
The murders were grisly and gruesome. Brudos kept some corpses for months, mutilating them, having post-mortem sex with them and posing them in sexually explicit photographs. He kept souvenirs of all the murders. He died in prison while serving consecutive life sentences.
Originally from France, sisters Christine and Léa Papin were live-in servants. After spending seven years living with and working for the Lancelin family, the sisters had enough. They brutally killed Madame Lancelin and her daughter, Genevieve, in 1933.
The bodies of the two victims were beaten and stabbed until they were unrecognizable. The eyeballs of both of them were gouged out.
The Papin sisters were discovered by investigators, naked in their room, curled up in bed with the murder weapon-caught red handed.