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#5 of History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers

Serial Killers and other violent criminals have been studied for years now. Since before the 70s, when the term was created, these types of offenders have wandered around tormenting people and professionals who go after them. It goes without saying that those crimes have marked history with their cruelty and sickness, so without further ado, here are 5 of the most notorious killers to have walked the Earth.

Ted Bundy

“Extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile” was what the judge had to say about the crimes committed by Ted Bundy. That’s because, in the 1970s, Bundy killed  at least 36 women, though experts believe the final number to be closer to 100. It doesn’t stop there. Besides being a serial murderer, he was also a rapist and necrophiliac, cases about which many novels and films have been created.

Bundy had a turbulent childhood. He was an illegitimate child, something that brought great shame to his deeply religious family. Therefore, to hide the infidelity of his mother, the boy was sickly raised as the adopted son of his grandparents and was told that his mother was actually his sister.  

The thing that’s so captivating about Bundy is that, even though he was a troubled kid, Bundy grew up to be a really smart and charming guy. He got his degree in psychology in 1972 and was accepted to law school in Utah, but never graduated. Then, in the mid-1970s, Bundy became more confident and politically active, having worked even for the governor of Washington on his campaign.

There’s still a lot of mystery revolving around his crimes. Some believe Bundy started killing around 1974, since by then many women in the Seattle area went missing and the stories were always similar: the victim would be seen last with a young man known as “Ted”, who would pretend to be injured and ask for their help, luring the girl into his car. There was also a certain pattern to his killings, he often raped his victims and then beat them to death. It’s excruciating that the girls’ kindness ended up killing them. 

Bundy killed all over the country, but police took a while to tie the cases together, which caused a delay in the process of sending the murderer to trial. It was in Utah, where the man attended law school and girls mysteriously started to disappear, that he was caught for the first time. But it only happened because Bundy crossed a red light and was pulled over by a police officer, who searched his car and found tools such as a crowbar, a face mask, rope and handcuffs. 

The killer was arrested for the first time in 1975, for the attempt murder of Carol DaRonch, one of the five women to survive his attacks. He was then convicted and received a one-to-15-year jail sentence. In the years that followed, Bundy escaped from prison twice, the first time kept him away for 8 days and during his second runaway the man made his last murderous acts. In Tallahassee Bundy broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University and attacked four women, killing two of them. On February 9, he also kidnapped and murdered a 12-year-old girl named Kimberly Leach before being caught and brought back to prison.

Ted Bundy’s trial was incredibly turbulent. Since it was the first televised trial in the US, the media coverage was without boundaries and so were the debates over whether or not the man was guilty. The most intriguing fact was that each day more and more young women would appear and watch the trial against the man, some would even say how charming and attractive he was. 

Even though the prosecution had a lot of proof, it was still hard to pin all the crimes against Bundy, who would deny it until the end. It was only after the Chi Omega killings that they actually got solid proof to hold against him: a bite mark in one of the girls’ bodies. The mark was compared to Bundy’s very characteristic dental arcade and raised absolutely no doubts about who had committed those crimes.  

After having his fate sealed, he spoke candidly with investigators and those conversations were used as the basis for crime documentaries. Over the course of those interviews, he revealed some chilling details about a few shocking aspects of his killings. Before the night of his execution, Bundy finally confessed to 30 homicides and blamed pornography for his ihumane acts.

Charles Manson

Charles “Charlie” Manson, the serial killer who never killed anyone. How can that be? Well, that’s because he was the leader of a cult called the Manson Family, whose followers carried out several notorious murders in the late 1960s. 

Manson’s childhood was extremely tumultuous. He was born to a 16 year old girl, who was both an alcoholic and a prostitute, and later placed in an all boys school. The boy was rejected by his mother, which led him to live in the streets and engage in petty crimes, getting through life. Over the next 20 years, Manson spent time in and out of reform schools and prisons and was released on March 21, 1967, soon moving to San Francisco. He had a dream of becoming a famous singer, but that dream was crushed when a producer refused to sign a contract with him, something that brought up a lot of the man’s anger.  

Something that might tell a lot about his traumatizing experiences as a kid is the fact that his cult was called “Family”. If you think about it, a family is a group of people who love you dearly and would do anything for you, so maybe Manson’s take on what a family’s supposed to be like is nothing else but a cult, whose members would even kill for your satisfaction. 

 To tell you more about what the “Manson Family” was like, it had around 100 followers who portrayed a passion for a different kind of lifestyle including the constant use of hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD and magic mushrooms. Manson’s followers also included a small group of impressionable young girls, who believed Manson to be Jesus and, therefore, in his prophecies of a race war.

Helter Skelter was a big symbol for Mason’s acts. The Beatles song “Helter Skelter,” was interpreted by Manson as incitation to begin a race war. He would even use the album and lyrics to justify his actions and guide his followers to murder. Later, a best selling book about Manson and his crimes, called Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, would be written by Vincent Bugliosi.

Is believed that the Manson Family have carried out about 35 killings, but most of their cases were never tried, mainly due to lack of evidence. The most famous killing carried out by the cult were the Tate-LaBianca murders, the shocking killing of actress Sharon Tate and four other people, on August 8, 1969, in Los Angeles. 

Manson’s follower Charles “Tex” Watson was ordered, with several other cult members, to kill everyone in the Tate house “as gruesome[ly] as you can.” As said before, a music producer didn’t agree to sign Manson and that producer turned out to be the previous tenant of the house where the murders took place. Watson drove to the place with Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian and did just as Manson had told him to: killed everyone in a horrifying way, leaving a message, the word “pig” written in Sharon’s blood. The following night, Family members Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten went to the address of the LaBiancas, where the couple was also brutally murdered. 

Ironically, Manson and his Family were arrested for vandalizing a portion of the Death Valley National Park. In 1969, they were taken into custody, and the police still had no clue about their part in the wicked murders. It was finally through the confession of Susan Atkins that led detectives to realize the culpability of Manson and his followers in the killings.

Manson had crazy prophetic visions about being the Messiah and believing he had to initiate a race war and according to defense witness and killer Van Houten, this was the primary reason for the murder of the LaBiancas. Several members of the cult had said that Manson would take advantage of their vulnerability, but still believed the man was a visionary.

On January 25, 1971, Manson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison after California’s Supreme Court invalidated death sentences prior to 1972. The man died in prison in 2017, where he gave multiple interviews which only showed how disturbed he was.

The Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer is probably one of the biggest mysteries inside the investigative world. Claiming to have killed 37 people, the faceless, nameless murderer terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and despite rigorous investigations, the case remains open. 

This is the story of a man who haunted the police through letters sent to newspapers and then abruptly disappeared, ceasing all communication with the outside world. It all began on august 1, 1969, when the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times-Herald each received identical handwritten letters with no return address. 

Since the beginning, the writer displayed a particular way of expressing himself and would always expose crucial details that only the killer, who would reference himself as “the Zodiac”, could have known. With the power to manipulate the receivers of his letters, the man would threaten further attacks if those weren’t printed on the front page of the papers.

Every letter ended with a symbol that resembles a crosshair, which was soon known as the Zodiac’s own. But that’s not it. The most intriguing fact about his communication with the media is that he truly played games with them. Along with each letter, there was one part of a three-part cipher that he claimed contained his identity. 

Three days after the fourth known Zodiac killing, the murder of taxi driver Paul Stine in 1969, as before, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter claiming the crime. Written in the same unique way the other Zodiac’s letters, it gave details of the murder, but this time along with it came a bloody scrap of Stine’s shirt. At the end of the letter, the killer threatened to shoot out the tire of a school bus and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

The killer continued his taunting, claiming to have committed several more murders, and mocking the police’s inability to catch him, but in 1974 the letters stopped. Without any conclusions, the investigation kept going.  

Many professionals consider this case to be a major failure because of the authorities. That’s because in the night of the murder of the taxi driver, in 1969, a desperate witness called the police and described the killer as a black man, which ended up misleading the officers who reportedly passed a white male adult who matched the, later ammended, description and was walking away from the area of the crime scene. Worst of all? The Zodiac didn’t leave that behind, instead he sent a letter in which he provoked the police and practically called them children for not searching the place “properly.”

There have been a number of suspects, but none of them responded to the crimes committed by a witty man called “the Zodiac.” Until this day, the deaths, threats and amusing personality haunt the authorities, those involved in the case and the people who, today, can’t figure it out. The repulsive crimes have inspired many movies and books that still intrigue their spectators due to the captivating story of an unknown man.

Edmund Kemper

Probably one of the most curious cases there are. At age 15, Kemper killed both his grandparents to “see what it felt like”. Then, when he was about 21 years old, he started to wander around, picking up and releasing female hitchhikers, and soon stopped letting them go and ended up killing six young women in the Santa Cruz, California, area in the 1970s. In 1973 he killed his mother and her friend and turned himself in.

Kemper was always a troubled kid, being abused by his mother from an early age and having dark fantasies about her. When he was 10, he killed a family cat by suffocation and at 13 he slaughtered another one. He was then sent to live with his father, and later with his grandparents, with whom he hated to be. And that’s when his murderous acts began.

On August 27, 1964, the fifteen year old shot his grandmother after having an argument and then, when his grandfather returned home, Kemper shot him by his car and hid the body. By suggestion of his mother, Kemper called the police and told them what had happened. He was then put to tests that showed he had a very high IQ, but suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. The boy was eventually sent to a maximum-security facility for mentally ill convicts and released in 1969, at the age of 21.

At first, the 6’9 ft tall man would pick up female hitchhikers and let them go, but soon he found another destination for those women. On August 15, the body of his first victim was found, and by then Ed Kemper had developed a taste for it. Kemper received the name of “Co-ed Killer” and in April 1973, committed his last two murders before turning himself in. 

The man was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and went on trial in October 1973, being found guilty in early November. When asked by the judge what he thought his punishment should be, Kemper said he should be tortured to death, but instead he received eight concurrent life sentences. Until this day, Ed Kemper remains one of the most intriguing personalities, due to his intelligence and complexity. 

David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)

You might be asking yourself: what does “Son of Sam” mean? Well, don’t be too startled when I tell you Berkowitz called himself that because he claimed his neighbor, Sam Carr, sent him messages through his dog, a demon-possessed Labrador retriever, commanding him to kill. But even though Berkowitz said these outrageous things, the man was declared fit to stand trial, which leads specialists to think it was all a façade so he wouldn’t have to go to prison. 

Born Richard David Falco, the boy was a troubled kid who lost his mother too soon in life and was adopted when he was only two days old. At 18 he enlisted in the U.S army and after finishing military service, in 1974, Berkowitz was described as a loner who often kept to himself.  

It was on July 29, 1976 that the Son of Sam started his killing spree. He first killed two teenage girls who were sitting in their car when Berkowitz shot at them. A few months later, the man was in action again, shooting a couple in yet another parked car and in November, he also shot at two teen girls walking home together, leaving one paraplegic. 

But by then, police still hadn’t put all of it together. It was only in January 1977, when Berkowitz attacked another couple in a parked car, that the authorities finally found something in common with the incidents: a .44 caliber gun had been used in all of them, leading the police to refer to the killer as the “.44-caliber killer”.

In april 1977, after killing another couple by their car, the man left a letter nearby addressed to the NYPD Captain at the time, in which he called himself “Son of Sam” for the first time. Throughout his years of killing, Berkowitz left a number of letters by his victims bodies, taunting the police and resulting in a great media coverage that gave him the spotlight he seeked. 

It was at the scene of his last killing that Berkowitz made his “mistake”: a witness saw a man getting away in a car with a parking ticket. That doesn’t sound too odd, right? Well, since only a handful of tickets were given out that day, authorities decided to look into it and found out that one of them was given to Berkowitz. Eleven days later, on August 10, the man was arrested. According to The New York Times, when taken into custody, Berkowitz said “Well, you’ve got me”.

After being arrested, the killer has shared a number of stories and confirmed that the whole “Son of Sam” thing was a “silly hoax”. Due to the fact that substantial sums of money have been paid to Berkowitz to share his story, now nearly all states have passed laws, sometimes known as “Son of Sam laws,” that prevent convicted criminals from financially profiting from any enterprises related to their crimes.

All of those stories turn my stomach inside out, but the craziest thing to think about is that we never truly know the person standing next to us. Whether it’s out of despise or eagerness, if you read this you might wanna check out some documentaries and other stories that might appeal to you as well. Remember to stay safe and keep on being curious and looking for more. 

Maria Leite

Casper Libero '23

Just a curious journalism student looking forward to learning more and writing stories that could entertain and help others :)
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